Family-friendly vacations to the well-known, and not so well-known Saronic Islands & the Peloponnese
Surrounded on the one side by the Saronic Gulf with its picturesque islands and on the other by the Gulf of Argolis, the Argolid peninsula is the birthplace of the Mycenaean civilization and Greek mythology: The “rich in gold” as Homer describes Mycenae, the theatre of Epidaurus where western theatre was born, Nafplio, the first capital of Greece, the cosmopolitan islands in the Saronic Gulf, Hydra, Spetses, Poros and Aigina… and still, the “fourth” leg of the Peloponnese has so much more to offer!
Epidaurus with kids
Following a winding luscious pine-covered road we end up at Epidaurus, the amphitheater with the amazing acoustics where the art of Theater was born. But the arts in ancient Greece were something more than just the elevation of the aesthetics – it was also a form of healing. They believed that the body and the soul need to be healed holistically. So, under the guidance of a kids’ friendly guide we visited Ancient Epidaurus, which is actually the birthplace of modern medicine and situated within the sanctuary of the God-physician Asclepius. We promised to come in the evening to see a performance at the ancient theater since for the fourth year in a row the Athens Festival has thoughtfully provided for parents a kids-fun creative workshop for free that runs parallel to when the performance is taking place. It is aimed for children between the ages of four to twelve, is free of charge and engages the children in activities that run on the themes of that evening’s performance, so you can discuss the ideas with your children afterwards.
The Greek summer heat and all the glimpses of cool waters that we saw along the way inspired us to take a beach-break in our trip. We chose well in stopping at the beach of Nea Epidaurus, which has a taverna with tables right on the sand shaded by big beach umbrellas. This let us take our time enjoying eating delicious grilled fish while the kids made sandcastles by the sea. Keep in mind that the coves from Nea (New) until Palia (Old) Epidaurus have crystal-clean waters but also with rocks and black spiny sea urchins. So, if you want to go visit the small run-down Greek Orthodox monastery of Polemarha, with the pristine but primitive turquoise-water cove below, take the necessary water-shoes for the kids!
If you tell any geological cave loving aficionado that you are going to Argolis, they probably won’t stop telling you about its fascinating and unique features. Accessible only with a high clearance car, after the village of Pelei and 7 kilometers of rough dirt roads, you will find the monastery of Agiou Dimitriou Avgou (St. Demitri of the Egg). One of the explanations of the Egg part of his name is a story of two women who begged the Virgin Mary to cure their children from a paralyzing illness and she told them that in order to cure them they would have to throw their children off the mountain edge. One of the women without hesitation and with absolute faith threw her child over the edge and it was cured. The second woman was doubtful, so she first threw an egg, which didn’t break. But, then, when she threw her child down it was killed. The view over the valley and river of Radou below is breathtaking, but certainly if you are up there with children you need to be careful that they don’t go too near the edge!
Close by – but best to get there from the main road – you will come to the “Dolines”. These are two enormous cylindrical sinkholes that were created after a landslide. Within one of these there are two churches, St. George and Metamorphosis, that you can reach by going down an almost vertical cavernous entrance, but which kids can safely descend. The place is unforgettable and otherworldly. Didima village is also famous because tulips grow wild there and every spring when they are in bloom they have a Tulip Celebration event.
Also, of interest and easy to hike even with kids is the Katafyki canyon. Formed by two vertical cliff faces there is a magical 2.5-kilometer trail hike that the whole family can do, even with small children. The myth is that Hades used this canyon route to come up from the Underworld in order to kidnap Persephone. There are also stories of fairies and legendary pirates.
Fourth marvel of this area is the Fragthi cave, near Kilada. Archeological finds in this cave have proven that the oldest open sea voyage was made in the Aegean sometime around 11,000 BC. Archeologists believe that this ancient voyage maybe undertaken with a papyrila, a rowing boat made from many thick bundles of thin reeds or papyrus tied together with ropes. You can see a model of this at the Herakleidon Museum in Thissio in Athens. If your kids are older, you can visit the cave on foot by going down towards the sea from the village of Fourni. But if you have young children you might be better off visiting by boat which you can arrange by calling the Municipality of Ermionis at (+30) 27543-60028/29 and leaving from Kilada.
In the blue waters out from Lambagiana beach, where you will have left your car to take the path to visit the cave, there is a prehistoric submerged settlement, with fortress walls and foundations visible on the seabed floor. Greek archeologists together with colleagues from the University of Geneva are excavating the site and every August they offer underwater tours to residents and visitors as well as a workshop on the beach with archeological experimental activities, like making ancient artifacts.
