The scenic seaside Greek town of Katakolon, with a population around 3,000, is your typical small-town cruise port — cafes lace the waterfront, shops sell T-shirts, hats and jewelry, and a small beach draws swimmers and sandcastle-builders. But that’s not why ships make the town a destination. They arrive because Katakolon serves as the cruise gateway to ancient Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games.
Only 40 minutes from Katakolon, and you are transported back thousands of years. Stroll the site of Olympia, and you walk in the footsteps of the earliest Greek and Roman athletes — wrestlers, chariot drivers, discus throwers, runners and long-jumpers — who vied for glory and the gods’ favor. Stand alongside the massive columns, and, with the tales of a good guide, you can envision the once magnificent temples, the crowded gymnasium and the runners readying on the track. Alexander the Great, Nero, Plato and Aristotle are among those who watched the games from where you stand.
More than 3 million people annually visit the site and its companion facility, the Archaeological Museum of Olympia, a treasure trove of pieced-together sculptures and statues that once adorned the ancient structures.
En route to the grounds, you travel through the fertile valleys of the Western Peloponnese region. Strawberries, watermelons, tomatoes, wheat and corn fill the fields; behind them rise groves of olive trees. The rich soil also suits grapes. At the Domaine Mercouri winery, about 3 kilometers from Katakolon’s dock, you can sit in the shade of centuries-old cypress trees, sipping noted red and white wines