Falling Head Over Heels with Nafplio Greece
It wouldn’t be at all difficult to think of 360 reasons why staying at 3Sixty Hotel in Nafplio would be one of the best ideas you’ve had all year. A list as glorious as a never-ending gelato menu – and equally as scrumptious. But life is enough of a list as it is (albeit, for me at least, a ‘to do’ one), so instead let’s take a leap into the Hellenic microcosm of Nafplio, home to the Neoklasiki Hotel Group, and, quite frankly, home to the friendliest Greeks I’ve ever met.
If you’re like me, you’ll wonder where exactly Nafplio is. I’d been told it was beautiful, charming, well worth a visit. But as we journeyed by bus from Athens to the first capital of Greece, I genuinely wasn’t at all convinced it would be worth the trip. But my ‘is this really going to be worth it?’ niggle was banished as soon as I hopped off the bus and flip-flopped my way onto the charming streets of Nafplio’s Old Town. Without a doubt, these were some of the most enchanting streets I had ever set foot in. Arch upon graceful arch of bougainvillea, its vibrant pinks flirting furiously with blue skies above and shade-loving locals below. Tavernas so traditionally Greek I would have Zorbas-ed with delight, if I hadn’t been dragging my apologetically large suitcase through the late afternoon Mediterranean zen. Here lives a tranquillity so tangible I could taste it.
Across the smooth stone of Sidagmatos Square (adored by tottering little toes and grinning youngsters on two-wheels, their school’s-out-for-summer vibes whizzing alongside them), and in to 3Sixty Hotel. You would think that any hotel would be setting itself up for disappointment after the Old Town’s effortless display. But not this one.
As with all of Neoklasiki Group’s properties, 3Sixty is a neoclassic mansion, dating back to the 19th Century. The small, boutique hotel has been tastefully restored, an elegant, stylish building fusing past with present. A spiral staircase swirled us up to the top floor and in to Room 107. One of the first things I do in any hotel room is fling open the windows and check out the view. I’m sure you’re familiar with that ‘Oh, so this is it?’ feeling, disappointment drip-feeding in as you take in a carpark, or an abandoned field below. Not so here. Our secluded balcony overlooked mountains, Palamidi Castle, pillows of bougainvillea, rooftop after rooftop. Swifts swooped by right in front of my camera lens as I snapped the view, wanting to capture this pure beauty, my pure delight, on film.
The rooftop jacuzzi, the walk-in wardrobe, the tall-ceilinged, spacious bedroom – there was nothing about this room that I didn’t love. The same can be said for the staff. They can make or break a stay, and I can honestly say that, from my very first ‘Yiasas’, the team here had it made. So very welcoming, and so very proud – not only of their hotel, but of their town, their ‘Paradise’. They embraced my smattering of Greek with sunshine smiles and made us feel, for those few days, that this was our Greece too.
For me, Greece is synonymous with delightful food, and our dining experience at 3Sixty (recently voted one of the top 100 restaurants in Greece for the third year in a row) is up there with the very best. The food was as fun to say as it was delicious to eat. Are you ready?
Charoupo Paximadia (go on, say it!), an authentic sweet bread, with a homemade marmalade of olives, green apple, honey, rosemary and orange peel; marathopita, a fennel pie with xinomizithra (whey cheese); a trilogy of mushrooms, and (I feel like I should write this in capital letters it was just oh-so-so-so scrumptious) Tomahawk steak served with fresh roasted vegetables. 3Sixty offers some of the best beef in the world, including Australian Wagyu and Japanese Kobe. Our Irish, grass-fed, Tomahawk from award-winning supplier John Stone was cooked to perfection. The dessert list may not be abundant, but I’d much rather have quality than quantity. Crème brûlée with Indian coconut ice cream; honey and mascarpone mousse with cinnamon crumble; a chocolate trio of milk chocolate marquise, white chocolate namelaka and dark chocolate ganache. As a chocolate-lover I wasn’t sure about these descriptions either, but what I do know is that every mouthful of this dinner was divine. What made it all the more wonderful was Spiros, our attentive, knowledgeable and laughter-filled waiter. He transformed our dinner into an education in Greek food and wine (I would wholeheartedly recommend the Rossiu di Munte from northern Greece), and reminded me (not that I need a reminder) that my teenage dream of owning a house overlooking the sea in a little Greek seaside town is as much alive today as it was all those years ago.
While we’re on the subjective of food and dreams, for those of you seeking a dreamy breakfast, 3Sixty has it sorted. Your choice of eggs, crispy smoked bacon, coffee (go for the Greek option and remember not to stir!), freshly squeezed orange juice, thick, creamy yogurt, a rainbow of fruit, pancakes and homemade jams with fresh bread. If that’s not the perfect selection to set you up for the day, I don’t know what is!
