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Mani Peninsula Greece -Travel Guide 2023

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Mani Peninsula Greece -Travel Guide 2023

With its stark landscape and rocky backbone, the Mani peninsula in the southern Peloponnese region of Greece has a personality of its own. The Taygetos mountains drop steeply down to coves of crystal clear water. On the high ground cluster stone tower houses, built where they could keep an eye on invaders from the sea. Read on to hear about our delightful road trip around the Mani, starting in Kalamata, looping south around Cape Tenaro and returning via the sea port of Gythio in the east.

Mani peninsula Greece Travel Guide Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Life in the Mani Peninsula of Greece was hard in past centuries, governed by strong family clans, who were known for their blood feuds that sometimes lasted generations. But the independent spirit of the Maniots was shown in their determination to resist Ottoman occupation, negotiating instead their own self-government through local Beys or rulers. There’s local pride that the flag of revolt in the Greek War of Independence of 1821 was first raised in the Mani, and taken to Kalamata where the Ottoman garrison was overthrown.

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Kardamyli Mani Peloponnese Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Kardamyli Mani Peloponnese Greece

Where is the Mani Peninsula?

The most southerly part of mainland Greece, the Peloponnese stretches three fingers southwards towards Crete and the coast of North Africa beyond. Of these three peninsulas, the Mani is the middle one, split between the administrative regions of Messinia to the east and Laconia to the west.

This is as far south in Greece as you can go without hitting the coast of Africa. A spine of the Taygetos mountains runs down its centre, giving the Mani a wild and rugged landscape, with fortified tower houses clustered in hilltop villages.

Until the 1970s many parts of the Mani were only accessible by boat or stone kaldarimi paths that connected villages. But these days the gateway town of Kalamata receives international flights and there’s a fast road from Athens that makes the Mani much more accessible.

Map of Mani Peninsula Greece

Map of Mani Peninsula - Peloponnese Greece by Heatheronhertravels.com

Things to do in the Mani Peninsula

We took a one week road trip and here’s an overview of our favourite places in the Mani Peninsula. I’ll describe the places we visited in more detail later in the article.

The Outer Mani – to the west

Kalamata – The largest city of the southern Peloponnese, this was the start and end for our tour of the Mani. It’s worth lingering a day or two to try the excellent food, explore the old town and relax in the harbour front cafes.

Kardamyli – A pretty seaside town that attracts many affluent visitors. The village is stuffed with stylish boutiques, there’s the fortified Tower of Mourtzinos, and plenty of hiking opportunities. A little out of town is the Patrick Leigh Fermor house, the travel writer’s former home open to visit on certain days, as well as a place you can stay.

Stoupa – With the best sandy beach in the area, Stoupa is the closest you’ll get to a holiday resort in the Mani. There’s a mixed blend of new and old architecture, and a seafront strip full of tourist bars and souvenir shops.

Limeni – an idyllic and much photographed bay lined with traditional Maniot buildings and stylish restaurants overlooking crystal clear turquoise water.

Kardamyli Mani Peloponnese Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Kardamyli Mani Peloponnese Greece

The Deep Mani – to the south

Areopolis – the regional capital of the Deep Mani set above its fishing port of Limeni. It has the facilities, petrol stations and school of a larger town, with a quaint old quarter that attracts the tour groups.

Caves of Diros – this flooded underground cave system by the sea can be visited on a boat trip, with expert boatmen to navigate the shallow water and overhanging stalactites.

Vathia – a much photographed abandoned village which you can wander through, full of square Maniot tower houses clustered along a ridge.

Cape Tenaro – the most southerly point of the Mani peninsula, with the pretty seaside village of Porto Kagio offering holiday accommodation and tavernas.

Read my review of the Akrolithi Boutique Hotel – an eco-friendly hotel in the Peloponnese

Limeni Mani Peloponnese Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Limeni Mani Peloponnese Greece

The Inner Mani – to the east

Gythio – a pleasant seaside town set around a harbour that makes a great base for exploring the eastern, Laconian side of the Mani peninsula.

Monemvasia – while not part of the Mani peninsula, it’s worth making a day trip from Gythio to visit Monemvasia. It’s a pretty walled Byzantine town, hidden on one side of a rocky peninsula.

Mystras – if making a circle back to Kalamata, it’s well worth spending a few hours at Mystras. This former Byzantine capital was abandoned and is now a huge archaeological site set on the side of the hill.

Gythio Peloponnese Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Gythio Peloponnese Greece

The Outer Mani / Exo Mani / Messinian Mani

From Kalamata to Areopoli the western side of the peninsula is known as the “Outer Mani”. It’s within the administrative region of Messinia (or Messenia) and is one of the prettiest part of the Mani peninsula. The coast road runs south past rocky coves with turquoise water and plenty of places to stop for a coffee or lunch.

View to Kardamyli Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
View to Kardamyli Mani Peninsula Greece

Kardamyli

Under an hour’s drive from Kalamata is Kardamyli, a charming village that the main road runs through, with stone houses and restaurants overlooking the sea.

