Katakolon Greece and Ancient Olympia:
The bijou Greek town, Katakolon, is perhaps best known to the cruise cognoscenti as the port for Olympia. But, even if you’ve visited Olympia on a previous trip, it’s worth having Katakolon on your cruise itinerary. When cruise experts CLIA asked me to share what was the most memorable stop on last year’s trip around the Mediterranean, it was the first place that sprung to mind.
A picturesque port where most cruise liners can dock rather tender, you might choose to spend your visit just browsing the gift shops that line the harbour, eating excellent and reasonably priced local food in the al-fresco cafes or chilling on the beach. It’s everything you’d expect from a Mediterranean port and despite accommodating all sizes of cruise ships, there’s a relaxed atmosphere here. Of course, the advantage of having your cruise ship in dock is that you can take more than one trip to shore if you are staying for long enough. And, most of the liners do stay for a full day, simply to allow passengers to make their way to Olympia.
It goes without saying that if you haven’t been to Olympia then it’s worth taking a day trip there. If you’ve been before you may be tempted back again. UNESCO listed, it’s a stunning set of ruins where you can transport yourself back to Ancient Greece and easily imagine how it might have been when the original Olympic Games were taking place. It’s a 40-minute drive from the port – and worth starting as early as possible because Olympia does get busy – both with cruise passengers and with tourists and school parties from across Greece. Much of the site is well shaded by trees – so it’s an easy place to visit even in the height of summer.
I spent a happy few hours wandering around the ruins. The earliest date back to between 2000 and 1600 BC. The games themselves were originally part of the Festival of Zeus and were held every four years just as the Olympic Games are today. In the 4th Century AD, the Christian Roman Emperor Theodosius I abolished pagan festivals and subsequent Roman Emperors destroyed the temples. What is visible today is the result of the what remained of the whole site becoming covered by mudslides and silt from the river Cladeus. Excavation started in 1829 and continue to this day.
You can wander through the hostels, baths and visitor accommodation and the Palaestra (part of the original gymnasium). You can explore the remains of the temples, including the fittingly beautiful Heraion, built in honour of Hera in around 600bc. You can also see the hearth where the original ‘perpetual flame’ burned and the Philippeion, the only structure inside the sacred Altis dedicated to a human, commemorating Philip’s victory at the battle of Chaeronea (338 BC).
And, if you really want to get into the spirit of things, you can try your hand on the start line at the Stadium, although even at 10 in the morning I found it far too hot to try running!
Once you are finished with exploring the ruins themselves, there’s a museum packed with ancient treasures too important to be left outdoors at the site. And the adjoining village has plenty of cafes and bars when you want to get yourself back to modern times by way of a glass of wine or a beer.
Most cruises will offer alternate day trips from Katakolon and if they don’t there are local taxis who can ferry you around. You could, for example, visit Magna Grecia farm, where they make wine and olive oil and where you can enjoy a meal of local products. It’s a relaxing day trip which might make a welcome change from onboard dining.
If you want to stay close to Katakolon itself, just a five-minute taxi journey will take you to Kourouta beach, a lively but highly recommended place where you can eat and drink, relax on the sun loungers or swim in the sea.
We particularly enjoyed lunching in Katakolon itself. There’s plenty of fresh local seafood and a gentle party atmosphere. We headed for the restaurant where our guides had already set up camp – always an easy way to find the best local place to eat. And we feasted for around ten euros a head including wine. Then, staggered back to the cruise ship for sailaway to another port on another day.
For holidaymakers considering a cruise, visit: https://www.cruiseexperts.org/
I travelled to Katakolon as a guest of Seabourn Odyssey
You can find out more about cruising with Seabourn on their website
Think of visiting Olympia or Katakolon yourself? Why not pin this post for later
Disclosure: I was invited to write about my experience at Katakolon and paid a fee as part of Cruise Month. All content is editorially given.