Traditional but new, urban yet rural, mass as well as off the beaten path, Nafplio is the perfect destination for an all-year-round retreat – back to the first ever capital of Greece!
Taking note of the recent roadtrip emergence once again, we planned a roadtrip in the first few days of June in order to go back to where it all started. A legendary seaport where Greeks prevailed after various different empires under the French, the Venetians and, finally, the Ottomans. Set on the hillside foot of the northend Argolic Gulf, Nafplio is a picturesque small town with the aura of a bigger one. Walking through the cobbled streets of the old town a sense of royalty emanates from the old buildings and the various monuments.
The old town
On a long summer weekend, we find ourselves in the small alleys of the stonebuilt old town, walking past the various cafés and the retail shops after a nice breakfast at our hotel. The centre has been filled with all sorts of Airbnbs lately, yet if you’re on a getaway mode you might as well stay outside the city and enjoy the countryside. Apart from Syntagma square where most of the locals and travelers gather, you can get lost in the small streets and back alleys stumbling upon old retail shops and the museum of Komboloi featuring beads from all over the world.
Blessed with low-rise architecture, Nafplio features wide streets making it easy for the sunlight to reach even the darkest alleys throughout the year. During the evening and just before dusk, everyone gathers towards the seafront with a magical view to Bourtzi castle.
Apart from the old town, you can go up the hill to the Akronafplia castle and the fortress of Palamidi, each of which offer spectacular 360 degrees views, taking you back in time when the capital of Greece was under the numerous regimes and empires.
When dinner time strucks, we get a table at the traditional meze restaurant Noulis with the infamous cheese flambé, prepared by the chef right in front your very eyes! Everything here is fresh and tasty – whether you go something a la minute, like the fried meatballs, or something cooked like the rooster in red wine sauce with traditional Greek pasta. Afterwards, you can stop by at Antica Gelateria di Roma for some delicious handmade ice cream (without preservatives) or some desserts such as panna cotta and tiramisu.
Mycenae and the old theatre of Epidaurus
Having caught a glimpse of Nafplio, the next morning we take a small trip around the wider Argos area to visit the Mycenae archaeological site. One of the major centres of Greek civilization, also now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mycenae features a whole citadel with many monuments, a museum and the Acropolis hill (with magnificent views to the wider Argos rea) as well as the famous Lion Gate, the only known monumental sculpture of Bronze Age Greece.
A few kilometers southeast, we visit another UNESCO World Heritage site – the old theatre of the Asklipeion at Epidaurus. Once a small city of ancient Greece, Epidaurus now features first and foremost the old theatre which is a testament of symmetry and beauty, used again today for art performances. The theatre is admired for its exceptional acoustics, which permit almost perfect intelligibility of unamplified spoken words from the proscenium or skēnē to all 14,000 spectators, regardless of their seating. Naturally, we take note of the odd visitor that is delighted by the acoustics and starts singing to an empty theatre.
After all the sightseeing, we head to Kondyli beach for a quick dip in this long stretch facing the south of the Argolic Gulf and its sea. Although there is a beach bar right in the centre of the beach, we stay on the left hand side of the bay away from all the buzz which is also perfect for enjoying the serene rocky hillsides. On the way back, we stop at T’Allonia taverna in Pyrgakia for a traditional feast and try their local pasta, wogges – spectacular!
Old town – picturesque alleys and plazas in the first ever capital of Greece. Either visit early in the morning or early in the evening
Akronafplia Castle – old fortress built between the Roman & Venetian eras presiding on a rocky peninsula with lift access and great views
Fortress of Palamidi – Venetian-built fortress ruins set atop a hill & offering sea views, reached by 857 winding steps
Bourtzi Castle – Venetian castle on the water located in the middle of the harbour of Nafplio. Not sure if it’s worth your visit although this site has been historical
Mycenae – Greek archaeological site from around the 12th century BC with acropolis, palace & tomb remains. Makes a great day trip from Nafplio and a nice hike up the hill
Ancient theatre of the Asklipeion at Epidaurus – plays & concerts are held in this amphitheater built in 340 BC and known for its excellent acoustics. Just make sure you get some water on your way cause the scorching sun in combination with the numerous uphill steps may wear you down
Kondyli beach – nice beach close to Nafplio with a long sandy stretch and a relaxed vibe. Also features a couple of beach bars during summer
Opora Country Living – amazingly serene apartments close to Nafplio in the middle of an olive tree grove. Great for summer as they also feature a small but great swimming pool
Nafplia Palace Hotel & Villas – classic 5* hotel overlooking the bay of Naplio. A bit worn down but great aesthetics overall
Noulis – traditional taverna in a narrow alley of the old town, serving classic Greek dishes and a fascinating gruyere cheese a la flambé
La Gratella – Italian dishes in an al fresco. Good for something casual
Menta – nice creative cuisine in a relatively relaxed vibe. Nice patio at the back
T’Alonia – good taverna almost in the middle of nowhere. You gotta try the local pasta dish!
Maryvonne – exquisite, fine dining in this French cuisine establishment with premium cuts and a great overall menu. operates only at night, make sure you make a reservation ahead
Antica Gelateria di Roma – renown ice cream shop by an Italian that came to Greece and stayed for ever. Expect long queues