Packed with ancient sites, magical activities and pristine scenery, this rugged region has something for every taste
The Peloponnese is that hand-shaped peninsula at the bottom of Greece, whose four 'fingers' point towards the Cyclades and Crete. Backdrop for romantic drama Before Midnight, each one of those 'fingers' has its own, unique charm.
Around the Corinth canal
The Romans had the first plan to link the Aegean and Ionian seas by slicing a passage for boats through the six-kilometre wide Corinth isthmus. Adopted by the region's successive conquerors, that ambitious project wasn't realised until 1893, however. Still used by large ships, the sight of a freighter passing through the Corinth canal's narrow funnel is unforgettable.
Famed for its raisins, the modern town of Corinth is fairly bland, but the original site of this 8th century BC city-state grouped around its ancient temple of Apollo and medieval acropolis, is jaw-droppingly stunning.
From Argolis to Epidavros
The olive- and orange-grove-studded Argolis region was named for the ancient Greek city of Argos, which was once its capital. A highlight of this region is Epidavros, the amazingly well-conserved fourth-century BC theatre whose excellent acoustics are appreciated by countless world-renowned musicians who perform classical concerts here in summer.
Further along the coast, the pretty seaside resort of Nafplio lures visitors with its picturesque alleys, Italianate architecture - and the world's only museum dedicated to the Greek komboloi, or worry beads.
Argolis is also home to Mycenae, Agamemnon's legendary citadel. Well worth a visit, this second-century BC site is studded with Royal tombs, including the one in which Agamemnon was buried with that famous golden face mask, which is now on display at Athens' Archaeological Museum.
Discovering marvellous Monemvasia
Greece's version of Gibraltar, this superbly conserved sixth-century citadel perched high on its rock sits at the bottom of the narrow Vatika peninsula. A charming potpourri of Byzantine, Turkish and Venetian architecture, Monemvasia's ancient stone houses are still inhabited by descendants of the town's original occupants.
An easy drive from Monemvasia, sun lovers flock to discover some of Greece's best beaches at Elafonisos, whilst fans of Greek myth take the short ferry ride to visit love-goddess Aphrodite's island of Kythera.
The Ayia Sofia is a beautifully preserved 14th century Byzantine church in Mystra. Photograph: Oliviero Olivieri/Getty Images/Robert Harding World Imagery
From Mystra to Kalavrita
Little remains of ancient Sparta, once home to the harsh and warlike Spartans. The modern settlement has some pleasant taverns, however, providing a pleasant pit stop for wayfarers who plan on hiking out to see the medieval palaces, ancient houses, frescos and churches of the high-flung Byzantine town of Mystra.
Further north, it's well-worth making a detour to ride the Odontotos, an historic 19th century rack-and-pinion railway that swoops and winds its way for an hour through spectacular mountain scenery between the hamlets of Diakopto, and Kalavrita.
Into the mysterious Mani
Stretching from Kalamata's fertile plains to Cape Tainaron, fabled entrance to the underworld, the rugged Mani region was only accessible by boat until the 1970s. Gateway to the gentler, outer Mani region, Kalamata is a lively, laidback town with lovely beaches, whilst Gytheion, the seaport marking the entry to the austere and atmospheric inner Mani, is a delightful jumble of ancient houses and typical taverns.
Dotted with pyrgospita, the square stone towers where families walled themselves during the feuds for which this arid region is legendary, the inner Mani's most spectacular villages are Vathia and Aeropolis.
From Aeropolis it's an easy drive to the submerged caves of Diros, whose caverns glittering with stalagmites and stalactites can be explored in a small boat. At the tip of this atmospheric peninsula it's time to relax on the pebble beaches of Gerolimenas, or in one of the fish taverns for which this tiny seaside hamlet is renowned.