As hordes of tourists pass through the chaos of Athens on their way to yet another well-traveled Greek isle, a nearly empty cove of towering volcanic rock cliffs and diamond-clear waters, surrounded by crumbling ancient and medieval ruins, is just a three-hour drive west. It's called Voïdokiliá, meaning "ox belly," and for years this part of the Messinian coast was largely ignored by tourists because of a winding, poorly maintained road full of signless detours. When Greece hosted the Olympics in 2004, the road was fixed and the six-hour drive cut in half. Yet, even if locals favored it, the tourists still did not come. "There's nothing like it anywhere," says Lefteris Maniadakis, who runs the local surf shop. "You've got unbelievably blue water, white-sand dunes, cliffs, and 2,000-year-old ruins in every direction."
This stretch of the western Peloponnese coastline facing the Ionian Sea rivals the greatest in all the Mediterranean but lacks the cosmopolitan feel of Greece's resort towns – and the crowds. In Pylos, a small, whitewashed town about eight miles from Voïdokiliá beach, hotels are mostly family-run and cozy (if a bit weathered). The Karalis Beach Hotel has comfy rooms with balconies overlooking the harbor. By night, take a seat at one of the tavernas in the red-tiled courtyard of Pylos town square and join the old men in slacks and black caps for a candlelit dinner of octopus, carafes of red wine, and Greek salad made with Kalamata olives, named for the region's largest city. The only glimpse of luxury in the area is the vast Costa Navarino resort. It's all-inclusive and owns a stretch of coastline that has everything you could ever want, from surfing to snorkeling to spa treatments right on the beach.
If you're looking for something about Voïdokiliá that's more than sun and sand, an easy 15-minute hike south leads to Nestor's Cave, where in mythology ancient King Nestor was said to keep his oxen. It's a breathtaking four-story cavern in which, according to legend, Homer based scenes of The Odyssey. A steep climb up from the cave are the ruins of a 13th-century Frankish castle, whose walls plunge thousands of feet into a frothing shore break. A walkway along the sea-facing wall has no safety rails or guards to hold you back – the price you pay for having the whole castle to yourself.
More information: Fly to Athens – a good option is to take Turkish Airlines and stop over in Istanbul – and catch the bus to Pylos. Head to the Motorbike Shop and rent whatever isn't already taken. From there, it's a beautiful ride to the bay. Just remember to wear a helmet. Local drivers are aggressive.