Mani Peloponnese, a magical road trip destination. Yes, you are in Greece, (or at least you are planning to get there), and yes, you fancy heading on a road trip! The southern part of the country, the Peloponnese, offers some extraordinary routes around many magical places. One of them is the Mani peninsula. This harsh land with its authentic people, unique architecture and breathtaking combination of sea and rock is the perfect place to explore while driving.
Surrounded by the Mediterranean, Mani has a culture of its own. For starters, it is the only untamed place in Greece. Throughout the years, the people of Mani in the Peloponnese have always respected the idea of honour. They also still follow a concept of unwritten laws, that can lead to vendettas. As a result, the people of Mani are really proud.
Moreover, Mani is famous for the stone towers that cover its area. They have many uses (shops, houses etc), but they best serve as accommodation for those who travel to the region. We urge you to spend your nights, in one of them. The interior is amazing, and for sure you will remember this experience for the years to come. Enough with the cultural elements. Rent a car, if you have not brought your own, and hit the road!
Assuming that you have Athens as your point of departure, you will only need a couple of hours on the highway to reach Mani. Take highway A7, also known as the national road that links Athens with Tripoli. Follow the EO (ethniki odos) from Tripoli to Sparti. Finally, take the E961 and EO39 till Gythio, the first stop.
Gythio is a small port town in Laconia. It’s a nice place to choose as your base in order to explore the nearby area. The port is ideal for long walks during the afternoon or during the evening. You will find many restaurants and bars to dine and drink at, alongside the sea-front. Explore the city’s beautiful, colourful neoclassical buildings and get lost in the alleys. In the southern part of Gythio, a small island, Marathonisi hosts a historical museum, based in the Tzannetakis tower, with exhibits from Mani. On the opposite part of the city, there is an ancient theatre, in which plenty of cultural events take place every summer! If you have the chance, attend one!
Spend at least one or two nights in Gythio, and enjoy the sea and waves of the close beaches. Selinitsa beach, is only a few km away, and it is one of the area’s finest. What makes Selinitsa stand out is the shipwreck of the ship ‘Demetrios’. On top of that, its sandy shores attract the Caretta-caretta sea turtle that comes to lay eggs in the summertime. Leaving Githio behind, and continuing our Mani road trip, the next stop is Kotronas, a tiny fish village, and the home of a picturesque beach. A piece of land connects Skopa peninsula with the mainland. You can enjoy a swim there too, and have two beaches in one! The beach has turquoise waters and many white pebbles. Almost next to Kotronas’ beach, there is another must-visit one. Vatta beach, not discovered yet by the hordes of tourists, is a quiet, rocky spot perfect for relaxing moments.
Keep driving by the sea, to the south, and a number of fantastic beaches are waiting for you!
- Kokkala is a small village with a great beach to swim at. It has white pebbles and deep blue water, that is common around the beaches of that whole area. The village’s beach is decorated with a tiny church on the edge.
- Marathos beach: a tiny, romantic, cute spot with a traditional tavern to satisfy your appetite after swimming.
- Ampelos beach: when the harsh landscape meets the crystal clear, emerald green waters. A true paradise to be and to gaze at.
- Porto Kagio: in this place, a narrow band of land connects the last part of the peninsula with the rest of the Peloponnese. Porto Kagio is a natural small harbor. The village beach has crystal water and pebbles (surprise surprise!). Traditional tavernas are there for you to try the local cuisine.
Now, drive to the south, till you come across Cape Tainaron (also called Cape Matapan). It is impossible to go any more south, since Cape Tainaron is the southernmost point of mainland Greece! (It’s also the second southernmost point in mainland Europe, after Punta de Tarifa in Spain). Cape Tainaron separates the two gulfs: the Messenian (in the west) and the Laconian (in the east). There is no vegetation, but many archaeological findings. In ancient Greece, people believed that this was the entry into the underworld.
Leave the car, follow the path and start the small hike. On the way south, there are plenty of things to observe: the astonishing nude background, the Saints Asomaton chapel, the temple of Poseidon along with the ancient settlement, and lastly the lighthouse at the path’s end. Continuing this Mani Peloponnese road trip, the next stop is Vathia. From the moment you catch the first image of Vathia from the car and the windy roadway curves, you will be intrigued. A traditional castle town emerging from the hills is a stop to make! One of its best features; the magnificent sea view towards the Mediterranean. You definitely need to spend a night there.
