Week 27 – Greece Week 4 – The Mani

We are on our way home!

This week we passed the half way mark in our year-long trip and fittingly we spent it at the most southerly point we will reach in Europe.

That’s here at Cape Tenaro at the tip of the Mani peninsula in the southernmost point of mainland Greece.

That’s the middle finger of the southern Peloponnese. From now on as we head back up through Greece, we are journeying homewards.  It will be by the scenic route though via Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Faroes, Iceland, Germany, Holland and, eh, Harwich.

But back on the Mani…we  wild camped at Cape Tenaro for two nights and spent the days walking through the beautiful countryside and coastline. One route took us down a narrow rocky path to the lighthouse. The wind blowing in from the sea was fierce but by the lighthouse, sheltered by the rocks, it was a calm and warm sun trap.

The next day we took a circular route from the cape over hills covered with wild flowers…

…and through thick and highly scented yellow gorse down to the small, sandy cove of Porto Kagio.

This beautiful unspoilt area was our favourite part of the Mani and all the better for having the place virtually to ourselves.

That was especially the case at the Caves of Diros .  Judging by the number of boats lining up, the caves are thronged with visitors in high season.

But we took the 40-minute guided tour with just four others so it almost felt like we had this strange underworld to ourselves. The boatman silently paddled us along the subterranean river, through narrow corridors lined with head-skimming stalactites and weirdly shaped stalagmites.

The only sound was the noise of dripping water and the thud of his oar.

It was an extraordinary experience, maybe the best comparison is like those scenes in the 1960’s  film ‘Fantastic Journey’ where a submarine crew are shrunk down to be injected into a scientist and are navigating their way through his blood stream. Based on a true story I believe.

Heading off on our fantastic journey

And outside the caves, there was this statue of a heroine of the Mani to remind us what a brave and fierce lot Maniot people are.

Her statue commemorates the amazing feat of the Maniot women during the Greek War of Independence in 1826. The men were all off fighting on one front while the women were left behind to carry on with the harvest. So when a force of over 1,000 Turkish troops landed at the nearby bay in a bid to trap the men to the north, the women of the Mani succeeded in driving them out with stones, sticks and their sickles until reinforcements arrived.

And the Maniots were also the first in Greece to declare war on the Ottoman empire…

…as this poster in the Mani’s capital Areopoli shows. But the history of this isolated peninsula also has its fair share of serious craziness as witnessed by these towers.

They dot the whole peninsula, either as crumbling ruins…

….or expensive renovations or new builds following the style of the local architecture…

…like these new complexes blotting the landscape.

The towers were the homes for the Mani clans who spent four centuries waging brutal blood feuds against each other  hence the need to shelter behind the fortified high walls sometimes for years.

English writer Patrick Leigh Fermor writes about the ‘dark towers’ in his book written in the 1950’s ‘Mani – Travels in the Southern Peloponnese’. He aptly describes them as having the ‘hallucinating improbability of a mirage’.

We did pass through Kardamyli where Leigh Fermor lived for many years after being won over by its ‘quiet charm’. It didn’t have the same effect on us all these years later. On the day we visited, loud music was blaring out through a PA system to welcome back entrants in The Taygetos Challenge. The place was heaving so we didn’t hang around.

Our last stop on the Mani has been at the seaside town of Gytheio or to be more accurate at a campsite about 3km outside it. As I write, we still haven’t mustered up the energy to actually go to the town. Well after six months on the road, it was time to give the van a complete spring clean, there’s a good taverna a few short walk away …

…with great fish…..

….and plenty of kindling on the beach for a decent fire.

Next week we move on to the third finger of the Peloponnese.

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