Main street Kardamyli Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Main street Kardamyli Mani Peninsula Greece – full of stylish shops!

The main street lined with upscale boutiques, arty shops and architect practices, giving a clue that Kardamyli attracts the more affluent visitor to the Mani. Stop by the town square for a look in some of the most stylish shops we found in Mani.

Harbour at Kardamyli Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Harbour at Kardamyli Mani Peninsula Greece

From here, wander down to a couple of sea view restaurants or beyond to the charming harbour. We stayed at the excellent Diapori Suites Hotel, with minimalist style rooms, a stunning terrace with views over the bay, lovely gardens and an infinity pool.

Diapori Suites Kardamili Mani Greece

The Diapori Suites Hotel in Kardamyli is minimalist in style with stunning views, gardens and infinity pool

Things to do in Kardamyli Mani

A path opposite the town square leads up the hill to Old Kardamyli, a small hamlet with the Tower of Mourtzinos. This abandoned fortified tower house and with its own church, walled courtyard and complex of buildings has been restored for visits.

Old Kardamyli Tower of Mourtzinos Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Heather visits Old Kardamyli and the Tower of Mourtzinos Mani Peninsula Greece

There’s plenty of opportunity for hiking in Kardamyli and you can walk up to the Viros gorge, or make a circular route on cobbled paths up to the chapel of Agios Sophia on the hill.

Heather hiking above Kardamyli Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Heather hiking above Kardamyli Mani Peninsula Greece

A little south of Kardamyli is the Patrick Leigh Fermor House, home of the well known travel writer, which is now run by the Athens based Benaki museum. It’s open twice a week for pre-booked visits and is also rented out as holiday home in the summer months.

View towards the Patrick Leigh Fermor House Kardamyli Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
View towards the Patrick Leigh Fermor House Kardamyli Mani Peninsula Greece

Stoupa

10 minutes drive south is the holiday resort of Stoupa, which feels worlds away from the traditional charm of Kardamyli. Stoupa boasts the best sandy beach of the outer Mani and the mixture of old stone houses and modern holiday apartments gives it more of a holiday resort feel.

Sandy Beach at Stoupa Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Sandy Beach at Stoupa Mani Peninsula Greece

The sweep of golden sand backed by tourist cafes and souvenir shops is popular with British holidaymakers, and offers some rocky swimming areas at either end of the bay. While Stoupa is pretty enough, we felt less of the Mani’s austere beauty here than in other places.

Stoupa Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Views of Stoupa Mani Peninsula Peloponnese Greece

One of the fun activities in Stoupa is to cycle or walk along the 4km coastal trail that runs south to the small port of Agios Nikolaos. From here you can continue by bike along the quiet coastal road for a further 7km, right by the sea, as far as Trahila.

Agios Nikolaos

The picturesque harbour of Agios Nikolaos, a short drive or bike ride from Stoupa, is worth a stop for a coffee or lunch. A small, protected harbour shelters fishing boats from the wind and waves, and we enjoyed a drink there watching the comings and goings.

Harbour at Agios Nikolaos Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Heather relaxes at the Harbour at Agios Nikolaos Mani Peninsula Greece

Restaurants line the road through town and the best place to park is just beyond the harbour on the coast road, where there’s a large parking area. If you want to swim here, the beach isn’t great immediately around the harbour, so continue 5 minutes up the coast road to Pantazi beach.

Harbour at Agios Nikolaos Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Harbour at Agios Nikolaos Mani Peninsula Peloponnese

Oitylo and Neo Itilo

From Agios Nikolaos, the road curves inland on the high ground and the coastline becomes rocky and less accessible. Around 45 minutes from Kardamyli you’ll pass a turnoff for the old village of Oitylo and the road descends in hairpin bends to the pebble beach at Neo Itilo (New Oitylo), the sea port for Oitylo.

Beach at Neo Itilo Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Beach at Neo Itilo Mani Peninsula Greece

In the old days, attacks from the sea were a constant threat, so villages were generally built on a high vantage point. Each had its own sea port for fishing boats and commercial sea traffic, generally with just a few beach huts to store goods and fishing nets.

Lunch at Neo Itilo Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Lunch at Neo Itilo Mani Peninsula Greece

Today the long pebble beach is backed by a couple of rows of buildings and a small road that loops back to the main road. There are a couple of tavernas by the sea and we enjoyed our lunch at Taverna Karabopetra, a traditional stone built restaurant, with a lovely terrace overlooking the sea.

Lunch at Neo Itilo Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Lunch at Neo Itilo Mani Peninsula Greece

Were to stay in Oitylo

This is a good place to base yourself for 2-3 days, either in one of the hotels close to the sea shore or on the higher ground overlooking the bay, where we stayed at the lovely Akrolithi Boutique Hotel and Suites. From here you can also visit the next bay of Limeni, the pretty old town of Areopoli and the Caves of Diros.

