Nafplio: Where the Greeks go to get away from us all
Jeremy Atiyah follows discerning Athenians to escape the hordes in the
ancient and elegant
port of Nafplio
by Jeremy Atiyah
With its faded mansions and balconies covered in flowers, Nafplio (also
written Nauplion) is one of the most beautiful towns in mainland
13 May 2001
Just three hours from
As the first capital of
The period before the height of summer when the wild flowers are still blooming on the hillsides but before the waiters have become impossibly tetchy is ideal. June is particularly good the fabulous ancient theatre productions of Epidavros have commenced, and the weather is sunny, but not yet stiflingly hot.
Apart from sitting in cafés under giant plane trees and admiring the views over lunch, or walking around the seafront below the cliffs, the delight of Nafplio is that there is little to do.
What you can do, however, is visit the magnificent fortresses of the town. According to Nikos Kazantzakis, in his book Travels in Greece, the Greek fortress "reminds us of that fortified point that we never want to surrender, the last refuge of conscience, self-respect and courage". With this in mind, first catch a boat to the offshore islet in the harbour, from which the Bourtzi fort rises. And then, before sunset, make the epic climb up the 900-odd steps to the top of the Palamidhi Fortress, which commands views for miles over the bay on one side, and the mountains of
Finally, as a morning outing, visit the ruins of the ancient city of
In the summer you must not miss the sensational outdoor performances at the Epidavros theatre, less than an hour from town. Despite being 2,400 years old, the theatre provides near-perfect acoustics for the works of Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides, which are performed on Friday and Saturday nights from June to the end of August. You may not know your Agamemnon from your Oedipus, but the atmosphere is unbeatable. Theatre trips are available from agencies in Nafplio.
Where to stay
Numerous hotels fill the streets of the town, nearly all of the characterful family run variety (as opposed to the corporate monstrosities). Prices are not low by Greek standards, but neither are they outrageous considering the quality on offer. Excellent places to stay include the King Othon, at 2 Farmakopoulou (tel: 0752 27585), where comfortable rooms in a grand little setting cost about £40 per night for a double, and the gorgeous Hotel Byron, at 2 Platonos (tel: 0752 22351, email: firstname.lastname@example.org), which has views and a delightful terrace, and where a double is about £35 per night. I paid £20 a night for a single room at the clean but undistinguished Hotel Acropol, 9 Vas Olgas (tel: 0752 27796).
The cheapest accommodation is available from a group of pensions called Acronafplia, based at 6 Ayiou Spyridhonos (tel: 0752 24481), where some rooms cost just £12.
What to buy
The usual kitsch. Statues of Greek gods, replica ancient urns, replica icons and CDs featuring "best-loved" Greek traditional songs.
As you walk the streets of this town, they seem at times to be one continuous mass of tavernas and bars with outdoor seating, especially around the central square, Platia Syndagmatos, and the main street, Staikopoulo. But given the fact that the majority of the tourists in Nafplio are Athenians, the food is a cut above the moussaka-and-chips of the standard Greek holiday resort. There are distinct areas: for a trendier and more sophisticated ambience, try any of the cafés on the seafront street Bouboulinas.
Inland, the tavernas are cheaper and more rustic: try Mikra on Vas Olgas next to the Hotel Acropol, where the stuffed peppers and fried calamares are excellent, or Byzantio, on 15 Vas Alexandrou, billing itself as a Serbian taverna. The only place I could find without an English menu (a sure sign of quality) was Epi Skinis, at 19 Amalias, where an excellent meal in a thespian atmosphere cost me £5.
In town you need only to walk. For exploring the countryside round Nafplio, you can either rent a car (there is a competitive car-rental market in the town), or you can rely on local trains, or the easy-to-find buses.
Prices for the flight between the
For transport from
I took the Rough Guide to Greece, the longest-standing guide of that series. The local tourist office in town at 25 March St (tel: 0752 24444) is reasonably helpful. In the