Nafplio is a small town of around 10,000 people, tucked into a bay on the north eastern coast of the Peloponnese. There is a decent, regular bus service from Athens and you can be there in just two to three hours. Itís one of our favourite places in Greece and weíve been coming here for the last 20 years.
It has a lot going for it Ė a scenic old town; dramatic Venetian fort; good tavernas and cafes with lots of local life and activity; elegant central square;lively local markets and a gorgeous walk around the headland with stunning views of the sea and mountains. We like it for all these reasons, but also because it has all the life and bustle of a small Greek town.
Thereís a small, sheltered pebbly town beach with good swimming (and hardy local swimmers who are in every day even in December) and a bigger, sandy beach a short bus ride away, or an hours walk along the coastal path.
Thereís plenty to do in Nafplio itself, but it is also really well situated for exploring some of the main archaeological sites of the Peloponnese.
Myceane, Tiryns and Epidavros are all within easy reach and are served by local buses.
When we first visited in the mid 1980ís, Nafplio was a popular but undeveloped Greek tourist destination and a busy local port, shipping local oranges and other goods all over the world.
Lots of the huge old mansions were derelict, and the narrow alleys and steep stairways of the old town were scenic in a run-down kind of way. There were only a few hotels, and most of these were closed out of season. We had some great evenings in tavernas full of locals, listening to live music and enjoying the atmosphere.
Not surprisingly there have been a lot of changes. The town itself has gradually started to fill up the valley, edging ever closer to Argos. New roads have cut the journey time from Athens in half, and itís a popular weekend destination for Athenians throughout the year.
The crumbling old mansions of the old town are now beautifully renovated, smart hotels. Expensive jewellery and luxury clothes have replaced the greengrocers and launderette, and the quirky little hardware shops have mostly disappeared.
Even so, the tourist development in Nafplio is still comparatively low-key, and the town is large enough to absorb the increased numbers. It remains one of our favourite places in Greece
Palamidi and Acronafplio forts
The Palamidi is the dominating feature of Nafplio. It's built all along the spine of a dramatic outcrop of rock, and gives an amazing backdrop to the town.
It's a fantastic place to explore, with substantial remains giving you a real feeling of what it must once have been like.
There are also glorious views over Nafplio and across the sea to the mountains of the southern Peloponnese.
To get there you can either go up lots and lots of steps, which start on your left on the road going towards the town beach. Or you can get a taxi, which will drop you at the main gates right at the top of the fort.
Acronafplio is the smaller of the two forts, made almost unnoticeable by the much more dramatic Palamidi which towers above it. If you don't have time to do both, then the Palamidi is the one you have to do, but Acronafplio is also well worth walking through.
You get more great views, and can admire the Palamidi from a different angle. You can walk around bits of the site, but the access is more limited than in the Palamidi.
The two big Xenia hotels built within the walls of Acronafplia have not done it any favours. Xenias were hotels built by the Greek government under the dictatorship in the 60ís, and they are usually ugly blocks of buildings plonked in the middle of extremely scenic spots. These are now often derelict and the subject of disputes about ownership, mouldering away in the midst of their scenic spots.
This has been the fate of one of the Xenias in Acronafplio, although the other is still a posh hotel.
To get to Acronafplio fort take the road curving up to your right from the car park by the town beach. This goes up and along the spine of the hill, where it reaches a dead end.
Near the beginning you can explore a small section of the fort, and you get great views over the town and across the bay to Argos on one side, and of the town beach and the Palamidi on the other. Apart from this you canít actually get off the road, mainly because the cliff side is completely covered in huge colonies of prickly pears.
Thereís a little church on your right as you go up, which may or may not have a cafť besides it at the right time of year. In December it is often hard to work out what has been completely abandoned, and what will regenerate in the summer.
The Bourtsi is yet another picturesque fort, this time in the bay.
In season, and on some weekends and holidays at other times of year, little boats do regular trips out to the Bourtsi. These cost 4 euros in 2016.
You get 20 minutes on the Bourtsi, which gives you enough time to climb up to the top and explore
its various turrets and walls.
In December the boats only went on public holidays, and then only if the weather was good. In December 2016 they were running every half hour from 10.30am until they decided to stop.
In the summer months they are probably there most days.
The boat trip is fun, and once there you get yet more great views of the Palamidi, with the old town nestled underneath it.
Nafplio has a local street market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. This is held along the side of the park at the bottom of 25th Martiou (just past the bus station on your left as you head out of town).
The market itself is lively and interesting, worth strolling through even if you donít want to buy any of the excellent fresh fruit and veg. At christmas the market holders were keeping themselves warm by burning small piles of wood on the pavements besides their stalls.