Back to Greece: unjustly unknown Ancient Messini – World Meanderings (n°95)
By Annick Dournes & Frédéric de Poligny
After visiting Ancient Messini we still wonder why this major Greek site is not as famous as Delphi, Olympia or Epidavros. Located in Southwestern Peloponnese not far from Kalamata, Messini was an ancient large and lively city that still boasts impressive walls, a huge stadium, a monumental fountain, elegant temples, a great theatre… a whole city in an amazing state of preservation. You just can’t miss going there when touring Peloponnese.
Messini through history
The town was founded in 369 BC at the foot of Mount Ithome. You may already have heard of the Helots, a Greek people enslaved by the Spartans. They were freed by a Theban general, Epaminondas, fled from Sparta and built a new city, Messini. To this end they chose an idyllic place in a peaceful and fertile valley nestled in between the Arcadian Mountains to the North and the Mediterranean Sea to the South.
The city thrived and became a free town and the capital of the new Messinian State. The reason why the city declined isn’t known but we do know that the area was deserted and that it remained untouched by later settlements allowing it to be amazingly well preserved. A French team of archaeologists led a first excavation expedition in 1829 and several others succeeded one another since then, but the size of the site is so tremendous that only a third of it has been explored. But that simple third is magnificent.
The only good thing about Messini being so little known is that there are much less visitors here than in many other Greek archaeological sites, allowing these few lucky ones to discover the city in very pleasant conditions. The city was and still is surrounded by a 9 Km long wall, one of the longest one in all Greece still standing. Several square and semicircular towers reinforce the wall. Start your visit at the monumental Arcadian gate and its adjacent oval yard where you can imagine traders and their goods being checked by the city customs service.
One thing is for sure Messinians thought big and every monument seems to be oversized. In the city centre, the agora, you will discover a beautiful ancient theatre that could host up to ten thousands people and the 40-meter wide Arsinoe fountain house. Next to the agora you will enter the Asclepieion, a vast area lined with two big porticoes each with a double row of columns crowned with beautifully sculpted Corinthian capitals crisscrossed with garlands of flowers and bull heads. In the middle of the Asclepieion stand an elegant Doric temple and its altar.
Walking through the streets of ancient Messini you will see many other buildings and finally get to the stadium, the most impressive and well preserved monument of the city. Designed in the shape of a horseshoe it is 110 meters long and is surrounded on three sides by huge Doric porticoes with restored high columns. At the far end of the stadium you will discover a lovely temple standing in a bucolic setting with a beautiful view over the surrounding countryside.
“Villa Vager Mani”, a unique historical boutique-hotel
With only four rooms the “Villa Vager Mani” is indeed a small hotel where the owners Nikolas and Marina Vager warmly welcome their guests as if they were family friends. The height of Greek hospitality! The hotel is in Great Mantinia, a remote village surrounded with lemon and orange groves in the hills of the beautiful Mani Peninsula. It however is only a 15 km drive from Kalamata International Airport and if you land in Athens it will take you less than 3 hours to get there.
The hotel is set in a beautiful stone mansion dating from 1858 and is a historical monument. Nikolas and Marina tastefully restored it to turn it into a luxury boutique-hotel respecting its unique character and original elements while adding modern enhancements and amenities. Once through the monumental porch you’ll get to an inner courtyard and discover the impressive stone fortress-like mansion and its outside stairway that leads to the four suites.
All four suites are pretty big (65 to 70 sqm) and can welcome up to 5 persons. Each one has its own style and atmosphere but they all have air-conditioning, high speed internet, large screen smart TV with Netflix access, Nespresso machine, free mini-bar, king size beds, modern bathroom and an outside space ideal for an unforgettable breakfast. The Boho Suite even has a fireplace ideal to warm up an early spring or late autumn evening in a romantic atmosphere.
With their hardwood floors, stonewalls, smart mix-and-match of antique and rustic furniture the suites make you feel comfortable at once. The private outside terraces offer spectacular views over Great Mantinia village, the surrounding hilly countryside and the sea in the background, (the nearest beach is only 2 km away from the hotel).
The hotel doesn’t have a restaurant and breakfast will be served in your suite or on your terrace. Besides the usual breakfast treats you will have the opportunity to taste freshly cooked traditional Greek specialities such as olive bread, Kaseri cheese, Greek yogurt, honey from Mani hills, traditional pies, cold cuts and meat as well as local sweets, seasonal fruits… Not to forget Greek coffee and local teas. A morning feast in a unique setting!
During our stay at “Villa Vager” we had dinner at the “Pharo Taverna” a typical Greek restaurant in the lovely seaside village of Kitries. From the hotel it took us a five minute-drive to get to this quiet fishing port where you can also swim at the small pebble beach. For a few Euros we got a traditional Greek dinner with Tsipouro drinks. Kind people, simple and tasty food watching sunset over a glassy sea… Who could ask for more?
“Villa Vager Mani” is an ideal starting point to explore the spectacular Mani Peninsula and Southern Peloponnese, of course including Ancient Messini. Close by you can go to the Diros Cave one of the most beautiful caves of all Europe, or to Mystra, Pilos, Costa Navarino, Kardamili… and all the beautiful sites of Mani (see our last week article to learn more). Many activities are available nearby such as hiking, horse riding, scuba diving, cycling, rafting, day cruise… the hotel staff will be happy to help you book these activities.
More information and booking at https://www.villavagermani.gr/
Getting to Kalamata and Villa Vager
Thanks to its international airport you can find direct flights from UK in high season, or via Athens with connecting flights. You then have to rent a car to get to Villa Vager and to visit the region. But why not think to fly to Athens and rent the car there to take the road to Kalamata through the entire Peloponnese. The highway gets you there in a bit more than two hours and a half, 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, Pylos, 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 anywhere in Greece hotels booking, car rental, ferry reservation… and any special request you may have. They can also make the best suggestions to make your Greek journey unforgettable.
For travel agents: www.yalostours.net/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 or 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 our previous “Back to Greece” articles:
To discover Mani Peninsula read our lat week article: https://b-c-ing-u.com/architecture/back-to-greece-the-mani-peninsula-to-the-end-of-the-world-world-meanderings-n94/
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 Pelion : https://b-c-ing-u.com/architecture/back-to-greece-de-stress-on-volos-enchanting-seashore-world-meanderings-n91/