In need of a complete unwind, Rebecca Hall heads to the relatively untouched region of Messinia in the Peloponnese to experience the Abeliona Retreat.
An island within the mainland due to the fact the Peloponnese is linked by the Corinth Canal and Rio Antirio cable-stayed bridge–at 2,880m the longest in the world crossing the Gulf of Corinth near Patra, the Peloponnese has something for everyone, award-winning beaches, Byzantine towns, wine routes, mythical history, ancient ruins and mountain villages. Not particularly well explored by international tourists, I decided to head out from Athens one long weekend to relax in one such village–Abeliona–and the Retreat there.
Abelonia sits in the central and eastern part of the Peloponnese–in Arcadia that takes its name from the mythical figure of Arcas, the hunter who became King of Arcadia. He spread agriculture through the region and taught useful skills such as baking bread and weaving.
The region is also thought to have been the birthplace of Pan–God of the Wild and Sheep, and Hermes–the God of Heralds i.e.: protector of travellers.
Hiring a car from Athens airport and heading out on my three-hour drive, initially on the excellent National toll roads, then the last hour into the mountainous countryside covered in forests, olive groves and some unmarked roads, it was easy for me to see why Pan and Hermes were thought to originate from here.
Far from the beach vacations that Greece is renowned for, yet such a beautiful alternative.
My destination was Abeliona, a village with cobblestone streets, original stone houses and traditional fountain that preserves the waters running from the surrounding mountains. I was keen to have downtime in a unique location.
Barely reaching triple figures the population in Abeliona is small, and with no school and one drinking establishment, remote.
Yet what you do have are hiking trails, river trekking and for the adventurous, rafting.
Abeliona Resort is excellently located in the upper village to spend time relaxing after such activities.
I love downtime to just relax and read in unique surroundings, not feel pressured to take part in anything strenuous. Abelonia Retreat offered just this.
What I love about Abelonia Retreat is it’s built in the traditional Arcadian style. There are 22 suites in total–13 Junior and 9 Family suites–scattered not in one large building, but in low-rise stone houses scattered across the hillside, making you feel as if you’re not squashed and all housed together.
All rooms have an open fireplace–firewood provided free of charge by the Retreat and the Main Building has the Lounge area on the ground floor, again with a lovely fireplace to huddle together with your group after a day’s extensions walking, hiking and exploring.
Upstairs is the communal dining area where Breakfast (inc. in the price) Lunch and Dinner (extra) is served, yet this large open plan room is big enough to find a nook to hide in.
The piece de resistance for me is the estate’s 80sq m Yurt at the top of the property. It’s here that yoga or meditation classes are conducted–but note they aren’t held as part of an everyday stay. Abeliona often hosts weekend retreats and details are given on their website.
A car is vital to visit this part of Greece and the Peloponnese. Having hired one from Athens and driven up, after breakfast during my stay I would take myself off to explore the surrounding area.
Temple of Apollo Epicurius
About a 15-minute drive from the Retreat, the Peloponnese’s own Parthenon–the UNESCO Temple of Apollo Epicurius–looms into view in its elevated position. Or rather, the huge white tent covering it does.
Ictinus, one of two architects who designed the Athens Acropolis, built it in the 5th century BC. Mythology maintains the Temple was dedicated to the God Apollo who helped the people of the ancient city of Phigaleia to overcome an epidemic. To honor him, the people erected this temple, suffixing Apollo’s name ‘Epicurius’, a name meaning “The one who helps or cures”.
Made of limestone, not marble like most Greek temples, means it’s incredibly fragile. As a consequence it has to be protected from the elements in its exposed location, hence the huge white tent. Although it might not look much as you approach from the road, do take time to go in and explore. It’s a very under-visited monument yet one that’s no less important than others in Greece.
St. Theodora Church–Vasta
A drive of about half an hour/45 minutes (depending on how Google Maps wants to direct you) brings you to the unique Church of St. Theodora.
It’s a small 12th-century church on the side of the road by a river and water mill that’s worth stopping to explore because of the 17 trees that are growing through its roof.
Legend has it that before her death, Saint Theodora begged for her hair to become trees, her blood to shift to river and her body to a church. That’s certainly what you’ll find in this unique little spot.
Village of Andritsaina
Take a 20-minute drive from Abeliona and you’ll come to the busier, 12th-13th century town of Andritsaina. There are more facilities such as several quaint cafés, tavernas, a large church and a primary and secondary school where children from the surrounding villages attend.
There are cobbled alleyways, town square and The Big Spring (Trani Vrisi), the oldest in the Peloponnese, built in 1724.
Whether it’s hiking, exploring or just pure relaxation with clean air, you can’t go wrong with heading to Abeliona Retreat and using it as your base.
Tips: As mentioned, hiring a car is an absolute necessity. I drove three hours from Athens, but it’s possible to also fly to Kalamata and hire a car there. The drive will be about an hour.
There are very few petrol stations around, the nearest to Abeliona about a 25km drive away (through very twisty mountain roads), so be sure to fill up before you set off or at least before you head into the mountains.
All images (C) Abeliona Retreat, except St. Theodora Church, Andritsaina, and Temple of Apollo Epicurius (C) Rebecca Hall.
Tell Me More About Abeliona Retreat
Abeliona Retreat, Abeliona, Messinia, Peloponnese, Greece.
T: +30 26260 23991- 3 E: email@example.com
Abeliona Retreat Suites, according to their website are currently €150 per night (Junior Suite) to €205 per night (Family Suite, which can accommodate up to four people with 2 rooms, a sitting room and mini-kitchen). Keep an eye on their site for any price changes.
Abeliona Retreat is open year-round but do double-check because staff have to come in and stay on site from far around. It’s not a place to merely rock up and grab a room.
I love the fact that all suites have unique antique furniture, log fires, balconies and sweeping mountain/valley views.