Visiting Mystras, the Former Byzantine Capital 

Situated at the foot of Mount Taygetos, Mystras is a truly spectacular place to visit. Spread over a steep mountainside and surrounded by olive and orange trees, this former Byzantine capital city is home to the single most compelling set of medieval ruins in Greece.


The Byzantine Castle of Mystras is located on the southern side of the Peloponnese, close to Sparti Town. The Castle is surrounded by Byzantine walls and boasts an imposing palace on top of the hill. This area is famous for its Byzantine churches with impressive frescoes inside. At the foot of the hill is the modern village of Mystras, featuring traditional architecture and wonderful platies (town squares). A visit to this area can be combined with trips to nearby Monemvasia and Gythio.

Insights Greece - Visiting Mystras, the Former Byzantine Capital 
Mystras Tower @comeandiscovermani

History of the area

The Castle Town of Mystras was very strong during the Byzantine times and in the last decades of the Byzantine period, it said that it was the second most important town after Constantinople. Mystras, the ‘Wonder of the Morea’, was built as an amphitheatre around the fortress erected in 1249, by the Prince of Achaia, William of Villehardouin. Reconquered by the Byzantines, then occupied by the Turks and the Venetians, the city was abandoned in 1832, leaving only the stunning medieval ruins, surrounded by breathtaking landscape. It’s also been named as one of the most important historical sites in the Peloponnese. 

What you will find here

Explore the well-preserved Byzantine churches, the remains of the Palace, and strong walls. On top of the castle hill is the Palace of the Despots, as well as the many sacred Byzantine chapels with fascinating architecture and valuable frescoes. Below the Medieval Castle is a new village that has been constructed, here is where you will find many traditional hotels. This destination is also great for those who enjoy trekking, as the paths lead to many breathtaking spots.

Byzantine Churches

Insights Greece - Visiting Mystras, the Former Byzantine Capital 
Palace of Despots

The most famous churches are Agios Dimitrios, where Konstantinos Paleologos, the last Byzantine Emperor was crowned, and Agioi Theodoroi, which boasts beautiful frescoes. In the courtyard of Agios Dimitrios, you can visit the Archaeological Museum which is home to many Byzantine and ecclesiastical exhibits. In 1989, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Monument.

The entire Castle of Mystras is filled with amazing churches of Byzantine style but only a few of them now remain open to visitors. Our recommendations are the impressive Monasteries of Our Lady Pantanassa, and of Οur Lady Perivleptos. 

Also noteworthy is the Holy Monastery of Vrontochion and its inner church of Odigitria, which features unique architecture. And although it is quite gothic-like, it’s combined with many elements of Byzantine designs. You can also view the rich frescoes that depict the miracle of Christ, produced by the talented painters of their time in Constantinople.

Where to eat and drink

Stroll through the square of the charming villages nearby and you will come across a variety of cafes and tavernas where locals and visitors gather and catch up for a coffee, late lunch, or dinner. Some of our picks for the best traditional eateries are Chromata and Pikoulianika, where you will taste local dishes and products that are the focus of their flavourful dishes. We also recommend Ktima Skreka, Palaiologos, and O Ellinas, who use vegetables from their own farm and also produce their own variety of olive oil. 

Insights Greece - Visiting Mystras, the Former Byzantine Capital 
Chromata @greeka

For a more modern setting try Palataki and Elia, which are located at Mystras Grand Palace Resort, or make a reservation at the Gaia Restaurant, which is found at Euphoria Retreat; here you can also grab a casual bite at the Chef’s Grill, which serves high-quality meats cooked to perfection. 

What to eat

The traditional dish of the region is bouzopoula, which is roasted pork. Lakonia is also known for its pasto (cured smoked pork) and orange flavoured sausages. For some traditional sweets try the Halvas Farsallon, pasteli and you can’t leave before trying some locally grown oranges and olives, as the area is filled with both! 

Where to stay 

Insights Greece - Visiting Mystras, the Former Byzantine Capital 

Mystras Grand Palace Resort & Spa seeks to blend harmoniously with the Laconian landscape through its stone-built lodgings interspersed with olive trees. This resort has a focus on wellbeing.

Kyniska Palace is a serene hideaway at the foothills of mountain Taygetos where nature, discreet luxury, and local myths are in perfect harmony.

