Mani Greece – 1 Week in Greece – Part of Road Trip Peloponnese
I always considered the Mani the most mysterious area of Greece. The tower houses, the reputation of the Maniots as being fierce and rough people, the bare rocky inaccessible mountains, and the fortified medieval villages, they all made me curious of the Mani Peninsula.
So we made a road trip through the Mani region and it was the best experience ever: beautiful beaches, friendly people, stunning views and great Greek food. If you want to spend 1 week in Greece in a special way, don’t miss out on the Mani!
The Mani was never occupied by the Turks like the rest of Greece. The mentality of the Maniots certainly kept the Turks out. Maniots were known to be aggressive, conservative people protecting with all means their families, land, livestock, and communities from other, rival families, and invaders. The difficult living conditions in the Mani forced the Maniots to built fortified tower houses and to live within the protection of clans.
Isolated Greek Peninsula
For centuries people in the Mani used the networks of cobble-stoned roads to move between the villages. Until the 1960s transport of goods mainly happened through boats and mules. Many villages were only accessible by sea until some roads were built that made the peninsula less secluded from the rest of Greece. Don’t expect highways though, most roads are small and winding.
The Mani is located in the Peloponnese, in the south of mainland Greece. The most southern part of the Peloponnese has three legs, of which the one in the middle is called the Mani Peninsula.
The Mani Peninsula has a length of 75 km, and the widest part of the peninsula is 28 km.
The nearest airport to the Mani is in Kalamata, and there are daily flights from Athens to Kalamata in the summer.
The distance from Athens to Kalamata is about 235 kilometers.
Mani Region Greece
The Mani Peninsula is generally divided into three regions: Outer Mani (also called the Ekso Mani), Lower Mani, and Deep Mani. The Mani belongs to the regional units of Messinia and Laconia.
The Messinian Mani – Outer Mani
Outer Mani is the northwestern part of the Mani Peninsula which runs down from the city of Kalamata and belongs to the Messinia region. It’s the most famous touristic area with places like Kardamili, Agios Nikolaos, and Stoupa. It’s not a rough and wild landscape like the other parts of the Mani, instead, you will encounter many olive groves and fields with wildflowers. It’s a great area for hiking at the hiking trails of the Taygetos Mountain and for visiting the small mountain villages.
Lower Mani with Capital of Githion
Lower Mani is on the east side of the peninsula. Its most important town is Githion (also written Gytheio or Githio), which is the official capital of the Mani.
Deep Mani is one of Greece’s most isolated regions. It’s the area in the south of the Mani Peninsula and it’s also referred to as the “real” Mani. Here you find places like Areopoli, Pyrgos Dirou, Gerolimena, Vathia, Marmari, and the most southern part of mainland Greece, Cape Tenaro, also called Cape Matapan. The “real” Mani is said to start at Areopolis on the west side of the peninsula, and after the beaches of Githio on the east side.
Most tourists never get to the Deep Mani other than for a visit to the Caves of Diros, which are still pretty close to Areopoli. After a boat trip in the caves, they return to the holiday villages in the Outer Mani, like Kardamili, Stoupa, and Agios Nikolaos.
The Taygetos mountain stretches down across the Mani peninsula, starting from the center of the Peloponnese until Cape Tenaro, and the mountain range is about 100 km long. In the Outer Mani, the mountains are much greener than in the other parts of the Mani. In the Deep Mani, the Taygetos is called the Sangias Mountains, and consists mainly of bare rocks.
The highest part of the Taygetus Mountain is above the Outer Mani, not far from the village Kardamili. Its peak reaches 2407 meters and is called Profitis Ilias. It takes a day to reach it, although it’s only 12 km from Kardamili.
Greece Itinerary 7 Days in the Mani Peninsula
Sparta to Gythion
Friends had invited us for a visit in Kotroni, a tiny settlement in the Messinia region on the west coast of the Mani Peninsula. The fastest way to get there is from Kalamata, but as we came from Nafplio the best option was to take the road from Sparta to Gythio, at the east coast of the Mani peninsula. After Gythio the road took us even more to the south, then to the west until Areopolis, another large town in the Mani. From Areopolis there are two road options. Option one is the road that runs north, along the western coast of the Mani, to Kalamata. This is the most touristic area of the Mani with villages like Agios Nikolaos, Stoupa, and Kardamili.
