Simos Camping, Elafonisos
The small island of Elafonisos, just off the south-east corner of the Peloponnese, used to be a well-guarded secret. It’s two beaches of perfect white sand, said to rival those of the South Seas, were only mentioned in hushed whispers. The secret is now out, but it is still mainly Greeks who visit this slice of paradise. Simos Camping is right next to the best of the beaches, and you don’t even have to pack your tent, as the site offers simple bungalow accommodation, just a few steps from the sand. The site also offers a range of pitches, including ones for camper vans or caravans. A restaurant and bar, with free Wi-Fi, offer all the trappings of civilisation you might need, while the fish tavernas of the island’s only village are 5km away.
• +30 27340 22 672, simoscamping.gr. Bungalows from €40. Pitch (for a two-man tent, plus car) €21.
Marmari Paradise, Mesa Mani
Marmari is a tiny little hamlet overlooking two sandy coves. Just below it nestles this remote, but comfortable, little hideaway. Built in traditional stone, it is a popular venue for traditional Greek festivals (including baptisms that take full advantage of the lapping waves on the beach below). The hotel, and terrace where food is served, all overlook the water, and the rooms often seem dug into the cliffside (imagine hobbit holes in the sun). This is almost the southernmost point of the European mainland, and the feeling of blessed isolation would be hard to beat. Not far away lies Cape Tenaro, where Hercules is said to have descended into the underworld and tamed Cerberus, the three-headed dog. Now the locals are more welcoming, but the sense of adventure remains.
• +30 27330 52101, marmariparadise.com. Doubles from €50.
Kardamyli has been a favourite for writers and artists for a long time. Patrick Leigh Fermor lived here, and Bruce Chatwin ashes were scattered in the hills above the village. More recently it was the setting for Before Midnight, the third of Richard Linklater’s acclaimed series of romance films, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. With the Taygetos mountain range rising up steeply from its coves, it is easy to fall in love with Kardamyli, and Elies is the perfect place to do so. It is right by the azure sea, but with its well-designed cottages – some one room, others two, and each with a kitchenette – are hidden among an olive grove. Spend the morning swimming and ordering drinks right from your beach lounger, before enjoying a long lunch from the hotel’s renowned restaurant.
• +30 27210 73140, elieshotel.gr. Two-bed studios from €100.
The pretty little fishing port of Gerolimenas made its fortune by exporting quails, caught in the surrounding mountains, to the restaurants of France. The old warehouses that edge the small pebble beach and sapphire-blue water are still owned by the same families, but they have now been converted into a rather special hotel. Most of the accommodation consists of loft-style rooms on two levels, built into the old stone warehouse, but the best room takes up the whole of an old tower house. The clever architecture combined with a passion for local gastronomy and a sense of history to make this a destination worth exploring.
• +30 27330 54288, kyrimai.gr. Doubles from €100.
The medieval town of Monemvasia, set on a Gibraltar-like rock that juts into the sea, is well-known, but the coast to the north of it gets few visitors, despite hiding some beautiful scenery edged by fantastic beaches. The silver-grey sands of isolated Kyparissi are foremost among these. The Kyfanta is run by a Spanish-Greek couple with a clear passion for the area and its many delights. The hotel is what we all want when we book a Greek getaway – white-washed buildings touched with blue, and inside simple but comfortable rooms that look over the sea. The cliffs above the village are dotted with chapels and caves, and walking tours, of any length or difficulty, can be arranged by the hotel, with donkeys helping out on the longer trails. This is a slice of Greece that retains the feel of the country 20-30 years ago.
• +30 27320 55356, kyfanta.com. Doubles from €55.
The family-run atmosphere and concentration on those simple, but vital, aspects that make a stay special, have seen the Zoe, once the only hotel in the area, survive and even thrive among increasing competition. Its location doesn’t hurt either; the restaurant’s tables spill out on to the aptly named Golden Beach. Here you can eat fresh fish accompanied by organic produce from the hotel garden. Just across Gialova lagoon lies the white crescent of Voidokilia, one of the most photographed beaches in Greece. The old rooms of the hotel are basic, but welcoming, while a newly restored building, once a wine cellar and now surrounded by a flower garden, offers 16 more luxurious apartments with balconies overlooking the sea.
• +30 27230 22025, zoeresort.com. Doubles from €60.
Pirgos Mavromichali, Limeni
The "Tower of Mavromichali" is the old family stronghold of Petrobey Mavromichalis (or Black Michael) one of the semi-autonomous rulers of the warlike Mani region during Turkish occupation in the 19th century. Mavromichalis took against his Turkish overlords and marched an army northwards to free Kalamata, the first Greek city to achieve independence. Once a slightly foreboding fortress, the tower (still owned by the Mavromichalis family) has been turned into a stunning boutique hotel, perched above the little fishing cove of Limeni. The 13 rooms all retain a sense of history, with exposed stonework, and most have sea views. The tavernas that sell the local catch are known to attract not only diners from far-off Athens, but also passing celebrities, and even royalty.
• +30 27330 51042, pirgosmavromichali.gr. Doubles from €85
If you want to visit the famous ancient sites of the Peloponnese, but still want to chill on the beach, the Enalio offers the best of both worlds. Situated above the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Corinth, it is not far from the ruins of the city where St Paul preached, and beyond that lies the fabled Argolid; home to Agamemnon’s palace and the famous theatre at Epidavros. The hotel itself offers studios with sea views above a breakfast terrace that also hosts a large pool and an outdoor Jacuzzi. If the mix of beach life and ancient culture aren’t enough for you, try a 50m bungy jump into the Corinth canal.
• +30 27410 87984, enalio.gr. Studios from €85.
The Greek word xenos has the dual meaning of stranger or foreigner, and that of guest. This embodies the tradition of treating visitors to the country as more than just passing tourists, which is called philoxenia, or "the love of strangers". The Byzantinon, far away from the tourist traps that sometimes mar Greece, embraces this philosophy. It is set in a small village on the little-visited eastern coast of the Peloponnese, above an attractive pebble beach. The modern but traditionally built hotel offers 11 flats and apartments all tastefully decorated in wood and leather. All of them offer fitted kitchens. If you can tear yourself away from the sea and are feeling adventurous, a hire car would take you deep into the heart of this fantastic region; exploring cliff-hanging monasteries, abandoned medieval cities, and mountain villages that still produce the world’s finest honey.
• +30 27570 51220, byzantinonhotel.gr. Doubles from €70.
Stoupa, with its two fantastic beaches (Nikos Kazantzakis of Zorba the Greek fame used to live by one of them), has long been a favoured holiday destination in the Peloponnese. Fortunately it has never been spoilt and remains comparatively low key, with traditional, and excellent, tavernas. Accommodation has also been somewhat low-key, but Tria bucks this trend with a trio of self-contained apartments around a pool, furnished with style and taste. The owners also run a beach bar on the incomparable Kalogria beach, a crescent of sand that shelves gently into a fresh water, spring-fed cove. Late nights, under the moonlight, will see you dancing, Zorba-style, on the golden sands.
• +30 27210 77811, tria-apartments.com. Apartments from €75.