The Peloponnese in southern Greece is the stuff legends are made of, literally. Here, Greek gods and heroes strutted their stuff in historical cities such as Ancient Olympia. The landscape is equally impressive, from some of Greece’s finest beaches on the southernmost peninsula Mani, to the flower-covered mountains of Arkadia.

Byzantine churches and palaces in the ruined fortress town of Mystras spill from a spur of the Taÿgetos Mountains, four miles west of Sparta. This Unesco World Heritage Site is one of the most important in the Peloponnese (00 30 27310 83377; 8am-7.30pm summer, 8am-3pm winter; £4.50).

Sat beneath the Palamidi fortress, the pretty port of Nafplio has narrow streets and Venetian-style houses. The Alexandros Soutzos Museum features exhibits from the 1821 Greek War of Independence (00 30 27520 21915; Sidiras Merarhias 23; 10am-3pm Mon, Thu and Sat, 10am-3pm and 5pm-8pm Wed and Fri; 10am-2pm Sun; £2.50).

The lovely village of Stemnitsa is the starting point for walks into the Lousios Gorge. Walks vary from one hour to day-long hikes, where you can trek the gorge, taking in monasteries along the way. Maps are available locally.

 People used to visit Epidavros to seek miraculous cures. Today, they come for its well-preserved theatre and Ancient Greek drama performances in July and August (00 30 27530 22009; greekfestival. gr; Epidavros; 8am-7.30pm summer, 8am-5pm winter; £5.50).

Olympia has a host of museums, with the excellent Archaeological Museum of Olympia featuring a superb marble statue of Hermes by Praxiteles (00 30 26240 22742; 1.30pm-8pm Mon, 8am-8pm Tue-Sun Apr-Oct, 10.30am-5pm Mon, 8.30am-3pm Tue-Sun Nov-Mar; £8 including site visit).

Eat and drink
I Stemnitsa is the only year-round taverna in the mountain village of Stemnitsa. Tables are arranged under giant umbrellas and they serve a good Greek menu. The local butcher owns it, so expect generous, quality cuts of meat (00 30 27950 81371; Stemnitsa; lunch and dinner; mains from £3).

A long-standing Sparta favourite, Restaurant Elysse serves hearty home-cooking. The menu includes Lakonian specialities from the south-central region of the Peloponnese, such as bardouniotiko – chicken cooked with onions and feta (00 30 27310 29896; Paleologou 113, Sparta; lunch and dinner; mains from £5).

Omorfi Poli offers traditional dishes and meze with a twist, such as Greek-style mushroom risotto. There’s also a good wine list showcasing local labels (00 30 27520 29452;; Bouboulinas 75, Nafplio; dinner; mains from £5).

Located in the tiny seaside village of Plaka, near Nafplio, Fishermen’s Tavern is run by a family of fishermen, so you dine on whatever is caught that day – typically bream, mullet and sardines (00 30 27570 22815; Plaka; lunch and dinner Apr-Oct; fish priced per kilogram from £26).

Luxurious Hotel Kyrimai occupies an idyllic setting on Gerolimenas harbour, in Mani. Menu highlights include shrimp stuffed zucchini with saffron (00 30 27330 54288;; Gerolimenas, Mani; lunch and dinner; mains from £14).

Located just 200 metres from the centre of Olympia, Camping Diana occupies a lovely shaded spot beneath fragrant pine trees. Open year-round, the site has a pool, mini-market, internet access and friendly staff (00 30 26240 22314;; Olympia; camp sites per adult/tent/car £7/£5/£4).

Hotel Marianna is one of Nafplio’s best. Some rooms open onto terraces with hillside views, and all have characterful exposed stone walls and traditional bedsteads. The owners, the Zotos brothers, provide handsome breakfasts (00 30 27520 24256;; Potamianou 9, Nafplio; from £75).

Perched amid the wooded slopes around Stemnitsa, Mpelleiko is a 17th-century stone house and a perfect rural retreat. Rooms are styled with authentic Greek furnishings and brightly coloured throws, and some feature large, stately fireplaces. Breakfast is a huge selection of homemade produce (00 30 27950 81286;; Stemnitsa; from £85).

Located in a newly renovated Nafplio mansion, Ippoliti offers discreetly luxurious accommodation. A grand stone staircase leads up to tastefully decorated rooms with elegant sleigh beds. There is also a small pool and gym (00 30 27520 96088;; Aristidou & Ilia Miniati 9, Nafplio; from £110).

Curl up in the shell room, relax in the mushroom room or dream of travel in the map room at Patra’s Primarolia Art Hotel. This highly individual hotel has rooms ranging in style from minimalist to baroque. There’s also an in-house sauna (00 30 2610 624900;; Othonos Amalias 33, Patra; from £120).

Getting around
Slow trains connect main towns. There’s a reasonable network of buses serving Nafplio, Epidavros, Mycenae and Kalamata, but they are often slow and services to smaller villages infrequent. To really explore, hire a car in Nafplio (£35 per day;

When to go
Visit in spring when the mountains are swathed in flowers, or between June and September to catch the Patras International Festival, featuring a range of visiting performers.

How to go
Thomas Cook flies from Gatwick (from £345) and Manchester to Kalamata (from £355; May-Oct; EasyJet flies to Athens from Gatwick (from £285) and Manchester (from £275).

The article 'Mini guide to the Peloponnese, Greece' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.