With its picturesque alleyways and terracotta houses framed with climbing ivy, pastel coloured shutters and wrought iron balconies, the irresistible charm of Greece’s first capital is hard to ignore. Famed as the most striking and romantic cities across the mainland, the quaint cobbled streets are distinctly Italian in style, with a unique blend of Venetian and Turkish architecture built in the throes of foreign rules from way back when. Just a two-hour coastal drive from Athens, Nafplio is a frequent haunt for local Athenians seeking light relief from the buzz of the city and in our opinion, a must-visit for all travellers heading to Athens.
The most blissful thing about Nafplio is that you don’t have to do much of anything at all! The maze-like feel of Old Town makes it perfect for aimless wanderings; window shopping in the endless boutiques, gelato and midday beers in Constitution Square and afternoons spent paddling in the gleaming waters at Arvanitia Beach (located just a stone’s throw from the town) is a day blissfully spent. The irrefutably beautiful Palamidi Fortress frames the town with a sense of ancient grandeur, which is both mesmerising and imposing. While a joy to look at from wherever you are in town, a steep climb up the 999 steps to the top will reward visitors with expansive views of the town, the ocean, and the mountains beyond.
For those seeking a little more adventure, Sea Kayaking is a must. We spent a glorious morning with Tribal Kayak paddling our way from the beautiful Karathona beach to calm blue waters below the ancient fortress, before looping leisurely around the Venetian water castle of Bourtzi. While the four and a half hour experience is heavy on the arms, the scenery is breath-taking and the atmosphere relaxed. Each of us were paired with an expert guide who spun stories of the town’s recent and ancient history, while picking up the brunt of the heavy paddling when our arms had had enough! In the summer months, when the water is warmed from the sun, there is ample time for swimming, snorkelling and sun bathing in the little beach coves that pepper the coastline.
Bathed in dim light and oozing a romantic ambience, Nafplio comes alive at night. While Central Square and the surround streets are a main hub for tourists with what seems like endless tavernas and al fresco dining options, seek the trendier and more relaxed sophistication of Bouboulinas Street and beyond to New Town, where contemporary Mediterranean eateries can be found tucked away from the well-trodden tourist pathways.
We ate at Menta – a Greek and Mediterranean restaurant that blends the design of traditional coffee house with a shabby-chic style modern touch. With traditional dishes and ingredients served with a contemporary flair, the menu nor our choices did not disappoint. Beetroot Hummus and melt in your mouth crispy fishcakes gave way to creamy aubergine dip and salty grilled cheese laced in balsamic glaze. For mains, the freshly caught squid was light and peppery, while the slow cooked lamb and bulgar was beautifully rich and devilishly moreish. Naturally, we ate the lot.
Remaining true to the town’s Italian heritage, it’s impossible to spend a day roaming the streets without stopping for some gelato. Ice cream parlours aren’t exactly in short supply here, so we suggest doing a little loop of the streets to assess your options, before diving into the most delicious looking ice cream in town.
From budget-friendly rooms to upscale boutique hotels and suites, Nafplio has ample accommodation options for all tastes and budgets. We stayed in the Adiandi Boutique Hotel, perfectly located on a quaint Venetian style street in the centre of the old town of Nafplio, and 50 meters from the beach. The hotel itself is simple and functional with traditional architectural features and a charming mismatch of furniture. For travellers uninterested in spending much time in their hotel room, Adiandi is the perfect place to stash your bags and rest your head before getting out into the thick of it.
Hotel breakfast is served in the Wild Duck restaurant just opposite the hotel, where an elegant buffet spread includes a multitude of Greek classics including fluffy Greek yogurt, Strapatsada (Greek style scrambled eggs with tomato and feta) and Revani – semolina cake with orange syrup, which, by the way, is out of this world delicious. The restaurant venue itself is beautifully chic and the ambience relaxed, making fo the perfect place to start your day over a fresh Greek coffee.
Nafplio and Beyond
Nafplio is the perfect launchpad for exploring the ancient sites in the surrounding area. The theatre of Epidaurus is the best-preserved ancient theatre in Greece and at 2,400 years old, its immense acoustics and breath taking structure are a must-see monument and just a 30-minute drive from the town centre. From June to August, the site welcomes 90,000 theatre-goes for open-air midsummer productions as part of Athens and Epidaurus Festival and while the surrounding views are spectacular any time of day, a sunlight rendition of Oedipus is a bucket-list level activity.
The Mycenae is a lesser-known but no less iconic ancient archaeological destination, a 25-minute drive North of Nafplio. Set atop a hill-scape, this fortified citadel is nestled above the Peloponnese and was once the largest centre of the ancient Mycenae civilisation that dominated Greece during the Bronze Age Era. Though the old city has weathered and crumbled, the huge Lion gates are an impressive reminder of the test of time and sheer size and scale of the ruins that remain in place are a mesmerising reminder of richness of Greek history.
As enchanting and beautiful as a fairy-tale town, there is something about Nafplio that made or hearts soar and our minds calm. With its mild, all-year-round climate, the destination is at its best just prior to or following the peak summer period, where the buzz of tourism is lighter, the streets sleepier and the surrounding ancient ruin sites a little quieter. You heard it here first.