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Posts Tagged ‘Mani’

Sunkist2 Island Traveler

This page gives you a little insight of my Travels through my lens.

Weekly Photo Challenge: One Shot, Two Ways

The Greek Mountains of the Peloponnese of “southern Greece” is far from tropical in the winter months. This roadside chapel near the famed Olympia is active with tourbuses, except for my vision this winter!IMG_5549

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The Nikon d7100 DSLR, Nikkor 55-80mm captures this Alps-like scene.

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The mountains and seaside slopes of the mainland of Greece etch out treasures for the traveler.

I love the islands of the Aegean and all the attractions of the city of Athens.  Yet, the peaceful existence of the smallest villages a mere 3 hour drive from 5 million residents and the hustle of the Capital City beckons.  This is a journey not to delay.  The summer months into late October support the flexible traveler to drink in the life and leisure and weather for finding that perfect route.  I can help you find that magic place.

    I focus my attention around the town square.  Lush with olive and palm trees and roped with vines and blossoms of Bougainvillea. This village life bustles in the morning, grinds to a halt at noon, unless it is a holy day, near the church.  The cafes remain active if there is a grape-arbor overhead. Pushcart vendors do stay out in the midday sun to sell the lottery tickets or the trays of slices of melon and kilo of citrus.  The shutters on most shops close and siesta prevails.  I enjoy the pace and tone of the residents.

The southern region of Greece has the benefits of mild, dry weather and the lack of people. The variety of landscape and the ability to be close to the sea should secure the  Peloponnese Peninsula as a great start. The loop around the region is a two day trip, but I prefer to linger for a long week-end.  Think of your right hand with your first three fingers pointed downward. The center southern branch is the Mani region.  Use this as your staging area and travel on the Areopolis-Kalamatas Highway toward the West. This is a two lane road though this area and in the villages it may be one lane.  A few tour buses run this loop with European senior citizen and the Central European camper vans tour in caravans.  Take the time to visit the seaside tourist town of Stoupa. The beach is commercial and the harbor front supports a thriving trade of Pubs, Coffeehouses and Tavernas.  The Brits have figured this out a while back and Bed and Breakfast Inns abound.  This area is a little busy for me and I suggest that you move west several kilometers to Kardamillis.

    In Kardamillis (Kardamyli),you will have the beach access, the Tavernas, craftshops, bars and B&Bs. The architecture is Greek, Turkish, (though they never conquered the Mani), and colonial.  The Mani castle structures remain in this western region.  There are real estate companies that may rent one of these villas for a family for the week and many have sea views from the side of the hills above this town.

    The nightly village life reverts to the passion for freshest ingredients for food of salads, wild game, carafes of red wine, more stifados of rabbit, fried zucchini and sweets.  Somewhere ouzo will find a place.  Metaxia brandy, 5 star, rounds it all out.  A rare bouzoukis player may turnout at a Taverna; hopefully yes.

My real journey for your daytrip into the mountain villages begins five more kilometers west on the Areopolis-Kalamatas Highway to the micro village of Prosili. The draw to this hillside village is the Cathedral of  The Church of Prosili, but I prefer to find the smallest white-washed paths below the church, high on the hill above. There is a blue paint, an aqua paint, and a green paint that may only be know to Greeks in this village.  This combination painted and weathered on the doors, windows and fences paired with the intense foliage is surreal.  Prosili is a bit in decay.  The Taverna in the square has been opened, then closed, periodically.  The For Sale signs perk up in several areas and the average age of the folks has risen over these years.  Still, the beauty remains and the village life rewards all.

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The Greek  Seaside Village of Stoupa Maintains Idenity

Some years back, my friend Michael, packed the rear of his little SUV with our duffels, and we left Athens in the dust. Quite a bit of dust was left behind. We were heading to Peloponnese or more specifically the Mani Peninsular of Greece. At that time, the traffic just to get to the Corinth Bridge to leave the “mainland” towards the southern point was thick.  The route is southeast and lined with the empty oil tankers at anchor in the Aegean bays. Eventually we made the hard left to the routes south and on to the peninsular.  Hello?  No traffic here, all was left behind.  Some of the highways were beautifully paved and so modern.  Then the road narrowed and started the switch back and forth. It was an interesting drive, but tedious. Four and a half hours in the car is much!

Thanks to the Greek Summer Olympics and some World Bank EU funding, five years had rebuilt the route to a streamline breeze. I especially love the new tunnels, borne through the Mountain spine that runs in middle of the region, and the modern rest stops perched in the blue sky peaks. Two cities break up the drive along the way.  One of them is Tripoli, the other is Sparti, of the “Spartan”  fame; worth a discussion of its own.  This city is a transition point from mountain travel to farmland plains for an hour before the Mani Peninsula and more mountains.

The Laconia Prefecture is dotted with villages along the southwestern coastline.  From Sparti, I prefer the southern route on Number 39 to Aeropoli and then west towards The City of Kalamata.  We all know calamata olives, yes?  This whole area is an olive grove.  A museum to olives is on Route 39 just 15 minutes out of Sparti. The blue grey sheen of the trees on the slopes is unmistaken on the landscape. The road is shared in the late summer months with RV Campers in caravan, building material trucks, farm equipment, and heavy CC motorcycles. Several kilometers may find no vehicles around.  One and one half hours of driving through beautiful one lane wide hillside villages brings you down to the coast and Stoupa.

On the map Stoupa is not large. It holds two bays, where one is a perfect sandy beach. A breakwater and marina are to the east of this cove. There is a stone wall and sidewalk that lines the entire beach.  Modest Aegean surf laps the shore of this clean sandy bottom. Tavernas line the town side of the street. Small hotels are back two streets from the town. Gift shops and art galleries are then sprinkled about in a “good way”.  Stoupa is really laid back with a sedate proper English crowd.  Swedes and German tourists have found the area.  English is spoken regularly. 

Seasonal Apartment rentals abound.  The in-season rates in Euro run at 50 to 60 per night with continental morning breakfast.  Travelers also rent flats by the week or month in the village or sloping hills near town.  The Mani designed “castle” style town home is available at 600-900 euros per week for four to six beds. Realtors and agents are active.  Lefktron Hotel is two blocks back from the beach with a small pool at 65- 100 euros per night and is the largest hotel with 32 rooms and reviews come in good.  A new little restaurant named Ladi, greek for olive oil, was opened last year by a Brit and they have a great little menu.

Summing up: this relaxed coastal village offers a peaceful glimpse to a melting pot of happy travelers and a comfortable Greek alternative trek.

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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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