Areopoli to Vathia
The second option is to take the route that runs south from Areopolis. This road leads to the Deep Mani, and the more south you go, the more sparse traffic gets. If you want to stay in the Deep Mani, around the village of Gerolimenas is the best option to stay.
After we had visited Areopolis and the places Oitylo, Karavostasi, and Limeni that are nearby, we took the route to the south, where we visited the Caves of Diros, Gerolimenas, and the village with the cluster of tower houses, Vathia. We skipped Cape Tenaron.
Vathia to Kardamili
From Vathia we took the same road back to the north, to Areopolis, where we left the Deep Mani. We drove further up to the north, visited the villages of Stoupa and Kardamyli and some beaches, and left the Mani peninsula via Kalamata.
1 Week in Greece – Mani Road Trip
If you want to visit the places we visited in the Mani, 1 week in Greece will be enough. The Mani Peninsula is a relatively small area, and with a rental car it is easy to get around and spend the nights at the places you like most. Just don’t forget that during high-season (July and August) it’s recommended to book your accommodations affront.
Mani, what to see during 7 days in Greece
Day 1 – Gythion, Gythio Beaches
After Sparta, we reach Gythion (or Gythio) in less than 45 minutes. This small port town in the southern Peloponnese is the largest city of the Mani Peninsula, and in ancient times it was the port of Sparta. It’s amphitheatrically built against the green Koumaros hill that almost reaches until the sea.
⇒ Read our full article on Gythion!
The liveliest part of Gythio is the waterfront with plenty of tavernas, cafes, and shops in beautiful neo-classical buildings of the 19th century. We climb up the hill along small alleys that lead along old stone Turkish houses, blooming courtyards, and chapels. Continuing the road would lead us to the top of the hill, but we decide to return to the waterfront for a coffee. Octopuses are hanging in the sun in front of the taverna next to where we drink our coffee, the typical charm of a Greek coastal town.
From Gythio you can see the highest peak of the Taygetos Mountain which is a beautiful sight, especially in spring and early summer, when it’s still covered in snow.
A nice attraction is the Dimitrios shipwreck on Selenitsa beach. We will stay at the Aktaion Resort, which is nearby the shipwreck. The resort is about 3 km from Gythio, in front of Selenitsa Beach. It’s a quiet, clean hotel with spacious, luxury rooms, an outdoor swimming pool, and a very friendly staff.
According to locals, the shipwreck was abandoned in 1980 by its owners because of financial problems of their company, and mechanical problems of the ship. Selenitsa Beach was not its original location, but it has drifted away in bad weather.
We also visited the little island of Cranae, which is also called Marathonisi. At this island, Paris from Troy and the beautiful Eleni (Helen), the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta, spent some time together before they left for Troy. This was the reason the Trojan War started.
It’s a tiny island, now connected by a causeway, where you can visit the beautiful Tzanetakis Tower which was built in 1829. It houses a museum, which unfortunately doesn’t open very often. Another landmark of Gythio is the lighthouse on the island built from marble, and an enchanting little white chapel.
Gythio Beaches – Turtle Beaches Greece
The nearest beaches to Gythio are Mavrovouni and Selenitsa, while a little farther away are Evrotas Beach, and Vathi Beach. At all of these beaches, you can find Caretta caretta sea turtles.
Day 2 & 3 – Areopoli, Limeni, Neo Itilo, Karavostasi, Oitylo
The eastern gateway to the Deep Mani is Gythio, and as we leave Gythio we drive further into the impressive landscape of the Deep Mani, to Areopoli, the unofficial capital of the Mani peninsula. After about half an hour we see Areopoli, located on a hill at a height of 250 meters, above the old harbor of the town, Limeni.
Areopoli is an exceptionally charming traditional town, bustling with life and very clean. It has stone-built houses, stone tower houses, many Byzantine churches with wall paintings, and stone-paved narrow streets.
The most important landmark of Areopoli is the Taxiarchis Church with its bell tower. Getting lost in the narrow cobbled lanes will lead you to the most picturesque places. The town is an official monument, and its strict building rules have preserved its unique character. It is not a boring town though. There are plenty of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs where you can spend your time.