Akrolithi Boutique Hotel & Suites Greece

While staying at Akrolithi Boutique Hotel and Suites we also walked the short distance up the hill to wander around the charming old town of Oitylo, with its atmospheric old houses, kafenion in the square and stunning views from the church.

Views from Oitylo Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Views from Oitylo Mani Peninsula Greece

We also drove up from the bay on a winding, but surprisingly well maintained road to Kastro Kelephas, the castle we could see on the hill. It was built in the 17th century by the Ottomans and came under siege a number of time, with occupation by both Venetians and Ottomans.

Kastro Kelephas Oitylo Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Kastro Kelephas Oitylo Mani Peninsula Greece

Nowadays the castle is completely overgrown although you can scramble up onto some of the walls and just about hack your way through prickly undergrowth to peer into the abandoned towers.

Kastro Kelephas Oitylo Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Kastro Kelephas Oitylo Mani Peninsula Greece

Limeni

From Neo Itilo, drive around the headland to the next bay of Limeni. With its traditional Maniot tower houses and sparkling turquoise water this is one of the prettiest and most photographed seaside spots in the whole of Mani. From the upscale restaurants, holiday homes and boutique hotels, we sensed that it’s a rather trendy spot attracting the more affluent traveller.

Limeni Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Limeni Mani Peninsula Greece

The road through Limeni is narrow and operates on a one way system, so you need to enter from the north / Areopoli side of the town. Parking is mostly along the road at the entry and exit to town, with a few parking spots in the village reserved for holiday homes or restaurants.

At the entrance to the village was a map, pointing out some of the points of interest, including the tower houses built by one of the last Beys (rulers) of Mani, Petros Mavromichalis. One of these mansions is now a small boutique hotel, Pirgos Mavrimichali, where you can stay overlooking the sea.

Pirgos Mavromichali Greece

Located in a restored 18th-century tower, boutique hotel Pirgos Mavromichali overlooks the picturesque bay at Limeni

Mavromichalis was a hero of the Greek Revolution of Independence in 1821, raising his flag in Areopoli and then marching to Kalamata with his troops to overthrow the Ottoman garrison there. His monument looks out to sea by the little chapel of Agios Sostis that you can walk to along the seafront.

Limeni Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Limeni Mani Peninsula Greece

Lunch in Limeni Mani

There are plenty of restaurant options at Limeni and we enjoyed our lunch at Kourmas, overlooking the rocky shore. This traditional but stylish restaurant has a cafe area by the sea, with tables in the main restaurant offering lovely sea views. Kourmas specialises in traditional Mani dishes and fresh fish from the Laconian gulf.

Lunch at Kourmas Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Lunch at Kourmas Mani Peninsula Greece

Although there’s no beach at Limeni, there are a number of steps to enter the water between the restaurants. However the best place for swimming is the stretch with no buildings at the Areopoli side of town (Dexameni beach).

Limeni Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Limeni Mani Peninsula Greece

The Deep Mani / Mesa Mani

At Areopoli, the road continues south into the “Deep Mani”, a region that’s much less populated and more austere in character than the “Outer Mani”. Although there’s less to see as you travel south, it’s worth the journey to understand how the mountainous landscape scattered with stone tower houses and harsh lifestyle shaped the character of the Maniots.

From Areopoli there’s also the option to take a more direct road across the peninsula to Gythio, through a pass in the Taygetos mountains. This is the option to take if you are short of time and prefer to see less of the wild Mani landscape and more of the top sites such as Githio, Monemvasia and Mistras.

Vathia Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Vathia Mani Peninsula Greece

Areopoli

Set on the hill, the largest town and regional centre of the Deep Mani is Areopoli, with the main road passing by the local school, banks and petrol stations. If heading south, this is the place to fill up with fuel, as there are no petrol stations beyond Gerolimenas, until you loop back from Cape Tenaro towards Gythio. Park in the main car park by the school and walk from here to discover Areopoli’s charms, the spacious main square and the old town quarter with its picturesque alleyways.

Areopoli Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Old town in Areopoli Mani Peninsula Greece

Athanaton square (Square of the Immortals) is surrounded by cafes and restaurants, from the trendy to the traditional and seemed to be where the locals hang out. On the paved part of the square, children were kicking balls around the statue of local hero Petros Mavromichalis, hero of the Greek Revolution of Independence, whose family made their base here.

Petros Mavromichalis statue Areopoli Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Petros Mavromichalis statue Areopoli Mani Peninsula Greece

Old town of Areopoli

From the main square, wander down the lane that leads through the small area of old town, to the Pikoulakis Tower and church which was closed at the time of our visit. As this is the main tourist attraction you’ll find several boutiques and souvenir shops selling the work of artists and crafts makers from the Mani region. Cute cafes also feature heavily here, with plenty of opportunities for that instagram worthy selfie.

Areopoli Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Pikoulakis Tower, Areopoli Mani Peninsula Greece
Areopoli Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Cute cafes in Areopoli Mani Peninsula Greece

At the end of this area we stopped at the authentic old style bakery to pick up some snacks and foodie souvenirs. It’s worth popping in just to see the traditional wood fired oven and baking tools. Walking a little further down the hill we passed another commemorative plaque to the 1821 Revolution of Independence and some attractive tower houses, but there was not much more to see beyond this point.

