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…

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Location - Laconia

Diving in Pavlopetri

Considered the world’s oldest submerged city, Pavlopetri lies just off the coast of Laconia and boasts much archaeological significance. It may be off limits to casual divers, although a team of experts from the University of Nottingham in Britain have been given permission to study it more closely. There are many other natural underwater treasures to be discovered!

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Rug weaving in Laconia

In Geraki, the women have been weaving the famous Geraki rugs since Ottoman rule. These rugs have had acclaim since their prize-winning days at the Vienna World Fair in 1873 and the Athens World Fair in 1888. For more information or to order: +30 27310 71432, 71261, 71369

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The mountain path from Taygetos to the Magganiari Spring was recently labelled and is recommended for mountain biking. Cycling activities and games also take place around Sparta (e.g. the Spartakiada event from Athens to Sparta in September).

Photo: lakonia-gr.blogspot.com

Diving in Pavlopetri

Considered the world’s oldest submerged city, Pavlopetri lies just off the coast of Laconia and boasts much archaeological significance. It may be off limits to casual divers, although a team of experts from the University of Nottingham in Britain have been given permission to study it more closely. There are many other natural underwater treasures to be discovered!

Find Out More

Mystras is big on organic cultivation as well as organic cattle-raising. Excellent olive oil, honey and natural products grown to perfection in the microclimate of the slopes of Taygetos mountains await visitors to the area. Nearby Karavas boasts a dairy that produces unique feta cheese from local milk. The local Graviera cheese in Therapnes is also worth trying. Residents of the region are known for significant organic farming.

Photo: Eumelia

The Municipality of Monemvasia, while touristic in nature, offers an abundance of good food, including premium citrus fruit and olive oil. Herb pies (smaller ones are called Saitia) and an abundance of fresh herbs will also greet you. You must try the traditional almond sweets (amygdalota) as well as sweets made with sesame and flower water among other exotic ingredients. Names of sweets to try are sweet pies called Skaltsounia or Rafiolia, Floyeres (flutes), Samousas, Meletinia and more. Don’t forget to ask for almond jam! Monemvasia is also known for its wines, some of which are organic, offering a perfect accompaniment to local dishes.

Photo:www.monemvasiatour.com

Smynos is yet another region in Lakonia which produces excellent olive oil, some of which is organic as well.

In Eastern Mani within Lakonia, the area is known for its cheeses, prickly pears, fresh fish and honey. Try them all to get a well-rounded experience of good Peloponnesian cuisine.

Arguably some of the best thyme honey on the peninsula comes from the municipality of Niata, thanks to the plenitude of thyme in the area.

There is a winery near Daphni in the municipality of Krokees that produces interesting bottled wine.

Within the municipality of Vion, the plain of Vatika produces very tasty early-growing onions, in addition to first-grade olives and olive oil, honey, garlic and wine. The area is also known for its good fish.

The municipality of Asopos has a fig festival held during the last 10 days of August, complete with wine and appetizers. Do try the figs anytime of the year.

Hiking from Sparta to Mystras can be an amazing experience. Begin your hike at the end of Lycourgos Avenue in Sparta in the direction of Kalamata or Mystras, then follow the bank of Magoulitsa and Skatias towards the first few houses of Mystras, which should take you less than an hour. This is mostly a path paved with stone under the shade of trees, and is included in the European Long-distance Path E4. You can enjoy amazing views of Mount Taygetos and Mystras along the way, crossing two potable springs, the church of St. Andreas (post-Byzantine) and remains of a water mill.

In the northernmost part of Lakonia the town of Karyes represents the ideal location to begin a hiking through the paths of Mount Parnonas, which are also part of the E4 European hiking route. Nearby in Versthena there is the Monastery of Ayii Anargiri (Aghioi Anargiroi), and the whole area falls under the Ecological Park of Parnonas – Wetlands of Moustos. The villages together offer a fantastic network for hiking and great scenic routes.

Photo: hikingexperience.gr

The Municipality of Smynos north of Gythion boasts the river Smynos surrounded by forests, hills, springs, caves and gullies. Also in the area is the important forest of Vasiliki on Mount Taygetos, which is perfect for hiking. Hiking is also ideal around the river near Arna, with its ravine, old bridges and traditional water mills, particularly in summer. There is also the region of Petrina which is a refuge for many animals such as game, rabbits, partridges, thrushes and others. The E4 mountain route between the northern part of Mount Taygetos and Mani passes through the lovely municipality of Smynos, containing many traditional villages.

