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Local activities in the Peloponnese

As we launch our Green Traveller's Guide to the Central and Southern Peloponnese, Clare Hargreaves picks out a selection of local activities in the great outdoors.

With its lofty mountain ranges, extensive coastline and dramatic river gorges, the southern Peloponnese has plenty to keep you active. Explore the Mainalon, the vast massif at its heart, on foot, bike or horseback. Or test your inner Robinson Crusoe by joining a course in survival tactics - including creating fire with sticks. Swim, sail or kayak off the peninsula’s coastline, while enjoying its sandy beaches and crystalline turquoise waters as well as spectacular river gorges to raft down. Adventurous foodies will enjoy city food tours, olive oil tours and mountain mushroom-hunting.

Photos: Richard Hammond and Clare Hargreaves

Google map: shows the location and details of all the places to stay, local food and drink, nearby visitor attractions and activities in our Green Traveller's Guide to the Central and Southern Peloponnese:

Green = Places to stay Blue = Local food & drink Yellow = Attractions Purple = Activities

Activities in the Peloponnese

Sea Kayaking at Kardamili (pictured above)

The great thing about kayaking is that it can get you to places that are otherwise inaccessible, and on this trip, run by Explore Messinia, that leaves from Kardamili’s old harbor, you’ll paddle out to hidden sea caves, rock gardens below spectacular, as well as stop off at a glorious sandy beach for delicious lunch of freshly baked bread organic, homemade olive oil, cheese and fruit. The highlight is the Blue Cave - a wonderful natural phenomenon where a shaft of sunlight through a crack in the cave reflects on the sea floor and bathes the cave in aquamarine light. Explore Messinia also run day tours and multi-day adventures in the region, including stand-up paddle boarding, river trekking, rafting, cycling and canyoning.

Food tour of Kalamata

You might not realise at first glance, but the historical centre of Kalamata hides a trove of food treasures, from charcutiers crafting the region’s famous pasto (salted pork) to pastry shops producing delicious orange cake, stores selling local herbs or home-made yoghurt, and a vibrant fruit and vegetable covered market. Kalamata Tours, run by the company Food Philosophy, takes you straight to the city’s most authentic food stores, enabling you to meet their owners and taste their foods. You end up with lunch in a local taverna where you taste the traditional gournopoula(roast pork) and wash it down with local wines or a glass of ouzo.

Olive tour in Androusa, near Kalamata

Do you know your koroneiki from your kalamata? These are the key olive varieties grown on the Messinian plains around Kalamata, and you can learn all about their growing, harvesting and pressing on a tour run by Dimitra and Stathis Kontopoulos at Androusa, northwest of Kalamata. Dimitra’s husband’s family have been farming olives for generations, so there’s little they don’t know about the production of extra-virgin olive oil. Tours start at the family’s grove next to Androusa’s 13th-century castle, and you then travel to the mill for a guided tour and some serious tasting, followed by a light lunch of local produce (including home-grown olives!) and wines.

Mainalon ski centre

Greece may not seem the obvious location for skiing, but Athenians and locals alike love this tiny resort hidden in the fir-clad Mainalon massif - known as the mountain of Pan - which covers the centre of the Peloponnese. Depending on weather conditions it’s usually open from December to March, but check the website before you go. There are seven slopes for all levels, and a chalet where you can get a hot drink after your exertions on the slopes. It’s a peaceful centre - very different from the huge industrial ski resorts in other parts of Europe.

Horse-riding in Elati, Mainalon, with Christos Simopoulos

Christos spends part of his time carving wood into fantastical sculptures and items of furniture, which he sells in Athens and elsewhere, but the rest of the time takes people into the Mainalon mountains on horseback. He has nine horses in all, provides all the equipment you need, including hard hats and saddles, and he can cater for all levels of expertise. It’s hard to think of a lovelier way of exploring Mainalon’s forests and grassy clearings, which are stunning at every time of the year. (Greek only)

Mushrooming, and survival tactics in the Mainalon mountains

Menalo is a mountain range in the centre of the Peloponnese, that includes some spectacular landscapes and villages. Explore them on foot, mountain bike, or jeep, led by company founder Panos Panagopoulos who is based in the village of Vitina. Walks range from easy trails of just over an hour (3kms) to longer ones of 2.5 hours (6.6kms) or a half or whole day. Panos also runs courses in survival tactics and archery, and in autumn, mushrooming trips. During the latter, look out for milk-cap, boletus or St George mushrooms, then cook them up and get feasting.

