Nafplio is the perfect getaway from Athens, perched underneath the hills of the southern Peloponnese region. Even getting here is a treat, as you pass through orange groves and vineyards. Better still it’s a year-round place, easily combined with a trip to Epidaurus, with its ancient theatre, the resort town of Porto Heli and the fishing village of Tolo. As Greece’s first capital city, Nafplio serves up plenty to see and do.
Venture over to the tiny fortress island for dramatic views back to Nafplio – take a kayak tour across the bay to get up close. Built by the Venetians in the 17th century, the castle has since done time as a prison, a fortress and even a hotel a few decades ago. In summer months the place often lays on a programme of cultural events, screenings and shows.
The most famous plaza in the town traces its origins to the Greek Revolution – also known as the War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire – of 1821. Wander past the old Vouleftiko, where the first Greek Parliament was housed. It’s a fine place to idle, taking in the historic atmosphere as you people-watch from one of the numerous cafes – if it’s rainy, sip an iced coffee in one of the sumptuous armchairs at Xenon Cafe, with its grand wood-panelled interior.
For an ancient-history fix, visit this unassuming Unesco Heritage site. Just beyond town, it’s a vast Mycenaean fortress of huge stone walls, where mythical hero Heracles performed his 12 labours. It also houses the Geometric Temple, dedicated to goddess Hera and partly excavated. Compared to the bigger, more famous Mycenae, Tiryns is still a work in progress – but a real discovery. Afterwards catch the local bus or walk to Argos, 2km (1.2mi) away, to explore the Byzantine Museum.
From your starting point at Acronafplia this 2.5km (1.5mi) path weaves you on a leisurely wander, passing under the carved rock arch at Arvanitia. Beyond the town beach it’s easy to forget civilisation, surrounded by scented pine trees, rock cliffs and a clear view across the gulf. Factor in a picnic stop at the quiet Neraki Beach or, as a reward for reaching Karathona Beach, settle in and spend a lazy hour or two admiring the four pretty white chapels dotted about the bay.
In a town perched on the sea, there is no better place to sample local fish. Try charming Kastro Karima, hidden down Papanikolaou Street in the old town – a favourite for hearty stews and shrimps dripping in garlicky sauce. If you’re a wine fan, head over to Mediteranneo Wine and Deli. Owners Sakis and Christos lay on tastings matched with tapas bites – for red-wine connoisseurs, try the nemean varieties. And don’t pass on the locally produced tsipouro spirit, while devouring bites of local cheese or karamanlidikos pastourma, dry cured veal from the Drama region of Greece. Kontrabasso Cafe is the cool place to go for a great selection of local beers and cocktails. Perched next to the stairs leading to the Palamidi Fortress, it serves snacks and ice cream by day, and at night it hosts live music.
This is an address to impress: the museum is housed in a restored neoclassical building, and curators have mixed historical and everyday items from Greece’s history over three floors. Among the beautiful finds are embroidered dresses and traditional folk costumes, toys and decorative fabrics. Better still, the museum shop has original local crafts and embroidery to buy as souvenirs.