If you are a fan of enchanting villages, the proximal stopover, Gerolimenas is the ideal place. The name, meaning old port, describes this one perfectly. A small, charming, old harbour is the ideal place to relax. From Gerolimenas all the way till the caves of Pyrgos Dirou, the coast is laced with beautiful shores. We propose Mezapos beach, also known as Chalikia beach. A locals’ favourite without too many tourists. It is surrounded by two huge rocks and is really famous for a peninsula that’s called “pan” due to its shape.
The next destination is for sure a must-visit one. Caves of Diros is a natural and archaeological site of great importance. A number of caves, with most known the Alepotrypa and Vlychada ones, can be explored by taking a boat. Impressive stalagmites and stalactites from the Neolithic period, a 6 meters lake and two adult human skeletons are the landmarks of these caves. We do not want to overwhelm you with too many historical info. Get there and get to know everything by having this experience.
Moving on, you will come across the beauty of Areopoli. The city was named after the Greek god of war, Ares, and is the seat of the local municipality. Not a big one, not a vivid one, but for sure one to remember. The centre of the town’s life is spread out around the main square. That’s the meeting point for everyone in Areopoli; from the local producers who sell their goods to travellers who want to explore the nearby area. Start from there and wander around the traditional part of the settlement. This is where some of the most admirable Mani towers are. Pay a visit to the towers which belong to notable families, like Mavromichalis, Barelakos and Pikoulakis. They are really well maintained and have the authentic style of Mani. Areopoli is the place to stay in order to explore this part of the peninsula. You can go on small hikes, visit the coast and of course try one of the city’s tavernas. You can find really good food there! Finally, at the end of a long day, enjoy your drink in the bars hidden in the tiny, paved alleys. This Mani Peloponnese road trip would be incomplete without including Limeni. It is one of my personal favourites, not only in Mani but in the whole country. I have fallen for this place and I hope that you will as well. Is it teeny-tiny? Yes! Does it have perfect green water? Yes! Is it deep-laid in a cute bay? Yes!
What to do in Limeni?
- Taste fresh seafood: by fresh we mean that local fishermen have caught whatever will be on your plate, the night before.
- Go to Petrobey’s Palace: the family residence of the acclaimed revolutionary hero. The palace played an important role in the Greek War of Independence and you will get to have an idea of the period’s prestige.
- Gaze: not just towards the sea, go to the two edges of the village and look at the other one; you will get a totally different perspective.
- Relax in a café by the sea.
Moving on, the next place to see is the neighboring village Oitylo. A cute village with few permanent residents, it was built on the top of a butte, and offers a romantic view of the cove of Limeni. Oitylo has many churches and chapels that are worth visiting. The major attraction is Kelephas castle; constructed by the Ottomans for controlling the unbowed people of Mani. Later, it passed under the control of the Venetians. Today, only a part of it is in good condition.
Now, it’s time for a change! Mani has two parts: the one in the prefecture of Laconia, Mesa Mani (inner Mani) and the other in the prefecture of Messinia, Exo Mani (“Out” Mani). That separation occurred in order to weaken the rough society. Leaving behind inner Mani, which is a lot bigger, you will enter the part that belongs to Messinia. The change in scenery will become obvious very soon.
Stoupa is the first stop! In the last couple of years, it has gained many visitors and is considered one of the top places to spend your summer holidays in the area. Long sandy beaches with amazing water, are fully equipped with cafes and restaurants. Do not forget to go to Kalogria beach; the color, the type of the sand and the sea, will make you think that you are in an exotic paradise.
A little bit to the north, maybe the most breathtaking beach of the region, pops up. Foneas beach, which translates to ‘killer’, has taken its name due to the difficulty of the road. Be careful there! Many car accidents have happened here in the past. While now, the road network is quite better, you still need to be cautious. No matter the difficulty, Foneas is a must-visit beach. I am sure it will not disappoint you. An untouched, natural place is hidden between rocks. It is divided into two parts by a huge rock. Sideways, the rocks have big caves with deep blue water to explore. Lastly, in the middle of the sea, a rock stands; the bravest are not afraid to dive from its top. The final destination in this road trip around Mani, is Kardamili. The nearby area has great beaches, as the whole Mani peninsula, but the village is what stands out! The spot is fantastic: at the base of mount Taigetos, in the Messenian Gulf, with an amazing view towards the small Meropi island. The vegetation on the surroundings is lush; olive trees, cypresses and more found in great abundance. The village’s centre has great restaurants, bars and signature souvenir shops.
- That is the end of this journey. The road network might not be so good, but you will be too busy discovering this land that you won’t even be troubled by it. Mani in the Peloponnese is gorgeous in every season, but especially during summertime, where you can swim or lay under the hot sun.