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The Messinia region in southern Peloponnese is an ideal holiday destination for anyone looking for more than just a lovely beach. Don’t get me wrong, the coast of Messinia is stunning and its long sandy beaches are among the best in Greece but there is so much more!
From impressive medieval castles and charming towns dotting the coast to lush gorges full of streams and waterfalls, there is something for everyone. Add amazing cuisine and sunny weather and you have holidays you wish would never end.
How to get to Messinia & Where to stay
Messinia is easily accessible from both Athens and abroad. There is a newish highway connecting Messinia with Athens and an international airport on Kalamata, the region’s capital while regular KTEL buses run between Athens, Kalamata and some of the larger towns of the area. However, driving is the best way to explore the region to its full potential.
The roads reasonably well maintained and marked especially along the coast. However, few of Messinia’s main attractions, like the waterfalls of Neda or Polilimnio, require a bit of navigation skill.
Messinia offers a wide variety of accommodation from luxurious all-inclusive resorts to more budget-friendly apartments or campsites. Having a house just outside of Pylos, I haven’t got a chance to try any of them myself.
That being said, if I was to book accommodation anywhere in Messinia, Gialova would be my first choice for its easy access to some of the region’s best beaches and amazing al fresco dining.
Pylos is a charming seaside town as well with plenty of eat-out options and shops. It is a great base for day trips to Gialiva, Voidokilia, Polilimnio or Methoni but it doesn’t have a beach within walking distance from the town.
Free camping is another option if you are adventures and want to keep your options open. While free camping is prohibited through Messinia (and Greece in general) we never had any issues rolling out our sleeping bag on one of the deserted beaches and spending the night under the stars.
Keep in mind that most of the coastline is protected, though, so no fires, pollution or unattended pets. Which should be a no brainer anyway.
The olives of Messinia
As much as it is hard to believe, Messinia wasn’t always an awesome tourist destination. Before the arrival of campervans and golfers, olive oil production was the main source of income for the region and remains an important part of it until today. The Messinian olive oil is one of the best in the world (definitely the best for us Messiniotes) as well as the equally famous Kalamata olives.
My boyfriend’s family still owns a couple of olive orchards and an old house in a small village called Kinigou a few kilometers north from Pilos. Thanks to that, I got a chance to experience the olive harvest and oil production first-hand multiple times. Kinigou is the last village anyone would ever visit in a region filled with a wealth of stunning natural and historical sights and that’s exactly why I love it so much.
This small settlement, hidden in a green valley full of olive trees, tiny vineyards, and grazing cattle is just a cluster of old stone houses, a couple of kafeneios 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 a very lucrative business.
Being the owner of a couple of small orchards is not as glamorous and getting the crop down the trees and to the press is hard work. At least for a city girl like me! The harvest usually starts in November right when the warm and sunny summer days start turning to 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 with the first crow of the local rooster and falling to bed exhausted at sunset.
The picking itself is still mostly done in 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 leaves 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.
Beaches of Messinia
Visiting the region during summer is much more fun! The coast of Messinia is lined by a plethora of beautiful beaches, ranging from tiny coves only accessible by boat to kilometers of fine sand undisturbed by nothing but the occasional beach bar.
Few busier seaside “resorts” like Finikouda or Gialova can be found along the shore but fortunately, they are an exception. The rest of Messinia’s coast is still mostly undeveloped and in many cases protected as a natural habitat to sea turtles, birds, and other small animals.
Elea beach at the northern borders between Messinia and Ilia sets the bar high! Basically the whole cost between Kyparissia and Pyrgos is one long, deserted beach with golden sand and very little development.
The best part of the beach, lined with a beautiful pine forest, lies around the village called Elea. The coastal forest provides much-needed shade during the hot summer days and is an awesome place for short hikes or a bike ride.
