Travels in Greece

Katakolon Western Peleponnese | Greece

Katakolon Katakolon (Κατάκολον) is a small, some would say sleepy, port town located about 15kms from Pirgos on the western coast of the Peloponnese. Its main claim to fame is a deepwater port suitable for the largest cruise ships you can imagine, along with the fact that it is only 35kms from Ancient Olympia. It is also where my wife´s family is from, so I have spent more than a few summer holidays sitting around Katakolon chatting with friends, watching the cruise ships come and go and exploring the surrounding areas.

Don’t want to read it all? Use the following links to get to what you want fast, or else read on for the full Katakolon story!:

A short history of Katakolon

Katakolon has always been a port town, with its original heyday being the end of the 19th to the mid 20th century when it was the main point of departure for the region’s famous raisons. The Pirgos – Katakolon rail link was completed in 1881, a full 10 years before the Greek state railway line between Athens and Lamia was constructed. Katakolo’s port was funded entirely by the local Pirgos authorities to facilitate the transport of finished raisons to the ships at Katakolon where they were shipped to all the major ports of Europe. The Katakolon of those days can still be seen in the old warehouse buildings along its back streets, some of which have been nicely restored.

That being said, the first time I went to Katakolon in 1997 my first impressions were not particularly warm. The town had a bit of a rundown feeling to it, some of its older buildings along the back roads were in complete disrepair and the general feeling was one of a place that was on its last legs, port or no port, Olympia or no Olympia.

Since 2003 however, Katakolon has undergone a surprising and very pleasing makeover. The port was renovated in that year with funds donated by the town’s most famous of sons, John Latsis. With the renovated port came more cruise ships with more tourist dollars and in a surprisingly short time Katakolon has become a much nicer place to hang out in with most of its old buildings lovingly restored, the cafes and tavernas along the waterfront full of smiling people and its relaxed bars pulling in the locals from Pirgos on the weekends.

Katakolon to Olympia

Many of you reading this might well be coming on a cruise ship, and maybe you will want to know if there are any options for getting from Katakolon to Olympia which does not involve the official cruise ship tour (something I have been asked by more than one lost looking soul wandering down the beach). Well, the short answer is yes, there are, although walking is not one of them. If you are adventurous you could rent a car from one of the car rental agencies and drive yourself. The roads from Katakolon to Olympia are in good condition and hold no major surprises and the signs have been improved in the last few years to avoid having to go through Pirgos.

If you are considering the DIY driving route take into account the complete chaos that is called parking in Olympia. They have recently closed the main road to thru traffic meaning that you will need to park at the far end of town (while battling through the waiting busses and taxis parked all along the main road) and then walk the entire length of Olympia to get to the site. It is not that far, say 15-20 minutes normal walking, but the summer heat and the bus and taxi fumes can make that seem like a pretty long 15 minutes.

Train from Katakolon to Olympia

Remember that train line from Katakolon to Pirgos? Well it is back up and running! Having been defunct for the better part of 20 years, I can honestly say that I never really expected to see it back in operation again, but in operation it is and not only will it take you to Pirgos, it will take you all the way to Olympia. If that is not good enough news, it will do this for you in ultra modern, air conditioned carriages.

The train station is a 10-15 minute walk down the Katakolon sea front from the main pier, just look for where the tracks end, the platforms next to that point is where you catch the train. As of 2010 the miniature ticket office has been refurbished and is open for tickets (obviously) and other information and there is a little cafe next to the tracks where you can have a coffee while waiting for the train to arrive. The train drops you into the center of Olympia where another 10-15 minutes or so walk will get you to the main archaeological site.

The August 2012 update and train timetable
Contrary to what the official OSE helpline and multiple online sources tells us, the Katakolon – Olympia train is running a custom schedule to coincide with cruise ship arrivals and departures. This means that if you are coming on a cruise ship, there will be a train there ready to take you to Olympia. It will cost you 10 Euros for a round trip, kids 2-12 go for 5 Euros, kids2 and under for free.

We are told that this schedule will run all year round, so even if you are a passenger on one of the 4 cruise ships that arrive in January, you should still be able to use the train. A word of advice: the trains we have seen are running 2 carriages which is probably enough for 100 people or so (at a guess). We don’t know if they put on more carriages for bigger ships or not, so if you want to be sure of getting a seat, we would advise to get your ticket before the crowds arrive, better safe than sorry!

