In the summer of 2016 the Family Goes Out team visited Gialova Gardens in Gialova, Messinia. Gialova is a small tourist village on Navarino Bay in the municipality of Pylos-Nestor in the region Messenia in the south-west Peloponnese. For me, it was the first time to visit this part of the Peloponnese. I had heard of the Navarino Bay and the famous town of Pylos but I did not know anything about Gialova or it’s surroundings. I was very excited to discover that there is much to see and to do for families in and around Gialova. This is the second article in a series of three about Gialova and Gialova Gardens. The first article was about where to eat in Gialova. In this article I will write about what to do and to see. The third article will be about Gialova Gardens, our accommodation.
Our family went to Gialova by car. The drive from Athens took us exactly 3 hours. The first 2 hours was a straight drive on the recently opened new Kalamata highway. The total cost of the tolls from Athens to Gialova was about 20 Euro for one way. The last part of the trip was a slow ride on a rural, sometimes curvy road passing through some beautiful villages and mountains. Here you can many fruit and veggie stands along the way. Oranges, enormous pumpkins, tomatoes and other fresh produce is here for sale and it is worth to make a stop.
Gialova is 50 minutes away from Kalamata international airport. There is a public bus going to the Kalamata airport and from there is also a bus to Athens.
Things to see and do
Walks – Cycling in the Gialova Lagoon
Gialova is most famous for its lagoon. These wetlands are of particular ecological interest as a major stopover point for many migratory birds as it constitutes the southernmost migratory station of birds in the Balkan and from Africa. Many rare species of birds such as herons and flamingos can be found here in their season. Other special animals are the African chameleon the one that changes it’s color!), many other species of reptiles, fish, mammals and the caretta caretta turtle. The wetlands are a protected area, you can visit but some parts are only accessible by bike. The observing station of the Ornithological Society at the lagoon enables your family to learn and observe this shallow brackish lake. This visitor center is open every day from June until October and with advanced notice during other months. www.ornithologiki.gr
Many people recommended us to rent a bicycle and cycle around the lagoon. We visited the lagoon by car and by feet. My children were looking much forward seeing the flamingo’s but we had not realized that we would not be able to find them in the summer. We will definitely come back in winter one day as Gialova is also a destination for other seasons.
The Folklore museum of Gialova
We had a very interesting night at the museum of Gialova. The famous folklorist Mr. Kostas Balafoutis dedicated hours of explaining my children every artifact in his collection. He is THE expert on the region and if you have any question related to the history, the historic battle of Navarino (last battle with sail ships!) or anything that has to do with this part of Greece, Mr. Balafoutis is the man to ask. He has written two books about Greek folklore. The museum usually opens from 5pm. We saw here a collection of traditional farmer equipment, maps, wood from ships of the Navarino battle, clothes, children’s toys, weapons, archeological findings, fossils, musical instruments and so on. I could write a separate blog post just about the collection of Mr. Balafoutas museum. My kids learned how soap was made, what people used before electricity was invented, how people used to store their food and much more. Thank you for your time and energy Mr. Balafoutis!
Because our children are very young and the weather was hot in July, we decided to check out the beaches. To the west and south, Messinia boasts a huge number of excellent beaches with turquoise warm calm waters and mostly sandy beaches. Did you know that there are over 13 beaches in the area of Gialova?
Gialova village beach at Zoe hotel
The first beach that we found – and maybe the best beach for young children – was the beach at the Zoe Hotel in Gialova next to the port. You can use the sunbeds and umbrellas for free. There is lots of shade under the trees, there are showers, swings in the shade, toys for the children to play with and a large lounge area. There is a restaurant as well but you can also order snacks on the beach.
Next to the local Gialova beach at the Zoe hotel, there is a 1.5. km long sandy beach called ‘Golden Beach’ or ‘Divari Beach’ (Divari means hatchery in Greek). It starts at Gialova and continues west to Old Navarino castle. This is part of the aforementioned nature reserve area and the lagoon. The beach is actually a narrow bar separating the sea waters from the bay from the brackish waters of the lagoon. Most part has no facilities so you will need to bring an umbrella and food/drinks with you. You can also sit at the one beach bar on this beach. Here you can find showers/toilets, chairs and umbrella’s.
To the north of the Old Navarino castle (worth a visit with older children because of the hike) and between the wetland and the sea is the breathtaking beach of Voidokilia. A perfectly round beach surrounded by rolling sand dunes with thick thyme bushes. The sandy horseshoe bay of Voidokilia is considered one of the most famous beaches in Greece and the Mediterranean Sea. Voidokilia means ‘cow’s belly’ in Greek. This bay is actually referred to in Homer’s Odyssey and archaeologist believe it was used by King Nestor as a port in ancient times. The sand on the beach is fine, it is protected by the wind and hidden behind sand dunes. Voidokilia Bay has been recognized officially as a landscape of exceptional natural beauty by the Greek government. No other geological formation like it exists elsewhere. The area is considered of archaeological interest: therefore you will not find restaurants/bars or any other facilities here. You can easily get there by car and park near the beach. But you will need to bring an umbrella for shade and some food/drinks. Our children loved it here, it was like swimming in a large swimming pool in an amazing tropical setting. At some parts the beach has red coral sand making the beach look pink. It’s also worth taking a walk through the dunes behind the beach. While I was taking photo’s there, I noticed many butterflies on the thyme bushes.
Other family activities in and around Gialova are the (glass bottom) boat trips to the bay of Navarino, Sfaktiria island and Voidokoilia. You can also rent a boat yourself or make a cruise. There is a diving centre in nearby Pylos. The waterfalls of Kalamari – Schinolaka and the gorge and waterfalls of Polilimnio and Neda are also worth a visit. If you are interested in archeology and ancient history, this part of Greece will not dissapoint you. You can visit Nestor’s Palace in Chora, Neokastro (Niokastro) or the Pylos Castle, the Pylos Museum, the Venetian Castle of Methoni and Ancient Messini. Also the ruins of the ancient Old Frankish castle Paliokastro are nearby. These archaeological sites are open from Tuesday to Sunday 8:30 am to 3:00 pm.
From Gialova you could also make a one day trip to Ancient Olympia or Kalamata.
You can also visit to the towns of Pylos, Methoni and Koroni. There are daily public busses going to Pylos and Kalamata.
Have you been to Gialova and what was your favorite activity with your children?
Celeste Tat is an expat living in Greece for 20+ years of which 16 years in Athens. She is the mother of 2 young children and always searching for family friendly activities and vacation destinations. She is the creator of Family Experiences Blog and the exclusive Blogger and Community Manager for Family Goes Out in Greece.