Mani – Stunning Peninsula with 800 Towers and 70 Caves
Mani Peninsula is known for its spectacular Diros caves, its old Medieval towers and quaint villages built in stone. Only few, though, have visited the secretive and dramatic southern Mani with its rugged coastline, sleepy fishing coves and fortified villages. Mani was a land of fighters during the War of Liberation.
Mani Peninsula is a place blessed by nature, a vast “museum” that extends along the second leg of Peloponnese, with 96 traditional villages, 800 towers and 70 beautiful caves. This is Mani, the place where the blue color of the Mediterraenean sea bows before the strength of stone and the persistence of man.
Mani peninsula – an unexplored natural treasure
Mani, the central southern prong of Peloponnese in Greece, consists of two parts: the northern Mani with the picturesque coastal villages of Stoupa and Kardamyli famous for their authentic holiday experience and the southern Mani, also called Deep Mani which is rather unexplored by tourists with its tiny, winding roads and rugged coastline only interrupted by an occasional cove.
Deep Mani – a totally different experience
The area of Deep Mani starts at the village of Areopoli, above the bay of Itylo. Just south from here is the main attraction of Deep Mani; the Diros caves are quite spectacular and extensive. Here you can hire your own ferryman to explore the “underworld” with stalactites and crystal-clear waters.
Further down the coastline arriving at the lazy fishing coves you will find only few other tourists. Here you will find the ruins of the castle on Tigani, a rock in the sea and the characteristic Manian tower houses, once used as small clan fortresses.
Where is Mani Greece?
Mani, the middle peninsula of southern Peloponnese. To the east is the Laconian Gulf, to the west the Messenian Gulf. The peninsula forms a continuation of the Taygetos mountain range, the western spine of Peloponnese. Mani is the home of Maniots. Starting from the foothills of Mt Taygetos it is forming a triangle from Kalamata to Cape Tainaron and the port of Gytheio. The peninsula has a total length of 72 km and 28 km at its widest. With its 30,000 inhabitants it engages in fishing, farming, commerce, and tourism.
Map of Mani
Why visit Mani Greece?
Mani’s rugged landscape will enchant you at first glance. Wild rocks and stone towers, mixed with pebbled beaches and fragrant wild flowers, thyme, oregano and all sorts of weeds. This place by itself is a vast museum that awaits your exploration.
Mani as a travel destination is not meant for timid or easy travelers or for those seeking idyllic, digestible landscapes. It is for those who love the unique and challenging landscape leaving the rest to be squeezed in the islands.
Today Mani’s coastal villages are full of cafés and souvenir shops. The peninsula attracts visitors for its Byzantine churches and Frankish castles, its secluded, sandy beaches and stunning scenery. Some popular beaches during the summer are Kalogria and the beaches by Stoupa harbour, while Kardamyli and Agios Nikolaos have nice pebbled and sandy beaches too. The ancient tower houses of Mani (pyrgospita) are significant tourist attractions, and some offer accommodation for visitors.
Mani Greece – How to get there?
The nearest airport to Mani is Kalamata Airport KLX, which receives domestic flights from Athens and Thessaloniki and seasonally from a great many European destinations, like Heathrow and Gatwick during summer. At the airport you will find taxis, car rentals, airport hotels and buses. From Kalamata there is an hour’s drive to Kardamyli in Mani. If you want to explore Deep Mani, you should rent your own vehicle in the airport. Just be aware that the roads, though generally good, are winding and narrow.
You can also reach Mani by car from Athens. It is a 5 hours’ ride from Athens, via Kalamata. Another option is the intercity bus (KTEL) leaving from Kifissou Station in Athens.
Which airlines fly to Kalamata?
Different airlines fly from a great many destinations in Europe during the summer months. Among the airlines are: Aegean, British Airways, easyJet, Ryanair, Jet2, and sky express.
What to see in Mani Greece?
When visiting Mani, do not miss the unique and beautiful Diros Caves. One of the finest, if not the most beautiful lake cave in the world, Diros is essentially divided into three caves, of which we visited Vlychada. The Diros Caves stretch 14 km in the bowels of the Mani earth, the tourist route, however, has a total length of 1,500 m. The constant temperature of the caves, always ranging between 17-19°, cools visitors and the tour – a boat ride – lasts about half an hour.Read more
Snow-white columns rising from the water, stalactites and stalagmites playing in tones of pink and elsewhere red, have given the names to the separate rooms: the Pillars of Hercules, the Lake Okeanidon, Palm Trees, the Chapel, the Stone Flower, the Pink Salons, Velvet Stalactites, the Lighthouse, Golden Rain, the Sea of Wreckage, the Chocolate Room, the Spider’s Net, the Cave of Bethlehem, the Flying Saucer, the Hall of Lovers, the Lake with Fairies are some of those encountered in the path.