Bakery in Areopoli Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Bakery in Areopoli Mani Peninsula Greece

Diros caves

Just south of Areopoli are the Caves of Diros, one of the top tourist attractions of the Mani region. With an entrance close to the rocky sea shore, the complex of caves are flooded with stalactites dripping from the ceiling.

The water is shallow and an expert boatman will steer you through the passages and caverns on a circular route, so you can admire the floodlit rock formations. It’s a relaxing and sometimes eerie experience, making you feel you might be entering the underworld of Ancient Greek mythology.

Caves of Diros Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Caves of Diros Mani Peninsula Greece

Some of the boatmen speak enough English to tell you something about the caves, but our tour was conducted in silence, which added to the atmosphere. Many of the passages and stalactites are low enough to require a bit of ducking as you drift under them and I’d say the 30 minute boat trip is probably not for the claustrophobic.

Caves of Diros Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Caves of Diros Mani Peninsula Greece

After visiting the caves

After the boat trip, we walked along the rocky shore for a viewpoint over the bay, but there did not seem to be any way to reach the beach we could see that’s accessed from a different road. Look out for the sculpture of a Maniot woman brandishing a sickle, commemorating an event in 1821 when a group of local women repelled an invasion of Ottoman soldiers, armed only with farm tools.

Caves of Diros Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Caves of Diros Mani Peninsula Greece

Tips for visiting the Caves of Diros

  • On arriving at the site, you will first pass the ticket booth with a small parking area where you can buy tickets (€12). This is not the entrance to the caves which is further down the hill. Although there is an e-ticket option on the website, we read reviews saying that this is not working.
  • Once you have bought your ticket, drive a little further down the hill to the parking area. There is limited space here, so if you find no parking, turn round at the turning circle and drive back up the hill where there is more parking space by the roadside.
  • When parked, take your ticket to the cave entrance, where you will be kitted out with life jackets and allocated a boat. Toilets are by the parking area near the entrance for the caves.
  • For the best views and photos, try to be seated at the front of the boat, although you may be allocated a particular seat to balance out height and weight.
  • This is a major tourist attraction receiving many visitors in high season and with limited parking. We read many reviews mentioning long queues for tickets, so we would recommend arriving early at the caves.
Gerolimenas Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
The bay at Gerolimenas Mani Peninsula Greece

Gerolimenas

Driving south from Areopoli brings you into the heart of the “Deep Mani”, where the road hugs the barren lower slopes of the region’s mountainous spine. Here and there are traditional stone buildings and small hamlets, with tantalising views of the sea and rocky coastline.

Gerolimenas Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Gerolimenas Mani Peninsula Greece

In a protected bay is the next major stop of Gerolimenas, with a pebble beach and a few tavernas. It’s a pleasant place to break your drive south in the Mani and perhaps have a swim or lunch by the beach.

Gerolimenas Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Gerolimenas Mani Peninsula Greece

The most notable place to stay in Gerolimenas is the upscale Kyrimai Hotel, a restored complex of stone buildings overlooking the sea. This historic boutique hotel has a gourmet restaurant that’s open for non residents with prior reservations.

The hotel has a small pool and sea swimming, but the bar is not open to non residents unless you have a lunch or dinner booking, so don’t expect to wander in like we did and hope to just order a coffee!

Kyrimai Hotel Gerolimenas, Greece

Historic Kyrimai Hotel in Gerolimenas offers a luxurious atmosphere and excellent restaurant by the sea.

Vathia

Continuing south from Gerolimenas, the road runs right past the abandoned hilltop village of Vathia, known for its cluster of square Maniot tower houses. From the viewpoint above the village, Vathia is one of the most photographed spots of the Mani peninsula, its square towers and feeling of ghostly desolation seeming to epitomise what people come to the Mani to see.

There’s a small parking spot in the village, but most parking is on the road just above Vathia, where there’s also a cafe with a great view. You can walk all through the village where most of the square tower houses are no longer lived in. The government has ensured that many have been restored with a few open as guest houses.

These traditional tower houses were built with two or three floors, their small windows allowing them to withstand attack either from pirates or to protect one family from another in case of clan feuds.

Cape Tenaro

Driving a little further, we now reached the most southerly point of the Mani Peninsula at Cape Tenaro, also known as Cape Matapan. The main road loops back north at the point where the cape narrows, so it’s not possible to drive right to the most southerly tip of land.

Cape Tenaro Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Cape Tenaro Mani Peninsula Greece

The neck of the Cape is flanked on one side by Marmari beach and on the other by Port Kaglio, a pleasant bay where we drove down for lunch. Small roads will take you further towards the tip of the Cape, but after a point you need to leave your car and walk for around 45 minutes if you want to reach the Tenaro lighthouse.

