Mykonos, Santorini, and Athens may endlessly captivate tourist attention, but restauranter Nick Tsoulos, who founded the renowned Greek seafood Avra Estiatorio brand with Marc Packer and Nick Pashalis, says that the real heart of Greece is the Peloponnese.
Born and brought up in the town of Nafpaktos, near the Peloponnesian Peninsula, Tsoulos, who is based in New York where three Avra restaurants are located, spends his summers in the latter. He also makes trips in the fall, winter and for Greek Easter.
“The region has a little of everything that makes Greece so special and is a destination in both the warm and cold seasons,” he says. “There are archaeological sites, mountains, gorgeous beaches, vineyards and lively tavernas and bars.”
Tsoulos shared some of his favorite Peloponnese spots with Penta.
I love Amanzoe in Kranidi near the coastal town of Porto Cheli. It’s an ultra-luxury hotel on top of a hill where you’re pampered every minute you’re there. The rooms are huge, you can’t beat the service, and the serene setting really helps me unwind.
In the fall and winter, I prefer to stay at Euphoria Retreat which is located within the UnescoWorld Heritage site of Mystras at the foot of Mount Taygetos. The hotel is surrounded by a magical forest filled with orange and pine trees, and you can go on scenic walks and hikes through the forests and mountains. There’s nothing better than spending a few hours exercising in nature and ending the day at the property with a delicious meal and a good Greek red wine.
Likinia Hotel is in the town of Monemvasia, which is situated in the southern Peloponnese, is another of my regular hotels. It was built inside the ancient Castle of Monemvasia, so the setting is really unique and romantic, as is the town itself.
Maria’s in the port city of Ermioni serves local dishes using the freshest ingredients and specializes in magirefta, food that is slow-cooked in the oven, the way a Greek mom would cook. The dolmades in avgolemono sauce, keftedes, and the moussaka are the dishes to order.
Kastro Karima in the seaside town of Nafplio specializes in Peloponnesian cuisine with a twist. I like the romantic atmosphere and the live-music nights they host.
Esperos Ixthis is a taverna specializing in grilled fish and seafood, and as the owner of a seafood restaurant myself, I can tell you that the quality is incredible. The fish soup and the barbounia are go-to items in this local staple.
Mon Cheri Cocktail Bar in the old center of Kalamata is a fantastic place for drinks and live music. The friendly staff and wide variety of cocktails make this a great spot to end a night out.
Notos in Patra is a lively jazz bar with fantastic service, excellent drinks, and interesting decor. I order a Cox’s Daiquiri whenever I’m there.
For the adventurous traveler, visiting the Caves of Diros is a must. The best way to experience them, and see the stalagmites and crystals inside, is to go with a guide on a boat so that you can also learn about their history.
The Theatre of Epidaurus is in the ancient city of Epidaurus and has extraordinary architecture and acoustics.
There’s so much to do in the Peloponnese when the weather is cooler. I recommend visiting the Polylimnio Waterfalls near Messenia, taking a tour of olive oil farms and going to Domaine Skouras Winery in Argos for a tasting of red wines—I drink the merlot and Synoro, which is a blend of three grapes.
My sons and I also always make sure to spend a day in the city of Olympia because we like seeing all the archaeological sites and refreshing ourselves on Greek history.
Greek wild oregano from Mount Taygetos has a wonderful scent that reminds me of the Peloponnese when I use it at home. And in Kalamata, I buy the [Kalamata] olives that are grown in groves on the outskirts of the city.
From a cultural perspective, it’s most interesting to visit the city of Patra right before Lent for Greek Orthodox Easter to experience Apokries, a Greek carnival where locals dress up in masks and costumes and dance, drink, and feast on meat all night. Visitors are welcome to participate—make sure you come prepared with your mask and costume.