Explore Exotic West Coast of Greece : Messenia
Messenia Travel Guide – A journey to the west coast of the Peloponnese peninsula reveals beautiful beaches with golden sand and crystal clear waters, endless olive groves and vineyards, and castles with rich history, unveiling the genuine image of the Greek countryside. Where the turquoise waters of the Ionian Sea meet the exoticism to the Messenia region, magic is born. Undeniably, the effortless charm of the region will enchant you from the first moment. The coastline of Messenia is a blessed land enchanted from the prism of history. It is a fact that Messenia is one of the most beautiful and up-and coming destinations of Greece that still has many mysteries to unveil. Although summer in Greece is synonymous with the cool breezes of the Cyclades, Messenia is a genuine revelation. From the fortified castles of Methoni and Koroni, the olive-oil city of Kalamata and the picturesque village of Kardamyli to the imposing waterfalls of Polylimnio, the flowing waters of Neda river with the fairytale gorge, the Mycenaean palace of Nestor and the isles of Sfaktiria, Messenia will surely blow your mind. Built on the heart of the Messenian Gulf, Kalamata is a pleasant musical note for travelers who seek for authenticism, a reason itself for this journey.
Yet, Pylos, Methoni and Koroni compose the massive triangle of Messenia. Passing through a labyrinthine road network with dense vegetation, as Messenia is an ideal destination for driving explorations, Pylos rests peacefully under the auspices of Niokastro castle. The genuine aristocratism, however, is found in Methoni, one of the seven cities offered to Achilles by Agamemnon to persuade him to return to the war of Troy. All the roads of this charming town lead to the imaginary castle with the stone Bourtzi in Navarino Gulf, the world-famous Methoni Castle. The Navarino bay, though, is as one of the most beautiful landscapes of Messenia; Nonetheless, sceneries of immense natural beauty will travel you to the genuine fairytale drive of Messenia.
The fifteen consecutive lakes of Polylimnio seem to have sprung out from the vibrant imagination of the Renaissance painters while the lagoon of Gialova, o ne of the most important Greek shelters for migrating birds and the only European habitat of the African chameleon, will magnetize nature lovers. Walking through fortified castles, discovering Byzantine churches, exploring Mycenaean fragments, visiting deserted islands and important wetlands, rappelling waterfalls and gorges with verdant vegetation; Messenia has it all. The view from the castle of Pylos, the ultimate turquoise waters of Voidokilia, the emerald lakes of Polylimnio, the sunset from the Palace of Nestor, the spectacular waterfalls of Neda, the heart-shaped isle of Sapienza, the stone village of Kardamyli, and the colourful mosaics of the Ancient Messene, a phantasmagorical UNESCO World Heritage Site, will take your breath away. Messenia is yet one of the most authentic places of that country. Where the deepest point of the Mediterranean, Calypso Deep, is found, mysteries emerge. Tamed beauty and genuine exquisiteness will travel you to another era of Greece. Like no other destination.
