Sea, history, local products, a wealth of activities: West Messinia is the absolute destination.
Prior to May 2010, when Costa Navarino first opened its doors, the main tourist destinations of the region of Messinia were the city of Kalamata, Ancient Messene and, of course, Mani. The western coast, aside from the towns of Pylos, Methoni and Koroni had far smaller numbers of visitors, with a traditionally low profile in terms of tourism.
But since Costa Navarino started welcoming guests, a lot has changed. The luxurious resort, the new highway, as well as the upgrading of Kalamata’s airport have boosted this area’s image and helped introduce it to a new set of travelers.
The seaside areas of Gialova, Marathopoli and Kyparissia, as well as the mountain villages of Messinia are now on travelers’ itineraries, to whom they offer a variety of outdoor activities, delicious food, and high-quality accommodation.
Below are 10 experiences worth seeking out in Pylos and the surrounding areas.
1. Get Out In Nature
This spring, the Telegraph included Gialova Lagoon in its list of top ten destinations sure to impress visitors. One of the most important wetlands in Europe, the lagoon is a key stopping point for birds migrating to and from Africa; more than 250 bird species have been recorded in the area. It is also the only European habitat of the African chameleon.
Visit the observation stations of the Ornithological Society, and follow the nature walk they have created which passes through the 8 different ecosystems of the lagoon.
Ornithological Society, tel. (+30) 210.822.8704.
2. Visit Nestor’s Palace
One of the best preserved Mycenaean palaces lies 18km north of Pylos. Nestor’s Palace reached the peak of its powers between 1300 and 1200 BC and is located in a prime spot of Messinian land with a breathtaking view of Navarino Bay.
It first came to light during excavations that were carried out in the area during the 1930s and 1940s. The throne room with its large circular hearth, a well-preserved marble bath and the various pottery used to store products such as olive oil and essential oils, are truly impressive. The new roof installed in 2016 to protect the entire archaeological site adds to the grandeur.
Opening hours: daily except Tuesday, 08:00-16:00, entrance fee: €6.
3. Enjoy Unparalleled Hospitality
Five-star accommodation, award-winning golf courses, countless options for high-quality food, authentic traditional activities, water sports, and a high degree of environmental sensitivity: Costa Navarino offers a unique hospitality experience and is a wonderful starting point from which to explore the area.
Even if you do not stay at the Romanos or the Westin Resort of Costa Navarino, you can book a table at one of their cafés or restaurants. This summer, a unique food experience awaits visitors – the Funky Gourmet summer pop-up restaurant by 2 Michelin star-awarded chefs Georgianna Hiliadaki and Nikos Roussos.
Information and reservations: costanavarino.com
4. Swim in the Waters of the Ionian
Aside from the famous Voidokilia Beach (aka Omega Beach), next to the lagoon of Gialova, the area offers many other options for swimming in the crystal-clear waters of the Ionian Sea.
Between the lagoon and Navarino Bay, you will find most locals on Golden Beach, also known as Divari. The beach is 4 km long, with fine sand and turquoise waters and a beach bar at one end. A little bit to the north, 16km from Pylos, there is another beautiful sandy beach, that of Petrochori.
5. Stroll Around the Castles
There are two impressive castles near Pylos: Palaiokastro, which was built in the 13th century AD by the Franks, and Niokastro, which was built in the 16th century by the Ottomans. The first is located between Voidokilia Beach and Golden Beach in a location with a magnificent view of Navarino Bay; however it is difficult to explore, as it has not been properly conserved and there are some dangerous spots.
Niokastro is located on a hill west of Pylos and is one of the best-preserved castles in Greece, housing the Archaeological Museum of Pylos and exhibitions by the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities.
Opening hours: daily except Tuesday, 08:30-20:00, entrance fee: €6.
6. Enjoy a coffee or drink in the shade of an ancient plane tree
If you happen to pass by Pylos, you should not miss enjoying a coffee under the plane trees on the central square with a view of the sea. In the café Platanos (Trion Navarchon Square, tel. +30 27230.226.42) they serve fresh juice, Greek coffee with some traditional Greek sweets (loukoumis) and full breakfast made with many local products.
Next to it, the Krinos patisserie (tel.+30 27230.227.56) is renowned for its galaktoboureko (a kind of creamy custard pie in phyllo dough), pastries, orange cake, and ice cream.
7. Walk the Streets of Pylos
Built amphitheatrically on the slopes of two hills, the town of Pylos took its present form after the naval Battle of Navarino (1827). Almost every part of the town has a view of the bay and the small island of Sfaktiria to the west.
One of the town’s grandest buildings is the mansion where Kostas Tsiklitiras – an early 20th century Olympic champion – first lived. Today it houses a collection of paintings and other items amassed by the French philhellene, historian and journalist René Puaux (1878-1936).
Opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday 08:00-15:00, entrance fee: €2.
8. Go under the Sea
A whole world awaits beneath the waves in the Bay of Navarino and surrounding areas, and the only way to explore it is by scuba diving. Shipwrecks from the Roman and Byzantine eras, as well as the 20th century, will be revealed, like the tanker Irene’s Serenade, sunk in 1980. There are many diving schools in the area, such as the Ionian Dive Center in Marathopoli.
Tel. +30 27630.615.51, ioniandivecenter.gr
9. Taste the Terroir of Messinian Vineyards
When the Nestor Agricultural & Winemaking Cooperative of Messinia was founded in 1954, it represented around 800 vine growers. The area produced quite a large amount of wine, and during the 1980s, international varieties began to be cultivated as well. A few kilometers away from Nestor’s Palace lies the cooperative’s impressively large winery erected in 1993, and which entered a new era in 2015 when it joined forces with experienced winemaker Spiros Lafazanis.
Today, the wine country of Messinia has been revitalized and Nestor brand wines are produced with the collaboration of 200 vine growers. Old local varieties are being rediscovered, and the winery continues to produce exceptional wines at a location with an incredible view. Explore its well-designed spaces, where the history of the cooperative is on display.
Opening hours: Monday to Friday 09:00-16:00 or upon request, Pyrgos Messinias, tel. +30 27630.410.73, nestorwines.gr
10. Bathe in Waterfalls at Polylimnio
21km from Pylos, on the way to ancient Messene, lies Polylimnio, a beautiful network of waterfalls and lakes. The total distance from where you park your car until the last waterfall is almost 3km. If the weather allows take a dip in the bracing waters.