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Roadtripping in Greece - Nafplio, Peloponnese


A distant scent of pine trees - this is the moment I realise that we've arrived in Greece.
Usually it takes place right outside the airport, in Athens. This is not me being poetic and romantic, I just find that every country has a distinct scent. When we arrive in Delhi for example, I get a scent of burned ghee - clarified butter - and that says "we've arrived in India".  
 
Anyway, back to Athens.
Pine tree scent says that we've landed in Greece and moreover, that we are heading to the Peloponnese. All of the ancient sites around the Peloponnese are covered in pine trees, hence the mental link, I think.
We decided to take a road-trip down the eastern Peloponnese on our last trip. It's an area dipped in history through the centuries; from ancient Sparta, Mycenae and Argos to Byzantine Monemvasia and Mystras, the capital of Morea - that is the byzantine name of the Peloponnese, nothing to do with Lord of the Rings - to Nafplio, the first capital of modern Greece.
 
Looking over Naplio and the Argolicos Gulf from Palamidi
Stone paths and arches inside Palamidi Fort

First stop on our road trip: Nafplio.
Nafplio is a small town, with the older part dotted with neo-classic townhouses, mixed with stone buildings and a few hamams and mosques, left-overs of the Ottoman years. It is guarded by Palamidi, a stone fort, cascading down the hill behind the town. Nafplio is deemed one of the most romantic towns in Greece, where people often propose to their other halves on the seaside promenade, with a view of Bourtzi, the tiny island in the middle of the gulf.

Bourtzi, despite its romantic appearance, has served as fortification for the port of Nafplio, as a prison and lastly as the local executioner's residence. Yet, nowadays, it's all lit up in the evenings and provides a whimsical backdrop for warm, summer nights' strolling along the promenade.

We stayed at Ippoliti Hotel, a pink neoclassic townhouse that has been renovated and converted into a boutique hotel.
The rooms have high ceilings and old furniture pieces, such as dark oak secretaries and wardrobes, reminiscent of 1920's Greek home interiors. The two rooms on the very last floor are built into the attic but offer views of Bourtzi. We picked one of them.

In the morning, after my quick run to the pharmacy to stock up on flu meds, I grabbed my cup of coffee, sat on the balcony and looked over the terracotta roofs of the town, all the way down to the sea and the tiny islet of Bourtzi.

The hotel is in the middle of the town, so parking is just "wherever you can find it", which was not a problem this time of the year, but as it's so close to the promenade, it can be tricky in the summer months. There is also a tiny little garden, with a pool for a quick splash.


Syntagma Square in Nafplio
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The entrance to hotel Ippoliti
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Morning sun over Nafplio's rooftops

Walking around the town in the morning almost brought tears to my eyes. My parents used to bring us to Tolo, a small fishing village ten minutes away, every summer for our two week holidays, hence Nafplio is one of my childhood places. I was feeling terrible, I had the flu and we had landed later than expected from the UK, followed by an hour and a half drive from Athens to Nafplio. But when I passed the Church of Panagia, I caught a glimpse of the lit candles on a stand and just had to go in. It was so quiet and given the 25C outside, the wax and incense scents were really strong, I loved it and it made me a bit nostalgic.

The colours around the town are all bright pinks and oranges, mixed with terracotta and stone, with squares opening up here and there where locals and tourists lazily chat over coffee.The stone and marble alleys around the old town were so shiny and every time I looked up in between the buildings, I caught a glimpse of Palamidi, the fort. This place is still an amalgam of different eras, its beauty and character lies in that. 

If you are up for a bit of history you must know that as Nafplio was the first capital of modern Greece, following the Ottoman years, Ioannis Kapodistrias, a distinguished diplomat in Europe, served as the first elected Head of State here. He was also murdered here, on his way to Sunday mass in St Spiridon church, with one of the bullets still lodged on the church wall.


Bourtzi islet in Nafplio's Port.

Wondering around the Old Town

The port promenade, where book fairs take place on summer evenings

Just before we drove on, to continue with our road-trip down to the south of the Peloponnese to the uber-romantic Monemvasia, we had two tasks set out.
Firstly, to get a "tiropitta" for a quick snack and secondly, to drive up to Palamidi.  "Tiropitta", is a velvety cheese pie wrapped in buttery & flaky shortcrust pastry filled with sharp, salty feta and it came from Chocola Patisserie, close to the port. On to Palamidi.

If you are up for a hike, you can climb the 999 steps all the way up to Palamidi.  With every step you just turn back and look over the town, it's spectacular.
We drove up instead, because we were pressed for time and also I had this disastrous flu that made me feel miserable. Entrance to Palamidi is 8 euros and you are free to wander around the bastions, taking in the spectacular views from every corner. We caught glimpses of Argolikos Gulf and the plains of Argos, with the ancient town still sitting on top of the hill; we looked down over the terracotta roofs and church domes of Nafplio town and then just around the corner from the port, we spotted Arvanitia, a rocky promenade, over emerald green waters.

Beautiful! Now on to Monemvasia!
  

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