The imperious city of Ancient Messene is one of the most thrilling archaeological sites of the country. Spreading on thesouthern s lopes of Mt Ithome, once the strongest natural and manmade fortress of Messenia, Ancient Messene was founded in 369 BC by the Theban general Epaminondas, and became the capital of the free Messenian state following a long period of occupation of the Messenian territory by t he Spartans. Strong fortification walls with towers and gates are preserved along a course of nearly ten kilometers, where there are preserved public and religious buildings, many of them reconstructed to a large degree. Ideally situated on a fertile valley over a hillside, and still undergoing archaeological excavations, Ancient Messene has a series of reconstructed monumental structures including the Ecclesiasterion, the Theatre, the Arsinoe Fountain, the Bouleuterion, the Agora and the Stadium as well as an extensive group of funerary monuments. All of these monuments bear witness to the size of the city and its economic, political, religious and social importance. In terms of size and p reservation, Ancient Messene is one of the most important cities of antiquity, which definitely worth a visit, as it has the rare advantage of not being destroyed by other settlement, and being an untouched Mediterranean natural environment par excellence. Combining the mountainous majesty of Delphi and the lowland tranquility of Olympia, Ancient Messene is a must visit offering an insightful representation of the ancient Greek way of life in an ancient Greek city. The archaeological site of Ancient Messene is open from 08:00 to 15:00
Bird Watching at the Lagoon of Gialova
Characterized as one of the most important wetlands in Europe, Gialova Lagoon constitutes the southernmost station of migratory birds in the Balkan Peninsula. Situated seven kilometers away from Pylos, between Voidokilia beach and the settlement of Gialova, the lagoon of Gialova, else known as Divari, spreads over an area of six thousand acres with a maximum depth of four meters. It is a genuine bird paradise since more than 270 species of birds have been counted here from the Hellenic Ornithological Society – the Greek partner of Birdlife International. Thousands of birds flying to Africa in autumn stop at the lagoon to rest for the last time before the long journey of three thousand kilometers over the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara desert. In spring, the birds find shelter on the southernmost European wetland to rest and feed again. Bird species include Ruffs, Garganeys, Grey, Purple and Squacco Herons, Little Egrets, Glossy Ibises, Curlews, Golden Plovers, Black-winged S tilts, Kingfishers, Osprey, Marsh, Pallid Harriers, Great White and Little Egrets, Flamingos, Imperial Eagles, Curlews, Wood Sandpipers, Kestrels, Eagle Owls and Peregrine Falcons among others. One of the most rare species found in the lagoon is the endangered species African Chameleon. The observing station of the Ornithological Society at the Gialova Lagoon enables visitors to learn and observe this shallow brackish lake that has been declared an area of Natura 2000. Bird w atching lovers can follow the Path of Nature to explore the rich diversity of the lagoon. It is a path of one kilometer that crosses eight major ecosystems in Gialova Lagoon. For every ecosystem along the route, visitors can be informed through signs describing the habitat, the vegetation and the colonizing organisms. The Nature Trail, which can be navigated within 45 minutes, provides a lovely experience for nature aficionados. Keep in mind that the best period to observe birds at the lagoon is from September to May!
Built on the heart of the Messenian Gulf, Kalamata is a pleasant musical note for travelers who seek for authenticism, a reason itself for this journey. Although the city itself might not be the most attractive city of Greece, it does have the animated air of a busy market down pinpointed by the long beachfront promenade. The reference point of Kalamata city is the historical center of the city. Wandering in the alleys of the historical center will guide visitors through the rich history of Kalamata. It is a must to visit the legendary Castle Of Isabeau where the International Dance Festival takes place every year. Amphitheatrically built on the site of Farai acropolis, with incredible views to the entire city, the castle was constructed by William Villehardouin during the 13 century, while it underwent various additions by the Venetians and the Turks. Nowadays, it is a wonderful open-air venue for dance, music and theatre events. At the foot of the castle, visitors will have the opportunity to wander around the Old Town of Kalamata where they can visit the Archaeological Museum of Messenia that exhibits an interesting collection of archaeological artifacts, the Municipal with works of art that were donated after the destructive earthquake of Kalamata in 1986 and the Historical and Folkloric Museum of Kalamata that exhibits an interesting collection with objects that date back to the Revolution of 1821. In downtown Kalamata, visitors can walk the lovely pedestrian walkway of Aristomenous Street with many shops and cafeteria until they find the Railway Park, a lovely surprise where train engines and train carriages of different centuries are placed in a verdant landscape. At last but not least, the seaside pedestrian street of Navarinou bustles with life day and night, especially during the summer, a wonderful spot to experience Kalamata as a local.
Beaches of Glossa and Voidokilia
Voidokilia beach, one of the most beautiful beaches of Greece that was voted by the New York Times as one of the world’s 10 best beaches, offers the ideal setting to relax under the cool summer breezes. It is definitely worth the difficulty in finding the route to Voidokilia beach. Surrounded from the massiveness of Gialova Lagoon, nature aficionados will fall in love with this place. Just like an ancient theater, the beach spreads amphitheatrically on a perfectly round bay, consisting of fine golden sand with magnificent turquoise waters. While exploring Voidokilia beach, though, one should not opt out visiting Glossa beach, one of the secret gems of Messenia. Head up to the ancient Mycenaean Tholos tomb and continue on the right path of the hill; there, you will discover the amazing sandy Glossa beach. Our mysterious Greece tip for those two marvelous beaches is to sit back and relax, as you will find no place imitating their beauty in Messenia. Nonetheless, it is highly advisable to hike up to the ruins of the castle of Paleokastro, the 13 century acropolis of Ancient Pylos that provides clear views to the northern entrance to Navarino Bay. Although the castle has been officially closed, avid travelers can explore it with care. Believe us when we are saying that the views from the top of Paleokastro are breathtaking!