Renting a car in Katakolon

Renting a car is another economical way to get to Olympia for small groups. Avis It has the added bonus of freeing you completely from taxi or organised tour schedules so you can easily check out the Mercouri Winery, the lovely little beach at Agios Andreas and generally snoop about the area to your heart’s content. The driving around Katakolon is really pretty laid back by Greek standards, so if you are even somewhat confident behind the wheel, I really don’t think you will have any problems. There are a number of small car rental places just to the right off the pier as you enter Katakolon. The only one we could find offering online bookings is Avis. To check out their rates just click the Avis image above right and put Katakalo (note no N at the end, and you do want Katakolo Hlias) into the search field. Car seats for the little ones are available for those who need them. We get a small commission for rentals through these links, so thanks for the support!

Katakolon to Olympia by Taxi

The Katakolon to Olympia route has become the biggest business in town for any taxi driver based within 50kms of Katakolon. It amazes me every time I pass by the port once the last cruise ship has left for the day to see at least 50 new Mercedes taxis all parked up waiting for the next day when the cruise ship gods will offer up their next spoils to the lucky natives. Now, perhaps I shouldn’t be so cynical, and I have no doubt that most of the taxi drivers are good honest people who will offer you a great trip to and from Olympia. They will stop at a couple of picturesque spots along the way, they will tell you tales about the area and about Greece generally that you would never hear otherwise and generally you will have a good time. The only problem according to my local friends is the completely exorbitant rates that some will try pass onto the unsuspecting customer. Call me conservative, but 150+ euros for a 3-4 hour trip where 2 of these hours involves our friendly taxi driver sitting around with his mates smoking and laughing while you see the sights of Ancient Olympia seems a bit steep. Now if you have lots of spare cash, hey, why not share the wealth a little, take a taxi, enjoy the trip and think no more about it.

The August 2012 update
There seem to be a lot less taxis around than there used to be! Perhaps the combination of a still running Katakolon – Olympia train plus the introduction of some privately run (and much cheaper) bus options have squeezed the profits out of what was a few years ago a massive cash cow. There are still taxis available for those that need or desire them for whatever reason, but certainly not in the numbers there once were.

Katakolon Museums

There are two small but really very good museums in Katakolon, covering ancient Greek technology and ancient Greek musical instruments. They are both more than worth a look and both free to visit (be sure to leave a donation, or buy the great book on ancient greek technology, it is really fantastic). Both museums are open from 9am to 3pm on days that cruise ships arrive. So if you are on a ship, the museum will be open, if you are visiting Katakolon by car, make sure you see a ship in port to be sure the museums will be open. More information on the museums can be seen on the pages we have made for them a few years back: The Museum of Ancient Greek Technology and Ancient Greek Musical Instruments.

Katakolon Beach

Well, you say, all this Olympia stuff is fine, but I have been there, done that, or maybe you just are not up to another slog around an ancient site and just want to relax for a while, what are the best options then? Well, first of all, I would say don’t miss ancient Olympia if you are only in Katakolon for one day and will never be coming back. Yes it gets crowded in the summertime and yes Olympia the town is a bit of a tourist trap (well, more than a bit), but at the end of the day ancient Olympia is an amazing site and the museum is top notch, so it is definitely worth your time to go and have a look. Not convinced? Ok, there are a couple of other options that Katakolon and its surrounds can offer you, starting with the beach.

Katakolon’s beach starts from the end of the town and stretches in one continuous arc around the huge Kyparissian Gulf for what must be at least 30kms. It is easy enough to walk to it from the port, or if you are inclined to go a little further then scooters can be rented from the same shops that rent cars at the end of the pier itself. Katakolo’s beach is nice enough, it has a couple of decent fish tavernas and beach bars at intervals along it and the waters are warm and shallow and perfect for small kids.

The beach at Katakolon has 2 main problems: firstly, there are often jellyfish in the waters there and while they are not deadly, they can give you a itchy rash, and secondly, the powers that be have decided that the beach will make a great cut through route for a lot of the town’s car traffic, and therefore allow cars, buses and even trucks onto the beach(!). About the jellyfish there is not much one can do except be alert, they don’t move fast and are easy to see and avoid (blue/purple, the size of a medium to large plate), for the cars on the beach, feel free to mention to any local who wants to listen that you consider it a bit of a turn off to have vehicle fumes swirling around your head when you are going for a swim, who knows, maybe the anti-car brigade will eventually get enough members to put an end to this odd practice.

The August 2012 update
Thanks to all of you that must have mentioned the bus on the beach issue, because it seems that the buses are no longer using the beach to get to Olympia. The power of the people shows itself! Unfortunately cars and trucks still use it, but the lack of buses is a big improvement.

There is also some movement on the jellyfish front. One of the fish taverns have managed to net off a pretty good sized area of sea in front of their shop. It will be one of the first thing you see if you keep walking past the train station and onto the beach itself. They have umbrellas, loungers and a small slide in the waters which I am sure the small kids will enjoy a lot. I guess to use a lounger and umbrella you will need to buy a coffee, but if you don’t want or need any of that, you are free to swim wherever you like in the sea (including the above mentioned netted area!).

