Grey rock, mottled with defiant clumps of green scrub, characterises the steep, forbidding mountains of the Lakonian Mani. Cultivable land is at a premium here, and supports little more than a few stunted olives and figs.
The indented coast’s sheer cliffs plunge into the sea, and rocky outcrops shelter pebbled beaches. This wild and barren landscape is broken only by imposing stone towers, which still stand sentinel over the region. In recent years, many of these have been restored and are no longer the crumbling sights you'll see in many photographs.
Long known to locals as Kakavoulia (land of evil counsel), this tough, mesmerising land makes for a fantastic road trip if you have your own wheels. You can follow the loop that runs south along the west coast from the main town, Areopoli, detouring en route along narrow lanes into semi-deserted villages. Stop to peek into chapels (there are almost as many churches and chapels as there are towers), many of which are adorned with Byzantine frescoes, and walk to Mani's southernmost tip before returning via the east coast (or vice versa). For detailed exploration, arm yourself with a copy of the brilliant Anavasi Topo 25 map, Mani 8.4; 1:30,000.
The Messinian Mani, or outer Mani, lies to the north of its Lakonian counterpart, sandwiched between the Taÿgetos Mountains and the west coast of the Mani peninsula. The rugged coast is scattered with small coves and beaches, and backed by mountains that remain snowcapped until late May. Kardamyli features the region's best-organised hiking opportunities, and there are also some good options around Stoupa.