The Greek Islands, delightful as they are, have become something of an attention hog. From Corfu and Crete to Santorini and Symi, they have monopolised glossy travel-magazine covers and glamorous yachting holidays for decades.
As a result of growing up in Europe, I know exactly which island to pick when I want a raucous party (Mykonos), a palatial villa (Corfu) or sandy beaches (Zakynthos). But drop me on the mainland and confusion reigns.
And I am not alone — large swathes of Greece remain undiscovered by foreign travellers and, as a result, the most bewitching and rewarding parts of this extraordinary country are, paradoxically, the emptiest.
To rectify this gap in my Greek knowledge, I set off from Athens, clutching a copy of British author Patrick Leigh Fermor’s acclaimed book about the region he made his life in: Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese.
Separated from the main body of the country by the Corinth Canal, the Peloponnese is the heart of ancient Greece and the birthplace of the Olympic Games. Drunk on history, this area boasts some of the most magnificent monuments of the Byzantine Empire and is an easy two-hour drive from Athens.
Once I cleared the motorway, I found my ancient history lessons returning amid glistening woodlands, lakes and ravines. Mountains towered over vineyards, fragrant citrus groves and voluptuous piles of freshly picked olives, just as they did in the age of The Odyssey and The Iliad. Meanwhile, the key to the past was unlocked by extraordinary archaeological sites — Olympia, Mycenae, Epidaurus and Corinth — that are free from the tourist-bus madness that haunts the Parthenon in Athens.
It is a Greece I recognise from stories, rather than my own experience. My father travelled around the islands in the 1970s and often speaks about the halcyon days pre-mass-tourism, where you could have a sleepy village entirely to yourself. I thought that world no longer existed but, to my delight, I found it here, in the quiet villages peppered with black-clad women tottering along the seafront, admonishing their brown-legged grandchildren for swimming too deep.
Heading north into the Peloponnese, I pass the Greco-Roman city of Gytheion with its ancient theatre. Connected to Gytheion by a causeway is the tiny island of Marathonisi and it is where Paris first made love to Helen of Troy after stealing her from her husband, Menelaus — so struck were they both were by the beauty of the site.
Further east, in the foothills of Mount Taygetus, is Mistras, a ghost town nicknamed the Byzantine Pompeii. It was Constantinople’s seat of power in Greece and its colourful frescoed churches reveal an artistic renaissance that ended when the town fell to the Ottomans in 1460.
When you are exploring off the tourist trail, good hotels are few and far between. But in a particularly savvy move, the Aman group recently decided to create its first establishment on Hellenic soil, not on Crete or Corfu, but on the Peloponnese.
Set high above the deep-blue Mediterranean Sea and surrounded by olive groves and cypress trees, Amanzoe has a distinctly palatial air. This is due to grand Grecian columns that line the entrance and the expansive beach club, which is an easy 10-minute drive down through the olive groves from your room.
Designed by renowned architect Ed Tuttle, Amanzoe mimics the wonders of the Acropolis (and why not, given the site is a mere two-hour drive away?) with an imposing porte-cochère and soaring pillars and colonnades in marble and stone.
Every part of this arresting establishment is imbued with Greek history. There are outdoor amphitheatres where you can order a potent Martini to accompany the sunset, a stylish spa that offers treatments based on Ancient Greek medicine and an Olympic-sized infinity pool overlooking the vineyards.
Each of the 38 pavilions has its own herb-filled garden, sunny terrace and private pool, as well as two vast marble bathrooms and what must be the most comfortable bed in Greece.
“We have many billionaire clients from the US whom are of Greek heritage, says Katerina Katopis, a director at Amanzoe. “And they have been so happy to finally find a hotel on Greek soil that fits their standards of service and accommodation.”
Boats are on offer to the gorgeous nearby island of Spetses: a speck of land set just across the turquoise sea that is a riot of colourful boats, pretty sea-front tavernas, sandy coves and old-fashioned ice-cream shops.
And yet, despite all these wonders, the Peloponnese remains deliciously empty, while the Greek islands are full to bursting. Go — before everyone else starts wondering why.