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Even with only a couple of hours to spare in the area of Gialova, the hike to the Old Navarino Castle is a must. This easy 2-hour hike will take you through some truly stunning scenery including two of the most beautiful beaches of the area, Voidokoilia and Chrisi Akti, the lagoon of Gialova bursting with wildlife and the Palaiokastro of Pylos perched on a rocky hill above.
The trail starts at the far end of Chrisi Akti beach (also called Golden Beach or Divari) easily accessible by car from Gialova. There is a small car park at the end of the beach and a sign pointing towards the castle and Voidokoilia beach. I haven’t seen any more markings along the way but the trail is pretty easy to follow with no option whatsoever to stray in the wrong direction.
There are no shops at this end of the beach so come prepared with water and snacks. The hike itself only takes around two hours to complete but during the summer it can get very hot on the exposed ridge and you’ll probably want to spend some time at Voidokoilia as well. Starting early in the morning is ideal, especially in the summer. I left Chrisi Akti at around 8 o’clock and it was already hotter the I’ve anticipated.
Hiking to the Old Navarino Castle from Chrisi Akti Beach
The initial section of the trail slowly climbs from the Chrisi Akti beach up to the castle on the western slopes of the Korifasios peninsula. What starts as a narrow dirt road soon turns into a wide trail with few cobbled sections and beautiful sea vistas. The view of the castle walls is far more impressive from here than from Voidokilia beach and the climb less steep making it the preferred ascent route.
The trail is not particularly challenging even in the heat unless you suffer from any form of arachnophobia! I don’t, but I still found the amount and size of the spiders I’ve encountered (and accidentally run into their webs) quite disturbing. But they are a frequent sight around Messinia and a small price to pay for all the beauty of this region.
Once at the castle, follow one of the many paths crisscrossing the hilltop. It’ll take you to the Voidokilia entrance with stunning views of the beach. The castle is officially closed to the visitors and unkempt, with the centuries-old walls crumbling down and bushes and shrubs taking over most of its premises. Be cautious while exploring, especially around the dangerously looking exposed cisterns and rickety fortifications.
The Frankish fortress, also known as the Old Navarino Castle, was built at the 13th century on the site of an ancient acropolis. It is one of the oldest fortifications in the area built to protect the natural port of the Navarino Bay. However, it was later replaced by the New Castle of Pylos at the entrance to the bay and left to slow decay.
Voidokoilia Beach and Gialova Lagoon
Once done exploring the ruins and with dozens of stunning aerial photos of Voidokoilia under your belt its time to descend down to the beach. This path is much steeper than our ascent route and secured in few spots by metal steps and some rickety railings. It passes the large Nestor’s Cave, allegedly used as stables by King Nestor, before reaching the sand dunes above Voidokilia.
Starting out early not only meant avoiding the midday heat but also experiencing Voidokilia in all its morning beauty and stillness. Being one of the most stunning beaches in Greece, it gets pretty busy during the summer filling quickly with colorful umbrellas and excited holidaymakers. But arriving at 9 o’clock on Saturday morning I had the whole beach to myself for a well deserved refreshing dip.
To get back to the trailhead at Chrisi Akti beach walk across the sand dunes on the southern end of Voidokilia until you reach a narrow trail. There is no signpost pointing in the right direction on this side of the trail or at least I haven’t seen one but the path was easy to find and follow. Squeezed between the staggering cliffs of the Korifasios peninsula and the calm waters of Gialova Lagoon this was a magnificent walk even if short (around 15 minutes).
But it wasn’t just the beautiful scenery that made this part of the hike so memorable. The lagoon and its surroundings are one of the most important wetlands in Greece serving as a resting point for many migratory birds on their way from Europe to Africa. They are home to many more or less endangered species of birds, reptiles, fish and small mammals and are protected as part of the Natura 2000 reserve. The rare African Chameleon is the lagoon’s most famous resident, but the rest is no less awesome and in most cases much easier to spot.
The wetlands are a paradise for bird watching enthusiasts, especially during the migration period in Autumn. However, even if you cannot distinguish a goose from the cormorant it is an amazing experience to wander through the wetlands watching its majestic inhabitants roam freely through the beautiful countryside.
Looking for more hikes near Gialova? Check out this post about the beautiful Kalamaris Waterfall just a short hike away.