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Panorama view of Assos peninsula and coastline

Pylos, Greece

Pine-covered hills wrap around the lovely town of Pylos (often referred to as Navarino, its Italian name), in the Messenia region of Greece's Peloponnese. Cobblestoned streets lead down to the harbor, where outdoor cafés overlook the protected waters of the Bay of Navarino.

This pleasant scene belies a turbulent history. In 425 B.C.E., the Athenians won a rare victory here over the Spartans, and captured their fleet. Twenty-two centuries later, a critical battle of the War of Greek Independence also unfolded in these waters. A fleet of 24 French, British and Russian warships gathered in the Bay of Navarino in 1827 to encourage Ibrahim Pasha to leave the Peloponnese, where he was busy suppressing a Greek revolt, at the request of the Ottoman sultan. After a weeklong standoff, one of Pasha's vessels, an Egyptian frigate, fired its cannons in the night. That sparked a full-scale battle. The Hellenic sympathizers responded, sinking three-quarters of Pasha's fleet of 68 ships and killing more than 6,000 soldiers without losing a single European vessel. Ten months after this decisive blow, the Turks began to evacuate, ending nearly 400 years of occupation and freeing Greece to become its own nation in 1830.

Travelers come here for more than history. Besides rolling hills covered in olive groves, the region has some of the best beaches in Greece, where fine golden sands meet clear turquoise sea.