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.
Make the most of the pedestrian-only old town and discover it on foot. You’ll be rewarded with lively squares, cobbled streets and dramatic history. Start on the eastern side at Kolokotronis Park, passing pretty harbourside cafes. Explore the western wall, dominated by the Five Brothers – Venetian cannons that still bear the winged lion of St Mark. Finish up at the ramparts of the Akronauplía Castle where the marine-blue views are breathtaking. It’s worth coming at night too, as the lights shimmer across the bay to the lit-up Bourtzi.
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.
Burn those moussaka calories with this steep climb – legend claims it’s 999 steps, the 1000th having been destroyed by Kolokotronis’ horse in the War of Independence. Catch your breath then explore the battlements of Greece’s best preserved Venetian castle, as well as the historic chapel of Aghios Andreas. It’s easy to realise why Nafplio is often called the most romantic port town in the Argolida region, as you gaze out upon pastel-hued buildings with terracotta roofs.
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.
Small but reassuringly simple, the only museum in the world dedicated to komboloi (worry-beads) is in Napflio. Founders Aris Evangelinos and Rallou Gromitsar have been collecting and studying komboloi since 1958. Their personal collection consists of thousands of examples – as well as prayer beads from around the world, some dating back as far as 1550. After you’ve had a wander and a browse, design your own in the gift shop downstairs.
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.
To explore more of Greece, check out the best hotels in Astypalea, and the best hotels in Zakynthos. These are bookable with Culture Trip. During your stay, explore the best things to do in Oia, and relax on the most beautiful beaches in Corfu. Make sure you also book a table in at least one of the best restaurants in Mykonos to sample some delicious Greek dishes.
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