Close to the path is the site of a Roman house with a well preserved mosaic. The ancient Greeks believed that the sea caves of Cape Tenaro formed the entrance to the underworld governed by the god Hades, whose gates were guarded by a mythical beast.

Porto Kagio

Driving down to Porto Kagio, we found a small seaside hamlet backing the pebble beach, with a few fishing boats moored against the landing stage. This bay is a safe haven for small yachts that anchor just offshore.

Porto Kagio Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Porto Kagio Mani Peninsula Greece

In high season there are a few guesthouses and a couple of tavernas, so if you want to do some walking around the Cape this could be a place to stop for a night.

Porto Kagio Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Akroiri restaurant Porto Kagio Mani Peninsula Greece

We had lunch at the pleasant Akrotiri Restaurant overlooking the beach, who also run the Akrotiri B&B with simple guest rooms set in gardens behind the restaurant.

Akrotiri B&B Porto Kagio Greece

Located on the sandy beach in Porto Kagio, Akrotiri B&B offers simple rooms behind their sea-view restaurant

The Inner Mani / Kato Mani

Heading north from Cape Tenaro the road skirts the eastern side of the Mani peninsula within the region of Laconia, known as the Inner Mani or Kato Mani. There is little in the way of sightseeing on this side of the peninsula, as the road runs inland from the coast along a surprisingly flat valley, with just a couple of villages on the way to the small port of Kotronas.

Cape Tenaro Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Cape Tenaro Mani Peninsula Greece

From here we rounded the headland and hugged the coast up to Skoutari, which has a nice sandy beach and is a popular holiday spot in summer. If you want to break your drive, this could be the place to stop as there are some tavernas to eat along the seafront. Without a break, the whole drive from Cape Tenaro to Gythio takes around 1.5 hours.

While there’s not so much reason to stop on the eastern side of the peninsula, we were glad we had made the round trip just to get a better sense of the landscape and isolated nature of the Mani.

Gythio

Our final stop on this Peloponnese road trip around the Mani was at Gythio, on the eastern, Laconian side of the Mani. This delightful seaside town is the largest in the region after Kalamata and had a bustling feel after the empty landscapes we’d driven through. If you need to stock up at a supermarket, get to a bank or purchase a few local souvenirs, this is the place to get your business done.

Gythio Peloponnese Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Gythio Peloponnese Greece

The town offers several squares where the locals stop for a chat, a harbour front lined with cafes and a marina where yachts making a trip around the Ionian side of Greece often stop. A cluster of fish tavernas, with racks of octopus drying outside, are a good place to taste some of the locally caught seafood. But there are numerous places to eat, from back street old man cafes to trendy spots to sip a frappé.

Kranai - Marathonisi near Gythio Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Kranai – Marathonisi near Gythio Mani Peninsula Greece

Kranae near Gythio

A short walk from the harbour is the pretty islet of Kranae or Marathonisi, accessed by a causeway. In Ancient Greek mythology, it’s the place where Paris and Helen of Troy spent their first night after fleeing from Sparta.

Kranai - Marathonisi near Gythio Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Kranai – Marathonisi near Gythio Mani Peninsula Greece
Kranai - Marathonisi near Gythio Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Kranai – Marathonisi near Gythio Mani Peninsula Greece

If you take a walk there you can see the lighthouse that protects the entrance to Gythio harbour, a small chapel and the fortified tower built by Tzannetakis Grigorakis who was one of the leaders of the Greek War of Independence. It’s now a Museum of Mani, but was closed when we visited.

Gythio Peloponnese Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Gythio Peloponnese Greece

Gythio’s two and three story houses are stacked up the lower slopes of the wooded hill, with the square Mani look about them. But the pastel shades rather than stone walls give them a softer and more cosmopolitan look than the villages of Deep Mani.

Gythio Peloponnese Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Gythio Peloponnese Greece

We wandered up the hill among these older houses, through the stepped alleyways with their neat flowering pots, and were rewarded with views back towards the harbour. There’s also an ancient theatre with stone semicircle of seats, where the gate was shut so we waded through the grass for a photograph.

Ancient theatre at Gythio Peloponnese Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Ancient theatre at Gythio Peloponnese Greece

Beaches near Gythio

While there’s no town beach, the long stretch of golden sand at Mavrovouni is only just south of Gythio, while to the north are several more pretty beaches and coves. Driving northwards along the coast, look out for the rusty but photogenic “Demetrios” shipwreck on Valtaki beach, a nice place to relax with a beachside restaurant.

Dimitrios Shipwreck near Gythio Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Dimitrios Shipwreck near Gythio Mani Peninsula Greece

We used Gythio as our base for a couple of days, staying in the town at the modern and stylish Las Hotel and Spa. This 4 star hotel offers contemporary rooms and a rooftop pool with 360 roofgarden bar and restaurant that offers panoramic views of the town, not to mention some excellent cocktails and dining.

