An April 2003 trip
to Nafplion by Re Carroll
Quote: Nafplio is a pretty little town whose history includes a stint as the capital of
Greece. Tourism is big business here, but wandering the narrow lanes of the old town amid beautiful old pastel buildings, it’s easy to find peace, quiet, and a strong sense of Greek pride.
Nafplio is a town made for walking. The harbor front is lined with palm trees and tavernas featuring views of Bourtzi, the former Venetian prison on the tiny island in the middle of the bay. Numerous sets of stone stairs lead to two of the most interesting sights: the romantic ruins of Akronafplia and Palamidi fortress, almost 900 steps above town.
In Old Town there is still a strong sense of small town Greece where strangers are warmly greeted with a smile. For me, an afternoon exploring its narrow lanes and small green parks was equally as rewarding as visiting the city’s major attractions. Relaxing at the end of the day with an ouzo while enjoying the panoramic view over town from my pension was just the icing on the cake.
During the Easter period or the summer’s high season, booking accommodations in advance is highly recommended. Make sure you know what area your hotel is located in. Most of the budget hotels are in the newer part of Nafplio where there is a lot of traffic and therefore traffic
noise. In my opinion, Old Town is the better area to stay in and it has a wide variety of accommodations from elegant Hotel Byron to budget accommodations like Dimitris Bekas pension.
Tavernas are spread throughout town but the majority is clustered in three areas: along the harbor front, rimming Syntagma Square and in Old Town.
I arrived at Bekas without a reservation and wanted to stay for three nights. Dimitris said he could offer me one room for two nights and then another one in a different building for the last night because the original room was reserved. Considering that I’d already fallen in love with the location, I would have agreed to almost anything.
My first room was only 16 euro per night. It was small with a double bed and desk taking up most of the space. There was no closet, just hooks on the wall for clothes, but it did have a small TV with remote control, ceiling fan for hot days and wooden shutters that opened to a Palamidi view. The shared bathroom looked like it had been recently remodeled and was stocked with soap and shampoo and hot water was available 24 hours.
There were two fridges for communal use as well as some tourist information on Nafplio. Just a few steps below the pension was the flat roof top of another Bekas building. It was furnished with tables and chairs to act as a patio and was a great place to relax and take advantage of the panoramic views of town.
My second room was located in the building whose roof I’d been sitting on. Luckily none of the noise from the roof top filtered downstairs. This building was older and had a slightly musty smell, probably because it hadn’t been used much throughout the winter. The room was much larger than the first and the cost was 22 euro. This would have been a good family room with a double bed and a single as well as a large kitchen table and chairs. Again, no closet, just clothes hooks and this time, no TV, but I didn’t need that when I had a private balcony overlooking town. Like the other building, there was a communal fridge and an old but clean shared bathroom.
The easiest way to get to the pension is to locate the Catholic church and then climb the steps behind it -- you’ll see the sign for the pension. The area is extremely quiet at night because the traffic noise from town doesn’t carry this far. I would definitely recommend advance reservations because Bekas is listed in a number of guide books and is very popular with budget travelers.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on July 3, 2003
Pension D. Bekas
(0752) 0 24594
It’s not a large place -- about 10 tables outside and 10 in and all have blue and white checked tablecloths and blue wooden chairs with cane seats. Inside, the walls are a mix of plaster, rock, brick and wood and are lined with rows of wine bottles. It all comes together to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
The menu is big on fresh fish including bouillabaisse, prawn and fish souvlaki, steamed prawns and kalamari. Non seafood fans can choose from veal, pork, chicken, moussaka, spinach pie, and there is even a children’s’ plate.
With so many choices, I had a hard time deciding. I debated ordering a spicy cream cheese appetizer but went with tzatziki, a yogurt, cucumber and garlic dip instead and it was some of the best I’ve ever eaten. It was so thick that I could have turned the dish upside down and not lost a drop. The tzatziki was loaded with garlic and I had to force myself not to lick the plate when I got to the bottom.
My main course was equally as good. Big tender chunks of juicy chicken breast, wrapped in smoky lean bacon (almost like prosciutto) and grilled over charcoal. It came with french fries and the cost was 6 euro. In my quest to finish every last bit of tzatziki, I used my french fries to scoop it up and am now hooked on french fries with tzatziki.
Total cost of my meal, with a glass of smooth, dry red house wine, was just over 11 euro and it would have been worth it at double that price.
The waiter gave me a Christophoros postcard that, if mailed from Greece, entitles the recipient to a free 1/2 liter of wine. A nice touch but their excellent food is all the incentive I need to ensure I’ll return here the next time I’m in Nafplio.
Eating at a sidewalk taverna was out of the question but luckily, after leaving the Archaeological Museum, I spotted Ellas across the square. There was nobody at the outdoor tables, but the crowd of people inside the restaurant looked like they were enjoying themselves in spite of the gloomy weather.