Euphoria Retreat is one of Greece’s most loved hotels in the region as it’s the perfect place to relax, unwind and allow your mind and body some time to rejuvenate. 

Insider Tip: A visit here involves moderate amounts of hiking. We should also mention that the site has two entrances, one at the base of the site and another at the top (near the fortress). If you arrive by taxi from Sparta, you should ask the driver to take you to the upper entrance and from there you can walk down, rather than entering below and climbing up. Public buses travel to the site from Sparta on a daily basis. 

To get there

It is roughly a three-hour drive from Athens and there is about 50€ worth of tolls in a one-way trip. You can also drive from Kalamata in just over an hour and just under an hour from Tripoli.  

Cover image @discovergreece

Top 6 Mastic Villages of Chios

The 24 villages from where mastiha is harvested are known as Mastihochoria or Mastic Villages. Unchanged since Byzantine times, these charming villages are a must-see when visiting Chios island. 

Mastiha is a famous resin, which is known for its strong flavour and natural therapeutic benefits. It’s cultivated exclusively on Southern Chios and used in everything from desserts and liqueurs to beauty products and gum. Having been exported to all parts of the world since the Middle Ages, the Masticohoria were fortified with walls and watchtowers to protect supplies of this precious resin from smugglers and pirates. Each one has its own unique beauty and we’ve put together a list of the most picturesque. 


This is the largest in the complex and is referred to as the painted village, as it’s filled with black or grey and white geometrical decorative motifs on the facades of the buildings. Labelled “Xysta” they are created by a plastering-sand applied to the wall, which is then carefully painted white, and finally scraped with the designs. While here, also visit the ubiquitous village clock tower rising above the town and the beautiful Byzantine-era church of Agioi Apostoloi (Holy Apostles). We should also mention, it’s believed that Christopher Columbus is descended from a family in Pyrgi, and some claim he lived here. 


This small scenic village with vaulted archways is located 35 km southwest of Chios Town. It’s the best-preserved medieval village on the island and the houses are built attached to each other, forming a fortified wall. The charming narrow cobbled alleys lead to the central square, where you will find a local hotel, a few shops, and restaurants. Here you will also discover Megalos Taksiarhis (church of the Archangels) which is the largest Greek Orthodox church on the island and one of the biggest in all of Greece. It was built in the mid-1800s, at the same place where the original castle tower was also built. 


This village was established in the 13th century and stands out for its remarkable architecture. The houses are built in a way where the outer walls are conjoined, so that anyone facing the village will see a fortress with no visible openings, except for one door that allows people in and out; this door is located at present-day Kato Porta. Boasting narrow cobbled streets, there is also a 20 metre high tower that stands at the center of the village, which was used for defense in case of a pirates attack; today, the tower houses a nice restaurant. Also visit Agia Paraskevi church, the Trapeza of Olympi, and the Cave of Olympi, close to Sykia village; it dates back almost 200,000 years and has wonderful stalactites and stalagmites formations.


Around 19 km from Chios town is the village of Vessa, which is dominated by castles. It’s worth wandering around the narrow streets to admire the striking architecture of the mansions, which have remained intact. Also, visit the church of Agios Dimitrios to view its beautiful icons. 


The streets of Kambos are narrow and surrounded by the tall walls of the mansions. The arch gates with heavy wooden doors lead to the main garden. Many of the restored mansions are used as guesthouses, which are very popular with local and international visitors who gather over summer and spring when the entire area is blossoming with citrus trees.


This is one of the largest villages, located in the southeast part of the island. Visit Varvakas, the centre of the settlement, plus the church of Agia Paraskevi and Panagia Agrelopousaina. Also, make your way to the temple of Profitis Ilias and at the top of the hill, you will be able to enjoy an incredible view of the island. 

Cover image @izkiz

AENÁLIA, the contemporary revival of neo-Hellenic jewelry  

I met Katerina Kritikou, the creative mind behind AENÁLIA, some years ago in Paris, when the city of lights was home for both of us and the place to discover our secret kept self.

She always had a characteristic neo-Hellenic aura, a chic and classy allure from another era. Some years later, she put a piece of herself into jewellery creation and the result is exactly like her- an old love that you can never forget, not because it remained unfulfilled, but because of its quality. No matter how many years go by, it never loses its value.