Rafting in the Lousios gorge

The Lousios river in Arcadia - and its densely vegetated gorge - is considered one of the most beautiful in Greece. According to Pausanias, the 2nd century AD Greek traveller and geographer, the Lousios is also where Zeus, the father of Olympian gods, bathed after his birth. Rafting is a fantastic way to experience its fast-running crystalline waters. This half-day trip, which starts at Maratha village, takes you three kilometres along the Lousios, which then enters a gorge where it falls into the River Alfios. The rapids on the descent are rated easy to moderate and in summer are suitable for beginners upwards.

Hike the Mainalon Trail

One of the loveliest ways of exploring the mountainous region of Gortynia, the western part of Arcadia, is by walking a 75-kilometre long-distance footpath called the Mainalon Trail. Starting in the historic village of Stemnitsa, it follows the gorge of the Lousios River (visit its rockface monasteries as you pass), then continues over the western slopes of Mt. Menalo, through the valley of the Mylaon River and over the northeast Gortynian mountains. This self-guided tour takes you through eight attractive mountain villages over seven days. You end up at the village of Lagkadia, known as the village of the stone builders.

Trekking the River Neda

The 31 km-long Neda often gets overlooked in favour of Arcadia's better-known Lousios river, but it’s just as spectacular. (It’s also unique in being the only river in Greece to have a feminine name!) This four-hour trek, which starts on the bridge between Platania and Figaleia, south of Andritsaina, takes you along the narrow cliffs bordering the gorge. When the gorge gets too narrow, you swim, finally ending up in natural river pools by the Neda’s magnificent waterfalls. There’s a chance to explore underwater caves too, and a picnic lunch is provided as part of the tour.

Climb Mount Taygetos

Summit the mighty 2,407-metre Taygetos in one action-packed day, or over two with an overnight camping on the way. The longer route is 17 kilometres long, and includes around 10 hours of walking, whereas the one-day trip is just 9 kilometres and takes 6 to 7 hours. Both offer spectacular flora and fauna as well as views across the Messinian Gulf as far away (on a fine day) as the white mountains of Crete. The Kalamata-based company provides guides, provisions and all the equipment you will need.

Rock climbing in Lagada climbing park

If you fancy some ‘proper’ rock-climbing, the crag at Lagada, among the Alpine meadows and pine forests of Mount Taygetos, near Tripi, is a beautiful place to do it. The park lies at around 800 metres and has spectacular mountain views all around - and yet it’s only 14 kilometres from Sparta. With around 100 routes up its limestone cliffs, there’s something for every level of expertise and you can also choose sun or shade. A four-hour tour includes transfer, mountain guide, climbing instructor, climbing shoes and helmet and all the necessary climbing equipment.

Sea kayaking in the southern Mani

On this one-day trip you start by exploring the picturesque small coastal village of Gerolimenas (which means Old Harbour) then paddle south past impressive limestone cliffs and hidden beaches. You also get the chance to admire Mani’s historic tower houses, including the spectacular village of Vatheia, sadly now abandoned, and to stop at fishing villages such as Gialia, Almiros and Kiparissos. Before heading back north, kayakers enjoy a lunch made from fresh local produce. The trip lasts around six hours, with approximately 2.5 hours paddling, and is suitable for all levels.

Hiking Navarino Bay

This one-day hike starts from the beach of Divari then follows a path around the lagoon that’s the largest wetland in southern Greece and an important shelter for migrating birds. Hikers then cross the beautiful beach of Voidokilia and are free to bathe in its turqouise waters before continuing uphill to the peninsula of Koryfasio. En route there’s a chance to explore the cave of Nestor, the mythical “wise” king of Pylos. The climax is reaching the medieval castle of Paleocastro, from where there are magnificent 360-degree views which you can enjoy over a picnic lunch.

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