Las Hotel & Spa Gythio, Greece

The 4-star Las Hotel & Spa in Gythio where we stayed offers contemporary style with roof top pool and restaurant

More places to visit near the Mani peninsula

From Gythio, we looped back to our starting point at the city of Kalamata, stopping for a few hours at Mystras on the way. We also took a side trip further into the Laconian region of Peloponnese, crossing the peninsula for a day trip to Monemvasia.

If we’d had another day or two I’d have liked to drive to the end of the Laconian peninsula to take the ferry for the day to Elafonisos. The small island has a reputation for lovely sandy beaches and clear turquoise waters for swimming and snorkelling.

Monemvasia Peloponnese Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Views from the Upper town of Monemvasia Peloponnese Greece

Monemvasia

When we were planning our trip, Monemvasia was the place that everyone said we should visit. We set off for a day trip from Gythio, passing through the olive groves and orange orchards of Laconia and arriving at Monemvasia just over an hour later.

Monemvasia Peloponnese Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Monemvasia Peloponnese Greece

With a huge rock rising from the sea, linked to the mainland by a small causeway, we could see why Monemvasia was known as the “Gibraltar of the East”. The Byzantine town that hugs the seaward side and the plateau on top of the rock is all but hidden when you approach it by land.

Monemvasia Peloponnese Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Lower town of Monemvasia Peloponnese Greece

Monemvasia was founded in the 6th century and had its heyday in the 11th and 12th century, later declining due to the shifting power plays of Ottoman and Venetian occupation.

Monemvasia Peloponnese Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Monemvasia Peloponnese Greece

Once a prosperous trading town that was well fortified against attacks from the sea, Monemvasia is now a living museum with narrow lanes and cute houses closely packed together. In the lower town most of the medieval buildings are well restored, with plenty of cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops and a few guest houses or small hotels.

Monemvasia Peloponnese Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Monemvasia Peloponnese Greece

Upper town of Monemvasia

Climbing up the hill to the Kastro and Upper Town, the buildings are all in ruins, even though this is where the nobility once lived. The Upper Town is set on the plateau at the top of the rock, with the beautiful church of Agia Sophia that you can visit and amazing views over the lower town.

Monemvasia Peloponnese Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Upper town of Monemvasia Peloponnese Greece

While we visited in a day trip from Gythio, Monemvasia is a magical place to stay a night within the walled confines of the lower town (we recommend the Likinia Hotel ) or perhaps just down the coast at the luxurious Kinsterna Spa Hotel.

Kinsterna Hotel Monemvasia Greece

The Kinsterna Hotel is a luxurious spa hotel with gourmet restaurant and views of Monemvasia and the Aegean Sea

Mystras

Our drive from Gythio back to Kalamata took us close to modern day Sparta and the Byzantine archaeological site of Mystras. This UNESCO World Heritage site was a thriving city in the 13th to 15th centuries when it became a second capital of the Byzantine Empire outside Constantinople.

Mystras Peloponnese Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Mystras Peloponnese Greece

With a population of up to 20,000 people at its peak, Mystras was gradually abandoned by the 19th century as the modern city of Sparta grew and now its only residents are the nuns at the Pantanassa Monastery.

Mystras Peloponnese Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Byzantine church at Mystras Peloponnese Greece
Mystras Peloponnese Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Frescoes at Mystras Peloponnese Greece

The medieval city is set on a steep hillside, with a fortified castle at the top, and visitor entrances accessible by road at both the bottom and top of the site. When parking at the bottom, you may be able to find a taxi to take you to the top to walk back down, but otherwise you have to walk both ways.

Mystras Peloponnese Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Mitropolis at Mystras Peloponnese Greece

Key sites in Mystras

Apart from the atmospheric ruins of the city, the main sites are the beautiful Byzantine churches, full of the original 12th century frescoes. We started at the bottom entrance passing the Cathedral of Agios Dimitrios or Mitropolis where there’s also a small museum with artefacts from the site. Passing two more churches, the next highlight is the Convent of Pantanassa, with a beautiful church and flower filled courtyard, where you can fill up your water bottle from the fountain.

Mystras Peloponnese Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Palace of Despots Mystras Peloponnese Greece

Towards the top of the hill is the Palace of the Despots (the name given to the rulers of Mystras) which was under renovation when we visited and even higher the church of Agios Sophia. Beyond this is the upper gate, but it’s well worth climbing higher still to the Kastro or castle on the top of the hill, for views over the whole site and countryside.

Mystras Peloponnese Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Kastro at Mystras Peloponnese Greece

Mystras is much visited by coach tours, so arrive early if you want a less crowded experience. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes for the cobbled paths and bring water and snacks as there are none available apart from the water top up at the convent.

Throughout the site are information signs in Greek and English with fascinating background and history about the different buildings. It’s a huge site and you should allocate at least 3-4 hours to visit the main areas of Mystras.

Food in the Mani Peninsula

Like all of Greece, in the Mani you’ll find excellent fresh salads, home cooked dishes, plentiful olives (the Kalamata olives are famous!) and wines from the Peloponnese. A few dishes are worth looking out for that are more specific to the Mani and the Southern Peloponnese.

