The Highlights of Mani; A Romantic Visit to Unexplored Greece

The Highlights of Mani; A Romantic Visit to Unexplored Greece

Written by: melina on: January 11, 2022

Bright sun, blue sea, tower houses alongside prickly pear trees. Awe-inspiring caves, atmospheric castles, stunning beaches, wild landscapes with riveting beauty. This, in a few words, is Mani.

Geographical and historical data

kitries-village-mani-Pit Stock-shutterstock
Kitries village – credits: Pit Stock/Shutterstock.com

No one can deny that Mani is a historical geographical area of ​​the southern Peloponnese. It stretches ​​about 1800 sq. km. Additionally, Mani is divided between the prefectures of Laconia and Messinia.

From the prefecture of Laconia, it includes the former provinces of Gythio and Itilo. It also includes some villages of the SW part of the former province of Lakedaimonos. At the same time, from the prefecture of Messinia, it includes the SE part of the former province of Kalamon.

The section that lies in the prefecture of Messinia to Itilo has the name Exo Mani (outer Mani). The section from Itilo to Gerolimenas Mesa Mani (central or “inside” Mani). Lastly, the section from Gythio to Tainaro is called Kato Mani (lower Mani).

Human settlements have been found in Mani since the Paleolithic era. Some of them include Areopolis, and Alepotrypa Dirou. Homer was the first to mention the cities of Mani: Messi, Voitlon, Kardamili, and Enopi.

Later, the history of Mani was identified with that of Sparta. It was separated from it when the Common of the Lacedaemonians was founded. In 22 BC, its name became ‘the Common of the Freemasons’. It remained that until the middle of the 3rd century AD. That’s when Mani became part of the eastern Roman state and later of Byzantium.

Villages

Vathia

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Vathia village – credits: village/Shutterstock.com

In the territory of Tainaros, nests one of the most historic and beautiful villages in Europe, in the heart of Laconia. The settlement of Vathia suddenly appears above one of the turns of the road. It seems like a fortress built on the top of a hill and is only 2 km from the sea, offering a wonderful view of the Mediterranean.

Vathia is the most imposing exuberance of a landscape that is famous for its uniqueness. As the visitor catches the edge of the charm of the Mani landscape from Areopolis and travels between towers, they come upon old churches and striking traditional settlements.

Between the beautiful natural landscape and the unique architecture, the Castle of Vathia strongly resists the passage of time. It is a true time-travel capsule that shows its visitors its glorious past.

In the past, its inhabitants had to defend their place from invaders. For that reason, they created the tower houses that we see today and admire their construction.

In Mani, these tower houses carry the name ‘Dynamaria‘. This name is correspondingly given to the women of Mani, indicating the importance of their existence in every family.

The whole settlement has been recognized as a monument of the architectural heritage of the area of ​​the 18th and 19th centuries. That is the time when most of the towers of Vathia came to be.

The towers are unique examples of popular fortifications in Greece. The famous towers of two or three floors, the stone buildings, with very small, characteristic windows.

Tha role of the towers of Vathia in the region’s history

These openings were of course loopholes behind which the family and the defenders of the tower resisted the invaders such as the Turks or even pirates.

In addition, many towers had springs from which oil, or boiling water, fell on the intruders trying to break through the defenses. The presence of these towers was enough to create an impregnable firewall. This firewall at the time became the ghost of every would-be conqueror.

During the 20th century, the residents of Vathia, due to the difficult economic conditions, abandoned it. Urbanization led the inhabitants of Vathia to the big cities. However, fortunately, several of the tower houses were restored during the 1980s. The traveler can now enjoy those as tourist accommodation.

Historic Vathia is 92 km from the historic city of Sparta, the capital of the prefecture of Laconia, 33 km from Areopolis, and 59 km from the coastal and beautiful Gythio.

In just 10 km you can visit the picturesque coastal settlement of Gerolimenas. Additionally, 26 km from Vathia you can visit and discover one of the most beautiful and impressive underground caves on earth, the cave of Diros.

Vathia definitely represents the untouched and “wild” beauty of Mani.

Areopoli

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Aeropoli – credits: Andronos Haris/Shutterstock.com

The stunning Areopoli is the capital of Mesa Mani and one of the most popular villages in the area. It is also a well-preserved settlement with stone alleys that bear alive the traces of the glory of the past.

The center of the village of Areopoli is the large square with the statue of Petrobei Mavromichalis, where on Saturdays, local producers set up their stalls and sell local products.

Around the square, you will find many shops, taverns, cafes, and the municipal library. Walk in the traditional part of the settlement and admire the towers. Those of Stylianos Mavromichalis, Kyriakoulis Mavromichalis, Barelakos, and Pikoulakis stand out the most.

The port of Areopolis, Karavostasi has a great tourist infrastructure, with nice hotels and taverns. At the same time, the neighboring picturesque Limeni is a classic stop for fish food by the sea. Especially, against the backdrop of the tower of Mavromichali.

Areopoli and its surroundings are one of the most popular bases for excursions throughout Laconian Mani. Stone-built villages with impressive tower houses in the prickly pears. Small beaches with cobblestones, and impressive landscapes will delight on-road lovers, while walkers will find many reasons for hiking.

