Neapoli – also known as Neapolis, Neapoli Voion or Vatika (Νεάπολη -ς / Νεάπολη Βοιών / Βατίκα) – is located in the bay between Elafonisos (Ελαφόνησος) and Cavo Maleas (Κάβο Μαλέας) in Lakonia (Λακωνία). It is the last southeastern continental city of Greece and Europe. The old part of the city has been built amphitheatrically on two hills, the Agia Triada hill where is the church of the city and Vrontas hill to the east. The history of the city starts from the second millennium BC. In the place of the modern Neapoli was the ancient city of Voiai (Βοιαί). The city flourished during Roman times as a trading port, but by late antiquity had declined. Later various settlements are known as Vatika – probably as an alternation of the ancient name – appeared later and finally the present city was constructed in 1837 on designs by the Bavarian architect Birmach, who also designed Sparta and Karystos.
Neapoli is a quiet place that exudes positive energy. The older white houses with the tiled roofs, the secret alleys, the noisy seafront road with restaurants, cafes and the unforgettable ouzeri, but most of all its hospitable inhabitants, compose an unforgettable image for every visitor. The nautical tradition is evident and the relationship of the town with the sea has shaped its character. The city’s fishing boats once travelled throughout the eastern Mediterranean. Witnesses of this nautical tradition are both the statue of the Vatikiotis Sailor (Βατικιώτης Ναυτικός) on the waterfront and the small but important Nautical Museum (Ναυτικό Μουσείο) of the town.
But Neapoli is also the entrance to Cavo Maleas, also known as Cape Maleas or Cavo Malias (Κάβο Μαλέας ή Μαλιάς). Cavo Maleas separates the Laconian Gulf in the west from the Aegean Sea in the east. It is the second most southerly point of mainland Greece (after Cape Matapan). The sea around the cape is notoriously difficult to navigate, featuring variable weather and sometimes very powerful storms. It is an almost unexplored part of Peloponnese with incredible natural beauty, impressive beaches, authentic villages, amazing food and a unique atmosphere. Let’s look at six things outside of Neapoli that make this corner of Greece unique and will not leave any visitor unmoved.
Neratzionas and Pavlopetri (Νερατζιώνας και Παυλοπέτρι) : The area of Vatika has quite a few amazing beaches. However, the two most impressive are Neratzionas and Pavlopetri. Neratzionas Beach, also known as Panagitsas Beach (Παναγίτσαs), is a long sandy beach with shallow waters which stretches as far as Pavlopetri Beach. Pavlopetri is even more interesting because except for the impressive golden sand and the turquoise waters, it also hides the ruins of a lost city. Between the beach and islet of the same name, lies the oldest sunken city in the world. Some people call it “Greek Atlantis” or “Atlantis of Lakonia”. The biggest part of the city is sunken a few meters below the sea surface but part of it is visible along the coast. It is considered 5.000 years old but its name remains unknown, as does its political status. (You can read on this link our article about Pavlopetri and Ancient Asopos : The sunken cities of Lakonia”)
Agios Nikolaos and Neraida (Άγιος Νικόλαος και Νεράιδα) : Agios Nikolaos is one of the largest and most beautiful villages of Vatika. Built on the south side of Mount Krithina, the highest mountain of Vatika it overlooks Kythira, Antikythira and Crete. The rich vegetation along with the small old houses built on hills in an amphitheatrically way create an impressive landscape. It is a wonderful and authentic village worth visiting and walking in its alleys before ending up at Neraida (in our opinion one of the best taverns in Peloponnese). The simple image of the tavern does not betray the richness and quality of the flavors hidden in its food. We borrow their words from the tavern’s menu : “Exactly as it still happens in a lot of households in our area, likewise in our tavern we bake our bread and we produce the olive oil and the wine… in general, all the ingredients we use are always the best possible”. It is exactly that philosophy that is evident in every dish (such as the stuffed zucchini flowers which is a local specialty). Finally, the variety and quality of the desserts is in itself a good reason to visit this place.
