The Mellow Side of Greece

Lose yourself in the serenity of the Greek Peloponnese, where calm tranquility awaits.

On trips I tend to pack our days full of activities—like I'm in a hurry to see and do everything I possibly can. Peter complains about our packed itineraries, saying we need to relax when we're on vacation, enjoy the moment. So I'm learning to build in more down time, more terrace sitting, sunset watching, and strolling along with no itinerary in mind.

Which explains how we got here to a small fishing village in a remote coast of the Peloponnese. I'm not even sure this place has a name. We've been sitting in this café for hours, drinking in the warm December sun, not thinking, just being, enjoying the slow pace here in this quiet corner of Greece. Ahh, so this is what travel is supposed to be about.

On the first leg of our trip (see our March issue), Peter and I explored Athens and a beautiful town called Loutraki on the Sea of Corinth. Now we will discover a slice of the Peloponnese before embarking from Athens on Celestyal Cruise's amazing three-continent adventure. Join us for a few days as we savor the mellow side of Greece.

Taste Delicious Greek Wine at Skouras Winery

Learn About Nimea and Agiorgitiko, a Greek Varietal

Wine has an ancient history in Greece. It's been around for 10,000 years, maybe longer. Winemaking became prevalent in the Bronze Age, and the number of ancient amphorae recovered in archaeological sites and from sunken ships attests to its popularity among Ancient Greeks. In Greek mythology, wine was said to be invented by Dionysus, who was often characterized as a party animal who lived the good life. Scholars say Dionysus believed wine would ease suffering and bring joy—I'll drink to that!

The northeast corner of the Peloponnese (about two hours from Athens), a region known as Nimea, has long been a fertile growing ground for grapes. One ancient varietal, agiorgitiko (pronounced eye-your-yi-ti-ko), is a new favorite of mine, so one bright, sunny day Peter and I drive our rental car from Loutraki to a well-established wine estate called Skouras near Nafplio to taste amazing Greek wines.

Our guide, Elena, welcomes us to Skouras with a wide dimpled smile. The winery, an elegant ochre building, is both winemaking facility and tasting/event room. After we tour the production side of the winery, which was humming with activity and the clinking of bottles, we taste Skouras' signature wines. The comfy bistro-like tasting room is decorated in wood paneling and colorful, contemporary art.

While the estate also grows international varietals—cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and syrah, for example, the owner has a passion for agiorgitiko, and I can see why. Elena explains that agiorgitiko is a polydynamic grape, which can produce "several expressions." Blackberries, red cherries, herbs, plus notes of sweet vanilla and black pepper characterize many of wines we taste made from this grape varietal. The Megas Oenos is my favorite, a blend of cabernet sauvignon and agiorgitiko. Aged for 18 months in French oak barrels, it's silky and layered. Mmm.

Sit on a Terrace in Nafplio, A Relaxing Seaside City

Don't Miss Veggie Mezzes at Mezes Lixnari

In Nafplio we stay in one of Agrotospita Country Houses, a well-maintained three-bedroom home in the countryside, a bargain at about $80 a night. I love hotels, but staying in a private home can be so much more comfortable. This one has a fenced yard with orange trees and a spacious veranda. We love it.

I remember visiting Nafplio 20 years ago when we traveled through Europe with our three young boys on a six-month camping journey. Our visit to Greece was a highlight of the trip. In fact, I still remember the nearby campground on the Saronic Gulf, where we stayed. All around us oranges and lemons hung from sweet-smelling trees. When we strolled through the lovely seaside town of Nafplio, café tables were full of smiling people and octopi hung on lines drying in the warm sun.

Now there's a chill in the air, and Nafplio is empty of tourists, which is fine with us. Our first evening, we find a terrace overlooking the harbor and watch a brilliant sunset and then stroll through town and, following our instincts, choose a cute little restaurant for dinner called Mezes Lixnari. Greeks, like the Spanish, tend to dine late, so the place is empty, but warm and cozy nevertheless. Wooden tables, rustic décor, and Greek music set the scene, and Peter and I take a break from the lamb and seafood we've been indulging in and order veggie mezzes.

One Greek dish you'll find in many restaurants is horta or boiled greens, served with a dollop of olive oil and a couple lemon wedges, so good. We don't even know what kind of greens we're eating, but we know they're packed with vitamins and nutrients. Another crazy-good dish is simple boiled potatoes, but these are serves with a generous dollop of olive oil, yummy capers, Greek olives, sautéed onions, and lemon wedges. Wow, so delicious. I love Greek food.

The next day it's raining, so we spend a relaxing morning, catching up on email, and reading. Then we drive to town to visit the Peloponnese Folklore Museum, where we learn about traditional costumes, furniture, decorative arts, and even children's toys. It's a fascinating glimpse into Nafplio's past. With the rain steadily falling, we head to another seaside town for a mid-afternoon lunch at a restaurant Elena recommended. Grilled fish, Greek salad, and lightly-fried, thin slices of zucchini make this another memorable meal.