Lastly, in the municipality of Niata, around the village of Kremasti at a height of 800 meters, there are several springs and a fir-tree forest that offers many hiking possibilities.

Photo: www.topoguide.gr

Taygetus is a very large mountain where resistance fighters hid for years during the Ottoman era. Today, it is easy to get lost, although there are efforts to identify its paths and render it more eco-friendly for visitors, complete with information centres. Climbing can start at the mountain refuge in the Faridos municipality. The forest of Pentavli in the area is worth a visit.

The area around Monemvasia offers many beaches, some vibrant and others more quiet. Some such as Pori beach are more touristic with sun beds and umbrellas, while Pera Kakavos with its amazing view boasts water sports such as windsurfing. Mandraki beach is family oriented and also has many facilities. Xifias beach is long and sandy, with clear and warm waters. Kourkoula beach on the way to the castle is secluded from the wind. The further you go, the quieter it gets: Three kilometres from away is Pori, good for sports as well as walking. About 6 kilometres away theres Ambelakia Beach with many little gulfs and a handful of restaurants. More to the south there are other, more secluded beaches and gulfs to choose from.

In the municipality of Elos, a long beach starts at Kokkinia and meets the mouth of the Eurotas river, then goes on to Trinissa. This beach is an important biotope for the sea turtle Caretta Caretta, particularly near the Eurotas river delta, near the municipality of Skala. Sea turtles, plovers and sea lilies abound, so does the unique Linum phiosianum, which depend on sand hills for survival. This area has many natural features that set it apart.

Near the port city of Gytheio north of Mani lies a more popular beach of Karavi (ship), so called after the stranded rusting vessel abandoned on its coast.

In the Gulf of Lakonia there as a splendidly long beach called Trinasos, belonging to the municipality of Skala. It begins where the Evrotas meets the Municipality of Elos and crosses the municipality of Krokees. This is also an important beach where Caretta Caretta breeds.

Photo: Κλεάνθης Μαυρόπουλος

The long beach at Valtaki, again a breeding place of sea-turtles, also belongs to the Municipality of Krokees, as do the tiny bays with crystal clear water at Trinissa.
The Asopos municipality with the coastal villages of Archangelos (with a blue flag beach) and Plytra boast good beaches and small hotels. Pretty beaches include those of Sarantinou and Boza beach. The beach of Plytra/Pachia Ammos is also a blue-flag beach.

Other award-winning blue flag beaches are:

Neapoli, within the municipality of Vies (or Vion),  Tigania, in the municipality of Molaon, Vathy and Gythio 2/Selinitsa in the municipality of Gythion, as well as Skoutari and Mavrovouni (1, 2 and 3).

Diving in Pavlopetri

Considered the world’s oldest submerged city, Pavlopetri lies just off the coast of Laconia and boasts much archaeological significance. It may be off limits to casual divers, although a team of experts from the University of Nottingham in Britain have been given permission to study it more closely. There are many other natural underwater treasures to be discovered!

Find Out More

Rug weaving in Laconia

In Geraki, the women have been weaving the famous Geraki rugs since Ottoman rule. These rugs have had acclaim since their prize-winning days at the Vienna World Fair in 1873 and the Athens World Fair in 1888. For more information or to order: +30 27310 71432, 71261, 71369

Find Out More

Rug weaving in Laconia

In Geraki, the women have been weaving the famous Geraki rugs since Ottoman rule. These rugs have had acclaim since their prize-winning days at the Vienna World Fair in 1873 and the Athens World Fair in 1888. For more information or to order: +30 27310 71432, 71261, 71369

Find Out More

Gythion at the Gulf of Neapolis is ideal for windsurfing, so is the beach of Mavrovouni.

Photo: www.gythionhotel.gr

Castle of Kelefa

Peloponnese / Laconia
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Castle of Mystras

Peloponnese / Laconia
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Castle of Yeraki

Peloponnese / Laconia
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Fort at Molaon

Peloponnese / Laconia
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Monemvasia

Peloponnese / Laconia
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Although winemaking in the Peloponnese is found more in the area of Nemea, there are a handful of wineries and estates in Lakonia that both amateur drinkers and conoisseurs would appreciate. For example, there is a winery near Daphni in the municipality of Krokees that produces interesting bottled wine.

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