The town played an important role in the battles of Greece against the Turks. It is where on 17 March 1821 the Revolution against the Turkish rule started, in which the famous Maniot Mavromichalis family played an important role. In Areopoli the flag of the revolution was raised.
Oitylo Bay and the Kelefas Castle
As we leave Areopoli, the road runs down from the mountains and a fantastic view opens up over the large secluded Oitylo Bay at which three seaside settlements are located: Limeni, Neo Oitilo, and Karavostasi.
The most impressive landmark is the Castle of Kelefas that dominates the area of the bay from Limeni to Karavostasi. The castle was built on a hill at a height of 235 m, around 1670, by the Turks in cooperation with a Maniot pirate, to keep an eye at the area. It has been conquered by Maniots, Venetians, and again by the Turks.
Survived have two of the four circular towers, the external walls, one canon, and the ruined buildings inside. To get to the castle requires a little walk, but the views are breathtaking.
Rarely have I seen a more beautiful place than the little fishing village of Limeni, it has the most incredible turquoise waters you can imagine. At a small strip in front of the sea, with steep rocks behind them, stand traditional stone built houses.
Once a pirate cove and the old harbor of Areopoli, it’s now a seaside resort with charming restaurants, cafes, and accommodations. There are no beaches in Limeni, but special stands from which you can dive into the gorgeous waters and steps that lead into the sea.
The famous Maniot family of Mavromichalis that ruled over the Mani and played an important role in the Greek Revolution against the Turks, resided in Limeni in their house with towers (the palace of Mavromichalai), situated at the highest point of the village.
Neo Oitilo is the seaside village that lies approximately in the middle of the Oitilo bay. It’s built around an impressive sand beach with a length of two kilometers. It’s located four kilometers from the village of Oitilo and also very close to Areopoli. It’s still a small developing resort, that during the day is being visited for its beaches. At night it gets very quiet.
Karavostasi is the third seaside resort in the Oitylo Bay and the harbor of the nearby Oitilo. It has a sandy beach with pebbles and is another charming holiday village.
The ancient city of Oitilo has a history that goes back thousands of years, so this harbor must have been of great importance when the city sent its ships to Troy to assist in the Trojan War. You can read about this in the Iliad of Homer.
Tip: If you like hiking, you can take the path that runs from the Spilaiotissas Gorge (or Milolangkado), next to the monastery of Spilaiotissa to Neo Oitilo and to Karavostasi.
Driving up the mountain, away from the beautiful bay, we arrive after about 5 km in Oitilo, that once was an ancient Greek city that belonged, according to Homer, to the Kingdom of Menelaus, the King of Sparta.
The famous Greek geographer and travel writer Pausanias, who lived from 110 to 180 AD, visited Oitilo by boat because that was back then the only way to get there.
Later it became a base from which pirates operated. It’s known that many pirates used small harbors in the Mani because it was the perfect hiding place as they couldn’t be reached by road.
Oitilo is built on a hill at a height of 250 m, a perfect strategical location because of the wide views over land and sea. The views over the bay area and the surrounding mountains are stunning.
Nearby Oitilo is the Dekoulo monastery, founded in the 16th century, with beautiful wall paintings, while 6 km north of Oitilo you will find Tsingou monastery which is built on a magnificent location.
Day 4 – Diros Caves, Gerolimenas, Vathia, Marmari
To the south of Areopoli are the Caves of Diros, which is about a 17-minute drive. In these beautifully lit caves with a length of many kilometers, we take a gorgeous boat trip. The stalactites and stalagmites are reflected in the turquoise crystal clear water of the cave. We are lucky there aren’t any large queues, as we had read people sometimes have to wait between two to four hours. It pays off to be there very early in the morning. Around the caves are some small beaches for a swim.
On our way to Vathia, we get deeper into the Mani. We stop for a coffee at Gerolimenas, which is a good base to explore the Deep Mani if you have plans to do so. Some Medieval tower houses have been restored and turned into beautiful hotels.
This picturesque village was an important base for pirates of the Mani during the Turkish occupation of Greece. Later it became an important fishing port and trade hub in the area.
Nowadays, Gerolimenas is a quiet resort village, with its houses built right at the water. Many houses have stairs that lead to the water. The waters are exceptionally clean, calm and clear, and of the most beautiful emerald color you can imagine. You can walk through the village and can take a swim wherever you like after you have explored the narrow lanes of the village with its stone built houses and towers.
