Nemea is located in the northeastern part of the Peloponnese, only one and a half hours from Athens. The small village of Ancient Nemea is located right next to the archaeological site, while the new town of Nemea lies a little further to the west. The ancient stadium was used to host the Nemean Games, and, according to Greek mythology, this is also where Hercules killed the Nemean Lion. Nemea is the largest PDO area of Greece, specializing in wines from the local grape Agiorgitiko (nicknamed ‘the blood of Hercules’). Forty wineries are scattered around the 17 communes of the region and, while most of them are open to visitors, it would be advisable to call ahead of a visit.
History lovers and anyone who is keen on outdoor activities, vibrant villages and quality food and wine will certainly be happy visiting this historic and intriguing land. The best lodgings can be found at the picturesque port of Nafplion (40 km from Nemea). The suggested duration of this trip is one to four days.
|I. ANCIENT SITES|
|Archaeological Site & Museum of Nemea||–||Visit the archaeological site of Ancient Nemea, including the Temple of Zeus, the ancient stadium and the site’s wonderful museum.|
|Ancient Mycenae||25 km||Visit the ruins of the greatest city of the Mycenaean civilization, which played a vital role in the development of classical Greek culture.|
|Ancient Corinth / Acrocorinth||31 km||Corinth was an important city in ancient Greece, and it also played a major role in the missionary work of the Apostle Paul; he lived and preached here for 18 months.|
|Epidaurus Theater||68 km||This is one of the most extensive sacred sanctuaries in ancient Greece. The temples, athletics facilities, the theatre, baths, and other structures were built in an elevated valley surrounded by mountains.|
|Stymphalia||28 km||Visit Lake Stymphalia and the Environment Museum of Stymphalia.|
|Nafplion||40 km||Discover Palamidi Castle, the fortress of Bourtzi and the National Gallery of Nafplion.|
|Corinth Canal||42 km||Admire this great achievement of human technology and engineering and take in some amazing views.|
|Best local food/ingredients:
||A selection of Nemea wines to try:
Arriving in Nemea, one realizes why the ancient Greeks chose this spot to build one of their most important Temples of Zeus. Vineyards surrounded by cypress trees and olive groves is what gave Nemea its title as “The Tuscany of Greece,” while even more enthusiastic fans of the area believe that it is a place that could be turned into the “Napa Valley of the Peloponnese.”
This is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, since it still lacks much of the necessary basic infrastructure, but Nemea is somewhere that could become Greece’s leading wine tourism destination, with some effort and cooperation between the wine producers, the vine growers and the local people. Its proximity to Athens – only an hour’s drive – makes it a perfect destination for day trips. The archaeological sites (The Temple of Zeus and the Ancient Stadium) and the Archaeological Museum reveal the area’s long history, which is closely connected to viticulture and the production of wine. This is the land of Agiorgitiko (the variety gets its name from Agios Georgios, St. George), one of the two most important PDOs for red-wine production in Greece. The variety is considered one of Greece’s oldest, with origins that date back to antiquity, and it yields wines of many different types, from light, easy-to-drink reds to more full-bodied, age-worthy ones. In recent years, great progress has been achieved in winemaking here, and one can find numerous new small boutique wineries, along with the larger producers. As George Palivos, one of the most important winemakers in the area and a man full of passion for his homeland, tells us: “Our soul is in Agiorgitiko.” This is Greece’s most planted grape, but its origins are right here in Nemea, and the wines being made here can be quite exceptional. Our own day trip to the area revealed to us all the beauty of this very special destination and gave us the opportunity to try some of the best wines that Nemea produces. Here’s what we discovered:
Built on the hills of Koutsi at an altitude of 660 meters and surrounded by its privately owned vineyards, Semeli Winery is one of the most important wineries of this zone. On the top of the hill, we come across a modern building equipped with an elegant tasting room, as well as eight other rooms for visitors who wish to spend the night. The winery offers spectacular views of the area’s vineyards, where indigenous and international varieties are being cultivated. Although the emphasis is on indigenous varieties, including Agiorgitiko, Moschofilero, Roditis and Malagousia, wines are also made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewürztraminer. However, the estate’s top wine is Nemea Reserve Semeli, a wine made from 100% Agiorgitiko.
A short way down the hill, we come across Gaia Wines. This winery, established in 1997, is surrounded by a seven-hectare vineyard which produces mainly Agiorgitiko. Giannis Paraskevopoulos is the chief oenologist and co-owner of the estate, which produces wines that cover all the different expressions of Agiorgitiko. One of its top labels is Gaia Estate (Ktima Gaia), made from 100% Agiorgitiko, a wine which is matured for at least 12 months in new French oak and which is helping to prove the ageing potential of this unique variety.
