At the spa, there is a surr- eal surprise. The ground here is pitted with large round holes. Men with long sticks lever out gobbets of shiny black, sulphurous mud and smear it on themselves (or others). When the mud has crusted to a matte grey- blue, you wash it off in a deep stone pit. This procedure, much like reaching the best bits of the Peloponnese, is hard work. Patras never was an appealing point of entry. When you smell the sour water and see the rubble-strewn water-front, it's difficult not to feel a little dispirited. Although we arrived late, and a huge red sun hung low over the ocean, we set off swiftly around the bulge on the edge of Greece.
The gentle contours of the Kilini peninsula came as a relief after the flatness of the coastal plain. The road into Loutra has a formality at odds with the rest of the peninsula. Broad and straight, lined with oleanders and eucalyptus trees, it raises expectations, so that the actual spa building - russet, utilitarian with corroded window frames - is a bit of a let- down. People with respiratory complaints come here to breathe the sulphurous air. Some are sitting outside with towels and scarves wrapped tightly round their mouths.
There are more beaches on the southern flank of the peninsula, but the coastline's main glory starts at Pyrgos, an unbroken, 50km crescent of sand, bounded at each end by mountains. At regular intervals, tracks branch from the main road and lead through olive groves to the beach.
It's a fierce coastline, exposed to the wind and lacking shade. But for a beach easily accessible from Patras and Kalamata it's still surprisingly untouched. A nondescript hinterland helps, and towns that are functional, rather than beautiful. Zaharo is a modern market town, where the slightest hesitation at traffic lights provokes a barrage of horn-blowing. But I warmed to its bustle and energy. Both Zaharo and Kyparissia, the other main coastal town, have large cafe-bar-nightclub complexes on the scrupulously clean beaches. There's another spa among the pine trees at Kaifas, where a dip in the sulphurous water is reckoned to ease rheumatism. Two springs feed a shallow lake and you can drink from one of them so long as you observe a strict injunction: "Attention. Thermical water for drinking. Any other use is not allowed." The water is warm, sulphurous and slightly salty - "egg-fart water" as the children charmingly termed it.
If the waters of Kaifas leave a bad taste in your mouth, you can leave the coast behind and seek out two of the most imposing (and contrasting) sights Greece has to offer, both within comfortable reach.
There's Olympia, where disenchanted sightseers can work off some boredom in the name of historical investigation, and the isolated Temple of Epicurean Apollo at Bassae.
The Temple was built in the fourth-century BC, and if it's difficult to get to now, we can only imagine how terrifyingly remote it must have been then.
John Watkins drove to Ancona in Italy and paid pounds 700 for his car plus family to sail from there to Patras on Minoan Ferries, represented in the UK by Magnum Travel (0181-360 5353); at present there is a low-season special of pounds 293 return for a car plus four people. Magnum Travel says it is not aware of any problems involving the Nato military action affecting the ferry. An alternative is to get a charter flight to Athens, Corfu or Preveza and travel by land or water from thereReuse content