There are three main beaches around Gerolimenas. Restaurants and cafes with local Greek food surround the beach in front of the village. It’s a beach with big white pebbles and because of the stones in the water, it’s good to have water shoes with you. The water is a little cold, and it gets deep fast, but just looking at the emerald color of the water we hardly couldn’t resist a swim.
If you plan to travel deeper into the Mani, don’t forget to fill up at the last gas station. After Gerolimenas you won’t find another one!
To get to Vathia, the famous village in the Deep Mani, with a cluster of tower houses high on a hill, we follow the road further to the south. We pass from the places Alika, Kiparissos, and Kapi, where we spot some magnificent small coves with little beaches. Although we are tempted to stop the car and jump into the blue sea, we decide to continue our road trip in order to be able to return before sunset. Driving in the dark in this area is not our favorite hobby.
Nowadays, Vathia is called a ghost town, but actually, there are still some people living here. Don’t expect any tourist facilities here though. It’s best to take some water and food with you from Gerolimenas because the further south you go, the more difficult it will get to find something. Especially when you decide to go to the “end of the world” place called Cape Tenaron!
⇒ If you are into hiking in Greece, don’t miss out on our article on the Menalon Trail in Arcadia, the Peloponnese. It’s a certified trail, and the area is considered one of the best hiking places in Europe. During a hike through the Lousios Gorge along the Menalon Trail you can visit Greek monasteries hanging off the cliffs. One of them housed a secret school during the Turkish rule over Greece.
Mani Stone Towers in Vathia
Vathia is still pretty close to Gerolimenas, about a 20-minute drive. The place is like an open-air museum with its seventy tower houses. Actually, there are many villages with tower houses in the Mani, because once it was the traditional architectural style of the Mani. What makes Vathia unique, is the forest of tower houses. Most villages only have a few.
The quietness of the town, the ruins, the wildflowers everywhere make it hard to believe that this place once was home to fierce family clans.
If you are really dying for a swim in another bay from paradise, you can drive from Vathia to Marmari, a drive of about 10 minutes to the south of Vathia. The Mani Peninsula at Marmari is only one mile wide and there are some sandy coves to be found in the rocky coast. Just before Marmari there is even a traditional tower where you can stay, the Tainaron Blue Retreat.
Marmari Beach Peloponnese
At Marmari beach there is another magical accommodation right at the beach, Marmari Paradise Resort. I mention these accommodations because this deep in the Deep Mani there are not many options.
The Gates of Hades & Cape Tainaron
After Marmari there are the Gates of Hades, also called gates of the underworld, which actually are only accessible by boat. The ancient Greeks believed this to be the entrance to the underworld, the mythical place where the dead were assumed to live.
The last destination on the Mani peninsula is the most southern spot of mainland Greece, Cape Tenaron (or Cape Matapan), where you can visit the lighthouse, the ruins of the Temple of Poseidon, and some other ancient Greek ruins of which is not much left but are unique. Just as the place itself. Libya is across the sea.
Messinian Mani – 7 Days in Greece Road Trip
Driving back to Areopoli, we leave the Deep Mani and continue to the north of the Mani peninsula, to less desolated areas. This area is part of the Messinian Mani, while the other areas belong to Laconia.
Day 5 – Agios Nikolaos & Stoupa
Agios Nikolaos Peloponnese
The first village we encounter is the charming fishing village Agios Nikolaos, also called Selenitsa. You will definitely find tourism here, but it has a much more relaxed feel and scenery than the packed, overcrowded Stoupa, which is four kilometers to the north.
Agios Nikolaos has three traditional stone Mani towers and a picturesque little harbor where you can watch fisherman returning from sea, while you have a drink or a meal at one of the cafes or fish restaurants around the harbor.
Our next stop is the touristic village of Stoupa. The contrast of Stoupa with the quiet untouched Deep Mani is enormous. It’s very hard to find a place to park the car, and there are people just everywhere! Stoupa is, because of its many facilities, a popular family destination in the Mani. Here you will meet many tourists from Great Britain and Germany.
We find the grandparents of our friends in the tiny inland settlement of Kotroni. There is nothing to do in the village, but it’s a magical place with stone built houses surrounded by olive groves and the most magnificent views. Our friends are not at home, but at Kalogria Beach, about 15 minutes to the north. So we head for the beach which is great because we are dying for a swim and hungry.