And, if your days are anything like ours, you’ll need it. Nafplio has an abundance of things to do and places to explore, so, to save you sifting through reviews and recommendations, here are our highlights:
The Palamidi Fortress:
This is one of the greatest achievements of Venetian architecture. Built between 1711 – 1714, it is a celebration not only in terms of fortification, but also in terms of the speed at which it was built. When it came to climbing the 999 steps to the top (this is according to the locals, although there are, in reality, just over a thousand), speedy we were not, but the view at the top is 999% worth the climb. Take time to breathe in the mountains, the sea, the higgledy-piggledy Old Town and the abrupt architectural contrast of modern Nafplio below.
Beaches Arvanita and Karathona:
Arvanita beach is a pebbly beach just a short walk outside of the Old Town. You can either stroll through town to get there or take the more scenic route along the coastal path. It is small and quaint, with a fabulous view of Palamidi Fortress. There’s a beach bar and plenty of sun loungers, although I can imagine at the height of season a spare sunbed is hard to come by, and the sea is clear and seaweed-free (much to my delight!).
If you want to feel the sand between your toes, then head to Karathona beach. The best way is absolutely to walk or cycle (you can hire bikes in town) along the path contouring the coast. If you take the walking option it’ll take you around an hour, and every minute will be worth it. You’ll trace your way past pines, teeny tiny pebbly bays (we were tempted to stop for a refreshing dip en route but our grumbling stomachs propelled us forward), old, lethargic fishing boats, and, after this coastal zig-zag, will be met by the expanse of Karathona. It is a spacious, sandy bay, with beach bars popular with locals and tourists alike. We ordered our coffees and Greek salads that were brought to us at one of the numerous tables right on the beach, kicked off our trainers (it was definitely a trainer kind of walk) and lapped up the Greek-ness – the food, the scenery, the chilled music sauntering its way to the sea. It may not be the most spectacular beach I have ever been to, but there are no imposing hotels or busy roads nearby, and, for the few hours that we were there, the hustle and bustle of everyday life felt like a million miles away.
The archaeological site of Mycenae was a must-see for us. According to myth, it was founded by Perseus, son of Zeus and Danae, and it is known as the most impressive creation of Mycenaean architecture and the most important palace of the Late Bronze Age in Greece. It was built in three phases, in 1350 BC, 1250 BC and 1225 BC and, along with the museum, is a fascinating way to spend an afternoon. Make sure to check out the bus timetable ahead of your journey as there aren’t a huge number of trips to and from Mycenae. It will take around an hour on the bus, but a taxi ride is a quicker 20-minute option.
The Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus is dedicated to the Greek God of medicine, Asclepius. It was built at the end of the Classical era, around 340 – 330 BC, and is said to be the finest and most famous Ancient Greek theatre. It was re-discovered during excavations in 1881 and now hosts summer events and is well worth a discovery of your own.
Whether your day is filled with thousands of steps, or perhaps just appreciating the world from the comfort of your sunbed, I would recommend rounding it off with an aperitif in one of the bars on Quai Akti Miaouli, beside which sits the small sea-surrounded fortress of Bourtzi. This is the perfect spot to watch the sun bid farewell behind the mountains and feel the town come to life, an evening of music, of good food, of laughter stretching ahead.
And, stretching ahead of us, we still had a very special stay at Hotel Ippoliti to look forward to. This authentic, neo-classical mansion is simple and elegant, another hotel belonging to Neoklasiki Group (which also includes Nafsimedon Hotel and Xenon Inn Hotel and cafe). Our room was beautifully decorated with Tuscan furniture, with views out to Bourtzi and the mountains beyond. Directly opposite our room was the former residence of the first Governor of Greece, now a run-down mansion, its ramshackle garden bursting at the seams with lemons, honeysuckle and jasmine. Soon the Neoklasiki Group will transform this into another glorious hotel – it will undoubtedly be a divine way to experience Nafplio.
The buffet-style breakfast at Ippoliti can be enjoyed in the entrance hall, or in the shaded courtyard by the small pool. We of course chose the latter, joining the other coffee-sipping, ‘kalimera’-calling breakfasters taking their time over their selections of freshly-made spanakopita (spinach pie), portokalopita (orange pie), kumquat jam and tiganopsomo (fried bread). There was an abundance of fresh cherries, Greek yogurt and cake. I justified the deliciousness by telling myself I’d head to the hotel gym later (small but with enough equipment to help burn off a chunky portion of spanakopita or two), but I couldn’t bring myself to stay inside when there was just so much to see and explore. So many terracotta tavernas to sit at and watch the world go by, so many trinket shops to peruse and side-streets to discover.
I have no hesitation in recommending Nafplio, nor Neoklasiki’s hotels. This is a team who care about each and every one of their visitors, who, with each property, embrace the past as much as the present, and whose future includes exciting property renovations.
Upon leaving Nafplio, I, myself, felt renewed. I have fallen even more deeply in love with Greece (I didn’t think this were possible), and for this, Team Neoklasiki, I thank you.
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