There is also a cave outside Areopolis, in the region of ‘Apidima‘. There, paleoanthropological research has brought to light a large number of findings. Those include stone and bone tools, traces of fire, numerous remains of animal bones. It has also revealed important information on the treatment of the dead and the burial customs of the Paleolithic people.

A breath away from Areopolis, the village of Sotiras, is famous for the churches of Panagia, with frescoes, and the Transfiguration of the Savior, in the square. Also popular are the churches of Agios Vassilios and Taxiarches.

The walks in the city but also in the surroundings are an experience that you should not miss. Especially in the autumn, when the weather favors the activities in the natural landscapes of Laconia.

Limeni

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Limeni – credits: Pit Stock/Shutterstock.com

The beautiful Limeni is a seaside village in Mani. It is one of the most beautiful and traditional settlements in the area. It is worth visiting at least once in your life.

Limeni is located 5 km from Areopolis and about 27 km from Gythio. The area is a strip of an earthly paradise with stone houses on the water.

Limeni, the port of Areopolis, is admittedly one of the most beautiful residential complexes of Laconian Mani with tourist growth increasing in recent years.

Arriving at Limeni, you will admire the Palace of Petrobei with its four-story tower and its arched openings that testify to the glamor of the time. The palace played an important role during the revolutionary and post-revolutionary times. Moreover, in the area, lies the tomb and bust of the Mani military leader Petrobei Mavromichalis.

Most of the beach in Limeni is rocky even inside the sea. Therefore, if you want to find a long beach you can go to the sandy beach between Neo Itilo and Karavostasi. In addition to the Palace of Petrobei and the beautiful landscapes, the visitor will also see picturesque churches. One of those is Agios Sostis.

The area has traditional guesthouses and accommodation for all tastes. Those have very hospitable residents who will welcome you and make sure you have a nice stay.

In addition, the picturesque taverns are ideal for fresh fish and relaxing in front of the sea. Include a trip to the area in your romantic itinerary and you will not regret it!

Gythio

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Gythio – credits: Apostolis Giontzis/Shutterstock.com

At the southern tip of the Peloponnese, almost between its 2 feet, we find the coastal town of Gythio. It is one of the most beautiful and picturesque places in the Peloponnese, and the second-largest city in the prefecture of Laconia.

It is a place that, although one can reach by road, seems as it belongs to a Greek island. Gythio has a special personality. Its neoclassical houses, its narrow alleys, and its beautiful harbor give a purely carefree atmosphere to the region. This makes it the perfect escape for you and your better half.

The city of Gythio stretches along its coastal side, creating a wonderful setting. There, it offers its visitors all the options they need to spend their day happily.

Try a walk in the picturesque port of Gythio. The blue of the water reflects the colors of the city. On this walk, you will find a wide variety of restaurants, and taverns as well as cafes and bars. But that’s not all other is to the area.

The picturesque buildings of Gythio, as well as the traditional houses and churches, testify to the historical origins and the culture of the area. After all, Gythio is one of the places that have a lot to tell about their history.

Gythio will win you and your partner over with its wonderful neoclassical houses, ouzo taverns, and the village Mavrovouni. In the square of Mavrovouni, the people gather at dusk to catch the delightful sunset.

Although for most people Gythio is a beautiful base for short trips, it has everything it needs to be a destination in itself. In Gythio, the contrasts steal the visitor’s eye. It is blue and at the same time colorful, it is marine, and continental, it is traditional and modern. If nothing else, it is a beautiful destination, ideal for all seasons.

Kardamili

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Kardamili – credits: Pit-tock/Shutterstock.com

In Messinian Mani, Kardamili steals the show from the get-go. It is located just a few kilometers from the village of Kitries. Its deep colored waters and wooden boats, which, through Kalamata, are the first to welcome the visitor to Mani never fail to amaze the visitors.

It is a doll-like, stone-built, and tiled-roofed town, and it has emerged as the most sophisticated resort of Messinia. Olives and cypress trees give their color to the slopes of the mountain. From there, Old Kardamili with Agios Spyridonas Chruch and its towers monopolizes the clicks on the cameras of the visitors.

From Kardamili, begin the pilgrimages to the beach of Kalamitsi. In the green embrace of tall cypress trees, all shades of blue unfold in the clear waters of the small pebbled paradise. In turn, this is silently gazing at the house of the English philhellene, author, Patrick Lee Fermor. A little further down, you will come across the beach of Fonia. Its wild beauty will leave you speechless, while this road leads to the beach of Stoupa.

The huge, organized beach caters to all tastes, while a few kilometers below is the beach of Kalogria.

The crystal clear waters from the springs of Prinzipa end in the crystal clear sea. All the while, in a stone-built house with a brown roof at its far-right they lived for several months, working in the old mine just above the shore, Nikos Kazantzakis and Arch. George Zorbas – and not Alexis, like his literary persona.