Profitis Ilias and Apaggio (Προφήτης Ηλίας και Απάγγιο) : The small fishing village of Profitis Ilias on the road to Cavo Maleas is an image of a Greece that no longer exists. The small harbour is carved among sharp rocks and the Byzantine church of Profitis Ilias stands on a rock that literally hovers over the small port. The peaceful image of the blue sea, the gray rocks and the white boats seduce every visitor. Just 3 km from the village, Apaggio is an unspoiled secret paradise that awaits you to discover it. It is a narrow natural fjord that ends on a small sandy beach. Impressive sea caves are formed on both slopes of the narrow cove and if you look closely you could see fossils of marine organisms on the rocks. Also, the seabed of the small bay is spectacular with many fish and other sea creatures. The cove is used as an anchorage by a fisherman, and also into the caves near the beach you could see engravings made by previous visitors. (You can read on this link our article about “Apaggio – The secret beach of Cavo Maleas”)
Petrified Forest of Cavo Maleas (Απολιθωμένο Δάσος Κάβου Μαλέα) : South of Neapoli after Prophitis Elias and following the relevant signs, the restless traveller will find the magical world of the Petrified Forest. Next to the church of Agia Marina (Αγία Μαρίνα), which has given its name to the area, lies the Petrified Forest with a huge number of paleontological finds (the visitor’s centre we saw during our visit seemed abandoned). There are fossils of starfishes, mussels, shells and snails, as well as trunks of millions of years old palm trees. Experts believe that the forest was covered by volcanic lava, sank in the sea and came to the surface again. Another interesting phenomenon is the round holes in the rocks through which the sound of the sea can be heard. That is why the locals also call the area Kanatakia (Κανατάκια), which could be translated as small jugs. The sea in this place has a deep turquoise colour, which is impossible to resist and leave without swimming in these waters. Finally from here starts a difficult trekking trail that ends at the Churches of Maleas. (You can find information about the Churches and the trail on this link)
Kastania Cave (Σπήλαιο Καστανιάς) : The Cave of Kastania is located on the eastern edge of Parnonas and it is a twenty minutes drive from Neapoli. It is considered one of the most impressive caves in Europe but it is still almost unknown to tourists. In its 1500 square metres, the visitor can see the dense and spectacular work of nature, created over a period of three million years. Nature has carved gigantic white and red “waterfalls”, impressive stalagmite and stalactite columns, and multifaceted “curtains”. Also, the variety of forms resembling animals, plants, humans and many more things is quite stunning. The visit to the cave is done only with the accompaniment of a guide and there is also a very well organised cafe in the courtyard. (For more information, visiting hours and tickets, you can visit the official site of the Cave)
Velanidia and the Myrtoan shores (Βελανίδια και οι ακτές του Μυρτώου) : As we have already said, Cavo Maleas is a wild unexplored area and its most unknown and unspoiled area is the coasts on the side of the Myrtoan Sea. The centre of this wild area is dominated by the beautiful white village of Velanidia. The foundation of the village, around 1770, was done with the installation of fugitives from the island of Spetses (Σπέτσες) after the outbreak of Orlofika. From Velanidia you can visit via a trekking trail the north side of Cavo Maleas and the Lighthouse Kavomalea (Φάρος Καβομαλέα), built in the year 1860, which is one of the oldest and most spectacular in the Mediterranean. Also in the area, there are some interesting beaches such as Panagia (Παναγία) and Agios Pavlos (Άγιος Παύλος) that impress the visitors with their wild beauty.
During a visit to Neapoli the visitor will find very good traditional Greek cuisine, and taste some local specialties such as : tsaiti (τσαΐτι) which is a traditional fried pie with cheese and mint, zucchini flowers (κολοκυθανθοί) stuffed with rice and various spices, and of course grilled octopus (ψητό χταπόδι), which although is a common dish all over Greece, it could be found here in its perfect version. Also, an excellent local dessert is samousades (σαμουσάδες). It is a Byzantine sweet made with handmade phyllo, many nuts, spices and sesame, and resembles baklava. The best place to buy samousades in Neapoli is the traditional pastry shop of Vasileios Arifis (Βασίλειος Αρίφης).
Our top choices of taverns and restaurants in Neapoli are : Maistrali (Μαϊστράλι) is the perfect choice for excellent traditional Greek dishes and fresh fish. Naftis / The Sailor (Ο Ναύτης) is probably the best of the various traditional ouzeri in the harbour with huge portions and the tastiest grilled octopus. Mone Mone is a very good choice for modern cuisine. And Archontiko (Αρχοντικό) is the best tavern for souvlaki and grilled meat (this is the only place not located on the seafront). Finally, the best patisserie in the town is Neraida (Νεράιδα), which belongs to the people of the tavern of the same name and has sweets made only with local products.
Most visitors know Neapoli as a quick stop on their way to the famous Elafonisos and Kythira (the ferryboats for Kythira depart from Neapoli’s port). But Neapoli and Cavo Maleas is an unexplored paradise. Discover this unique place with its pristine nature and amazing people, and explore a place that still resists mass tourism.