Navarino bay and Voidokilia
Navarino Bay or the bay of Pylos is the largest natural harbour in Peloponnese. Actually, the island of Sphacteria stands as a natural barrier in the bay against the open Ionian Sea.
It is known for two impressive castles, its rich ancient history and two important naval battles.
Since castles are close to each other, you can visit them in one day. And if you have time to visit wonderful Voidokilia beach and charming Pylos town, your day will be completely fulfilled with fantastic memories.
Pylos is a town in Messenia in the southwestern part of the Peloponnese. Historically it is also known as Navarino since it is situated in the bay of Navarino.
It is about 50 km far from Kalamata, the second-most populous city of the Peloponnese peninsula. During the summer season, there are many charters and scheduled flights from the airport in Kalamata to the major cities in Greece and from international destinations, as well. You can get there by car or by KTEL bus – it takes about 1 hour. and it is about 215 km far from Athens.
By the way, it is about 10 km far from Methoni Castle (more about this fantastic place you can read here).
A few words about Pylos history
Like other places in Peloponesse, Pylos has a turbulent history. It has been inhabited since Neolithic times.
According to Homer and his epic poems Odyssey and Iliad, Pylos was ruled by king Nestor, the oldest and wisest of the heroes of the Trojan War. About 10 km from the city, there is a very important archaeological site known as the Nestor s palace, destroyed by fire around 1200 BC. Once, Pylos was the administrative, political and financial centre of Mycenaean Messenia. First, the ruins of the Palace was excavated 1n 1912, and it was the best-preserved Mycenaean palace discovered. Also in the Palace were found dozens of Linear B clay tablets.
The first important naval battle was the Battle of Pylos in 425 BC during the Peloponnesian War in the Bay of Navarino when Athens defeated Sparta.
Also, Pylos was under the Venetians and Ottomans rule. Another historical battle was held on October 20 in 1827, between the fleet of Allied and the Turkish fleet, for the Greek liberation from the Turkish rule.
As I have mentioned before, there are two important castles around the bay of Navarino, the old and the new castle.
Paleokastro, the old castle
The Old Navarino castle, known as Paleokastro is located northwest of Navarino bay and close to the fantastic Voidoikilia beach. It was built by Franks in the 13th century A.D, on the place of the ancient acropolis of Pylos, Korifasio.
The castle is closed for visitors because of security reasons. But it doesn’t stop hikers and adventurers to walk along the dirt path to its ruins on the 200-metres high hill. Of course, the view from the top and to the Voidokilia beach is amazing, as we can see on many photos on the internet.
So you can get to the castle from the end of the Voiodokilia beach, following the path which passes to Nestor’s cave between shrubs and vegetation. The other way is by car from Gialova, following the road along the beach and the lagoon until the end of the road. Then follow the path to enter the castle.
By the way, we admired this castle from the beach and the top of the opposite and smaller hill.
But we visited another, the new castle, which is located on the other side of Navarino bay.
I will talk about it later, but first, let me tell you something more about Voidokilia beach.
Voidokilia beach in Navarino Bay
Voidokilia beach is situated 12 km from the city of Pylos in the north of Navarino bay.
One part of the road is a dirt road, and the parking area is behind the dunes and lagoon.
Definitely, it is one of the most fascinating beaches in Greece, as well as in Europe. Actually, it has the shape of the Greek letter omega (Ω). It looks like someone drew it perfectly on the bay 😀
The view of the gold sandy beach with dunes is stunning.
The refreshing blue water is crystal clear, surrounded by the two rocks with cliffs.
Since the beach is shallow, it is perfect for walking, swimming and families with kids.
The tomb of Thrasymedes on the hill
On the left side of the beach, on a hill, there is the Old Navarino castle and Nestor’s cave, which I have mentioned before.
And on the right side is a smaller hill, with the ruins of the tomb of Thrasymedes, Nestor’s son.
We climbed to the top following a narrow path surrounded by trees and bushes. The tomb is dating back to the Mycenaean Era (1680-1060 B.C). It was excavated in 1950. Even though it was partially plundered, some votive offerings were found there, such as stone arrows, clay vessels, some small objects and two necklaces of sard and amethyst. These items can be seen in the new Archaeological Museum in Pylos new castle.
So if you are planning to go there or to the old castle, wear comfortable shoes because this area is not organized for walking and visitors. But the view of the beach, lagoon, olive trees and old castle from the hill is certainly breathtaking.
It is good to know that Voidokilia is not an organized beach. So take water, food, an umbrella and all the necessary things with you if you are planning to spend a day on the beach. We came there in the morning, but very soon more and more visitors were coming to enjoy this unique place. It is especially crowded in July and August. There is one small hidden part for nudists close to the parking area.
Just relax and enjoy the beauty of the sea, sun and nature.