The good thing about the beaches of Stoupa is that they are sand beaches, while many other beaches in Messinia Mani are pebbled beaches. There are two main beaches, Kalogria Beach and Stoupa Beach with plenty of restaurants and cafes.
Kalogria Beach Stoupa
Kalogria Beach is a very popular organized beach with golden sand. Springs from Mount Taygetos emerge into the sea in front of the beach and that’s why the water here is always crystal clear, clean, but also very cold. We had a swim in its waters, and even though it was extremely hot that day, to me the water was a bit too chilly.
Zorbas Stoupa Greece
Kalogria Beach, we learn, was home to the famous Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis in 1917-18. He lived here together with the main character of one of his books, Alexis Zorbas, also known as Zorbas the Greek. A cave in which Kazantzakis retreated to write is accessible by boat or you can swim to it.
Day 6 – Kardamili & Foneas Beach
Patrick Leigh Fermor House
Only seven kilometers north of Stoupa, and 35 km south of Kalamata is the attractive village of Kardamili located. After roads were constructed in the Mani, the villages of the Messinian Mani became accessible and foreigners started to visit the region. British traveler and writer Patrick Leigh Fermor (Paddy Fermor) settled in Kardamili with his wife and wrote the great book “Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese ” about it.
Mani Tower House Mourtzinos
One of the best sights of Kardamili is the impressive fortified complex with the Mourtzinos Tower, a tower house with a little museum in it. Climbing the stairs of the cool tower and visiting the museum will give you an idea about the history and culture of the Mani. The complex with the tower houses was built at the beginning of the 19th century by an influential Maniot during a period that the Mani was still dominated by clans and pirates, and feuds were part of life.
Close to Kardamili is the so-called “royal road”, that connected Kardamili with Sparta. In this area, you can also find many tower houses.
Viros Gorge & Mount Taygetos Hikes
Kardamili is also a perfect base for hiking in Mount Taygetos, with its many hiking trails. This is where the Viros Gorge starts, which is a popular hiking destination and has a length of twenty kilometers. Kardamili is also a starting point for those who climb the top of Mount Taygetos, Profitis Ilias, at 2407 meters.
In the area of Kardamili are beaches for every taste, small secluded beaches in coves, or larger organized beaches.
Foneas Beach is a beach with lots of trees, big white pebbles, and crystal turquoise green waters, divided in two by an enormous rock. It’s located below the road that runs from Stoupa to Kardamili. It’s a white pebbled beach where you can find natural shade under the rocks, and rocks to jump off in the water. It isn’t an organized beach, though you can buy some snacks and drinks from a snack bar. This idyllic spot used to be quiet, but over the years it has become more crowded because of the increased tourism in the area.
Day 7 – Kalamata
After Kardamili it’s time to leave the Mani, so we head for the capital of the Messinian region of the Peloponnese, Kalamata. Even though Kalamata is a vibrant city, we only will visit the Castle of Kalamata, or at least, what is left of it.
There is not really a castle to see, but the walk along the narrow roads leading up the hill to the remains of the castle is worth it. Breathtaking views of the old center of Kalamata, the Messinian Bay, the Taygetos Mountain, and the smell of pine trees will be your reward. There is also a little chapel and a small theater where cultural events are held during summer.
This is where our 7 days Mani road trip in Greece ends. If you come from abroad, you can spend the night in Kalamata and take an airplane from Kalamata airport to Athens, or to your destination abroad.
One Week in Greece or stay longer!
1 week in Greece is enough for a road trip in the Mani Peninsula. Of course, it depends on you if you want to stay longer or shorter. If you are planning to stay 10 days in Greece or longer, you could visit other places in the Peloponnese, the rest of mainland Greece, or take a ferry to one of the beautiful and divers Greek islands. There is so much to see and to do in Greece that you will never get bored!
⇒ One of the most famous places in Greece is Mycenae or Mykenes, located in the Peloponnese. Mycenae was the capital of the ancient Mycenaean empire, and is an important ancient Greek monument. In Mycenae you can visit the Lion Gate, the Cyclopean Wall, the Treasury of Atreus, and other remains of this Mycenaean civilization. More on Mycenae you can read in the following article >> The Treasury of Atreus.