The Mani peninsula, the middle finger of the three in the south of Peloponnese, is wild, beautiful and different. The steep and once nearly impassable mountain landscape was home to a violent and proud people, the maniotes. They built houses shaped like towers, to make them almost unconquerable to the enemy - but also because they needed to be safe from their neighbours; the feuds among them were many and hard and blood vengeance was the norm. Skilled warriors were created here, like Theodoros Kolokotronis, the general that more than anybody gets the honour of having freed Nafplio from the Turks.
It’s much more peaceful in the Mani these days, and a lot to explore, so it’s not a bad idea to go on a two-day trip here. We have not space enough here to describe the Mani's many sights, but, in our opinion, here are the highlights:
We begin in the northeastern part of the Mani, in Gythio, a charming port town and major town in the Mani. Gythio has a long and colourful history, but was destroyed by earthquake in 375 AD. It began to grow again in the late 1800's, which the many neo-classical houses testify too. In Gythio it’s nice to just stroll around, or sit down at a cafe or tavern overlooking the bay. If you're hungry for history, visit the Museum of History and Ethnology. Fine beaches are also to be found close to the town.
Then you can continue your trip towards Areopolis, and then southwards to the Diros Caves, which embraces a portion of a river that flows through the mountains. This is a wonderful, magical place, always quiet, always pleasantly cool. Sitting on small boats, you will be rowed on the river, above the stalagmites and below the stalactites, that flashes and shines in beautiful colours. The caves, which was rediscovered about 100 years ago, was also known in the Stone Age and after, and once thought being part of the underworld. Well, for all we know, someone might still think they do.
You can learn more about the history at the Neolithic museum near the caves.
Then we drive south, towards the fingertip. The landscape becomes increasingly barren and wild, and small Byzantine churches and villages of tower houses tempt us to stop both here and there. Almost at the end of the road, we come to the town pictured above, Vathia, which probably the most beautiful village in the area, and also the one who was most notorious for its internal feuding. While walking between the distinctive houses, you’ll soon see that many of them are abandoned, and unless you come at the same time as a bus load of tourists, you’ll notice there’s a both beautiful and sad mood here. At least we think so.
The name Mani has, as you might guess, given us the words mania and maniac.
Read more about Mani on the website Inside the Mani.
Gythio is located 165 km south-west of Nafplio, Vathia 225 km. It’s a long drive for a day, but you could always spend the night there...
Wild beauty, wonderful caves