And apart from all of the above fascinating interests, you couldn’t not miss out on finishing up your day at one of the most beautiful beaches of Argolis, Lepitsa. Soft sandy beach to sooth tired feet, clear shallow waters to cool down from the heat and a traditional Greek fish-tavern on the beach to satisfy any pallet!
To visit the Egg Monastery, the Dolines at Didima, the Katafyki Canyon, the Fragthi Cave and the prehistoric submerged settlement under the knowledgeable guidance of expert guides, please contact MAMAKITA at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beekeeper for a day
Argolis is famous for its golden aromatic honey. Beehives can be found amongst thyme-covered olive groves which give the honey that extra-special Mediterranean aroma!
We visited the farm of the Bairaktaris family who produce award-winning honey and a whole variety of honey products: Honey using hemp and carob, or herbal plants, sophisticated cosmetic products, soaps made with honey and sage, rosemary, chamomile, propolis, oats, pomegranate, as well as balsamic oils and lip gloss.
While we were admiring honeycombs, Mr. Kosmas came wearing a special beekeepers’ suit: “Come outside to see something rare – but without the kids.” We adults went one-by-one to the beehives that were swarming with frantic bees. “Wherever they find a space, they make wax and fill it up. Here the man-made honeycomb has been destroyed in parts. Look how they ‘build’ it again. That is why the beehive can’t stay empty for any amount of time – we have to replace the honeycombs immediately.”
The farm also has a Honey Museum! In a small stone house not far below the main house the little museum had on display old beehives (where bees still live!) and the machines that were used to strain the honey in the old times. “As you can see, nothing has really changed in the way we extract honey.”
What is of even more interest is the aging cellar for honey vinegar. Employing the highest winery standards, the cool cellar “guards” the special barrels where the honey vinegar is aging. The whole place is imbued with a magical atmosphere, which the whole farm and the family itself have; antique renovated furniture, rare tools and utensils used in another time of yore, all evoking what Hellenism is all about. Definitely ask Mr. Kosmas to open up the old trunk to show you the Ottoman yatagan, a short sabre used by the Turks during their occupation of Greece up until the 1800s.
If you and your kids want to be a beekeeper for a day, book MAMAKITA’s guided tour “Beekeeper for a day”.
At Porto Heli
In Greek, heli or χέλι, means eel and traditionally they say that Porto Heli is the ideal place to go fishing for eels. This can even be evidenced since ancient times from the sunken city which can be found at the end of the gulf, the Ancient Fishermen, famous for being exactly that but also for their industry of collecting murex (or Bolinus brandaris) seashells and extracting their deep purple-red dye. This pigment was highly prized in ancient times since in order to dye the trim of a single garment it is estimated that they would need to crush over 12,000 seashells to extract the dye. The remains of this ancient city can only be seen by scuba diving.
In modern times, apart from its delightful pine-forested coves, Porto Heli is also well-known for having one of the first and best water-ski schools in Greece, operating in the lagoon of Ververoda. You can learn how to water-ski under the expert guidance of Dimitri Kourounis and his team, or watch some exciting competitions take place during the summer season. In order for kids to do water-ski lessons they must know how to swim and be above 4 years old. See more on their site Ververoda Lake water ski center.
A delightful evening outing is walking down to Porto Heli’s seafront; at the main cove you will find a children’s recreational center, a playground, delicious ice cream and loukoumades (a type of yummy deep-fried donut). Further along, Ververoda beach offers good swimming, excellent coffee, food and sun beds. See more at Sunset Seaside Beach Bar Resto.
One of the prettiest beaches on the north side of the gulf is Hinitsa. It is right next to the almost private cove of the big hotel Aks Hinitsa Bay and is sandy and just right for small children, super friendly and with a beautiful view, while at the same time getting a sophisticated touch from the Taverna tis Giagias, or Grandma’s Tavern.
From Kosta to Ermioni
The coast from the lovely beach of Kosta, from where the sea-taxis embark to go to the island of Spetses, until the little port of Agios Emilianos, is filled with secret coves where pine trees reach down until almost the waters. If you decide to try and discover these, be aware that it will be difficult because you will find yourself facing hedges of oleander and thickly clustered cypress trees, cross-roads with no signage and a labyrinth of trails and dirt roads which will disorient you completely.