Elea beach is a great base for trips to Kyparissia and to the valley of Neda River and is a popular stop for road trippers making their way around the Peloponnese peninsula. There will always be few campervans parked in the forest during the summer but thanks to the size of the beach you’ll easily find a stretch of the beach just for yourself.
Lagouvardos Beach is a surfers paradise, at least for the Greek standards. This beautiful sandy beach lies on the western coast of Messinia in an area of olive orchards and melon field. The wide long bay offers good enough waves but at the same time remains sheltered from the
A couple of laidback beach bars usually pops up on the beach during the summer and there was a surf school as well when we visited. For short surf trips to Lagouvardos from Athens check out the Kyma website HERE or follow their Facebook page.
Romanos is another beautiful long sandy beach lying near the eponymous village north of Voidokilia. The southern section of Romanos beach is occupied by the monstrous Costa Navarino Resort while the slightly overpriced KOA beach bar seized its northern end. The beach bar is actually quite nice and a good choice for those enjoying organized beaches with umbrellas, sunbeds, showers and in this case even a swimming pool.
However, if you are afterpiece and quiet you’ll find plenty of that on Romanos beach, too. Keep in mind though, that the beach is a popular hatching spot for Kareta Kareta turtles as well and there may be eggs hidden in the warm golden sand.
Voidokilia Beach, Divari and Gialova Lagoon
Voidokilia beach is without a doubt one of the most beautiful beaches in Greece and a personal favorite of mine. It’s perfectly round shape, fine sand, shallow turquoise sea and an ancient castle perched on a nearby hilltop make it one of a kind, even on coast as stunning as Messinia’s.
Being part of the Gialova Nature Reserve the beach and lagoon are protected under Natura 2000 as one of the most important wetlands in Europe. This means that there are no taverns or other development anywhere near the beach and camping is not allowed due to the presence of sea turtles, chameleons, and other small animals. Therefore, the beach remains unspoiled and pristine even if much busier in the last few years.
For the best view of Voidokilia climb to the Old Navarino Castle sitting on a hillock above the left side of the beach. The path to the castle is steep and narrow with few passages secured by metal steps. But it only takes around 30 minutes to reach the top and the views are truly breath-taking.
Another beach worth mentioning is Divari. It stretches from the village of Gialova all the way to the Old Navarino Castle hill creating a border between the lagoon and Navarino Bay. The 1,5 kilometers long beach has fine golden sand (the beach is also called Golden Beach), shallow water and a small yet picturesque shipwreck in the middle.
Recently, three beach bars popped up at Divari bringing more visitors to the area (and noise and pollution and so on) but there is still enough space in between them to find a quiet spot. Let’s hope that’ll disappear as fast as they come!
The best way to explore the Gialova lagoon is either on foot or by bike. There is a wide network of paths, tracks, and roads crisscrossing the area with a couple of hides along the way to watch the wildlife. The unique landscape of the wetlands is especially beautiful around sunset but make sure to bring a strong insect repellent in order to survive vicious attacks of many bloodthirsty mosquitos.
Finikouda is a busy seaside town and a popular windsurfing spot. It offers plenty of accommodation, shops, and taverns as well as a few windsurfing schools.
The beach in Finikouda is quite busy for my tastes but there are plenty of sandy quieter beaches nearby, like Koumpares beach of Loutsa, worth the short drive. Another option is to rent a small motorboat and head out to explore the remote beaches of Akrotiri Akritas.
The beaches of Akrotirio Akritas: Marathi, Tsapi, and Kalamaki
Akrotirio Akritas, the southernmost point of Messinia is often overlooked when visiting the region. It hardly has any accommodation or taverns and the souther you go the more remote it gets. The roads are of poor quality and signposting almost non-existing.
It has some pretty amazing beaches though and pleasant, wild countryside. The three below beaches are my favorites and good enough reason to visit the cape.
Kalamaki Beach on the eastern coast doesn’t look very interesting at first sight. The beach is just a narrow strip of sand lined with some precariously looking cliffs. But I loved swimming and snorkeling at its shallow, warm and crystal clear water.