Reneta / Plakes Beach

If you only have a short amount of time in Katakolon and you want a beach that is as close as possible to the port, then Reneta (also known as Plakes) Beach is just for you. Simply walk to the end of the pier and head off to the left hand side of the parking lot. Just on the other side of the port wall is Renata beach, a small pebbly beach with a subdued beach bar and a few palm like umbrellas.They have also recently put in showers and toilet facilities.

The beach is nothing special, and if you are on a big ship it does not take many people to get full, but the waters are nice, and importantly seem to never have jellyfish unlike the beach at Katakolo. The hows and whats of jellyfish migration and why they show up in one spot and not another has been the subject of many a discussion, if anybody has a definitive answer please send us a mail! In the meantime, while Renata beach is a good enough option for a short visit, if you have anything more than a couple of hours, I would suggest the beach at Agios Andreas as your best bet by far.

Agios Andreas Beach

Literally a 5 minute drive from Katakolon is Agios Andreas, a microscopic village with a couple a small cafe/bar and two restaurants above a wonderful little beach. If you are driving yourself head straight out of Katakolon (there is only one road), take the first left you see of any consequence opposite the last of the shops of Katakolon and head up the hill. You will hit what looks like a T junction after a minute or two, turn left and a hundred meters down on your right is the Kastro (Το Κάστρο), a relaxed café from 10am to sunset and the hip place to be from sunset and beyond for the sophisticated Pirgos crowd.

The Kastro has a lovely relaxed atmosphere, it has nice green grass that the kids can play on and of course it has its own little beach where a coffee or a drink will also get you a lounger and an umbrella. Don’t like loungers and umbrellas? Well then feel free to head a little bit further down the beach and plop yourself under the rock overhangs or small bushes that line the sand. An outdoor shower is available and the prices for coffees, drinks and snacks are reasonable. All in all this is the place I would recommend to anyone wanting to pass a day of relaxing, swimming and doing not a lot of anything at all. The restaurant at Liris, about 50 meters past the Kastro also has a small beach under it, and is rightly known for its lovely mixed dishes served with beer or ouzo. Liris could be considered a slightly more sophisticated version of the Kastro, but both allow bathing suits and bare feet, so pick whichever suits best.

If you don’t want to rent a bike to get there then grab a taxi (but don’t pay the 50 euros I have heard mentioned in some conversations!). The truth is that any fit person could walk from Katakolon to Agios Andreas in about 30 minutes or so. There is also a bus from Katakolon to Agios Andreas which leaves from the bus stop opposite the kiosk at the end of the pier and drops you off pretty much at the entrance to the Kastro.

The August 2012 update
There now appears to be one of these silly tourist train things (you know the ones with car wheels and a little engine at the front) that is doing the Katakolon – Agios Andreas run. It seems it will also swing you by the Mercouri Winery if you are interested and it cost 6 euros a person. We will try to dig up some more concrete information on its itinerary, but to avoid the hassle of the bus and the cost of a taxi, this seems like a pretty good option to get to Agios Andreas.

Day trips from Katakolon

All this is very nice you say, but I don’t want to go to Olympia, I don’t want to sit on the beach and I don’t want to sit around Katakolon all day drinking coffee. Are there other places to go in the surrounding areas that have something more to see and do? Well, if you are in the area for more than a day, or if you simply want to get a car or taxi and head somewhere off the main cruise itinerary then yes there are a few places I could recommend. How about Chlemoutsi Castle and the Thermal Baths at Kyllini? Or if you prefer something a bit more natural how about the beautiful Foloi Oak Forest which could be included in a trip to Olympia if time permits. If you enjoy nature there is also the Strofilia Forest and the adjacent Kalogria wetlands that are also about an hour from Katakolon. And of course, there is always the nearby Mercouri Winery. So there you have it, what to do in Katakolon for a day, or a week!

Ordering Mercouri wines online

Wanted to take back a case but the ship only lets in a couple of bottles? Seems to be a common complaint and we get many mails asking where you can get more bottles of your favorite tipple to remember your cruise with. Well, a solution is now at hand! Order Mercouri Wines Online!

Greece and Grapes are the experts in Greek wines and a good bunch of guys! They also have a great selection of Mercouri Wines (and a truly huge selection of Greek wines, ouzos and tsipouros generally!). Check them out and tell them we said hello 🙂

Click the the bottle on the left to check out their selection, we get a small commission, so thanks for the support and enjoy the wine!

Detailed map of Katakolon

View Katakolon, Greece – sightseeing spots of interest. in a larger map