Castle of Methoni
Situated at the southernmost point of the western coastline of the Peloponnese peninsula, the castle of Methoni is one of the most beautiful castles of Greece that was built in a place that had been fortified since the 7th century BC. According to the treaty of Sapienza, the fortress was used from the Byzantine up until 1204 AD followed by the Venetians who became the rulers of the region. During the first era of Venetian occupation (1209-1500), Methoni was established as a financial center and commercial port where the town reached its peak. This was the time that the imperious castle of Methoni was erected with its massive fortifications walls, with the most distinctive defensive structures of the medieval Venetian architecture. By 1500, the Sultan Bayezid II captured t he castle of Methoni, initiating a period of turbulent history and prolonged decline in the region. In 1685, the Venetian forces under their leader, Francesco Morosini, conquered again the peninsula of Peloponnese. However, the Ottomans came back in 1715, and this time their dominance remained unchallenged until the early 19th century, when the Greek War of Independence started off. The region of Methoni became the seat of the Pasha of Western Messenia up until 1828, when it was liberated from the forces of the Moreas Expedition led by the General Nicolas Maison. Today, the castle of Methoni is in excellent state of preservation, and even the medieval town of the castle has managed to survive. Some of the most important monuments include the Byzantine church of Aghia Sofia, the Turkish Baths, the 1833 Church of the Transformation along with the remnants of urban buildings. However, the Bourtzi (meaning tower) is the most exquisite piece of work in Methoni Castle. It was built from the Ottomans between 1500 and 1573, on the rocky islet to the south of the castle, in order to reinforce the defensive network of the region, while it also served as a prison and torture chamber. The entrance accessed by a stone bridge with the fourteen arches, constructed from the French General Maison, which is still intact and travelers can marvel the great work that the technicians did when they built it. Through the bridge, travelers will have the opportunity to visit the spectacular castle of Methoni and explore all of its mysteries. Undeniably, the castle of Methoni is a magical sight to behold. The castle of Methoni is open from 08:30 – 15:00.
Palace of Nestor
The Palace of Nestor is the best-preserved palace of Mycenaean Greece, a civilization from the late Bronze Age, which has been described in Homer’s Odyssey as the court of the mythical hero Nestor, who took part in the Argonauts’ voyage and sent 90 ships to fight in the Trojan War. The palace was constructed from King Nestor, son of Neleus, during the 13 century BC. Nestor led Pylos to the Trojan War with 90 ships, and he is presented from Homer as a wise old man, whose opinion was always respected from the Achaeans. It occupies an area of four acres, which consists of three main wings divided into a hundred five ground floor apartments with four main buildings. The most important monuments of Nestor’s Palace include the rectangular “throne room” with its circular fireplace, the bath with the ceramic tub and the numerous storage vessels. It is worth mentioning that the walls of the palace w ere decorated with fine wall paintings. The one thousand clay tablets in Linear B script that were found within the palace, confirm the site’s function as a financial, administrative, political and religious center of Mycenaean Messenia. The great abandonment of the Palace of Nestor happened by a great fire in the late 13 century BC or early 12 century BC, when it was almost completely destroyed and never rebuilt. In 1888, Heinrich Schliemann started the first investigations to identify the Palace of Nestor, but, unfortunately, he was not able to detect it.
