The Messinia region in the southwestern Peloponnese is the homeland of my boyfriend and we spent many holidays here in the past years. However, it took him more than a year to show me around because he was afraid that after traveling around the Greek islands the humble Messinia is not gonna be glamorous enough for me. He couldn’t be more wrong! I fell in love with the region from the first minute and to this day it’s one of my favorite places in Greece. It has everything from beautiful beaches to high mountains, from small forgotten villages to neat towns and the lively Kalamata capital, from ancient temples to medieval castles. There is the surfing hot spot in Foinikounta and birdwatchers paradise in Gialova, golf courses of Costa Navarino and beautiful waterfalls at Polilimnio and Neda. All this backed up by the proud history of the region and the best olive oil in the world.
My boyfriend’s family still has few olive orchards and an old house in the small village called Kinigou few kilometers north from Pilos. Kinigou is the last village anyone would ever visit in a region so rich in natural and historical sights and that’s exactly why I love it so much. It’s a small settlement hidden in a green valley full of olive trees, tiny vineyards, goats, sheep, and horses. The village itself is a cluster of stone houses in different stages of decay mixed with a few new ones. There is a couple of kafeneios on the main street and surprisingly modern olive press. Well, the main income of the whole area comes from olives and olive oil so having the only press in the village is very lucrative business.
Being the owner of a couple of small orchards is not so glamorous and getting your crop down the trees and to the press is a hard job. The harvest starts around the end of October just when the weather turns from worm and glorious summer days to the dark moody autumn with lots of rain and biting cold. To get the job done as fast as possible we have to adapt to the village way of life getting up to the darkness with the first crow of the local rooster and falling to bed exhausted just after sunset.
The picking itself is done the old school way at least in our case. When the ground under the trees is all covered up by large sheets the branches are beaten up until the last olive falls down. Then it’s time to clean the olives from leafs and small branches, pack them to the sacks and repeat the whole process again and again. But after few weeks of never-ending tiresome work the day comes when all the olives are safely picked and packed, the tractor comes to bring them to the press and after a long wait, we can finally taste the new vintage of our delicious olive oil.
Visiting Messinia in the summer is much more fun. There are countless beaches to choose from, all of them beautiful, long strips of fine yellow sand slowly diving into the shallow turquoise sea. But there is one beach that stands out – the Voidokoilia. Perfectly round, protected from the sea by a row of small rocky islands and guarded from above by the old castle of Pilos it is really one of a kind. Being part of the Gialova nature reserve there are no taverns or other development anywhere near the beach and camping is not allowed due to the presence of sea turtles and chameleons. Therefore, the beach is never completely packed even in the middle of the summer.
For the best view of the beach with the adjoining lagoon climb to the old castle perched on the cliff on the left side of the beach. The path to the castle is steep and narrow but it doesn’t take long to reach the top and the views are truly breathtaking. Cycling is the best way to explore the neighboring lagoon, there is a network of dirt roads crisscrossing the area with few hides along the way for the bird watching enthusiasts. Watching the sun setting to the still waters of the swamp accompanied by the croaking of thousands of frogs is beautiful but make sure you leave soon after or you will have to brave the vicious attack of many bloodthirsty mosquitos.
Another beach worth mentioning is Elea north of Kyparissia. Basically, the whole cost from Kyparissia up to Pyrgos is one long, deserted beach with white sand and very little development. The part around the Elea village has a pine forest in the backdrop providing shade which makes it popular free camping spot. It’s a great place to chill for few days during the round of Peloponnese but it’s better to visit at the end of your trip because there is the risk that you will never leave. It’s easy to forget the time lying on the hot sand, listening to the waves crashing on the beach and counting the fluffy clouds passing above your head.
For a change of scenery and a little bit of adventure visit some of Messinia’s beautiful waterfalls. The waterfalls of Neda lies in a deep valley north of Kiparissia. Driving from Kiparissia towards Zacharo we turned right just before crossing the bridge across Neda and continued to the village called Karies. Here we took another right turn, climbed up to the Panoramio village and followed the asphalt road until Platania.
The drive through the lush valley of Neda and the hilltop villages is very pretty and there is a good network of marked paths for hiking or cycling. After passing the Platania village turn left at the sign for waterfalls. The road seems fine at first but it quickly turns into a narrow dirt road and descends steeply down to the valley. There is a car park about 1km before reaching the end of the road at the stone bridge across Neda. If you are coming with camper van I strongly recommend to park here and walk the rest of the way or you may end up begging the passersby with jeeps to pull you out of the ditch on the way up like we did.
The hike to the waterfalls itself start behind the stone bridge across the river and is pretty easy. After about 1 km we reached the first smaller waterfall with a pool of amazingly turquoise water and a wooden bridge across the stream and a little bit further up the main waterfall. The water has such an amazing color and is irresistibly tempting for a dip. For the more adventurous types, there are some fixed ropes down the stream and up the waterfall to explore the riverbed. Above the falls there is a beautiful little stone church of Panagia glued to the cliff.
Polilimnio waterfalls lie in the southern part of Messinia north of Pilos. Driving from Pilos to Kalamata turn right in the village called Kazarma and follow the signs for the waterfalls. The path following the stream up to the waterfalls is easy in the beginning crossing the river twice over wooden bridges but after a while, it disappears into the stream. From here its eighter jumping from one rock to another or taking the shoes off and getting your feet wet. But it doesn’t take long to reach the Kadι lake and the biggest waterfall.
A lot of people ends the hike here and return back to the car the same way but it’s possible to make it a round trip and the next part is the most fun. From the lake, the path climbs straight up to the top of the waterfall and is secured by ropes and rungs. It continues to another lake and over a smaller waterfall with ropes and metal steps. This is the most difficult part of the hike and the scariest for those afraid of heights like me. After that, it’s just a pleasant walk through the jungle surrounding the stream to the Black Lake. From here a dirt road leads back to the car park.
There is much more to Messinia then just the natural beauty. This is a region with a rich history, too and the coast is peppered with magnificent castles, old pretty towns and multiple ancient sites worth seeing. But there are only so many touristic sights I can make my boyfriend visit in one trip so let’s leave those for some other time.