Wetland in the Divari lagoon
By the way, the area around the beach known as Divari lagoon of Gialova is protected by the European Ecological Natura 2000 program. Actually, it is the Gialova lagoon and it is one of the most important wetlands in Europe. There are more than 250 species of birds. The lagoon is a home for birds during their migration from Europe to and from Africa. So don’t be surprised if you meet there bird-watchers with binoculars.
Neokastro (or Niokastro) fortress
Navarino Neokastro is considered among one of the best-preserved castles in Peloponnese and Greece as well.
By the way, Neokastro means „the new castle“ and it is located near the centre of Pylos town.
The Ottoman Neokastro was built by the Turks in 1573, after their defeat by the Christian allies at the naval battle of Nafpaktos (Lepanto). During 1686-1715 it was under the Venetian rule when the Ottomans captured them in the Venetian-Ottoman war. Then, in 1821 Greek liberated Neokastro, but very soon in 1825, Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt captured this region.
The second most important battle was in October 1827, when Great Forces of England, France and Russia liberated this region from the Turks. The new city of Pylos was erected outside the walls. The castle was abandoned and served as a prison until 1941. During the Second World War, it was used as a military headquarters for the Italian and the Germans.
Neokastro covers a huge area that consists of two parts. The bigger one is part of the fortified walls and bastions, and a smaller one with a citadel on the top of the hill. Even today we can see a well-preserved southern wall that connects the citadel and the bastion near the sea.
The castle looks over the sea to the islets of Sfaktiria and Fanari.
What to see in the Neokastro castle
When you enter the castle, on the right side is a ticket office and ruins of a few buildings.
On the left side is a rectangular „Maison building“, named by Nicolas Joseph Maison, Marshal of France. It was erected in the 19th century. Today, inside the reconstructed building there is the new archaeological museum of Pylos.
Going further you will see the renovated Church of the Transfiguration of the Savior (Church of the Metamorphosis).
First, it was a mosque, built under Sultan Murat III (1573-1595). Then it was a Catholic church during the Venetian occupation from 1686 to 1715 when it was turned into a mosque again. The Russians transformed it into the orthodox church, and it was rebuilt again in 1821 when Greeks took the castle from the Turks.
Today’s look of the church is a result of the project of rehabilitation, financed by Greece and the EU, from 2011 until the second half of 2015. Around the church, there is a courtyard with pine trees and flowers.
Close to the church, there is a small building with an exhibition of the underwater antiquities, with a floor map which shows shipwreck locations in Cephalonia, Zakynthos, Kythera and Methoni.
On the top of the hill, there is a hexagonal citadel with fortified walls and bastions.
It is a little bit strange and in the same way interesting to walk within the walls of the citadel.
From the top, there is a fantastic view of the blue sea, Navarino Bay and impressive fortified walls.
The new Archaeological Museum
First, the Archaeological Museum was in the centre of Pylos town. In 2015 it was relocated to the Pylos castle in the renovated „Maison building“.
I was impressed by the collection of unique exhibits, which are divided into two sections. The first one is „In search of Pylos“ which leads visitors to the Paleolithic period, and a time of Hellenistic and Roman Pylos.
The other one „ The Hinterland of Pylos“ represents remains of the rich Mycenaean history from Iklaina, Romanos and Pylos settlements.
Among the most interesting exhibits is the oldest Linear B writing tablets from the excavations in Messinia, supported by digital applications in an innovative way. Linear B is a syllabic script used for writing Mycenean Greek, the earliest form of Greek. And this script predates the Greek alphabet by several centuries.
Visiting hours: from May to the end of October, every day from 8,00 to 20, except Tuesdays and a few holidays.
The ticket is €6 for adults (reduced is €3), and it is valid for the whole complex: the Castle, Archaeological Museum, the Church of Transfiguration of Christ, the exhibition of Underwater Antiquities in Pasha’s building and the Makrigiannis bastion.
Modern Pylos town in Navarino Bay
After visiting the Castle of Pylos, take a walk around the picturesque Pylos town.
It is built on the slopes of the hill to the bay of Navarino.
Take a break for a coffee or taste the traditional Messinian cuisine in local taverns and restaurants near the port.
Besides its rich history, Pylos is known for Kostis Tsiklitiras, an athlete and Olympic champion who was born in Pylos in 1888. Like many other Olympic champions, he was a local hero in Pylos because he won 4 Olympic medals in the standing long and high jump in 1912 in Sweden. Also, he was a Greek champion 19 times. Today, the house where he lived is the museum.
If you like to spend a quiet summer vacation, you can find a various range of hotels and apartments, including a few luxury resorts as well. One of the most luxurious and awarded resorts is the Costa Navarino, which includes one of the best golf resorts in Greece and in the world (two 18-hole courses), five-star hotels, spa& fitness, aqua park, Mouratoglou Tennis Center, and many resort facilities.
Navarino castles and the beach
So, Navarino castles and charming Pylos town are very interesting places to visit and explore.
And I am sure that beach and sun lovers will enjoy the fantastic Voidokilia beach.
Surrounded by dunes, birds and rocky hills, this place is considered „the most beautiful bay in the world“.