Nonetheless, the big breakthrough took place in 1939 from Konstantinos Kourouniotis along with Carl Blegen, who conducted intensive excavations until the first findings of the palace were brought to light. From the excavations, more than one thousand plates with texts in Linear B were discovered from the archives of Nestor’s Palace, which were later (1952) deciphered from Michael Ventris, an architect, and John Chadwick, a linguist. By this way, historians were able to learn important information for the daily life, as well as the economic and commercial activities of prehistoric Pylos. Two royal vaulted tombs were also found in the surrounding area, one of which was restored in 1957 by the Archaeological Service. Numerous archaeological findings from the site of the Palace of Nestor are kept at the Archaeological Museum of Chora ( Address: Hora village Telephone: 0030.27630.31358 Working Hours: 08:30 to 15:00 except Mondays), the Archaeological Museum of Messenia (Address: Benaki & Agiou Ioannou Street, Kalamata Telephone: 0030.27210.83485, Working Hours: 08:00 – 20.00) and the National Archaeological Museum of Athens (Address: 44, 28is Oktovriou Street, Athens Telephone: 0030.213214.800) The archaeological site of Nestor’s Palace will open its doors to the public on June 12, 2016 after a huge restoration project that took place during the last three years with the participation of the University of Cincinnati, of USA. It is open from 08:00 to 15:00.
Waterfalls of Polylimnio
The waterfalls of Polylimnio are one of the best-kept secrets of Messenia! Trek through the woods of this fairytale to explore the mysteries of this corner of Greece. In bright green scenery, with shaped paths a nd wooden bridges, travelers will have the opportunity to discover hidden waterfalls and emerald lakes. Polylimnio is a breathtaking spot full of greenery dotted with fifteen natural lakes and imposing waterfalls, of which the biggest, namely Kadi waterfall, reaches the height of twenty meters. Kadi Lake has an ideal depth enough for diving. However, the water of the lakes is always cold, even during the summer months, so be prepared for a freezing moment! One of the first big lakes is the Italian Lake, and a little further is the Kadoula Lake. From this point, the view is spectacular since all lakes and waterfalls are visible! Access to Polylimnio is easy by following the road from Kalamata to Pylos through Charavgi village. From there, travelers can either ask a local or follow the signs. Both parking areas are easy to find. After leaving the car, travellers will need to walk a dirt road for a while in order to find the narrow footpath that lead to the Polylimnio location. The footpath running through the gorge is easy to follow, as there are supportive metal bars. Beware that it can be quite slippery, so rubber soled shoes are highly advisable. Wear a hat, pack your bathing suit and have a light snack and a bottle of water in your bag. Ideal period for visiting Polylimnio is during the summer, so that you can dive in the cold waters from the rocks! Watch out, however, for Polylimnio’s habitants like large crabs, frogs and tiny water snakes. It’s time for natural explorations!
Isle of Sapienza
Just off the southern coast of the Peloponnese peninsula is the heart-shaped island of Sapienza, the second largest island of the Messenean Oinnoussai, where the Calypso Deep, the deepest point of the Mediterranean Sea, is found at a depth of 5.267 meters. Sapienza is one of the best kept secrets of Messenia that has been untouched from human activity. 98% of the island is lovingly dedicated to mother nature, as an abundance of bushes, oaks and arbutus trees spread over the island. Various animals reside on Sapienza including kri-kri goats, part partridges, pheasants and several other kinds of beautiful creatures of the natural world. For this reason, Sapienza, along with the other Messenian Oinnoussai, has been included in the European Network o f Natura 2000. The landscape of the island is green with slopes covered by low vegetation, while the sole arbutus forest in Mediterranean Sea is found in the center of the northern part. The remarkable thing is that the height of the arbutus trees is greater than t en meters, and making big cranberries at the size of a small apple. This forest has been officially declared a natural treasure since 1986. The center of the island, Spartolaka, is within walking distance from any side of the island and the vista is just beautiful. A glade surrounded by forests and covered with dry clay and fossilized pollen form a unique landscape!
Those who love hiking, must be aware that once they step in the forest, they might feel that might entered into a jungle, since the wild, virgin forests of Sapienza are not visible from the sea level. In and around of Sapienza the avid divers will have the opportunity to explore several old shipwrecks, since its location is over the main sea route between Italy and the Middle East made it vulnerable. Underwater beauty in Sapienza is irresistible. An interesting fact is that local authorities have plans for creating an underwater park in order to showcase the underwater treasure of Sapienza. On the island, there is also an important lighthouse that was built in 1885 from the British settles. Although, there is not lighthouse keep today, the lighthouse works with solar power hives, and its light can be seen from a distance up to 28 sea miles. Don’t miss visiting the lighthouse, from the trail that begins from Porto Longo natural harbor, since it offers magnificent views to the surrounding landscapes. Sapienza is a great alternative destination in Messenia offering interesting exploratory and hiking opportunities to the lovers of nature and history. Grab a seat in one of the charming caiques that sail from Methoni and Finikounda, and don’t forget to ask the captain to dive in Ammos beach.