Ellas is quite a large restaurant with lots of windows that look onto Syntagma Square. The interior is very unpretentious and rather rustic with wood and plaster walls and lots of little knick knacks throughout. It’s a family run place and near the entrance, an older man sat and folded napkins while a couple of teenage girls stood near the door to the kitchen, waiting for instructions. My waiter said it was the oldest restaurant in Nafplio and had been in his family for close to 100 years.
The menu was just as unpretentious and basic as the decor. It featured all the old favorites -- moussaka, kalamari, spanakopita, Greek salad, chicken, etc. A couple at the table next to mine ordered steamed prawns and their "plate" was more like a platter, heaped with prawns. At another table, a group of people shared a whole smorgasbord of food - salad, cheese and
spinach pie, pork or lamb chops, and more. The food kept flowing, along with carafes of wine and the hum of conversation and friendly laughter certainly kept the dreary weather at bay.
I was looking for hearty food to take away the chill from outside and Ellas had just what I needed. I started with fassolada, thick bean soup with chopped carrots, celery and onions. Next came one of my favorite Greek dishes -- baked yemista. Two fat tomatoes were filled to bursting with rice, parsley and oregano and served with french fries. The portion was larger than I expected and there was absolutely no room to even consider dessert or anything else. Not only was the food good but the price was extremely reasonable -- approx. 10 euro including a glass of their decent house red wine.
Syntagma Square is lined with attractive and historical buildings and on a sunny day, Ellas would be even more enjoyable when you could sit outside and take in all the activity around the square.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 3, 2003
The museum wasn’t all that large, possibly due to renovations but it still had some impressive exhibits. Their usual collection spans the ages from 8000 BC to 500 AD, quite an impressive time frame in Greek history. Most of the exhibits are from excavations in the Argolis region and I think it is currently one of the only places to see artifacts from Mycenae and Tiryns until the National Archaeological Museum in Athens reopens in 2004.
The museum had displays of small pottery vessels and jars found throughout the region. As well as large 13th century BC pottery urns from Nafplio, there was a terracotta mask from Tiryns that looked like a leering gremlin or an orc from Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Beside the gift shop were a couple of elongated stone figures that reminded me vaguely of Easter Island statues. For me, the highlight of the museum was a 15th century BC Mycenaean era bronze suit of armor from a tomb at Dendra, near Argos. The armor was comprised of four separate pieces -- collar, shoulder shields, breast plate, and lower section, and all four pieces were very well preserved.
Unlike many of the museums I’ve been in where staff were rather dour and serious, the staff at this museum were extremely friendly and cheerful and the lady at the gift shop was in the mood to chat and joke about the rainy weather. She gave me tips on what to see in Nafplio, including looking for peacocks on the outskirts of Old Town. There were few visitors and Easter was just around the corner which may have had something to do with her mood, but she made me feel very welcome and I enjoyed my visit here all the more because of her hospitality.
The museum is open year round, Tuesday through Sunday from 8:30am to 3pm. It isn’t suitable for anyone with mobility problems because the exhibits are on the second floor, up a steep set of stairs. Flash photography is not allowed inside the museum.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on July 3, 2003
Nafplio Archaeological Museum
+30 27520 27502
Predominant is the Palamidi which towers above town. The present fortification was constructed by the Venetians in 1686 who planned to use it as their home base. Their plan to conquer the rest of the Peloponnese was foiled by the Turks who invaded in 1715. The Greeks eventually wrested it away from the Turks during the War of Independence. All that fighting meant
lots of damage to the fortifications but the walls have been repaired and reconstructed and Palamidi welcomes visitors to explore. Inside the walls are eight Venetian bastions that were sometimes used as prisons. Their most
famous prisoner was Greek revolutionary hero, Theodore Kolokotronis and signs point the way to the bastion that was his cell.
Palamidi is open daily and admission is 4 euro. Even if you’re not interested in Greek history, it is worth visiting for the breathtaking views over the gulf of Argolis and the Argolid plain. Speaking of breathtaking, the uphill climb from town involves over 850 uneven, zigzagging stairs. If you’re thinking of making the climb, be aware that the steps are not all the same -- same are steep, some narrow so it’s quite a work out. I cheated and took a taxi up (5 euro) and walked down. Across from the base of the stairs is a small park with a cafe where you can relax with a cold drink after exploring Palamidi.
Unlike Palamidi, there is not much left of Akronafplia and yet, of the two, I preferred this windswept, hauntingly romantic site. Wildflowers bloom among the craggy ruins and few people visit here so it’s a very peaceful and relaxing spot. At one time there were two castles on this site - a Frankish one and a Byzantine one and a passageway led to Arvanitia beach below but that has been cordoned off. Large cacti line the hillside facing the harbor and its a great place for pictures of the tiny fortress of Bourtzi just offshore. A luxury hotel sits atop the Akronafplia site but it appeared to be undergoing renovations during my visit and the sight of cranes and workmen was definitely out of place. Akronafplia isn’t as high up as Palamidi and can be accessed via a number of stone staircases from town or via the road leading to Arvanitia beach. There is no charge to visit here and it is the perfect place for a picnic or a quiet break away from the crowds in town.
The hills above Nafplio
Abbotsford, British Columbia