AS GREEK AS IT GETS; AMAR GROVER Discovers the Rich History and Rugged Beauty of Greece's Peloponnese Coast
Byline: AMAR GROVER
t he PeloPonnes e doesn't exactly boast instant recognition on the holiday circuit -- and that's half its charm. situated in the south-west, it's a more low-key and traditional part of mainland Greece, though technically it's an island (the country's largest) because of the four-milelong Corinth Canal.
But it packs in more sights than most of Greece's island groups put together.
We visited for three weeks with our two young sons Amrik, five, and Dorian, two. such is its size -- and our leisurely, even slothful, pace -- that we covered only its southern coastline, with a few forays inland. But what a coastline: olive grove hills slide into farmland and orchards; rugged cliffs melt into golden sandy coves; sparkling seas lighten to turquoise shades: it's cheap, cheerful and often simply beautiful.
We began in a region called Messinia, one of three peninsulas that jut far into the Mediterranean.
Before we'd even reached our small villa in the hills near Khrani, we were shopping. on the main road, fruit farmers had set up stalls whose tables sagged with sun-ripened fruit.
We bought sweet juicy oranges and hit the pool half an hour later. our boys love building (and destroying) castles, preferably on a sandy beach, but Messinia boasts several real castles with beaches to match, so we wasted little time in heading down the coast to Koroni.
huddled beneath a long, flat hill that plunges cliff-like into the sea, it's a pretty little town with a medieval heritage.
The narrow lanes just below the castle walls make for tight manoeuvring, so you're best off leaving the car and walking the last stretch up through the open gates. We followed a small section of wall and headed down to a round bastion with fine views of the town and coastline.
Inside lies an odd mix of vegetable plots, a church (orthodox, of course), and a charming old nunnery of whitewashed buildings. The friendly nuns fussed over our boys, and we admired their beautifully kept gardens.
It was from up here that we spied the long Zanga Beach, and its gleaming invitation for an afternoon swim. Perhaps it was the heat -- southern Greece can be scorching in midsummer -- but rarely has the sea seemed so subl ime as we frol icked in brilliantly clear water in the company of nimble little fish.
Instead of simply heading across the neck of Cape Akritis, we drove down almost to its tip. small country roads wound over the rugged hills through tiny, forgotten-looking hamlets, and we came down to the coast again at Tsapi Beach, a modest crescent of sand overlooked by steep hills and blessed with a rustic taverna.
Messinia's south-western coast boasts some of the Peloponnese's loveliest beaches. We watched fami l ies play vol leybal l on Methoni's arc of sand before paddling in its gently shelving water. What really sets the town apart, though, is its huge citadel. like Koroni's, it is Venetian in origin. In medieval times they were collectively known as 'The eyes' and guarded the sea routes to Crete and the holy land.
Today, you can still head up across the broad moat and through a high-walled passageway. …