Sights

Diros Caves 

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Diros Caves – credits: diros-caves.gr

Whatever season you travel, it is worth exploring all the villages and settlements of Mani. Make a stop at Pyrgos Diros, south of Areopolis, where you will find the famous Diros Caves, one of the largest and most beautiful in Greece, but also one of the oldest caves in the world.

The cave Vlychada -or Glyfada- is located in the bay of Diros. This is the underground bed of the river Glyfada. It flows into the sea after forming small lakes in the land of Mani.

It was discovered in 1898, but a systematic study began in 1949 by a couple of speleologists. In 1958, its exploitation began and five years later it operated with a 600 m land section. In 1979, new sections came to light, and land and lake corridors were mapped.

Although so far more than 10,000 sq.m. of galleries, booths, and halls have been discovered, only 3,100 m. are visitable. Of them, 300 m. are dry.

Most of the cave is full of seawater. Thus, the tour, which lasts a little over half an hour, takes place mainly with small boats. Be careful as those might test the balance of some visitors.

The illuminated stalagmite formations are enchanting. They are accompanied by descriptive names that help the visitor understand what they look like. You will be left in the magic of the images, observing impressed by the work of nature, which patiently sculpted this “stone forest”.

After crossing the “Great Ocean”, a room 160 m long and 30 m high, you will disembark from the boat. From there, you will follow the path, to the land part of the cave.

You will walk among the magnificent decoration with the colorful stalactites, stalagmites, and columns. There, you will observe the Monument of the Unknown Sailor, the Palaces of Pluto, and the Water Lilies.

Near Vlychada is the other cave, ‘Alepotrypa’, which was discovered in 1958. According to the findings, there were houses there during the Neolithic era. Human skeletons and skulls, animal skeletons, tools, marble figurines, vases, and a stone ax were found.

It is speculated that, 45 centuries ago, the unfortunate inhabitants were trapped inside the cave after a strong earthquake. It is currently not open to the public. However, the findings are on display in the adjacent Neolithic Museum of Diros.

Taygetus 

Taygetos_en.wikipedia.org
Taygetos – credits: en.wikipedia.org

A natural border between Laconia and Messinia, Taygetos, with its peak at an altitude of 2,407 meters, is one of the most favorite mountains of climbers, hikers, and nature lovers.

The mountain has an alternative name ‘Pentadaktylos‘ due to its 5 peaks -as ‘pente’ in Greek means ‘five’. Taygetos is the highest mountain range in the Peloponnese, hiding in its greenery incredible natural beauty, and picturesque villages with the mountain aroma of Greece!

Paths, gorges, stone bridges, villages, routes, fir trees, black pines, streams, small rivers. All these together compose the image of Taygetos. The daughter of Pleione and Atlanta, ‘Taygeti’, is the one who gave her name to the mountain range.

On its slopes, besides a great variety of flora and fauna, with 25 exclusively endemic species, you will find many small villages, each with its own unique atmosphere.

Cape Tainaro

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Cape Tainaron – credits: Heracles-Kritikos/Shutterstock.com

The impressive Cape Tainaro is the southernmost tip of Europe and the Balkan Peninsula. In ancient times it carried the rumor of being the crossing point for Hades and the Underworld.

Cape Tainaro lies in the middle foot of the Peloponnese and it has taken its name from the mythical hero Tainaros who was the son of Zeus and the settler who founded the city of Tainaro on the Akrotainaria peninsula.

From antiquity until today it has bared many names, such as Tainaros, Tainaria Akti, Fanari, Kavos Matapas, Vrachion tis Mani, Lithos. Thousands of years ago, it was a place of worship, which was dedicated to the Sun.

According to tradition, the Cretans of Knossos stopped there during their journey to Pylos, to admire the sheep that grazed freely along the peninsula.

To go to the Cape, you have to leave the car behind and then walk. A journey of about 30 minutes in a path that starts from the church of Agioi Asomata. There, after a 45-minute walk, you will see the Lighthouse, a building built in 1822.

The ancient settlement of Tainari spreads around the bay. There, you will see an ancient find – a mosaic from the Hellenistic period.

Discover the many paths through which you can explore the imposing Cape Tainaro. This way, you will be able to see up close a precious part of Greek culture and history. It is without a doubt one of the top romantic things to do in Greece.

Mani’s beaches

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Foneas beach – credits: Pit-Stock/Shutterstock.com

In Mani, you will enjoy beautiful and special beaches. Some of the most popular are Limeni with its pebbles and fresh fish restaurant, and Mezapos. The latter boasts dark green waters that you find only in the Ionian Islands, and rocks that you meet only in the Cyclades.

Other notable beaches are those of Kyparissos, Marmari, Ampelos, Alypa, and Taxiarchis. Finally, Agia Varvara is located on the road to Kotronas and is one of the most popular beaches in Laconian Mani.

Mani has imposing landscapes, famous caves, gorges and architecture, historical monuments, opportunities for alternative tourism, and secluded destinations, while perfectly combining mountain and sea.

Don’t miss the opportunity to explore alongside the love of your life this relatively unexplored part of Greece! It is just as striking as the best remote Greek islands, while it is a lot easier to access!

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