Summer Road Trip: Eastern Mani

Get off the beaten path and head to to the wilds of Eastern Mani, ideal for travelers who want to reconnect with nature and explore Greece's Byzantine past.


Enchanting routes through rugged, untamed landscapes, Byzantine monuments, stone villages filled with defensive towers, and the most beautiful, remote beaches, Eastern (or Inner) Mani is an altogether different kind of destination.

While the landscape here is very much on the wild side and the local Maniots are somewhat austere, this proud and enigmatic region of the southern Peloponnese nevertheless has a special essence. Moreover, it is the perfect place for discerning travelers who do not seek the easy or the obvious.

Stone-built villages

Explore the rugged landscape of Inner Mani, amidst sharp cliffs, barren expanses strewn with rocks, and villages entirely built from stone, with imposing defensive towers. Ninety-eight traditional settlements spread across the entire peninsula, often appearing as ghostly villages, like scenes from a play.

From the popular Areopolis and the charming Limeni to the developed Gerolimenas, the abandoned Vathia – the region’s most characteristic village – and the lesser-known villages of Katopagi (Ohia) and Sangia (Moutanistika), you will come to understand the unique temperament of the locals, defined by the landscape surrounding them, as well as their architecture and moral principles.

Journey to the edge of the Underworld

In Inner Mani, you will enjoy one of the most beautiful hikes in the entire Peloponnese. At Akrotainaro, the southernmost point of mainland Greece, according to myth, there was one of the gates of Hades. Through this gate, Orpheus entered to retrieve Eurydice, Hercules searched for the three-headed dog Cerberus in his twelfth and final labor, and Charon the ferryman awaited the souls of the dead. You can visit the archaeological site of the Sanctuary and Death Oracle of Poseidon Tainarios, meaning “Poseidon of Safety.”

The trail begins from Kokkinogia and ends after just 2km at the lighthouse at Cape Tainaron, dating from 1882. Along the way, you will have seen the chapel of Asomatos, built with ancient stones, and the Roman mosaic floor from the Sanctuary of Poseidon Tainarios.

Mani’s Byzantine treasures

In Mani, there are countless Byzantine churches that are genuine works of art. Even the cemeteries are unique and worth observing, as they represent miniature versions of the villages, with stone tombs resembling small tower-houses. According to local unwritten laws, the Maniots are forbidden to leave this world unwept. The mourners are considered messengers, and their “moioloi” (funerary lamentations) are haunting.

They even have their own saint: Aghios Stratigos, the Archangel Michael, regarded as a “psychopomp” (literally “soul guide”) and warrior like them. He wears military attire, carries severed heads, a sword, and a baby in his arms, a symbol of the soul. The most beautiful depiction of him can be found at the Monastery of Dekoulon, in Itylo. Among our favorite churches are Agitria in Aghia Kyriaki, Sotiros in Gardenitsa, Aghios Stratigos in Diporo, and the twin church of Aghia Paraskevi – Aghios Dimitrios in Kipoula.

Diros Lake Cave

The lake cave of Vlychada Diros (Tel. (+30) 27330.522.22, entrance fee 15 euros) fascinates both young and old. The tour is conducted by boat and lasts about half an hour. It passes through imposing chambers with incredible stalactite and stalagmite rock formations, while the helical discs and tube-like stalactites are considered very characteristic.

The part of the cave open to visitors has a length of 1.5km, while its entire length is said to reach 15km. Bones of hippos, panthers, hyenas, lions, and deer, dating back approximately 30,000 years, have been found there. Make sure to book tickets in advance.

Wild shores

In the wilds of Mani, you won’t find many sandy or “family-friendly” beaches. The best beaches are located in the area of Gytheio and Mavrovouni and further south at Skoutari, on the eastern side, and they are indeed large and gentle. The same goes for Neos Itylos and Karavostasi.

In the southwest, on the contrary, the small pebbly or rocky shores have a different charm. Explore Porto Sternes, Kappos, Kainipoli, Gialia, Marmari, and Porto Kagio, as well as the natural pool at Mezapo.

Hearty cuisine

For fish and seafood, everyone will send you to Takis (Tel. (+30) 27330.513.27) in Limeni. In the neighboring Karavostasi, you will find ManiBella (Tel. (+30) 27330.540.00) for meze and imaginative cocktails.

You will eat exceptionally well at the restaurant of the Kyrimai Hotel (Tel. (+30) 27330.542.88) in Gerolimenas, and you’re sure to have a wonderful time at the wine bar Matapan (Tel. (+30) 693.473.7373) in Alikas, as well as at the atmospheric Itan Keros (Tel. (+30) 27330.540.36) in Pyrgos Dirou.

 

In Triantafyllia, head to Vangelis’ taverna (Tel. (+30) 27330.522.19), and in Hosiari, Beatrice’s (Tel. (+30) 27330.938.04). In the mountainous areas, go for Drosopigi (Tel. (+30) 27330.932.83) in the village that bears the same name.

A new and promising arrival is Aspasia restaurant (Tel. (+30) 698.147.7561) in Stavri, created by the well-known Maniot chef Stavriani Zervakakou, with a menu that changes daily according to the seasonal and local ingredients.

This article was previously published in Greek at kathimerini.gr.



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