A mythical land of culture and rare natural beauty
Astonishing natural beauty, ancient and medieval landmarks and a special energy that continues to inspire creativity and enlightenment … the drama of the landscape surrounding Euphoria Retreat is but a microcosm of the Peloponnese.
With a backdrop of Mt Taygetus, rising to a full 2,407m above sea level, the grand scene of nature and adventure spills out before you as you arrive at Euphoria Retreat. The combination of deep ravines and a dark green blanket of fir and pine trees gives the tallest mountain in the Peloponnese an aura that begs to be explored on foot or simply admired from afar.
Dominating the foreground is the fortified town of Mystras, fought over by Franks, Venetians, Byzantines and Ottomans, and now a UNESCO World Heritage site whose Byzantine splendour of impressive churches, palaces, fortresses and cobbled paths continues to transmit its mystical energy as strongly as ever.
Beyond the valley of citrus groves and olive trees is modern Sparta, just south of the ruins of the ancient city of the same name that gave birth to so many legends of fearless courage and the benefits of living abstemiously and in perfect balance with nature.
Some believe that the bones of the kings of Sparta and the heroes of Thermopylae lie buried here, while the bust of Leonidas – the most famous king of the militarist city state – dominates the front of the National Stadium. Nearby, the ancient acropolis and the Roman theatre are worth visiting, as is the city’s Archaeological Museum.
But you will undoubtedly be tempted to travel much further afield, such is the extraordinary cultural diversity of the Peloponnese.
Some 150km northeast is the ancient Theatre of Epidaurus – not just one of the most important and impressive theatres of ancient Greece, but a holistic healing centre in itself. It is here that the ancients of 340-333BC chose to build the famous Asclepion healing centre, so that the patients could benefit from the therapeutic properties of theatrical performances. The amphitheatre, whose acoustics need to be heard to be believed, is still used for moonlit summer performances.
Just inland from Epidaurus is Mycenae, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and another of Greece’s landmark archaeological sites. The Cyclopean Walls, Lion Gate, The Mask of Agamemnon and Treasury of Atreus … just some of the highlights of the most lavish, palatial centre of the Late Bronze Age in Greece. As you stand within the vast tholos (beehive-shaped) tomb of Atreus, you will understand how it was one of the inspirations of the Euphoria Retreat Sphere Pool.
And to the west is Ancient Messene. Dating from the 4th century BC, it was no more than a green valley as recently as 40 years ago. Gradual excavations have since revealed an archaeological site of temples, houses, walls and public buildings that are not only in excellent condition but also fully accessible to visitors. Its theatre has been restored and is used for performances.
A taste of paradise
And where culture ends, nature begins. The Peloponnese doesn’t just boast imposing mountains and lush valleys, but also a wonderful coastline. Without doubt one of the most wonderful experiences is to spend a day on the beach at Elafonisos, an exotic island of just 19 sq km whose beautiful beaches and bays serve up fine white sand, emerald waters and a rare cedar forest.
The Diros Caves (75km due south) are noteworthy not just for their extraordinary stalagmites and stalactites but also as one of the most important Neolithic burial sites in Europe. Amongst other remains, two adult human skeletons were found here from a burial dating to the 4th millennium BC.
A fairy tale landscape
No less magical is an excursion to the uniquely preserved medieval town of Monemvasia, whose mosaic of stone alleyways and Byzantine castle walls, and tales of knights, pirates, crusaders and emperors, will make you feel as if you have stepped right into a fairy tale.
Day trips are also worthwhile to the beautiful seaside town of Gythion, whose sandy beach, Mavrovouni, is one of the nesting sites of the endangered caretta-caretta sea turtle, and Areopoli, an impressively preserved historical town with its tower houses and stone paths.
Lastly, there is Kalamata, whose airport offers easy access to Euphoria Retreat. With a view of the other side of Mt Taygetus, Kalamata is a busy seaside city with a charm of its own. Lively shops and a seaside promenade offer the perfect excuse for a leisurely stroll or perhaps coffee or cocktail as the sun dips into the Gulf of Messinia.