The southern Peloponnese may be Greece's mythical heart, but a holiday here is not all about the ancients, says Fiona Hardcastle.

Why go…

Ignore the islands, turn left at Athens and make the journey that defeated Nero across the dramatic Corinth canal, for it is in the Peloponnese that you will find staggering landscapes, soaring mountains and the mythical heart of Greece. Fill your lungs with the scent of olives, oranges, cypresses and history. The cast of ancient characters is a classicist’s dream – Clytemnestra’s murderous welcome of Agamemnon returning home to Mycenae from the Trojan War; Nestor’s Palace at Pylos, from which Odysseus’s son set out in search of his father; the inspiration for the river Styx and the entrance to Hades. And you don’t have to own a well-thumbed Thucydides to feel a thrill driving through the once-mighty city states of Corinth and Sparta.

But it’s not all about the ancients: the Peloponnese today is an unspoilt patchwork of dizzying mountains, deep gorges, green valleys and wild flower meadows. The further south you get, the fresher the air, the more splendid the isolation. Go before the blistering August temperatures nudge 40C.


 Spend the morning…

Exploring the fortified town of Monemvasia, nicknamed the “Gibraltar of Greece”. Separated from the mainland by an earthquake in 375 AD, this huge rock is reached by a causeway and is divided into a charming lower and upper Byzantine town.

Park the car outside the city walls and explore the winding cobbled streets lined with pretty shops and cafes, leading to the 13th-century cathedral Christos Elkomenos, one of four churches left from an original 40. You’ll need stamina to make the steep climb up the paved stair-street to the upper town, now totally deserted, the last inhabitant having left in 1911. But you will be rewarded with breathtaking views.

 Spend the afternoon…

Adjusting to the deliciously slow pace of life. Nothing happens here in a hurry. Take up position under one of the orange trees that line the Kinsterna’s fresh springwater infinity pool, jolting back to life only when water-winged children attempt to get out of it on the wrong side.

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