Look up and you’ll see imposing Mount Taygetus and its villages, dotted around the slopes. Look down and you’ll see the sparkling blue waters of the Messinian Gulf, lined by endless olive groves, cypress trees, drenched in bright sunlight. Western Mani wins its visitors over at first sight, with its golden-hued afternoons and gentle breezes coming down from Taygetus, undulating terrain, lush, green vegetation, and bohemian atmosphere; a recipe that includes a few drops of Maniot sharpness with a pinch of Messinian sweetness.
“The unforced charm of the area enchants you and, from the first moment, you are connected to the area and to its people with invisible bonds, which make you want to stay here forever,” wrote Patrick Leigh Fermor, English writer, scholar, and soldier who played a prominent role in the Cretan Resistance of World War II. Fermor (1915-2011) was the “Michalis” of the locals, the most famous of the area’s countless migrants. They must all be on to something special.
History and beauty
Old Kardamyli is the setting for the loveliest summer walks. The church of Aghios Spiridon, with its amazing masonry and bell tower dating from the 18th century, peeks out above the stone-built houses. It is flanked by the Mourtzinos-Troupakis Tower from the same time period. Today, the historic church functions as a museum-information point, while its permanent exhibition narrates the building’s history and explains how Maniot architecture was shaped by the area’s particular social structures (Tel. (+30) 27210.736.38). Visit in the afternoon, when the soft light caresses the historic buildings, before heading to the sea and enjoying the sunset while sipping a cocktail at Aquarella café-bar (Tel. (+30) 27210.750.10).
Different swimming experiences
For golden sandy beaches and lots of people, everyone goes to Stoupa and Kalogria. For a more isolated, wilder setting, head to Katafygi – its caves and natural rock amphitheater offers the ideal scene for the best swimming experiences of the summer. A few minutes walk will bring you to the double beach of Foneas, with its sprawling caves and impressive rock formations. Ritsa is a quiet rocky beach, Delfinia has pebbles and Pantazi is dotted with tamarisk trees.
There is no better way to enjoy the route from Stoupa to Trachila than by bicycle. Extending over 10km, it begins with a 3-km bicycle lane until Aghios Nikolaos, where it moves onto the coastal road that traverses Aghios Dimitrios. The final section to Trachila, where the road ends, is unbelievably beautiful with reddish rocks and prickly pear trees hanging above the sea. Be sure to stock up on salt, sourced from the area’s natural salt pans by locals from Trachila and the nearby village of Hotasia.
House of inspiration
In one of the area’s most stunning locations, above the sea and nestled amongst the olive groves of Kalamitsi, stands the idyllic home of Patrick Leigh Fermor and his photographer wife, Joan. After their death, the property was bequeathed to the Benaki Museum and is offered to international universities to host researchers and academics throughout the year, except for three months in the summer, when it is managed by Aria Hotels and available for rentals. The house is open to visitors, where you can admire its inspired architecture and layout, influenced by the English writer’s extensive travels, including its monastery-style stoas and lovely Aegean pebble mosaics (Tel. (+30) 210.367.1090, benaki.org, Monday and Thursday, 11:00).
Time for action
With more than 30 routes, reaching a height of 60m and various levels of difficulty, the climbing field at Kalamitsi is ideal for adventure seekers. Novices should get in touch with the professionals at Climb Up (Tel. (+30) 6940.590.138). For hiking and cycling routes on Mount Taygetus and along the coast, as part of an organized tour or just for bicycle rentals (electric and regular), check out 2.407m Outdoor Experience (2407m.com, Tel. (+30) 27210.737.52).
On the road
The route leading to Oitylo and Inner Mani is worth taking by car. Stop off at the small harbor of Aghios Nikolaos (or Selinitsa), take a breather at the lovely square in Platsa village, observe the Byzantine chapels in Nomitsi, explore Thalames and Lagada, two picturesque villages and traditional settlements.
Kardamyli is located 35km from Kalamata.