Some 80 miles west of Athens, in the heart of the Peloponnese, Nafplio is the archetypal Grecian seaside town: a warren of cobblestone streets — punctuated by Byzantine-era Ottoman fountains and neo-Classical Venetian mansions — leading down to a bustling port. Presiding over the town, the Palamidi fortress, an 18th-century citadel built on a rocky outcrop, is accessible by either a challenging hike up a nearly 1,000-step stone staircase or a short scenic drive. Alternatively, visitors can spend the day lounging on the long golden-sand Karathona Beach or diving from the low cliffs at Arvanitia Beach. But the town is also a perfect base from which to visit some of Greece’s best-preserved classical sites, from Mycenae, Agamemnon’s fabled kingdom, less than 30 minutes north, to the ancient healing center of Asklepios and the theater of Epidaurus, an hour to the east.
On the glassy bay of Nafplio, set below the Palamidi fortress, this restored boutique hotel is the first of its kind in the city, a contemporary respite in contrast to the town’s typical neo-Classical style. The 43 rooms and two suites feature airy bedrooms and living spaces with natural-wood accents and sweeping views of the town’s cobblestone promenade, where wooden fishing boats bob in the Aegean Sea before the Venetian Bourtzi castle on the rocky islet of Agioi Theodoroi. Circle Restaurant, which has an intimate veranda, serves Greek-Mediterranean fare like creamy shrimp and king crab bisque and red-wine-marinated wild boar, while the Onyx Bar offers local Nemean wine.
This family-run distillery, located on a private estate near the Palamidi castle, has been an institution in Nafplio for over 145 years. The fourth- and fifth-generation father-son owners, Fotis and Yiannis Karonis, are famous for distilling ouzo, a grape-based dry aperitif with aromas of star anise, coriander and fennel that is best enjoyed over ice. Visitors to the distillery can tour a small museum to learn how the family produces its mainstay spirit as well as sample specialty liqueurs made with regional ingredients such as sour cherries from Arcadia and resin collected from mastic trees on the island of Chios.
Named after the Greek word for smokestack, this former industrial cannery is now a vibrant cultural center that hosts art exhibitions and an annual jazz festival. In the summer months, the central plaza is fragrant with lavender, rosemary and jasmine, and families gather to play chess and dine at the indoor-outdoor cafe. The restaurant is shaded by mulberry and acacia trees and offers seasonal Greek-Mediterranean fare like grilled mastelo cheese from Chios with cherry tomatoes and basil and homemade seashell-shaped Greek gogges pasta cooked in brown butter, sage and salted dry ricotta cheese.
Theater of Epidaurus
Located 15 miles east of Nafplio, on the southeast end of the ancient healing center of Asklepios, this fourth-century B.C. monument is one of the best-preserved classical theaters in Greece. With symmetrical proportions and unmatched acoustics — any sound on the open-air stage, whether a howl or a whisper, can be heard perfectly in any seat in the 55 stone rows — this ancient architectural masterpiece was the site of the first staged plays of some of the country’s most prolific playwrights, including Sophocles, and still functions as a working theater when it hosts up to 12,000 attendees per performance at the annual Athens and Epidaurus Festival from June to August each summer.
Situated outside Nafplio and regaled as the kingdom of the mythical king Agamemnon in Homer’s epic poems the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey,” this late Bronze Age citadel, constructed between the 14th and 13th centuries B.C., was once home to the Mycenaean civilization, one of the most advanced cultures in ancient Greece. The fortified site, set strategically between two hills in the Argolid plain in the northeastern Peloponnese, features monumental architecture, including massive defense walls and the ornate Lion Gate entrance, a structure formed by four stone blocks and framed by two heraldic lions believed to have originally been cast in bronze.