Insights Greece - AENÁLIA, the contemporary revival of neo-Hellenic jewelry  

AENÁLIA is the first brand that focuses on the rich heritage of Neo-Hellenic jewellery,  creating statement pieces for those who want to tell a story about every piece they are wearing.

We recently spoke to Katerina about her stunning new brand and the concept behind it.

When did you first realise you wanted to become a jewellery designer? 

Ten years ago, on the streets of Paris. I was wearing my original neo-Hellenic jewellery pieces, my grandmother’s gift, and people from all over the world used to ask me where they came from. At first, I wanted to tell the world what neo-Hellenic jewellery is and rescue it from oblivion. Then there was my desire to set it free from its folkloric bonds and gave rise to AENÁLIA’s principal aim: the contemporary revival of neo-Hellenic jewellery.

Insights Greece - AENÁLIA, the contemporary revival of neo-Hellenic jewelry  

How did you choose the neo-Hellenic period as an inspiration?

Αs an art historian, I wanted to dive into Greek history. It was clear to me that I wasn’t interested in Ancient Greece and the much talked-about Grecian style. My grandmother was a member of the local department of the Lyceum Club of Greek Women so I was
surrounded by neo-Hellenic tradition since my childhood. I learned to appreciate traditional costumes and I literally fell in love with the jewellery pieces that accompanied them. Their beauty isn’t just striking in my eyes, it has a story to tell and I am very proud that it’s a Greek one.

How did you come up with the name AENÁLIA for your brand?

AENÁLIA is a non-existent word. It derives from the Greek word “aenaos” which means eternal. Apart from being pleasing to the ear, it states the timeless style of neo-Hellenic tradition.

What makes your collections unique in the industry?

AENÁLIA is the first brand that focuses on the redefinition of neo-Hellenic jewellery as part of present-day elegance. In that sense, uniqueness and wearability are at the core of AENÁLIA’s identity, regarding the customer as the carrier of a particular story, which derives from historical research. As far as I know, no brand has ever focused on neo-Hellenic jewellery and its revival. AENÁLIA is the first one.

Insights Greece - AENÁLIA, the contemporary revival of neo-Hellenic jewelry  

Which elements/materials do you use for your jewellery? 

Inspired by the rich heritage of silversmithing tradition during post-Byzantine period, as well as the remarkable variety of its creations, each AENÁLIA piece is rooted in its cultural context, meticulously designed and handmade with the greatest respect for traditional techniques. In this context, I use silver, gold-plated or oxidized, embellished with precious or semi-precious stones or enamels. There are several variations in each model. I also allow my clients the freedom to create their own AENÁLIA pieces by adding materials and the stones of their choice.

What is your favourite part about being a designer?

I love every minute of the process. From the selection of a specific neo-Hellenic jewellery piece that serves as an inspiration for my design to the historical research. However, the moment I take a new piece in my hands is by far the best one. There is a part not only of myself but also of Greek aesthetic in every piece of AENÁLIA.

What kind of person wears your jewellery? How do you want women to feel when wearing your creations?

A contemporary woman who is comfortable in her skin and feels special would choose to wear an AENÁLIA piece not only because it is unique but also because it has a story to tell, it has roots. I would like to give her the opportunity to feel connected with neo-Hellenic tradition and become a part of its contemporary version. I strongly believe in adaptability and continuity as a way to survive in real life as well as in art.

Insights Greece - AENÁLIA, the contemporary revival of neo-Hellenic jewelry  

What are some of the difficulties you had to face?

First and foremost, finding the means and the inner strength tο get my project off the ground, which demanded a strong belief in my dream. The redefinition of neo-Hellenic jewellery, as the cornerstone of my project, was one of the biggest challenges for me. It involved in-depth knowledge of neo-Hellenic tradition and a highly critical eye to revive it in an appealing and contemporary way without losing its identity.

What is your favourite piece you’ve ever created – and what made it so special?

It’s the first AENÁLIA piece: the Oia earrings. It’s still my favourite piece and will always hold a special place in my heart. In my opinion, it successfully captures the essence of the Aegean Sea- exactly as any other AENÁLIA piece does with its birthplace.

What’s it like to see someone on the street wearing one of your creations?

I feel proud of myself and blessed to be able to breathe new life into neo-Hellenic tradition based on respect and love for my country’s history. The fact that a woman not only wears an AENÁLIA piece but also knows the story behind it gives me the greatest satisfaction. AENÁLIA’s goal is then being achieved.