Porto Kagio Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Local dishes in the Mani Peninsula Greece

Fresh Fish caught in Mani

Most of the locally caught fish found in restaurants is from small boats that fish off the Mani in the Messinian Gulf to the east and Laconian Gulf to the west. Fish restaurants will normally have a chiller cabinet where the fresh fish is displayed, and will lead you there to select the fish and weigh it to tell you the price.

Locally caught fish is not the cheapest option on the menu (expect to pay around €25 for a fish to feed one person) but you’ll be supporting the local small scale fishermen as well as enjoying a delicious lunch. Octopus and Laconian shrimp are also plentiful in the restaurants in Mani. We tried some excellent fresh fish in Limeni and Gythio, where the fishing boats are moored within sight of the restaurants.

Fresh fish in Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Fresh fish in Mani Peninsula Greece

Pork – slow roasted Gourounopoula and cured smoked Pasto

In the old days the main livestock that could be kept in the Mani were goats and pigs, and there are a couple of pork dishes that are worth looking out for. Gourounopoula is slow roasted pork that would be served on feast days, cooked for hours until meltingly soft and topped with crispy crackling. Pasto is a salted smoked pork that in the old days was preserved in oil and often served in cubes on top of the Mani salad.

Gourounopoula in Peloponnese Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Gourounopoula in Peloponnese Greece

Mani Salad

A local salad variation is the Mani salad which we ordered wherever we went. The typical salad base of lettuce, potatoes and tomatoes is topped with cubes of smoky Pasto pork and slices of local oranges that grow around Gythio. There’s also generally a handful of sliced dried figs and walnuts thrown in, making this a delicious meal in itself.

Mani salad at Neo Itilo Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Mani salad at Neo Itilo Mani Peninsula Greece

Kalamata olives

Kalamata olives are famous around Greece and are grown in the southern Peloponnese and some parts of Mani. The purple-black olives with a rich flavour are traditionally preserved in a mixture of vinegar and oil, giving them a softer texture than some other olives.

Kalamata Olives in Peloponnese Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Kalamata Olives in Peloponnese Greece

Fresh orange juice

If you visit in spring as we did, be sure to enjoy a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice which is available in many bars and cafes. The oranges grow well in the southern Peloponnese and we saw orange groves in the areas around Gythio on the way to Monemvasia. The oranges are in season from November to April so try them in the spring if you want to taste the local oranges.

Diples in Peloponnese Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Diples in Peloponnese Greece

Sweet dishes and pastries in Mani

A pastry that’s particular to the region is Diples – rolls of pastry that are fried and then soaked in honey and nuts. Also popular are Pasteli – bars made with sesame seeds and honey, Lalangia – loops of fried dough that can be eaten with sweet or savoury toppings and Galatopita – a milk custard tart.

Where to stay in the Mani Peninsula Greece

Mani is not the place to come for large scale resort hotels, but rather you’ll find smaller boutique style hotels, guest houses and holiday suites. Many are in older converted buildings or in newer buildings that are required by planning restrictions to be constructed in the traditional Maniot style of stone faced, square tower houses.

Hotels in the Outer Mani – Kardamyli to Limeni

Diapori Suites Kardamili Mani Greece

The Diapori Suites Hotel where we stayed in Kardamyli is minimalist in style with stunning views, gardens and infinity pool

Patrick & Joan Leigh Fermor House Greece
Akrolithi Boutique Hotel & Suites Greece
Pirgos Mavromichali Greece

Located in a restored 18th-century tower, boutique hotel Pirgos Mavromichali overlooks the picturesque bay at Limeni

Hotels in the Deep Mani – Areopoli to Cape Tenaro

Kyrimai Hotel Gerolimenas, Greece

The historic Kyrimai Hotel in Gerolimenas offers a luxurious atmosphere and gourmet restaurant by the sea.

Akrotiri B&B Porto Kagio Greece

Located on the sandy beach in Porto Kagio, Akrotiri B&B offers simple rooms behind their sea-view restaurant

Hotels in the Inner Mani – Cape Tenaro to Gythio

Las Hotel & Spa Gythio, Greece

The 4-star Las Hotel & Spa in Gythio where we stayed offers contemporary style with roof terrace pool and restaurant

The Olive Yard Hotel Greece

Hotels in Monemvasia

Kinsterna Hotel Monemvasia Greece

The Kinsterna Hotel is a luxurious spa hotel with gourmet restaurant and views of Monemvasia and the Aegean Sea

Likinia Hotel Greece

The stone-built Likinia Hotel is located within the walled town of Monemvasia with views of the Aegean Sea

Best time to visit the Mani Peninsula

We think the best time to visit the Mani peninsula is spring and autumn, if you are planning a road trip like the one we took. The weather in Mani is warm, the days sunny, but there’s not the burning heat of summer that brings everything to a sweaty standstill.

Sunny Spring days in Mani Peninsula Greece

From May, sunny days are the norm, although in early May you might still have some cloud or the occasional shower. It’s worth knowing that Greek Easter weekend in April / May and the 1st of May are big holidays in Greece when many Greeks travel, making accommodation harder to find.

