Methoni & Koroni
Methoni 13km (8 miles) from Pylos; Koroni 30km (18 miles) from Pylos
Methoni and Koroni are two of the most impressive medieval fortresses in Greece and would be worth seeing for that reason alone. But that's not the only reason to come here: Methoni has one of the best restaurants in the Peloponnese, and the drive through the Messenian countryside between Methoni and Koroni is ravishing. The route from Pylos to Koroni via Longa is blissful; by contrast, the southerly seaside route takes in the village of Finikounda, a windsurfer's paradise, and can be heavily trafficked on summer weekends. In a day trip, you can drive from Pylos to the convent and fortress at Koroni, have a swim and a bite near Finikounda, head to Methoni for another fortress, another swim, and dinner at the Taverna Klimataria , before heading back to Pylos. Try not to visit either fortress on summer weekends when they are crowded with locals eager to have a swim and a fish dinner.
The fortress at Koroni encloses a number of whitewashed and pastel village houses, a convent, and several cemeteries. Although the main road in town leads uphill to the fortress gate, park in town, unless you'd enjoy backing up beside a sheer drop to the sea if you meet a car heading downhill! The grounds inside the fortress walls are planted with roses and shade trees; piles of cannonballs and the occasional cannon remind visitors of Koroni's bloody past. There's a string of seafood restaurants by the harbor below, but nothing to compare with Methoni's Klimataria, although Kagelarios (tel. 27250/22-648) is a good fish place. Zaga beach is sandy and has umbrellas and lounge chairs for rent. The 14-room Sofitel (www.koroni-holidays.com; tel. 27250/22-230) is charmless, but an okay place to spend a night or two; doubles run from 60€.
The long, sandy Methoni beach has won several awards for its ecosensitivity, including Greece's Golden Starfish and the Common Market's Blue Flag. The seaside cafes and fish tavernas all have fine views of the fortress, which stands at the end of a low spit of land and covers enough ground to have contained a city of several thousand inhabitants during the Middle Ages. Methoni's exterior walls are stupendous, although little remains inside the fortress itself. Don't worry about being locked in here when the gates close at 7pm: An officious guard on a motorcycle rounds up any stragglers. The fortress is usually open from 8am to 7pm; admission is free. When it closes, you can head to the Taverna Klimataria (tel. 27230/31-544), where the chef somehow manages to take standard Greek dishes (fried zucchini, eggplant salad, briam) and turn them into elegant delights. The Klimataria is popular with foreign visitors, especially the Germans and Italians who flock to the west coast of the Peloponnese each summer. If you want to stay the night, the 36-room family run Amalia (email@example.com; tel. 27230/31-129), set in a shady garden with wonderful rose bushes, is on a seaside hill a 5-minute drive away; doubles are from 80€.
A Little History of the Area -- The Venetians built Methoni on the Ionian Sea and Koroni on the Gulf of Messenia in the 13th century to safeguard their newly acquired Greek empire. In some of the bloodiest fighting on record, the fortresses, almost immediately nicknamed "the twin eyes of empire," passed back and forth between various powers for the next several centuries: In 1500, the Turks slaughtered all 5,000 Venetian defenders at Methoni; in 1685, the Venetians wiped out the 1,500-man Turkish garrison at Koroni.