A version of Mani that looks like the other, the one you know better, since it also has tower houses, stone villages stopped in time, cobbled alleys and pebbled beaches with crystal clear waters. However, it is different: The barren landscape that in the Inner Mani reminds us of Far West, here gives its place to lush forests, shadowy cobbled squares, idyllic gorges that follow the route of their rivers to the sea, and vegetation that reaches the waves, painting the waters of their beaches with blue green colors- such typical case is one of the most famous beaches in the region, the famous Foneas.
In the heart of all these, there is a small adorable village, the spectacularly stone built Kardamyli, which became a Hollywood star a few years ago, when it starred in the Hollywood movie “Before Midnight” in 2012. Perhaps, if literature was more popular than the cinema, its fame would have spread across the world three millennia earlier, since Kardamyli was one of the seven cities that Agamemnon promised to Achilles to work things out between them during their famous fight with which the story of Iliad begins. He would had us just with Kardamyli- but we’re not Achilles.
Nestled on a windless bay, with the stone houses and the tiled roofs that you’re used to on the mountains and not on the beaches of Peloponnese, Kardamyli is the joy of the travelers and the aspiring photographer. Every stroll around its alleys reveals another detail that you haven’t noticed, another flowery yard, and another nice view to some pebbled bay or to a part of a sunny olive grove.
A stone-built path starts from the village’s center to bring you in less than 10 minutes to Old Kardamyli, this incredibly quiet, restored, historical dwelling where towers of Mani and stone churches stand tall. A special place here has the impressive Mourtzinos Tower, of the last captain of Mani that dates back in the 17th century. It is a rare occasion of a visiting tower that operates today as a museum, and promises to teach you everything you wanted to know (but had no one to ask) about the tower houses in Mani, their spaces and uses, but most of all about the complex and strange social system in Mani, the separation of generations and the way this affected and formed their dwellings and their houses.
Right across Kardamyli there is a small, green island called Meropi and it is so close that the skillful divers can easily swim here to explore the remnants of the fortification that was probably built in the 18th century, like the stone church of St. Nicholas that is also here.
The Messinian Mani starts where Taygetos Mt. dips its “feet” in the sea- Kardamyli is the place where its last gorge ends up, the Gorge of Viros. Not by chance at all, through this 19 kilometers gorge used to pass the Royal Route that connected Ancient Sparta with Kardamyli’s port. You can find remnants of it here and there as you cross the gorge, from which pass many hiking trails of varying degrees of difficulty, if you are not brave enough to walk all of it. If you are brave though, it would be wiser not to start from Kardamyli but from its other tip, Saint Panteleimonas at the 1.400 meters, following a downhill route passing by the Forest of Vasiliki to end up in Kardamyli.
Hang like small balconies on the green slopes of Taygetos, the mountainous villages of West Mani deserve as much time as you can find for them, to stare at the imposing stone tower houses, to walk among their stone built alleys or just enjoy the time slowly passing in their traditional cafeterias.
Exochori is offered for tours in the gorge that we’ve mentioned before and to the Forest of Vasiliki that spreads on its feet. On the road from Exochori to the forest you will meet the Monastery of Samuel, an impressive, yet abandoned today castle monastery of the 17th century. Legend has it that here practiced as a monk a boy from Mani who later went to Epirus, where he became a famous monk, called Samuel of Souli. In better condition it is saved nearby the newest- but also abandoned- castle monastery of Vaidenitsa that has a panoramic view to the summits of Taygetos and to the sea.
Tseria is a beautiful pocket sized village with an amazing view to the creek, half hidden behind the lash vegetation that embraces it. Saidona enjoys a picturesque sunset view, while the even more remote Kastania (14 kilometers from Kardamyli) is an eye candy with its byzantine churches of the 12th century, the typical stone roofs on the houses and its stone- built fountain under the huge walnut trees. Here stands the imposing Dourakis Tower of Mani, of the 18th century, where in 1803 during the persecution of the klephts (brigands of the Ottomans during that era) the hero of the Greek Revolution, Theodor Kolokotronis, took refuge, who eventually escaped from here and went to Elafonisos.
You will meet an impressive castle on your way from Kardamyli to Kalamata, near the village Stavropigio. It is called Castle of Zarnata, it was built by the Byzantines (but as you see it today, it is Ottoman) and was one of the four biggest castles in Mani. Today its walls are saved and an imposing 15 meters stone tower on its highest point.
When you say that this tip of Peloponnese can’t get any better, you start exploring its beaches- and discover that it definitely can. From the famous beach of Kalogria in Stoupa, with the beach bars and the youthful vibe, to the many times photographed Foneas, with the out of this world emerald waters, the big white pebbles and the gigantic rock that is offered for diving, the hard part is to decide where would you start diving first.
If you want to stray further from Kardamyli, apart from Foneas that is just 4 kilometers away, a nice choice is the pebbled beach of Ritsa, technically inside the village, with the crystal clear waters and the big region that leaves room for everyone, both the lovers of the sunbeds and the haters of them. Near Foneas (less than a kilometer, to be precise) there is the less impressive but also less crowded Delfinia that has crystal clear waters, fine pebbles, view to an amazing sunset and no organization whatsoever.
The families with young children particularly love the big, organized beach of Stoupa (7 kilometers from Kardamyli, in front of the homonymous village) for its clean, shallow, warm waters and the fluffy sand which is ideal for building castles. Above Stoupa, on the hill of the Frankish Castle of Lefktros that Wilhelm Villehardouin built in 1250, but nothing is saved- apart from the nice view to the village and the sea that might tempt you to follow the brown signs up here.