Tsapi beach on the western coast is the most developed among the beaches at the cape. It has relatively good asphalt road, a tavern and even a campsite making it the ideal place for a longer stay.
Marathi is the most remote of the three beaches but (as it usually goes) also the most striking. It can be accessed by boat or on foot, but keep in mind that it is a strenuous hike especially on the way back. The beach itself absolutely worth the trouble thanks to its unbelievably clear sea, fine sand and lack of people.
Read more about Akrotiri Akritas HERE!
The waterfalls of Messinia
For a change of scenery and a little bit of adventure visit some of Messinia’s beautiful waterfalls. The lush gorges with cool turquoise pools and waterfalls of all shapes and sizes are a great alternative to the burning heat of Messinia’s stunning coast, especially during summer.
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 as we did.
The hike to the waterfalls itself starts 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.
After a while, however, it disappears into the stream. From here its either 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 end 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.
Kalamaris and Stenosia Waterfalls
Kalamaris and Stenosia waterfalls are not as impressive as Neda or Polilimnio but thanks to their close proximity to the seaside town of Gialova they are perfect for a short trip after a day on the beach.
Kalamaris waterfall lies only about 3km away from Gialova and can be easily reached on foot. Kalamaris is probably the most “instagramable” of Messinia’s waterfalls, even though I detest the word. If you are willing to get wet you can swim to a piece of rock perfectly placed under the waterfall for that perfect (and totally uncomfortable) shot.
Stenosis waterfalls are a set of multiple charming waterfalls followed by a hiking trail running through a shaded gorge. The trail starts after a village of the same name and is easy to spot thanks to the signs at the side of the road.
The trail was narrow and muddy when we visited. Make sure to wear proper walking shoes, this is not a place for flip flops if you want to reach all the waterfalls!
Castles of Messinia
The coast of Messinia is dotted by medieval castles and fortresses, some well preserved and imposing, others reduced to a couple of broken walls. Below are the top three plus my personal favorite as a bonus.
If you can visit only one of Messinia’s many castles make it Methoni. This 13th-century Venetian fortress is one of the largest in the Mediterranean featuring among others the striking Bourtzi tower, a small fortified islet on the southernmost tip of the peninsula.
You can easily spend a couple of hours wandering through the weathered ruins trying to imagine the way of life all those centuries ago. To finish up your trip to Methoni visit the Kotronaki Cafe on the opposite side of the bay to enjoy a spectacular sunset over the castle with a glass of cold beer in your hand.
The fortress of Koroni is one of the most famous castles in Greece. It was built in the 7th century on a place of an ancient acropolis and rebuild to its full glory by the Venetians during the 13th century. It is an impressive sight when seen from outside, searched on a hillock above the town.
The insides of the castle were a big surprise to me. It consists of orchards and small charming houses, still inhabited to this day, and a couple of picturesque churches. There is no entrance fee to the castle so you can wander freely through its charming roads discovering something new on every corner.
For coffee and bite to eat stop in a place called Synantisi down at the seafront. This traditional kafeneio serves delicious meze (small plates) and has the best atmosphere in town.
The castles of Pylos
There are two castles guarding the entrance to the Bay of Navarino. The Old Castle of Pylos sitting on a rocky outcrop at the northern side of the bay and the New Castle of Pylos or Niokastro near Pylos Town.
The Old Navarino Castle has been reduced to ruins and overrun by wild vegetation. It is still my favorite thanks to its remote location, stunning views and a pleasant trail leading to the top. Check it out HERE.
The New Castle of Pylos, on the other hand, is well-preserved thanks to the recent restoration works. Except for the castle buildings and fortifications, it houses a cool museum featuring underwater archaeology finds in the area.
Do you have a day to spare in Pylos? Then rent a small motorboat and explore the historic (and very beautiful) Bay of Navarino on your own. READ MORE HERE.