Bring the Greek ruins to life: sightseeing tips for the Gulf of Corinth

One woman’s family guide to exploring the breathtaking, and soul-satisfying Corinthian Riviera in Greece.

Heraion cove. Photo by Jen Reyneri

There is nothing permanent except change.” — Heraclitus, 4th century BC Greek philosopher

I became comfortable with change—in the form of travel—at a young age. My parents traveled for six months out of every year from the time of my mother’s pregnancy until I was in the third grade. And when we weren’t traveling, my mom would tell me stories of Greek heroes and legends in mythology, which inevitably put Greece high up on my life’s bucket list of travel destinations. (Though it also could have been a product of all the times we watched my brother’s favorite childhood movie: the low-budget film Clash of the Titans.) So I was thrilled when, recently, the dream of this voyage became a reality. In 2016, I finally flew to Greece, and walked among history in the very places where those bedtime myths of my youth first came to life.

When Americans think of traveling to Greece, a few things tend to come to mind: first, the ruins and ancient civilizations. Second, the islands and the indescribable shades of azure and teal seas. (Evoking thoughts of honeymooners). Third, the “it’s all Greek to me” challenge of navigating a language so incredibly different.

My destination, the Corinthian Riviera region surrounding the Gulf of Corinth, was rich in all this and more: history, culture, natural beauty and local cuisine. But it was exploring the ancient ruins, that really struck a chord: I felt I was truly walking amidst history. Each ruin I visited was a spiritual journey as well as a scenic one.

Multiple times among the ruins, I was moved to tears; at a loss for words. Humbled, and in awe.”

My Floridian flip flops climbed to the top of the Acropolis in Athens to see the Parthenon and traced the steps of the Apostle Paul on Mars Hill. I walked the crumbling and dusty paths in the ancient city of Korinthos, where Paul first preached to the Corinthians, right in the marketplace. History came to life in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Delphi where part of the ruins have been restored. With each dusty, uneven step, I tried to soak the dust deep into my memory because every ancient place I visited helped me to reflect on my own life (God has saved my life from ruin on more than one occasion), and the passage of time.

Somehow, these ruins, made up mostly of dusty bricks, loose rocks and broken clay vessels, attract people from all over the globe to experience their beauty. And I was certainly no exception.

Multiple times among the ruins, I was moved to tears; at a loss for words. Humbled, in awe, and in gratitude of the obstacles I’ve faced (divorce, addiction, family challenges, cancer, financial ruin, marriage struggles, hearing loss, and so many more). It occurred to me that our loving Heavenly Father had carried me through to bring me here to this place, living a life-long dream. Literally and allegorically. At times, I found my mind digging up a few favorite lyrics from Hillsong’s Glorious Ruins: “Let the ruins come to life, in the beauty of your name. Rising up from the ashes, God forever you reign. And my soul will find refuge in the shadow of your wings. I will love you forever, and forever I’ll sing!”

Upon returning home, I researched the scripture where those lyrics originated. Isaiah 58:12 says: “Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities. Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes.” It reminded me that our time here in this world is short. Dust does return to dust. And that old saying: Only God can take a mess and make it a message.

If you’re planning a trip to Greece, spend a day or two seeing the famous sights in Athens, of course, but what I recommend most is visiting the incredible Corinthian Riviera, approximately a two-hour drive from Athens. This guide to the Corinthian Gulf municipalities will help you experience all that this seaside region has to offer your body, mind and soul:

Loutraki

Heraion cove. Photo by Jen Reyneri

A small seaside resort town with a casino, Loutraki is where you can experience the incredible cove and the Heraion archaeological site in Perachora, also known as the Sanctuary of Hera.

Activities: After exploring Hera’s stunning sanctuary, rest your bones by taking a dip in the cerulean sea with a lighthouse and quaint hill-side chapel overlooking this site, or relax for a few hours at the Loutraki Thermal Spa, where the staff doctor will make sure you are in good health before immersing yourself in the healing waters.

