Lakonia (or Laconia), the southernmost part of the Peloponnese, is a beautifully varied prefecture and almost like a little country in itself. Bound by the Taygetus mountain range to the west, it boasts many fertile plains and citrus groves in its heart, surrounded by pristine beaches around its two peninsulas. Taygetus rises 2,407 meters, a mountain of five peaks or five 'fingers' (pentadaktylos in Greek). This is the highest and most majestic mountain in the region with lush pine trees, fauna and flora. The other important mountain is Parnon at 1,961 meters. The prefecture also features the long Evrotas river and is known for its oranges.
Laconia is home to the famed town of Sparta (although this is not really reflected in the modern town of Sparti where it is believed Sparta stood). Beyond the great museums in Sparti, more interesting are the historical traditional towns and villages such as Monemvasia (a medieval fortress town known as the Gibraltar of the East – see below) and Mystras (the last Byzantine capital city).
In truth, each of Lakonia's municipalities offers something special. Nature-filled Zarakas, for example, is very mountainous – spread out across the plains and valleys of Mount Parnonas – and protected under the Natura 2000 network. It is also considered a safe haven for birds. Zarakas is best reached by the picturesque route from the pretty port of Kyparissi overland through villages like Ladokambos, Achladokambos and Richea. Then in the lower central part of the Peloponnese, there's the countryside of the Municipality of Krokees, ideal for walks in spring with wonderful villages overlooking Mount Taygetos. The quiet village of Kouman at Vasilakio with its taverns and old plane trees is also worth visiting.
Not far from Sparta lies the municipality of Therapnes with mountains, valleys, olive groves and many other attractions. The hilltop village of Kefalas offers a stunning panoramic view of the plain below and produces great organic olive oil. Next comes the village of Goritsa spread on a hillside in full view of mount Taygetos. After Goritsa and close to Geraki is Agii Anargyri with a magnificent cavernous church of Agios Giannakis – Poros boasts important hagiographies from the 11th and 13th centuries. The village of Polydroso, covered in snow in winter and offering mild, wonderful summers has a lovely small hostel that welcomes visitors, as well as a small stone bridge. In the same municipality lies Chrysafa with important Byzantine churches and beautiful 19th century mansions. For an even more remote experience head to the village of Kalloni between Goritsa and Chrysafa to see the Byzantine Church of Agios Nikolas and the Tower.
On the mountainous northeast tip of Lakonia among fir, chestnut and pine trees lies the picturesque village of Agoriani, graced with several old and new churches, a handful of mansions and a historic olive mill. Cool fountains and stone-built houses make this remote village an attractive eco-destination away from mass tourism.
In contrast, on the complete other side of Lakonia there are also eco wonders to discover: down at the southern tip of the municipality in and around Neapolis (Municipality of Voies), there are the ruins of Ancient Voies, the cave of Agios Andreas, the fossilized palm forest in Agios Nikolaos, Stroggyli Lake natural reserve near Agios Georgios, and the Medieval Castle in Agia Paraskevi.
On the wetern coast of the prefecture, you must visit the Mani. This area has a seperate identity from the rest of the province, if not from Greece as well. The maniots are a proud people with a harsh yet beautiful land, dotted with fascinating stone towers and architecture. A visit to Areopolis and all the way down to the deserted settlement of Vathia must be part of your itenerary. Some churches are over a thousand years old, contrasting against the bluest of seas and skies. Buy honey and herbs from here, and explore the area with abandon.
Turning to the eastern coast of Lakonia, almost like Gibraltar in is separation from the mainland, Monemvasia represents a unique fortress and walled community which is still bustling with inhabitants up to today. The community is guarded by a formidable gate made of fig-tree wood (which resists invaders and doesn't burn easily), reinforced as well with metal. There are no cars allowed inside the fortress, making it as eco-friendly as ever. Arts and literature play an important role in this ancient fortress turned cultural centre, starting with the renowned Greek poet Yiannis Ritsos who hailed from Monemvasia. The lower part of 'town' by the sea features alleyways filled with artwork, including the studio of Manolis Grigoreas. You can stay in the little hotels inside the fort for a historic experience or in the ones across the moat which are less expensive. Both sides of Monemvasia offer a lot to do and see.
These are just a few of the villages and municipalities in the varied prefecture of Lakonia that offer many hidden treasures. Prepare yourself for a true Greco-Mediterranean experience...