From Mid May to end June the temperatures are pleasant and the wild flowers blooming. July and August are high season, when temperatures soar and Greek holidaymakers descend on Mani. If you want to avoid the crowds wait until September and October, or even into November, which are great times to tour the Mani.

How to get to the Mani Peninsula

Where the southern Peloponnese was previously a quiet backwater, the fast toll road from Athens has made it possible to reach Kalamata in under 3 hours. Kalamata is the gateway city for the Mani and you could easily spend a day or two here.

The bus to Kalamata from Athens Kifissos bus station has many departures during the day but try to choose the express bus which takes around 3hrs 15 mins. Information is available on the KTEL Messinias website and cost is around €22 one way.

You can also hire a car in Athens and drive it to Kalamata, but factor in around €15 worth of tolls as well as the cost of car hire and fuel.

Kalamata also offers the closest airport to the Mani, with direct flights from the UK and many other cities in Europe. Depending on when you fly in, you could spend a day or so here exploring the city or pick up a hire car at the airport and drive straight into the Mani region.

Another option that you may not have considered is that there are ferries from the Ionian Island of Zakynthos to Kyllini and from there it’s just over 2hrs drive to reach Kalamata.

Kardimyli Mani Peloponnese Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Kardamyli Mani Peloponnese Greece

Getting around the Mani Peninsula

Having reached Kalamata, the best way to get around the Mani peninsula is by car. Car hire is easily arranged in Kalamata, either from the airport or in the downtown area.

Much as we like using public transport, the bus routes around the Mani peninsula are infrequent, with buses for the Messinian side not joining up with those for the Laconian side. If you have time on your side, you could use the bus for some parts of the journey, joining the dots with taxis. However, bear in mind that taxis are limited in the region and therefore expensive and need to be pre-booked in advance by your accommodation.

If you don’t drive, a better option is probably to arrange a bespoke tour with a travel agent that specialises in Greece, as the Mani is a somewhat “off the beaten track” region of Greece.

Driving in the Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Driving in the Mani Peninsula Greece

Sustainable travel in the Mani Peninsula

Just by visiting the Mani you are contributing to sustainable tourism in Greece. The Peloponnese and Greek mainland is much less visited than Athens or the Greek Islands, so you’ll be putting money into the rural economy and reducing the adverse effects of over-tourism.

Unfortunately the only viable way to tour the Mani is by car, since the bus service is patchy and the terrain mountainous. However, there are some options to rent hybrid vehicles in Kalamata. Electric charging points are available around Kalamata, Neo Oitylo, Areopoli and Gythio, including at Akrolithi Boutique Hotel where we stayed – check the EV Loader App or other similar apps for more details of locations. While sometimes hilly, the roads around the Mani peninsula are in good condition and we were fine with the smallest rental car available, to minimise emissions.

Hiking in the Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Hiking in the Mani Peninsula Greece

The Mani is a great place for walking, mainly day walks, especially in the foothills of the Taygetus mountains, where you get wonderful views over the coast. There’s also a popular cycling and walking trail that runs from Stoupa for a few kilometres along the coast.

Recycling in Mani

We found local government recycling bins throughout the Southern Peloponnese and Mani, generally located by the roadside or in communal areas. You can use them to dispose of your rubbish appropriately, especially if self catering. Green bins are for rubbish, blue bins for general recycling such as paper, card and plastic bottles. Blue domed bins are for glass recycling.

Recycling in Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Recycling in Mani Peninsula Greece

Tap water in the Mani, as in most parts of Greece is safe to drink, although tap water may be from desalinated sources, giving it a slightly salty taste. We found some restaurants offering tap water in a carafe, while others served bottled water as a default. To avoid plastic pollution, which is a big issue in Greece, it is preferable to request tap water to drink. Refill your water bottle in your accommodation to avoid buying bottled water when out sightseeing.

Water cooler in Kalamata Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Hotel water cooler in Kalamata – to avoid using plastic bottles

The Mani is a great place to enjoy fresh local food, with many restaurants serving traditional dishes based on local produce and seafood. Check when ordering in restaurants what’s local and seasonal on their menus and order accordingly.

Map of Mani Peninsula showing places to visit

To see all the places mentioned in this article, check out my map of the Mani Peninsula, Greece or click on the map below.

Map of Mani Peninsula Peloponnese Greece by Heatheronhertravels.com

More articles to read about Greece

A guide to the Pelion Greece – from the mountains to the sea!

Visiting the Acropolis in Athens – here’s what you need to know

Mamma Mia film locations in Greece – Skopolos, Skiathos and Pelion

Plan your trip to the Peloponnese in Greece

For more information on visiting the Peloponnese visit the official Mythical Peloponnese official tourism website.

Read Next

Read my review of the Akrolithi Boutique Hotel – an eco-friendly hotel in the Peloponnese

Akrolithi Boutique Hotel Greece Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Mani Peninsula Greece Photo Album

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