If you follow the “main” road to Agios Emilianos, you will find a beautiful beach with sunbeds and the family-friends tavern Epavlis with its delightful patio garden. Going towards Petrothalassa you will find the Godai beach bar with sunbeds, coffee and light meals. Petrothallasa is one of the most peaceful and convenient locations for family vacations.
Continuing on north, we reach Ermioni, another big town in this area. Here, you can visit the fascinating Toy Museum that will interest both kids and adults. For opening days/hours please contact Eleni and Maria Traki at (+30) 210 4515081. From Ermioni’s port little boats depart to get to the island of Hydra. At the port and the Mitsaion coast you can find a lot of fish tavernas and coffee bars, but you will have to be mindful of younger kids falling in the water since there is no beach.
Next to Lake Thermisia, hidden within pomegranate groves, you will discover the coastal farm Makis Inn. The family of Makis Korontini, his wife Nelly and their two kids Ioannis and Nikos (the initials of the last three making up the acronym INN) have transformed a coastal land into a productive farm. Mrs. Nelly is one of those people you find rarely and feel lucky to have met. Dynamic and energetic yet filled with graciousness and blessed with an open and generous mind she is almost always offering a delicious-something which she herself has made. “May I treat you to a sweet pear compost made with almonds? It is a traditional sweet here in Ermioni…or maybe the children would like some pomegranate juice? We make it ourselves,” she offers us with a smile while we are getting ready to order our meal while the kids enjoy the playground found under a canopy of pine trees.
Nafplio with kids
Nafplio is an ideal city to have a pleasant and safe walk with kids since it is almost all pedestrian ways where no vehicles are allowed. At the lighthouse, near the Sailing Club (Naftikos Omilos) there is a very nice playground for small kids, while if you continue on the Acronafplia walk until Arvanitia, leave the kids skates, scooters or bicycles in the car – believe me it isn’t any fun seeing the kids precariously cycling on this path!
Visit Palamidi fortress, but probably best with kids to avoid going up by the 999 steps, but drive up by car. Visit the Childhood Museum Stathmos, which you can find at the old railroad station. And enjoy all that Fougaro has to offer: food, drinks, walks and creative activities workshops for kids.
For a nice swim, go to Karathona where the waters are shallow and warm. The beach also has two taverns and sunbeds so that you don’t have to search for food when the kids get hungry. At Vivari, there are tavernas right on the beach, but the waters aren’t as nice for swimming. The kids can play in the sand, though, while you eat.
Visiting Nafplio will be more interesting, of course, if you have a guide who can tell you all those fascinating stories of the city’s past and legends. Explore Nafplio on foot – and so much more! Discover all its stories and its tasteful delicacies! Taste Nafplio!
Local people offer a journey to our taste palette – and help us parents with the goal of getting our kids to try eating something new! And if you wish to have a special meal that you will cook in a traditional Greek way, the whole family can participate in a cooking class that will let you cook, fill young tummies with delicious food and take local traditional recipes away with you!
More things to do with kids in Argolis and Nafplio
- You cannot go to Argolis and not visit the spectacular ancient city of Mycenae – and especially under the fun guidance of the kid-friendly tour guide that MAMAKITA proposes: Meet the Myceneans with kids.
- For older kids and parents who love outdoors activities like bicycling, horseback riding and rowing, try Nafplio in the saddle, Nafplio on a bicycle, Sea kayak.
- Especially during the fall, when olives are being gathered, you can do an Olive oil tour in Nafplio. You can participate in picking olives, watch the process of making the olive oil and taste the first drop of what is truly the gold of this land!
- And another excellent way to discover all the wonders of the Argolid peninsula and the Saronic Gulf is to take a sea cruise. You can visit the islands of Hydra, Spetses and Poros, which are ideal for family outings since vehicle circulation is either restricted or completely prohibited in the whole island! In Hydra, you can ride the famous Greek donkeys and visit the very unique My Hydra Concept Store. In Spetses, visit the mansion of one of Greece’s 19th century female independence fighters, Laskarina Bouboulina and also take a horse-drawn carriage ride around town. In Poros, go for a swim in the enchanting Love Cove…it is ideal for children unless it is August. Or, sail around the Argolid peninsula like a Little Mariner because as Nobel Prize poet Odysseas Elytis suggests, the best way to enjoy Greece is through complete immersion: “The sky is one and only. The question is from which point you look at it. Because I have seen it from the middle of the sea”.