Nafplio: Greece’s Most Romantic Town

Most marketing material bills Nafplio as being one of Greece’s prettiest and most romantic towns. It is not an exaggeration – perhaps a little more care went into this town as it was the first capital of the new Greece state, between 1823 and 1834.

Nafplio was the last stop on our tour of the Peloponnese. It is tucked into the eastern edge of the peninsula and is just a two-hour drive from Athens.

The main tourist draw is Old Nafplio, which is small and hilly – it lies beneath the shadow of the Palamidi Castle and is surrounded by the sea.

We arrived in our usual semi-hysterical fashion, with Stephen driving and me gasping beside him. We are no longer 100% trusting of GPS, so when we were instructed to turn right and then left and we found ourselves on what seemed to be a narrow pedestrian-only walkway, we fell into a tiny panic. Also, our pension was nowhere to be found. Luckily, someone steered us in the right direction – a momentary parking spot right beside this strangely haunting piece of street art.

Our charming pension was housed in a 1860 mansion, with the interior staircase slanting at a crazy angle and each massive guestroom decorated with antiques. All wonderful, except on the street just below us was a cafe that turned into a very noisy bar at night. We were not able to keep our windows thrown open for fresh air and for the first time in Greece, we slept with earplugs. The host seemed sympathetic, but then as she reminded us, “But with The Covid, the bar closes at midnight.” Maybe she mistook us for night owls.

Still, it was the only tiny fly in the ointment – Nafplio is very easy to love. The town shows well-preserved examples of Venetian and Ottoman influences in the architecture and just strolling the streets was a pleasure. It is impossible to get lost – you go up some steps or down some steps or you end up on the seawall – sooner or later you find yourself back where you started.

Nafplio has a large number of high-end designer shops, craftsman workshops and just plain charming storefronts.

Ice cream and handmade pastries are elevated to little art forms in Greece. I love the colours, the design touches and the beautiful signature fashioned from iron.

One of a kind artist’s shop.

Smoking is alive and well in Greece. At first, I was put off by the idea that our next-door neighbour would thoughtlessly light up while we were still eating, but I had to learn to roll with it – smoking is everywhere. And if you can’t beat ’em – you may as well have a fancy little shop to buy your cigs.

If your foyer is looking a little unfinished…

A lovely juxtaposition of pottery shop and cafe.

Nafplio has a number of studio/workshop/shops that offer a glimpse into the trade as well as the finished product. This shop showcased a carefully curated selection of handwoven items, small pieces of jewellery and fine leather bags. A large loom was in the adjacent room.

Hand-made leather shoes and sandals are quite common in Greece, and in many cases are surprisingly affordable. This gentleman’s workshop was right beside his store, so we had the chance to watch him for a bit.

Nafplio has no shortage of restaurants, cafes and bars, with everything from the usual laminated-menu mediocre waterfront tourist traps to the family-run tavernas to the so-cool coffee bars to the design statements.

The family-run taverna – bright colours, ubiquitous slightly uncomfortable rush seats, line-up of ouzo.

Design statement. Tattooed chef involved .

Perfect little snack stop.

The hang-out. Such a joy to be in a warm climate where it is possible to sit outdoors most of the year. Many of the Greeks we have met are real talkers – passionate, opinionated and knowledgeable. I think it begins with the coffee hangouts.

Some scenes from walking around town.

Most homes are well-maintained, freshly painted and photogenic.

Plenty of small parks, squares and monuments dedicated to Greek heroes.

Building on the right in a clear state of decrepitude. Building on the left is the stately Byron Hotel.

Building restoration is going on all over old Nafplio. With one look at that caved-in roof, I would have written this off but a crew showed up daily to try and put it together again.

View from our pension window.

Nafplio operates as a port, with everything from the humble fishing boat…

…to the more distinguished ride.

Speaking of distinguished rides – in the highly unlikely event that I will ever own an Aston Martin in my lifetime, this is not where I would park it. We lived in fear of scratching or denting our little Opel Corsa – how does the owner of a luxury automobile cope with the traffic, tiny streets and unruly drivers of Greece?

You need this beast to get around – the European version of the North American camper van.

And so… on to the Palamidi Castle. It dominates from its command position 216 metres above town. If you were so inclined, you could reach it by foot – by climbing 999 steps. Or, you could drive for eight minutes from the port.

We chose the latter and saved our strength for exploring the eight bastions that hug the hill and are connected by a single wall.

The Palamidi Castle was built between 1711 and 1715, and was considered one of the greatest examples of military architecture. It was used as a fortress, and then a prison, with rooms for prisoners facing life imprisonment and death.

View of the city from the Castle.

We had read about the Arvanitia Walk – the seawall walk that encircles the peninsula.

We began our stroll – a beautiful walk along the water.

And then we came to this sign. None of the brochures bothered to mention that the walk is gated and locked at both ends, due to rockfall hazards.

We consulted a gentleman who was nearby, who assured us that he walks there every day. “If there is problem, the government will not pay. Walk fast.”

So, we did as the Greeks do, slid in on one side of the locked gate and carried on.

We came back later in the day to swim at this beach. It was a 6 on a scale of 10 – we have been spoiled.

There are a number of important archaeological sites within an hour’s drive of Nafplio. We chose one – the magnificent amphitheater of Epidavros.

This site of the ancient theatre of the Asklepieion was used as a therapeutic and religious centre, dedicated to the god of healing, Asklepios.

It was built in the 4th century BC and due to its excellent acoustics and the condition of the seating, it is used to this day for performances, especially for the annual Epidaurus Festival.

It was awe-inspiring to enter this amphitheater. Once again, we thanked our good fortune to be here during these times of Covid and not have to fight with huge crowds.

As we entered, a group of German tourists had lined up in the centre. The leader started up the music, the group held hands and began to sing. We all watched – wanting to listen to this impromptu concert and experience the famous acoustics.

Alas! A sharp blast on the whistle, the young woman entering stage left, and the group was shut down – no unauthorized concerts allowed.

After such a magnificent experience in the intact amphitheater, the rest of the archaeological site felt a bit of a let-down.

Although – I did take this as a sign:

For over a week now, I have had water on the ear (not sure of the correct term), after our three days on the beach at Santorini. I thought it would just disappear (it hasn’t), I bought drops for Dry Ear (they haven’t helped), and I am wondering if my current sensation of having my head wrapped in cotton is what hearing loss feels like.

On top of that, I tripped over my own feet a few days ago and did a graceless fall to the floor that resulted in swelling on my right foot. Bad back for almost two weeks, water on the ear, swollen foot – are the healing gods trying to tell me something? As for Stephen, so far, so good – he may have an ingrown toenail.

We have five days left. We are in the Athens port Piraeus tonight – catching a ferry to Hydra tomorrow for our final adventures.