The vision is clear: Vathia, Greece in the Laconian Prefecture region of the Peloponnese, is etched in time long forgotten. This village is perched atop a 600 meter high foothill near a 1200 meter high mountain only 10 km from the absolute southern end of the mainland of Greece. It is truly the last real outpost. Beyond lies the inky blue Aegean Sea, the idyllic islands of the Cyclades and Crete, then Africa. Ancient mariners knew this region and the Shoals and impenetrable cliffs down to the sea. It seems all that tried to conquer this land came up short. Why is that? Mani, of course. This is the Mani territory of Greece. Fierce fighters, fierce women, fierce families, stamina of iron, will to endure generations of Mani tenacity.
So, this village is made of Mani and the architecture is of Mani. The surrounding hills produce the rock and the builders understood the best use in their fortresses, homes and churches. The Mani home is a fortress. The cubes of chiseled stone blocks rise three, four or five levels. Perched on the edge of cliffs, outcrops of gorges or hanging over the sea, these structures are rugged as castles. The windows begin on the second level, hence protection from the marauders of the past.
Vathia is on the southern Aeropoli highway. It is 10 km past the turn toward the Caves of Diros. The switch backs in this two lane road gyrate amongst the olive trees. Groves rise on the foothills. Stark crevasses scar the cliffs. The village looms above. Lighting and shadow play here in unique combination. The last switch back finds the narrow plateau of Vathia.
The structures date back over 300 years. One road passes through; the other paths are for mules or folks. The census is unclear; maybe 150 residents? I believe less. There is little commerce here: a bed and breakfast, a little taverna (not open now). There are lazy dog(s), I saw one. The village is pretty sleepy. There is an active church. Several towers are vacant. Some are in disrepair and open to the elements. “For sale” appears on a few buildings. Mani homes are hard to comprehend. They just don’t look lived in.
The meandering paths open the courtyards and the Flora to the visitor. Vines and flowers, fruits and pottery are all over. On a balcony leans a black shawled senior Mani woman keeping watchful eye. Below are only the cats: Mani cats. They are fierce Mani cats. She is watchful, though. Little else moves. The photo opps abound. The adjacent view back toward the village, from the lip of the road, presents the light of the day in the best angle. Few are on the highway. Little activity is out on this last stretch of road during the waining summer’s end of September. The temps are great, sun is high and the nights are clear and brisk. Small inns and a few hotels in the Areopoli area, back 20 km abound and the cost is under 100 Euros per night with breakfast for two. Tavernas still take in the days catch and the lambchops are meaty and hearty. No one goes hungry. Still the eyes’ of the Mani tell the story: even centuries of Moorish conquest attempts could not break that spirit. This is a land not to be forgotten.
While tourist organized bus trips traverse this region in the Summer months, most do not make the trip to the point of the Mani pennisula. The drive to the region from Athens is about four hours. The drive is mixed amongst grid-lock traffic, beautiful three lane mountain highway toll roads and two lane mountain cliff switchbacks. The Aeropoli town region is very navigable. Limeni Village Hotel, 36 units, in the Limeni area, offers one of the great overnights with ample breakfast, pool, bar, and views of the sea. At 100 to 120 Euros for a double, you will be central to the best of the area. Mani is yet to be discovered, with exception of the caravaning European summer campers and bus tourists. But the word is getting out.
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