Driving Tour: The Lakonian Mani

  • Start Areopoli
  • End Areopoli
  • Length 112km; six to eight hours

Journeying south down Mani’s west coast from Areopoli, you encounter a barren mountain landscape broken only by semideserted settlements with mighty towers.

In Pyrgos Dirou, whose main intersection is bright with the wares of ceramics shops, you can detour to the Diros Caves. Four kilometres south of Pyrgos Dirou, stop at the Panagia Faneromeni Monastery, where you can peer at weathered Byzantine frescoes in the church.

Return north for 500m, and take a right turn off the main road. This heads up through the picturesque villages of Drialos, Vamvaka, Briki and Mina, which have fine examples of Maniot stonework, before depositing you back on the main road, 3km north of Kita.

Head straight across the road onto the one that leads down to the Bay of Mezapos, sheltered to the east by the frying-pan-shaped Tigani peninsula. Bear left in Mezapos and continue on this road. A kilometre beyond, a small dirt road leads down to a ruined tower house and a tiny gem of a Byzantine chapel.

The road ends at a T-junction; a right turn will lead you to Tigani if you want to explore it. Otherwise, turn left to reach Stavri, where a 'castle' tower house was an HQ of a powerful local clan. Bear left leaving the village to return to the main road, where you turn right, soon coming to Kita.

Kita has the lion's share of the west coast's war towers and fortified houses. It was the setting for the last great interfamily feud recorded in the Mani, which erupted in 1870 and required the intervention of the army, complete with artillery, to force a truce. Just west of Kita, Nomia also bristles with some superb tower remains. South of here, you soon reach Gerolimenas, a pleasant seaside village with plenty of eating options.

South of Gerolimenas, the road continues 4km to the small village of Alika. If you have nerves of steel and wish to see an impressive, generally deserted traditional village with practically no visitors, take the road into the mountains from Alika and then the turn-off to Mountanistika. It's a spectacular spot, running along the high ridgetop, with special views. The road is very narrow, with a drop to one side and few places for passing, so pray there are no oncoming vehicles. It's 6.5km to get there; return via the same route.

From Alika, continue heading south. The road follows the coast, passing pebbly beaches. It then climbs steeply inland to Vathia, the most photographed of the traditional Mani villages, comprising a cluster of closely packed tower houses perched on a rocky spur.

Turn right 3km south of Vathia, then bear right again, keeping on track to Kokinogia, a further 4km away. This is the end of the road, with a ruined basilica built atop the foundations of a temple to Poseidon, Roman ruins and an exhilarating walk to the lighthouse at Cape Tenaro.

Backtrack 3.5km and take the sharp right turn to the tiny east-coast fishing village of Porto Kagio, set on a perfect horseshoe bay, popular with the international yachting set. It's a tranquil place to spend the night. The waterfront tavernas there have similar menus (mains €8 to €17, fish per kilo €50 to €70) featuring seafood and local specialities, such as pie made with wild greens.

Head back north for nearly 2km then take a sharp right to head up the east-coast road. The east coast of the Mani peninsula is even more rugged and barren than the west. The main town is the formidable-looking Lagia, 8km north of the turn-off. Perched some 400m above sea level, it was once the chief town of the southeastern Mani, and some of its towers stand derelict.

From Lagia, the road winds down with spectacular views of the little fishing harbour of Agios Kyprianos – a 2km diversion from the main road. The next village is Kokala, a busy place with two pebbled beaches. The best beach is further north at Nyfi, where a turn-off to the right leads to gorgeous, sheltered Alipa Beach, backed by typical tower houses. Continuing north, bear left up the hill beyond tower-studded Flomochori to cut west across the peninsula back to Areopoli.

Alternatively, you could bear right to the pretty little bay and beach of Kotronas, from where you can continue on the coast road towards Gythio.