Kalamata, Messinia, Greece
Greek Orthodox Easter preparations are in full swing in Kalamata, the sun-warmed second city of the Peloponnese, whose distinct local fire dance, the Saitopolemos, will see revellers gather on the beach on Sunday night dressed in traditional costume to set off paper shuttles full of gunpowder - a centuries-old custom celebrating Hellenic heroism during the Turkish occupation. But, for enlightened travellers looking to swap the Cycladics for the Greek mainland this year, there's lots to love about this destination even after the chocolate eggs have been polished off, including idyllic Blue Flag beaches, forested mountain trails, fertile valleys - source of those world-famous olives - and archaeological monuments, all just around a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Athens (or via a direct flight from Gatwick).
The Messinia coast, left, and Taygetus mountains
Rugged, untamed wilds are just a short drive away. It's worth tacking Kalamata onto a road trip through Messinia and the Mani peninsula, visiting the stalactite-studded Caves of Diros, the breathtaking beaches (try Voidokilia) and guesthouse-dotted green folds of the Taygetus mountains. So beautiful is this area that travel writer Bruce Chatwin's ashes were scattered here following his death - a request he made after exploring the region.
Where to stay?
The Grand Hotel Kalamata. Built on the site of the former America hotel, this 10-room, 13-suite stay is just 700m from the beach. The restaurant is helmed by lauded Greek chef Alexandros Tsiotinis, who has worked under Hélène Darroze and Alain Passard. The young Greek makes a point of only using Messinia-grown olive oil in his dishes.
Where to go for dinner?
Try Oinopantopoleion Chrysomallis for fresh anchovies doused in peppery olive oil, beetroot and orange tartare, and silky artichoke risottos, plus a roster of Peloponnesian wines. The fairy light-strung courtyard is the city's summer sitting room.
Grand Hotel Kalamata
And for a drink…
Platea. Set in a converted neoclassical mansion on the spacious (and, at night, raucous) Vasileos Georgiou Square, this theatrically designed bar serves smoky rum and pineapple pours, plus rosemary-infused cocktails made with Greece's fiery 45 per cent proof tsipouro spirit.
Who to take with you?
A traveller with a refined palette who won't complain about all the olive oil tasting. Put them to use picking out an on-the-hoof lunch at the cornucopia of Messinia-made larder specialities that is Typropoleion Delicatessen.
Essentials to pack…
Nothing much; save room in your suitcase for the beautiful silk scarves made by the sisters of the Orthodox nunnery that's next door to Ypapantis Church.
How to get there
Fly direct to Kalamata International Airport from London Gatwick with EasyJet.
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