Food: Don’t miss lunch an incredible seafood lunch at the Lido Restaurant, overlooking the Iraion Lake: the octopus is so fresh it’s drying on the lines next to your table. (Talk about a foodie atmosphere!) Later, you can literally taste Greek hospitality and family business at its finest with a tour of the Kalielaion Oil Press. While you’re there, don’t be afraid to ask for samples of the olive oils! (They may even hand you small bottles that you can stash in your luggage as gifts for loved ones back home.)

Where to stay: Loutraki is full of resorts so you can take your pick without much research, but one of the best known is The Poseidon Resort, which has terraced ocean view rooms, and a spa. In the winter months, rooms tend to be around $160 per night.

Korinthos

Acropolis of ancient Corinth. Photo by Jen Reyneri

The municipality of Corinth itself, Korinthos was one of the highlights of my trip.

Activities: On your way into town, you must stop to see the Corinth Canal, a narrow body of water that connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea, and a true architectural marvel. Don’t miss a guided tour of the museum and archaeological site at Ancient Corinth, with a stop to view the Acrocorinth, towering above the ancient city. (Hours vary by season so be sure to check the museum’s website.) Or simply walk around the modern town square toward the marina, where you’ll see a statue of Pegasus, the legendary winged horse and town protector.

History or bible buffs should also allow ample time to explore the splendor of the Church of Apostolos Pavlos. Inside hangs a carved copy of the first letter from Saint Paul to the Corinthians. Each year on June 29, a festival celebrates the Apostle Paul as the Patron Saint of the city.

Food: Feast on fresh catch, seaside, including fried calamari and anchovies, grilled octopus, and and shrimp saganaki, right on the shore, just outside town in a village called Λουτρά Ωραίας Ελένης (Loutra Oraias Elenis) at “Καλάδα”(Kalada.)

Xylokastro

Church outside Xylokastro. Photo by Jen Reyneri

A gorgeous seaside village with incredible beaches and hospitality.

Activities: Marvel at the Cathedral of Saint Vlasius, walk the seawall and the incredible aquamarine waters near the marina. Travelers who aren’t afraid of a little leg work can go for an even longer adventure through winding roads dotted with vineyards and the charming mountaintop village of Trikala, population 300. If you make it to the top, make sure you stop at the general store to experience true Greek hospitality.

Food: You are on the coast, so dine seaside once again at the family owned and operated Μουράγιο (Εστιατόριο – Ψαροταβέρνα) restaurant. Seafood lovers: all you need to do is glance at the photos of giant fresh catches on the restaurant’s Facebook wall, and I swear you’ll be sold on this place.

Where to stay: If you’re looking for a comfortable place to stay near the Xylokastro, I recommend the Sikyon Coast Hotel & Resort, directly on the water’s edge with spectacular sunrises. It’s a modern resort so its packed with luxuries like an oceanfront bar, but its also very close to some smaller local attractions. It sits adjacent to a park full of beach pines and the historic home of famed Greek poet Agelos Sikelianos. (I have a personal soft spot for poets. In fact, I just released my new book, Reset: A Poetic Manifesto for the Digital Age.) The Lido Hotel is also a great choice in location for lodging, with pretty ocean views and a pool (perfect to recharge after all your sightseeing). The owner of this family-owned property is an organic winemaker and olive oil producer, so if you do stay at the Lido, make sure to ask him for a tasting.

Aigio

View from Rira Winery. Photo by Jen Reyneri

Activities: Here are some of the longest stretches of coastline in the region. A well-known summer destination, I loved Aigio for the town square, seaside walking area with its fantastic restaurants, including Refrain. And check out the incredible view from the Rira winery (a stunning reward for an admittedly tricky drive to the top!). Or take the ferry across the gulf strait (watch for dolphins as you ride) to cross under the Rio-Antirrio Bridge and view old castle ruins and a lighthouse that’s still around from the Ottoman empire, but was eventually turned into a Venetian palace.

Food: Whether you stop by the Refrain restaurant or not, make sure you eat grilled halumi cheese and sinagrida, one of the most rare fish in Greece. The Greeks say, “Fish is the foam of the sea! It’s so light, you just eat it up without worrying!”

