You’ve probably already been introduced to Kalamata even if you haven’t visited. The capital of Messinia, in the western Peloponnese, has been supplying the world with its large, black olives for centuries now. But what you won’t know, unless you’ve been, is that it’s also an up-and-coming city escape that ticks every box imaginable.
Greeks rave about it, as do a growing number of foreigners who have taken advantage of its airport (with a growing list of direct international flights) or easy 2hr40min road connection with Athens. Seaside? Mountain? Culture? Streetlife? Nightlife? Food? Shopping? Spring? Summer? Autumn? Winter? Ticks all round.
You could be passing through on your way elsewhere in the Peloponnese, or enjoying a city break… either way, exploring the city on foot is a must.
You’ll find ancient and Byzantine relics and houses with an architecture that’s part neoclassical, part Renaissance in feel – with red-tiled roofs, little alleyways and stone-built churches – and a waterfront made all the more special by the backdrop of Mt Taygetus and its nearby beaches.
Sitting just above the agora (market) of the Old Town is Kalamata’s Kastro. Dating from the start of the 13th century, it was built by the Byzantines and finished by the Franks. It isn’t as intricate as other medieval fortifications of the Peloponnese, but it’s a wonderfully atmospheric place to start your tour, with excellent city views. There are inscriptions dating from the Venetian occupation of Kalamata (1685-1715) and excavations have revealed the site of the 6th century city of Fares, with a small church dedicated to the Virgin Mary Kalomata built in its place – so named because its icon of the Virgin (from which the city took its name) had beautiful black eyes. Look out for the Kalamata International Dance Festival, which takes place here each July.
Continuing south, you reach Navarinou, Kalamata’s famous waterfront. This is where city life gravitates during the summer, but it’s also great for a winter stroll. There’s something endlessly romantic about the generously-sized, palm tree-fringed promenade. Starting at the marina, with its collection of sailing boats, head along the Messinian Bay, with Mt Taygetus beckoning you in the distance. There’s a bicycle lane all the way, as you pass cafes, shops and great ouzo & meze spots and bars serving everything from breakfast to cocktails. If you continue around the coast, you soon reach Kalamata’s beachfront.