Greek Coastal Town Nafplio Is a Port of Pleasure
The ancient Greek city offers historic sites, delicious food and wine and plenty of gorgeous views
Forget the Greek islands. The Grecian port of Nafplio is where Athenians go for vacation. The city of about 33,000 rests in one of the crooks of the hand-shaped Peloponnesian peninsula, eighty-eight miles southwest of the capital. The old city charms visitors with its food, architecture and rocky shoreline, and its placement between beaches and ancient inland sites makes it an ideal home base from which to explore the surrounding area.
History, theater and wine buffs will delight in destinations just a short drive from Nafplio. The theatre of Epidaurus, built around 330 B.C., lies just to the west. At the top of the theater, visitors take in the natural backdrop of rolling hills and olive groves and the impressive acoustics of the ancient structure. The sound of a coin dropping or paper tearing onstage resonates throughout the theatron.
Nearby, the citadel at Mycenae dates back to 1550 B.C. and is the backdrop of Aeschylus’s tragic plays surrounding legendary king Agamemnon and generations of his family. The ancient carved lions and domed underground tombs leave an impression on visitors.
“To see it in context does bring home the fact that our tradition of theatre comes from ancient Greece,” says Chris Pfaff, a Florida State University associate professor who spends summers in Nafplio working at an archaeological site. “This is really where it all started.”
Wine enthusiasts can take a side trip to Nemea, just north of Nafplio, to try local varietals. Agiorgitiko is the major grape here and it creates wines with intense, fruity flavor and vibrant color. The Lafkiotis Winery, a family institution for more than fifty years, offers wine tastings in a room with stone arches and valley views.
While there’s plenty to see outside of Nafplio, the coastal city is itself a destination. Thick bougainvillea flowers in pink and purple spill into cobblestone streets. The old city rests at the edge of a peninsula, below a towering Venetian fortress. Guests can drive up to the entrance or climb 857 steps for a view of the surrounding sea and terra-cotta roofs. The patchwork structure came together in just three years in the early 1700s.
Foodies will delight in the local famers’ market active on Wednesday and Sunday mornings. Many vendors speak only Greek but happily offer samples and very reasonable prices. Take some honey and olive oil home and don’t pass up the cherries and apricots.
Near the port, the Antica Gelateria di Roma thrives by pairing local Greek produce with a nineteenth-century Sicilian recipe for gelato. The milk comes from nearby Argos, the legendary birthplace of the demigod Perseus. “Banana fresca, fruit fresca, this is the difference,” says Marcello Raffo, who runs the shop with his wife and sister.
For traditional fare, try veal meatballs, Greek salad or moussaka at Ta Phanaria. The house red wine is fresh, balanced and the perfect accompaniment to a meal.
After dinner or a day of sightseeing, stop at one of the bars on the port for a glass of anise-flavored ouzo and toast as the Greeks do: Yamas!
Nora Hertel is a Madison-based writer.