Wandering souls can’t always explain exactly what it is that beckons them to a particular destination. It could be the glimpse of a photograph in a magazine, or a particularly memorable description in a book. Perhaps the location was the backdrop of a popular movie, or mentioned in the lyrics of a favorite song. But I can explain exactly what it was that drew me to Greece. My parents went there on a vacation when I was a girl–the first one I could ever recall them taking, and one of the very few trips they enjoyed without the kids.
My parents returned with tales of an exotic foreign land that left me wide-eyed and slack-jawed. As they recalled their experiences in the company of friends and family, I hung on to every word. I knew then that I would want to see it for myself someday. When I finally made the pilgrimage as an adult, Athens was an exciting mix of old and new, while Santorini was all about the dramatic views. But Nafplion is the Greek destination that most matched the romantic vision I had nurtured in my head as a child.
Nafplion is located in the Peloponnese region of Greece, which is a peninsula in the southern part of the country. It’s separated from the mainland by the Isthmus (a narrow strip of land with sea on either side, forming a link between two larger areas of land) and Canal of Corinth. It was considered an overlooked destination for a long time, but the Peloponnese has recently gained in popularity. It was at the top of Lonely Planet’s 2016 Best in Europe list, as well as Travel + Leisure’s 2018 50 Best Places to Travel list. Thanks to recently improved highways, Nafplion is only a 90-minute drive from Athens, making it the perfect site for a day trip.
Any devotee of Greek Mythology will find many stories based in the Peloponnese. Nafplion is named after its founder Nauplios, the son of Poseidon and Amymone. Poseidon, God of the Sea, is one of the twelve major deities in Greek Mythology. He is brother to Zeus, and fought alongside him in the war that overthrew their father Kronos and the other Titans. Amymone, daughter of King Danaus, was sent by her father to seek water during a drought. While on her quest, Amymone threw a spear at a deer and hit a sleeping Satyr, who woke and attempted to rape her. Poseidon appeared and the Satyr ran off; so Poseidon himself made love to her, after which he told her about the springs of Lerna and saved them from the drought.
Nafplion has played a key role in much of Greece’s history. Port cities have always been desired footholds, and Nafplion was no different. It was conquered by the Franks (Francia is the predecessor of the modern states of France and Germany), Venetians, Turks and Russians. It returned to Greek rule in 1822 when it was freed by General Kolokotronis, and became Greece’s capital in 1828. Greece became a monarchy four years later and Greece’s first king, 17-year-old Otto of Bavaria, resided in Nafplion. Two years later he moved the capital to Athens. You can see traces of these varied empires in the city today, it’s still often referred to as the Venice of Greece.
The Art of Doing Nothing
Two of the main attractions in Nafplion are remnants of its Venetian rule: Bourtzi, a small fortress on an islet, and Palamidi Castle. In the summer, Bourtzi can be reached by boat departing regularly from the port. Getting to Palamidi Castle requires a little more effort: climbing 999 steps. While both are worthy destinations, simply strolling around the old town is a wonderful way to spend the day here. Rid yourself of maps and itineraries, and simply meander around the scenic town. Wander into charming shops and down quiet alleys. Stop for a cup of coffee or a scoop of gelato.
Nafplion can be reached by car or by bus. KTEL buses depart regularly from the Kfissos bus station in Athens. Driving in Athens is not for the weak of heart, so if you’d prefer to travel by car, consider hiring a car service.
Pro Tip: There are numerous benefits to hiring a car service for your trip. Have your driver make a stop at Corinth Canal as well as the Epidaurus Theater, which are both on the way. Your driver could also take you to the top of Palamidi Castle, saving you the torturous 999-step climb. It’s well worth the expense if you’re in a larger party or if you have elderly adults or young children in your group. (Or if your idea of exercise is couch surfing and running Netflix marathons.)
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