Discover Magnificent Views on Horseback in Nafplio

Land Life Travel Offers Nafplio Outdoor Adventures

The next morning we are happy to see the rain is gone since a horseback ride is on the agenda. We arranged our 90-minute ride through a local outfitter called Land Life Travel and meet our guide in a nearby village. A kind man living a simple life off the grid, Aris is passionate about his horses and sharing the beauty of the countryside with guests. My mount is tall, but gentle Aris assures me. Peter gets on a beautiful spotted horse with a snow-white mane, a bit feistier, perfect for Peter.

We proceed to ride through Aris' small village and into the countryside. It's stunning. Slowly we begin to ascend, and Aris tells us he is taking us to a place with a beautiful view. Suddenly a steep hill rises before us. Aris had already asked how we felt about galloping, but he left out the part about galloping straight up a steep hill.

As we approach, I lean forward and grab a handful of my horse's mane and we're off, heading straight up. I'm afraid to look to the side where a steep drop off is a little concerning, so I look toward the hilltop, and finally laboriously my stalwart steed gets me to the pinnacle, and I (insert pat on the back here) don't fall off.

Aris was right. We can see forever: villages and towns spread before us like a painting framed by mountains, and to the south the Argolic Gulf undulates to the horizon. I can almost picture the ancient Greek ships carrying Odysseus and his men to Troy, amply stocked with amphorae containing wine, perhaps from Nimea, to celebrate their victories. Back in the village, we dismount, say goodbye to Aris and his beautiful horses, and promise to come back one day.

Hike and Rock Climb in Leonidas, A Remote Coastal Town

Dine At Michael & Margaret's Tavern

Along the east coast of the Peloponnese, tall mountains rise up straight out of the sea, and curving roads are carved out of the granite. Spectacular views appear around every turn as Peter and I head south to our next destination, Leonidas, where I rented our lodgings. I came across Agroktima Guesthouse online and just fell in love with the charming stone-built houses.

Most people plan to visit a destination first and then look for a place to stay. Sometimes I do it the other way around. Of course, I researched Leonidas and found it to be a beautiful town with sheer rock walls rising up to the north, monstrous mountains to the west and south, and unspoiled beaches to the east. I knew Peter and I would find activities to enjoy.

And we do. We visit a monastery way high up in the mountains, light candles in the old church, and buy fresh olive oil from a monk. We hike up into the mountains, an arduous climb to a small chapel at the top, and barely make it halfway up. Maybe next time, we say. We walk through Leonidas one quiet afternoon and find poinsettia bushes as big as trees and charming homes and a grocery store where we buy food to cook for dinner. Leonidas is known for its sweet eggplant grown locally, so we eat a veggie-forward dinner and relax in front of the fireplace at night.

Our favorite excursion is to a tiny fishing village nearby with peaceful pebbled beaches. On a supremely beautiful afternoon with a clear sky and warm sun, we stroll along the beach and see a few "wild campers," mostly young people who camp in their vans a few days here and there, usually in parking lots or on the beach, and live the simple life. Tow-headed kids play in the sand, someone strums a guitar, and we fantasize about being wild campers ourselves one day. I'm thinking, yeah!

Then we find a restaurant and sit on the terrace in the sun overlooking the harbor. We're not really hungry so we just order drinks. Hours pass as we watch people coming and going in this quiet fishing village. Cats gather to watch as a young boy fishes. He's luckless, so an older man comes to offer advice, but the boy doesn't want it, so he packs up and moves to another fishing spot.

A grandmother greets her grandchild, who for some reason starts wailing, distressing the grandmother, the mother, and me. A young woman, one of the wild campers, pregnant and pretty, comes to buy tomatoes from the country store across the square. Someone greets her, which makes me think they've been camping in this idyllic spot for a while. Lucky them.

Peter and I end up getting hungry and order fried sardines. Crunchy, salty, and tasting like the sea, the meat comes easily off the tiny spines, and we savor every bite. As the sun goes down, an evening chill descends. Time to go back to our cozy stone house and light a fire. Before leaving, we take pictures with the restaurant owner, whose name is Margaret, like mine. We feel connected to this place, the Greek way of life, and wish we could linger here longer.

Next month - Pt. 3 of our adventures. Join us as we embark on a 3-Continent Cruise with Celestyal Cruises.

For more information, visit:

To arrange a horseback ride with Aris and/or other outdoor adventures in the Peloponnese, visit www.landlifetravel.com

Life's short. Plan a trip today!

Peggy Sijswerda

Tidewater Women Magazine, Editor & Co-Publisher.

Website: www.peggysijswerda.com
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