Where to stay: The lodging at the Harmony Apartment Suites is a great family retreat with a gorgeous pool just across the street from the shore.

Dorida

Island of Trizonia, Dorida. Photo by Jen Reyneri

Home to gorgeous mountainside villages above Lake Mornos to the picturesque coastal towns like Erateini, and the island of Trizonia, the Dorida region has so much to offer!

Activities: The biggest spots around here are the UNESCO World Heritage site of Delphi and its extraordinary museum. After you’ve visited Delphi, you can spend a day exploring the charming seaside town of Galixidi and visit the Maritime Museum. Make a stop at the monastery of Saint Nektarios and take the guided tour of a replica of the catacombs and be treated to some of the best hospitality, artwork, and organic products from the nuns. Then, take a ride to the Monastery of Saint Seraphim Sarov to hear the bone-chilling bells ring at the world’s biggest bellhouse.

Food: Wander into the mountains about Lake Mornos (no motorized boats here: this incredible lake feeds Athens with its drinking water) and then eat at one of the fantastic kafeneios (Greek coffee houses) in a charming cafe-lit town square. They’re easy to find, and if you love coffee, you can’t go wrong!

Where to stay: I highly recommend lodging for a family at the modern luxury of Elia Suites. Or stay at the hotel Kallipolis, a mountaintop property overlooking Lake Mornos. The setting is alive with the humming of bees making the best Greek honey, and free-range cattle grazing just outside your windows.

Arachova

View of Arachova. Photo by Jen Reyneri

One of the most picturesque places you could imagine perched high above the seaside, Arachova is the only place on earth you can ski with an ocean view, and then swim in the sea after you go skiing.

Activities: Not into skiing? With some of the best shopping in Greece, this is also a great place to hop from shop to shop and meet the locals as you buy gifts for your friends back home. Or, explore the cultural museum, and be sure to climb the clock tower for an extraordinary view of the surrounding area.

Food: Famous for its hundreds of varieties of edible mushrooms and glacier forests, Arachova is sure to delight. Make sure to try to the incredible grilled formaella cheese, only available in this village.

Where to stay: Check out the quaint Skamnos Boutique Hotel, a skier friendly location, which has cozy lodge-like rooms, and a spa.

Thiva

Archaelogical Museum in Thiva. Photo by Jen Reyneri

The most modern and metropolitan town of the region we visited, Thiva, is still uncovering ancient ruins on every street corner.

Activities: Though this area is still coastal, with beautiful stretches of water, I was surprised to find that I was most impressed with the city life. The new Archaeological Museum was incredibly captivating. On my trip there, I actually had the opportunity to hold a piece of history from 2,000 years ago! (It doesn’t get much better than that if you’re seeking historical family fun.) The museum also allows you to walk on glass floors above an actual tile floor mosaic and an excavated archaeology site to see the incredible process in progress.

Food: If you’re ready to try something a little different from all the traditional Greek fare (or you’re just a little homesick), head to the new Barbeque restaurant in Thiva. The pulled pork sandwiches and burgers are popular favorite of American travelers. Want to stick to tradition? Visit the restaurant To Tzaki.

Where to stay: If you’re looking for less expensive lodging that’s still up to snuff, try the Hotel Dionysion, where the rooms are usually about €40 a night.

With plenty of shops and restaurants to boot, a stop in Thiva is a perfect day trip on your exploration of one of the most incredibly diverse regions on the planet, the Corinthian Gulf.

Jen was a guest of many accommodations and activities throughout the Corinthian Riviera, Greece with the International Food, Wine and Travel Writer’s Association. All opinions and adventures are her own.

 

Jen Reyneri
Jen Reyneri
Renaissance woman Jen Reyneri and her husband Luis lead a local fellowship & stewardship ministry and often live life on the road with their two home-schooled sons. Jen is founder of WordTraveling.com, educational travel ambassador for Trekaroo, and the author of "Reset: A Poetic Manifesto for the Digital Age." Spirited and spirit filled, she savors life, poetic words, sabbaticals and strong coffee. Connect with @JenReyneri on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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