The Southern Peloponnese is a region of towering mountains and seascapes, but also a deep history. At the base of the infamous Mani Peninsula is the charming town of Gythio. A seafront town with an all season presence of many locals and visitors. There is a quiet and distinct character in Gythio, from the promenade along the sea that stretches the length of the town, its busy but simple marina, and the classical buildings and lighthouse that line the road.
It is not hard to connect certain places in Greece with tales and myths from antiquity. Gythio has a connection to the story of Helen of Troy and the subsequent Trojan War. Stories tell the tale that the tiny island Cranae which is only a few meters from mainland Gythio, is where Helen and Paris first spent time together.
But Gythio’s history goes deeper than the time of the Trojan War. Ancient myths tell us that the area was founded by the legend Hercules and the God Apollo, who called it Gythium. It continued to prove its value as a trading post which shared luxurious goods like rare purple dyes for fabric. It wasn’t all feasts and fancy goods in Gythio. Its proximity to ancient Sparta and its location on the sea made it a strategic place for ports and ship construction, but also many battles and sieges.
Take a trip to Gythio’s ancient past by visiting the Theater of Gythium, located right at the beginning of town. It is believed to have been built by the Romans, and still remains well preserved today. The theater is often still used for events like artistic performances. The rest of the town is built with a vintage Greek style, embodying the lively sixties era, the time when Gythio became a place to be, because of the new and spacious port that still continues to offer ferries to islands like Kythira and Crete today. Depending on the season, you could easily catch one of these daily cruises to the island of your liking.
But Gythio is just as beautiful as its neighboring islands, with its own unique charm. The classic buildings that line the streets are almost all painted in warm pastel colors with original shutters that seem uniform along the whole block. The best view of the town is certainly from the furthest end of the boat dock and marina. From there you will see the whole town and also the small but important island Cranae. Today this small island is connected to the main road by a concrete walking bridge. It is the site of Gythio’s lighthouse and the almost two-hundred-year-old Tzannetakis Tower. There is also a tiny church by the name Agios Pavlos built at the water’s edge, setting a gorgeous and authentically Greek scene.
The lighthouse is truly a sight to see, standing at twenty-five meters tall and built from bright white marble which is found in abundance throughout the Mediterranean. Its light also continues to flash out into the sea, as it has since its construction in 1873. The island’s Tzannetakis Tower is slightly older, dating back to 1829. It was originally the home of its namesake Tzanetakis Grigorakis and has now become a Maritime Museum which displays the history of Gythio and the Mani Peninsula.
As you walk to and from the small island along the seaside promenade, you will have a hard time narrowing down your options for food or drinks. The streets are packed with these establishments and each one looks just as inviting as the next. Naturally most places have outdoor seating right along the water, making for an authentic Greek dining experience, especially in the summertime.
Along with Gythio’s historic and architectural charm, there are also plenty of natural treasures to see. If you are more into sea, sun, and sand, take the ten-minute drive south of town to the organized beach Mavrovouni. It has a long coastline with a mix of sand and small pebbles. Along the beach you will find plenty of organized beach chairs, along with a selection of cafes and tavernas. If you like your accommodation to be more chill and secluded, you can find villas and beach bungalows all along this area.
Another notable beach just a ten minute drive north of Gythio is called Paralia Valtaki. This is a popular spot for photographers and video creators, because of the shipwreck gracing the beachfront. The Dimitrios Shipwreck, as it is called, has a questionable reason for being washed up on this beach. The vessel was originally built in 1950 and had its home base at Piraeus Port in Athens. It had a long career before it got stranded on the beach in the 1980’s, supposedly during its operations smuggling illegal cigarettes across the Mediterranean. However, uncovered official reports state that the ship docked in Gythio because the captain needed immediate medical attention for a sudden illness. Lack of money and engine trouble ultimately led to the ship being abandoned and swept out to sea during stormy weather.
Gythio is central to a lot of special places on the Mani Peninsula and the region of Laconia. Within an hour’s drive or less you can visit notable towns like Areopoli and Monemvasia. But once you arrive in Gythio, it will surely be hard to leave. It is the kind of place that makes you feel like you have stepped into the heart of Greece. Yes, there are visitors and tourists, but to a far smaller degree compared to other places throughout Greece. In Gythio, you can see restaurants drying their fresh caught octopus right along the marina, next to the older men still fishing. There are no big stores and brand name chains, just the authentic shops and establishments commonly passed down by generations. It is a calming escape from the hustle of the everyday. When you picture summers in Greece as a kid and the butterflies in your stomach feeling it gave you, Gythio is the place to relive that feeling.