NÁFPAKTOS (medieval Lepanto) is a lively port town and resort some two hours’ drive from Delphi, or an hour by road from Pátra. It is the largest settlement on the north shore of the Gulf of Korínthos and the jumping-off point for the bridge to the Peloponnese. The town spreads out along a plane-tree-shaded seafront, below a sprawling Venetian castle. The planes are nurtured by numerous running springs, which attest to water-rich mountains just inland. Also inland is the ancient sacred site of Thermon, dedicated to the twin gods Apollo and his sister Artemis.
The rambling, pine-tufted kástro provides an impressive backdrop; most of it dates from the Venetians’ fifteenth-century tenure. A complete tour is only possible by driving the well-marked 2.5km to the car park at the highest citadel, passing en route a clutch of nice cafés taking advantage of the view. At the summit are the remains of Byzantine baths and an Ottoman mosque, both converted into chapels. The curtain walls plunge down to the sea, enclosing the higher neighbourhoods and oval-shaped old harbour in crab-claw fashion (you can climb each rampart for free), with the original westerly gate giving access to Psáni beach.
Most of the town centre faces long, developed beaches. The more popular and less shaded west beach is Psáni, with its frontage road, Navmahías, lined with tavernas and hotels. To the east is Grímbovo, more tranquil and lined with trees (and with easier parking), where aqueducts bring mountain streams into gurgling fountains.
About 16km northwest of Náfpaktos, following signs for “Thérmo 46”, you come to the valley of the Évinos River and the small village of Háni Baniás. A farther 10km northwest you reach THÉRMO, a small town with a pleasant plane-shaded square, a filling station, bank ATMs, shops and tavernas. Of potentially more interest is ancient Thermon (Tues–Sun 8.30am–3pm; free, photography forbidden), well signposted 1.5km southeast of the centre. This modest site, still under excavation, was the walled political capital and main religious sanctuary of the Aetolians. The main temple, c.1000 BC, orientated north-to-south rather than the usual west-to-east, was dedicated to Apollo Thermios; just east lies an even older, smaller shrine to Apollo Lyseios, while to the northwest are foundations of an Artemis temple. South of the main temple the sacred spring still flows, still potable and, in season, full of frogs. Beyond the spring extend two long stoas (with the occasional exedra), terminating at a bouleuterion. The keeper will unlock the small, one-room museum, crammed with unlabelled.
The Battle of Lepanto
The Battle of Lepanto
The Battle of Lepanto was fought just off Náfpaktos on October 7, 1571. An allied Christian armada commanded by John of Austria devastated an Ottoman fleet – the first European naval victory over the Turks since the death of the dreaded pirate-admiral Barbarossa. Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, lost his left arm to a cannonball during the conflict; a Spanish-erected statue honours him at the old harbour. But Western naval supremacy proved fleeting, since the Ottomans quickly replaced their ships and had already wrested Cyprus from the Venetians that same year.