River Rafting at Neda River
At the foothills of Lykaion Mountain, travellers will find the springs of breathtaking Neda River. The only river with a feminine name is wild and calm, but above all marvellous. Neda canyon is a rare and yet unexplored until recently corner of the Greek nature. The constant changes of scenery, lush vegetation, huge river stones into the light green waters and the majestic rocks, make its crossing a t rue challenge that delights the travelers. The dramatic waterfalls of the river appear unexpectedly on its course, forming lakes with crystalline waters. It is really interesting that the water of Neda River follows a path of natural wealth of thirty-two kilometers, and finally reaches the Ionian Sea. Mythology has it that Neda was the water nymph that nursed the infant Zeus and protected him from Cronus, who ate his own children. Neda nymph transformed into a river and the long braids of hair of her became beautiful waterfalls that decorate the passage of water in the canyon. Maybe this is the reason that the gorge of Neda is such a wonderful spectacle of the Messenian countryside. Undeniably, Neda River is one of the most thrilling rivers in Greece, as it is still a hidden gem. Whether you are an extreme sports lover or not, it is a must to practice canyoning, hiking, rafting or trekking through this spectacular gorge. The river rafting and hiking route provided by Explore Messinia begins from ancient Fygalia. By following the stream, which leads to a totally unspoiled natural environment, avid travelers walk through wild vegetation, old plane trees, narrow rocky passages and impressive ponds in order to discover a well-hidden natural paradise. Just off Neda village, you will discover an enchanting portrait of nature with crystalline waterfalls and blue ponds that are poured into the main river, by continuing rapidly their course to the sea. Neda River is one of the jewels of Greek nature, as this region has managed to be kept virgin and untouched by tourism development. Every summer, local clubs and naturalist groups organize hikes to the gorge Neda. It is definite that the greenery sceneries, the turquoise waters and the majestic cliffs make the crossing of the gorge an unforgettable experience.
Town of Pylos
Situated on the southwest coast of the Peloponnese peninsula, in the beautiful environment of the Messinian land, the lovely seaside town of Pylos spreads over the large Navarino Bay. The town of Pylos has a rich history dating back to the Mycenean period until its final liberation through the famous battle. The name of the town borrowed its name from the neighboring Homeric Pylos of Nestor. The harbor of Pylos is one of the largest and safest harbors in the world, and the island of Sfaktiria in front of the bay of Navarino, serves as a natural breakwater. Today, the presence of the conquerors is still visible through the neoclassical architecture of some buildings. One of the monuments visitors ought to visit is the castle of Niokastro, one of the best-preserved fortresses in Greece with beautiful pine trees and important monuments, which offers panoramic views of the entire town of Pylos. Within the premises of the castle, visitors will have the opportunity to admire the impressive Transfiguration of the Saviour church, which functioned as a mosque during Ottoman rule. It was constructed in 1573 and played a key role in the famous Battle of Navarino. Pylos rests peacefully below Niokastro, reminiscent of an island hamlet. The town is amphitheatrically built according to a peculiar architectural design. Enjoy a refreshing coffee under the shade of the trees at the traditional cafeterias in the central square of Trion Navarhon with the imposing monument of the three Admirals and the two cannons from the Naval Battle of Navarino, visit the Archaeological Museum of Pylos with an interesting collection of findings from the surrounding area of Pylos, and the Museum of Underwater Antiquities that houses important archaeological treasures of the shipwrecks of the Peloponnese. It is also worth visiting the renovated two-story house of the Olympic champion Kostis Tsiklitiras, which exhibits the remarkable collection of the philhellene René Puaux. Before you leave, it is a must to visit Sfaktiria Isle and Navagio Bay through a lovely boat trip.