Nafplio has a population of less that 14,000 but it appears that most of the citizens live in what I would call the new town. The original town is reputed to be one of the prettiest and most endearing in all of Greece. The narrow streets are lined with multi-story Venetian-style homes, historic churches and even some elegant mansions. The location of Nafplio is second to none; sitting below the towering Palamidi fortress, just over a low hill from an endearing Aegean pebbled beach; nestled next to a small port that has been active since the Bronze Age.
The Venetians invaded this sheltered bay along the Peloponnese coast in 1711 and built a spectacular military base on a 216m-high outcropping at the entrance to the ancient port. It was meant to augment the original Akronafplia fort that sits above present day Nafplio. A third fort engulfs a tiny islet just off the port’s breakwater. The two larger fortresses were each used as prisons during different periods of Greece’s history, one as recently as 1956.
It appears that most of the residents have left the old town and the buildings have been converted into guesthouses, hotels, cafés, and restaurants, as well as high-end boutique shops. It is a mere two-hour drive from Athens so Greek visitors vastly outnumber the overseas visitors on the weekends, but many guesthouses are open throughout the year to accommodate travellers.
There is plenty to occupy the visitor for more than a weekend. However, Nafplio’s real charm, for those who want to say longer, is that it is within striking distance of several historic destinations as well as the islands of Hydra, Spetses and Kythira.
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
We were delighted with the transportation options in Athens, especially the fact that we could travel by modern metro from the airport to the city center for only 5 each, instead of the minimum 50 that a taxi would charge, if you could find a taxi driver at the airport who would agree to use a legal meter.
We were also very pleased with the modern tram network that was built at the same time as the metro for the Olympics in 2004. We rode the tram from Syntagma Square, out to the Aegean Coast and back again in air-conditioned comfort, utilizing all three tramlines in order to see the beaches within striking distance of Athens.
With this experience behind us, you can understand our dismay when we learned that neither the metro nor the tramlines took passengers to either of the long-distance bus terminals. We had decided to travel to Nafplio, on the Peloponnese Peninsula, by bus but getting to Terminal A wasn’t nearly as easy, or as comfortable as it should be. I suppose many foreign travellers would choose to take a taxi, but luckily for us, a dedicated bus 051 ran from a stop a few blocks from our hotel, directly to the terminal, every 15 minutes.
Now I haven’t accurately described the location of our hotel, other than to tell you that it was opposite the fruit and vegetable section of the Athens Central Market. Anil had read that it was on the edge of the ‘edgy’ part of town, and for the most part, this didn’t matter to us because we aren’t ones to be out at all hours of the night. We appreciated that it was a few short blocks from the Monastiraki Metro Station and that the reviews on TripAdvisor were very positive.
The Athens Center Square Hotel is also a few blocks from the Omonia Metro Station, a station to be avoided at all costs because of drug dealers, prostitutes and pick pockets. I didn’t like the fact that the 051 bus stop is very near the Omonia station. However, the grittiness is really bad at night and we were planning on taking the bus in the late morning, so we knew that most of the people on the streets at that time of day were going about their daily business, just trying to make a living and/or get their shopping done.
The bus trip to the Terminal A was uneventful, except that we joined the crowd waiting for the bus and piled aboard without realizing that we had to purchase our ticket from a vendor at a kiosk nearby. We had to struggle to get off again before the bus pulled away, but another one was pulling in right behind it, and it was completely empty. We were at the long-distance terminal in short order, purchased our tickets to Nafplio and then had tea and a snack while we waited for our departure time.
I guess that very few people associated with the 2004 Olympics were required to travel out of Athens by long-distance bus, because it appears that no money was earmarked to improve the quality of the bus terminal itself. We’ve been to some pretty amazing terminals in our travels and I was surprised that this one in Athens was in such a run-down state.
However, the bus itself was a late model Mercedes Benz, comfortable and air-conditioned, so the trip passed quickly and the scenery engaged us completely during the two-and-a-half-hour journey. We passed through Corinth and several smaller towns before arriving at Nafplio. The bus station is located near the old town, so we only had a short distance to walk to our guesthouse.
The double rooms were fully booked when we made our reservation, so we had selected a studio that would accommodate four people if necessary. When we were shown to our room, I was immediately dismayed because it had only a small window high on the back wall and it seemed very dark and uninviting. When we checked in with the gentleman at reception, and asked about staying for a longer time in a different room, he juggled his bookings and gave us a room on the first floor with a separate sitting room and a small balcony. What a difference.
It was still early afternoon, so we set off for a walk to stretch our legs, to get some fresh air, and to scope out the town. We were eager to see the beach, but Anil was feeling unusually tired so we relaxed, checked our email and rested before going out for dinner at a nearby taverna. Most Greeks eat much later in the evening, but we were joined by several older men eating alone. It seemed to me that perhaps they were widowers with no one to cook for them, and this seemed to be a sign that we were eating in a place where the food was tasty and reasonably priced.
After the unattractive beaches we’d seen outside Athens, we were over-the-moon when we saw the sweet little beach and the crystal-clear water the next morning. There were several older residents in the water already and it was clear this was something they did on a regular basis. The younger people of Nafplio were busy with the jobs or their children, but the seniors were out for a refreshing swim to start their day. There were cabanas nearby for the busy summer months, but they were all shuttered and locked for the season.
We admired the beach, felt the warmth of the water and noted the small pebbles that cover the beach. There wasn’t a piece of litter in sight, what a delight. After enjoying the scene for some time, we decided to follow the path that stretches around the headland and explore the water’s edge just a little further. The map that we had received when we checked into our hotel indicated we could walk around the point and end up at the small port of Nafplio, eventually coming full circle back to our hotel.
Though the shops and restaurants were significantly more high-end that either of us had expected them to be, the streets are charmingly rustic and we loved the town immediately. We have more than two weeks before we are due back in Athens for our flight to Cairo and on to Luxor, and we began to make plans to make Nafplio our base while we make day trips to Mycenae, Tyrins, and Epidavros.
We’ll leave our luggage at the Pension Dafni and make a few overnight trips to Hydra, Spetses and perhaps Kythira. If time permits, and we have the energy and enthusiasm, Olympia, Sparta and the rest of the Peloponnese Peninsula beckons with beautiful scenery, historic sites and interesting coastal villages. We’re thinking we’ll stay in this region, which most foreign tourists overlook, and save the popular Greek islands for our next visit to Greece. We’ll come in the springtime, before the heat of the summer arrives, and explore the islands at our leisure.