This is the latest acquisition of one of the area’s most dynamic wine producers, Giannis Tselepos. The 8.5 hectare estate is situated at an elevation of 380 meters on the slopes of Koutsi. A new winery is currently being built on the estate which, for the time being, is not open to visitors. Modern techniques of viticulture are being applied here, and the resultant end products are really quite amazing. The estate produces two top wines, Nemea Driopi and Driopi Reserve, both made from 100% Agiorgitiko.
This estate, which owes its name to Ancient Nemea, is situated right in the heart of Nemea. The winery is a modern building that lacks windows in order to keep out the sunlight. The vineyards, which are situated at altitudes between 400 and 600 meters, are planted with Agiorgitiko and are organic, avoiding the use of chemical pesticides completely. Here, oenologist Artemis Kokkinaki takes care of the production of two of the estate’s top wines, Nemea Reserve and Hgemon Sovereign Grand Reserve.
Driving down the Nemea Valley in the area of Achladia, we come across on the left-hand side of the road the vineyards which belong to the Harlaftis Estate. Nikos Harlaftis, a warm, smiling man welcomes us, accompanied by the estate’s oenoligist Niki Negreponti. The vineyard is relatively young, planted for the first time in 1997 with Agiorgitiko. Later, more varieties both indigenous and international were added, with Malbec (Argentina’s famous variety) being the newest addition. Under the guidance of its chief oenologist, Panos Zouboulis, the estate produces a long list of wines with an emphasis on Agiorgitiko. The estate’s strong cards, however, are two rosés, Petaloudes (which means ‘butterflies’) and Saumon, made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah respectively. The latest addition to the estate’s rosés is Flamingo, a blend of five varieties (Malbec, Agiorgitiko, Limniona and Cabernet Sauvignon), which spends a few months in oak.
On our way to Ancient Nemea, we keep coming across different signs showing the way to the numerous wineries that are in the area. So many wineries, so little time… The truth is that one day isn’t enough to cover all the wineries that are worth visiting, but one that we definitely don’t want to miss is the Palivos Estate. George Palivos, a pleasant man who speaks with great love of Nemea (he was born and raised here) is a true believer in the power of Agiorgitiko and the potential it has to succeed in the international market. George welcomes to his estate around 20,000 visitors a year, mostly tourists, who are impressed, he says, by the quality of Nemea’s wines. His winery was built in 1995 on the 30-hectare family estate and is one of the first in the area to open its doors to visitors. Today it produces 11 wines covering all the different styles of Agiorgitiko, with Palivos Estate Nemea being the most popular one, a very good quality wine made from 100% Agiorgitiko.
Thanasis Papaioannou is considered one of the gurus among Nemea’s winemakers. He was one of the first to realize the immense potential of the variety that has been cultivated here for hundreds of years and, as early as in the ‘80s, when winemaking in Greece was still lagging behind in comparison to other countries, he decided to invest in new technology, incorporating new techniques into traditional wine making. So far, the results have been really amazing, and Papaioannou never seems to stop experimenting, both in the winery and in the vineyard. A true believer in the importance of the vineyard, he insists that it is there that all the work is done. Although committed to Agiorgitiko, which he has studied in depth, he isn’t afraid to experiment with international varieties, even less known ones such as the French Petit Verdot or the Portuguese Touriga Nacional. Some of the best wines made from Agiorgitiko are produced right here, including the estate’s best-selling Papaioannou Mikroklima and its Papaioanou Terroir, a single vineyard wine of exceptional quality.
Our trip to Nemea could not have been complete without a visit to Aivalis Winery, another legend in the area. Christos Aivalis produces one of the best examples of Nemea, but he is also known for his vibrant personality. “I might talk a lot,” says Christos, “but I am always in a position to prove that I’m right. Whoever visits our vineyards remains speechless!” he says, laughing. Full of confidence, Mr. Aivalis has got the wines to prove that he’s not kidding around. His creations enjoy cult status, with lots of dedicated fans both in Greece and abroad. Lately, his son Sotiris, a man whose more laid-back character complements his father’s outgoing charm perfectly, has taken over the responsibility of winemaking. His deep scientific knowledge, acquired during his studies in Bourgogne, is being applied to the winemaking and the result s are fascinating.
Last but not least, Lafazanis Winery belongs to the area’s boutique wineries. Surrounded by a 10-hectare vineyard , the winery is situated in ancient Kleones, on the road that takes us back to Athens from ancient Nemea. Right on the estate’s border lay the ruins of the Temple of Hercules, a monument built to commemorate Hercules’ killing of the Nemean Lion. With a production capacity of 4,000 tons a year, the winery combines modern technology with traditional techniques. Its best wines include Geometria Malagousia (a white varietal wine), Geometria Moschofilero (an aromatic white wine), and Geometria Agiorgitiko. g