Back to Greece: the Mani Peninsula, to the end of the world – World Meanderings (n°94)
By Annick Dournes & Frédéric de Poligny
The Mani Peninsula once was a hotspot of piracy, a harsh and unforgiving land giving birth to indomitable warriors and where vendetta was a way of life. These days are gone but this Greek legendary region still fascinates the rest of the country… just like us.
Mani, a one of a kind Greek region
The Mani Peninsula is the southernmost part of the Peloponnese. It will take you a little bit less than 4 hours to get to the city of Kalamata. Kalamata also has its own international airport with a direct-flights from various European destinations including UK. But driving from Athens in just a few hours the change of scenery will be radical. Don’t expect typical picture-postcard villages with white walls and blue domes. With its arid landscape, rocky deserted villages, virgin beaches and not a single busload of tourists Mani is a unique Greek region. This is another Greece!
The Taygetus Mountain range is the backbone of the peninsula and plunges into the sea, creating a rugged coast hiding unspoiled little beaches. Its highest point is Mount Helias inaccessible by road but a hikers’ paradise. There once was a time when it inspired a kind of superstitious terror and dozens of legendary beliefs. In the 19th century skippers nicknamed the southernmost cape of the peninsula the “man killer” since there had been so many shipwrecks here due to terrible storms and treacherous reef. A terrible reputation!
There is only one road going around the peninsula, but what a road! It winds along the coast and through oaks and olive groves as well as rocky slopes, covered by maquis shrubland, fragrant with sage, thyme or fennel. Wild life is everywhere to be seen and there are very few cultivated fields. On the way you will go through half sleeping villages and picturesque fishing ports where restaurants propose the catch of the day for a few Euros.
Iconic Mani’s towers
Along the way you will often notice impressive stone towers overlooking the sea. They are a living testimony of difficult times when Greece was under the domination of the Ottoman Empire from the 14th century till the war of independence in the early 1830’s. During all this period Mani was a hotspot of resistance and the Maniots organised their own defence. They built these strong towers where they could seek shelter. You will see these towers and fortresses all over the peninsula. Zarnata castle, close to lovely Stavropigio village, Exohori, Proastio, Kardamili are just a few places among many others where you’ll admire these towers.
But if there was only one village you should visit it would undoubtedly be Vatheia (or Vathia) at the South end of the peninsula. A good road winding in the mountain will take you up to the deserted village and each of its bends reveals spectacular views over the coast. Suddenly after a last bend you discover this amazing village that has sometimes been called “Mani’s Manhattan”! The village still looks the way it did in the 17th century with stone towers built side-by-side. Be careful when exploring that maze of tiny streets and the towers, everything is open to the public but some places might be unsteady and dangerous.
Back on the seaside the road will take you to lovely ports and beaches. You’ll have to pay attention to the signposts along the way to find some of them but it truly is worth it. Foneas, Delphinia, Kalogrias, Stoupa, Gerolimenas are a few stops not to be missed. Make sure to have your swimsuit on at any time when visiting Mani!
“Aria Estate Mani”, a secluded haven of peace and luxury
“Aria Estate Suites & Spa” is a newly built 4-star hotel offering unheard of luxury accommodation in this part of Greece. It looks like a small village with individual villas offering the comfort of a private home to each guest. It is a place to relax and let things go enjoying exclusive hotel amenities and service.
Ideally located on a hillside overlooking the sea and the Messinian Bay, the hotel is the new address exchanged between friends. Aria Estate has been built in total respect of the Mani architecture and under the supervision of the architect of the Historic Buildings. (He actually was the one who forbid the creation of an outdoor swimming pool, but you’ll find an indoor one in the Spa building).
The hotel has only 16 villa-suites laid out on the hillside offering undisturbed birds-eye sea and sunset views from their private terrace. You’ll feel at home at once in the clear and sober atmosphere of your suite. They are all different with one or two bedrooms with top quality bedding, some with a kitchenette or a fireplace, Decoration is a successful blend of Mani architecture and modern style furniture with bare stone walls, raw wood, overstuffed linen sofas. Each one is a welcoming nest after a busy day visiting Mani and you will long for a drink on your terrace enjoying a spectacular sunset.
During summer months the restaurant is located in an open-air veranda whose atmosphere changes during the day. In the morning you’ll enjoy a hearty breakfast served at the table in a clear fresh air. For lunch you can enjoy a salad, a quiche or pasta in the shade of a parasol.
Dinner is a wonderful experience mixing simple but scrumptious food with unique scenery and a romantic sunset. Make your choice in the “Sunset Menu” and have Mani sausage with sweet chilli sauce, Pintxos of feta cheese with melon, doughnut of codfish with caper dip, kunefe cheese pie with xinomizythra and figs, Greek carbonara… Everything is home made with local fresh produce. For desert why not have baked pears in tsipouro or baklava and lokoum, halva with kaimaki ice cream, all very tempting.
“Aria Estate Suite & Spa” reopened in early July and is now ready to welcome guests insuring all the needed sanitary measures for your safety.
More information and booking at https://aria-estate.com/en/
Getting to Mani Peninsula
If you take a flight to Athens, Aegean offers direct flights Athens to Kalamata that is the main gate to access the Mani Peninsula. But a good option could be to rent a car and take the road to Kalamata through the entire Peloponnese. The highway gets you there in a bit more than 4 hours, but if you have time, do it at your own pace and meander through the Peloponnese, visiting some of the most iconic places of Greece. In two or three days you can enjoy a visit of Epidaurus, Naflio, Mycenae, Olympia or Mystra just to name a few.
Yalos Tours, a great option to manage your journey through Greece
Organizing such a tour can be tricky for individual travellers. To make it simple why not call in a Greek expert travel agent such as “Yalos Tours” that for years has worked for thousands of international tourists and tourism professionals. They can provide for everywhere in Greece hotels booking, car rental, ferry reservation… and any special request you may have.
For travel agents: www.yalostours.gr/en (BtoB platform available in English)
To contact them directly: firstname.lastname@example.org
Aegean Airlines, the obvious way to fly to Greece:
Aegean Airlines whose daily flights from London have already resumed, propose many destinations through Greece (mainly via Athens and Thessaloniki) is expected to have more flight options during this high season from Dublin and later on from Manchester and Edinburgh. It’s a good value-for-money company even if due to this sanitary crisis the on-board service had to be made simpler than before. All info on Aegean website: https://en.aegeanair.com
Since a few weeks travelling back to Greece is possible again. Yet respecting the new sanitary measures is essential to make it safely. If you need more information about these measures you can read our previous article at https://b-c-ing-u.com/architecture/back-to-greece-at-last-world-meanderings-n90/
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny & Annick Dournes
Here are the links to read some of our previous “Back to Greece” articles:
To discover the beautiful Zakynthos Island: https://b-c-ing-u.com/countries/back-to-greece-zakynthos-island-could-boast-being-greece-paradise-island/
To discover the exclusive island of Spetses: https://b-c-ing-u.com/architecture/back-to-greece-spetses-a-one-of-a-kind-gem-island-world-meanderings-n92/
To learn more about Volos and the Pelion: https://b-c-ing-u.com/architecture/back-to-greece-de-stress-on-volos-enchanting-seashore-world-meanderings-n91/