Southern coast of Greece’s Peloponnese
Sitting on the southern coast of Greece’s Peloponnese and facing out to the Messenian Gulf, Kalamata is world famous for its olives and its oil. Scratch the surface, however, and you’ll soon find a modern provincial capital with long sandy beaches nearby and relaxed civilised living by the waterfront.
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The main commercial street, cutting through Kalamáta from south to north, is Aristoménous. For something more touristy but of good quality, don’t neglect the gift shops of the Benakion Archaeological Museum (Papazoglou 6) near the top of Aristoménous, or the nearby Historical and Folklore Museum (Agíou Ioánnou 12), both housed in fine 19th-century buildings which survived the devastating 1986 earthquake. The food market, between the main bus station and castle, is also worth a look. Kalamáta was always known for its silk industry, and at the convent of Agíou Konstandínou ke Elénis, near the castle, the nuns still weave silk items for sale.
Food & Drink
In Kalamáta itself, Spanomihos (Spetsón 130) is a marina-front gem – fairly priced, with squirmingly fresh seafood, wholesome vegetable starters and good bulk wine. Methóni has two goodies in Alektor (central market street), a casserole-dish specialist sourcing ingredients from its own farm, and Nikos (Miaoúli Street), an excellent all-rounder for grills and starters with a fire going during the cooler months. In Stoúpa, the next resort beyond Kardamýli, To Palio Bostani (Kalógria Beach) makes a particularly good fist of starters and stews, with again many ingredients home-grown. In Kardamýli, Lela’s (harbour seafront) is a classic, with Lela herself (Patrick Leigh Fermor’s first housekeeper) still ‘supervising’ her granddaughter who has taken over the kitchen.
On the first day of Lent in Methóni, a parodic re-enactment (partly by men in drag) of an historic (and extravagant) medieval wedding, deferred 17 years while a divorce was strenuously obtained, between a knight and his already-married object of affection.
Inspired by a local tactic from the Greek independence war whereby explosive-packed lances were used to scare the Ottoman cavalry, teams of young men equipped with gunpowder-charged cardboard javelins gather on the west seafront on Easter Sunday.
Video and alternative media art, presented in various open spaces in the town centre; if you can’t coincide, many of the festival entries travel to other similar European events. The name (Festival Zero) reflects its modest beginnings in 2005.
Kalamata International Dance Festival
Going since 1995, this is one of the biggest events for European modern dancers and fans, with performances by top ensembles and workshops in venues across town, including the castle amphitheatre.
Street Festival is a more informal event, with jugglers, rock bands, exhibits, street theatre and basketball competitions.
Most arrivals at Kalamáta will stay in the resorts of the Messinian peninsula immediately southwest, or in the outer Máni region just southeast. The most luxurious remote option, which has caused a sensation since opening in 2009, is the Costa Navarino golf, beach and spa resort (Navaríno dunes, Romanós village), offering seven categories of rooms, suites and villas, plus watersports off a long private beach. The best in-town choice is seafront Haïkos (Navarínou 115), with helpful staff and recently renovated rooms. In Maniot Kardamýli, opt for family-friendly Elies, a complex of 18 impeccably designed stone-built cottages in an olive grove a few steps from the beach.