The Diros Caves are located approximately 8 km south of Areopolis and they are part of an underground river. About 5,000 meters have been exposed and are accessible by small boats and through narrow passageways. Archaeological research has shown that the caves have served as places of worship in Paleolithic and Neolithic times and their inhabitant believed that the caves were the entrance to the Underworld.
Maniot mansions and towers
The fortified mansions and towers of Mani are a beautiful sight with their tiled roofs and raw walls. There is nothing sweet about Mani. It is a wild, rocky, barren scenery with medieval villages perched on hilltops and stone towers hanging on steep cliffs. If you stay in Kardamyli you must visit nearby Alepotripa caves, Cape Tainaron and the Viros gorge. Mani has altogether 250 villages and hamlets, 800 towers, countless Byzantine churches and six castles.
The “vendetta” of the Maniots
The population of Mani, the Maniots, have always fought fiercely for their freedom having a strong feeling of independence and profound patriarchal family ties. If a member of a family were insulted in some way, it would immediately result in a “vendetta”, often fatal, involving the entire family both on the offended and the offending side. This bizarre custom made the Maniot families build their own tower fortresses to live in, along with their own chapels and cemeteries. It also forced many Maniots to emigrate to other parts of Greece. Some emigrated to Corsica where their descendants later became bodyguards of Napoleon or pirates.
This harbour which communicates with Viros gorge was once used by ancient Sparta. Today it is one of the well-preserved traditional villages of Mani and a popular tourist resort with tavernas, shops and all tourist facilities like hotels and B&Bs. Go for a walk around the old part of Kardamyli and explore Mourtzinos tower, the church of Agios Spyridon, ancient and medieval ruins, and the graves of the Dioskuri. Put on your good walking boots and go for a hike in remarkable Viros gorge. It will take you about 2,5-3 hours to reach the springs of Viros river.
What to do in Mani Greece?
Road trip in Mani
1st part from Kardamyli to Areopolis
The best activity in Mani is a road trip in a rented car or on an organized tour around the peninsula to see all the sights. The route is most interesting with many spots to explore. You just need to follow the main coastal road which will take you from the foothills of Mt Taygetos past Proastio with beautiful churches, picturesque Stoupa and the nearby ruins of the Frankish castle of Beaufort or Lefktron. It then continues to the harbour of Agios Nikolaos with stone houses, tavernas and Agios Dimitrios beach. Further down the road you pass through Platsa and Nomitsi with a gorgeous sea view and the church of Metamorphosis. The Ethnological & Historical Museum in the village of Thalames is not far away, as the stone houses of Langada.
Just before reaching Areopolis, you will arrive at Itilo, the capital of the region. It is a village of 700 inhabitants, the style is traditional, and it is built on top of the ruins of the ancient city, mentioned by Homer in his Iliad. From Itilo take the path leading you to the fort of Kelefa. It will take you about 30 min. on foot. Kelefa was built by the Ottomans as a control post of the district. It is visible from far away, but today only a few towers and contour of the walls have survived.
2nd part from Areopolis to the Diros caves, Gerolimenas and Vathia
From Areopolis you continue to Pirgos Dirou, a cluster of small hamlets with ruins and well-preserved towers. Worth visiting in Pirgos Dirou: Sklavounakos tower, the museum with Neolithic findings from the district, and the churches of Agia Marina and Taxiarchon. A must-see is of course the Diros caves.
Continuing southwards you will reach Harouda village with its great church of Taxiarchon and further down the road you must make a stop at the beautiful bay and village of Mezapos. On Cape Tigani you will see the remains of the Frankish castle of Great Maina. A must-see on the route is the village Kita, amazing with historic towers and churches. On the way to Gerolimenas make a stop in Ano Boularii where you can enjoy a spectacular view and well-preserved towers.
East Mani Road e-Bike Tour
8 HOURS’ TRIP WITH EXPERIENCED GROUP LEADER
Winding your way down the prong of Mani southwards, you will soon descend to the picturesque village of Gerolimenas spread around a pebbled beach. Gerolimenas port with its waterfront hamlet is found near the ruins of the ancient city of Ippola.
Staying in Deep Mani, Gerolimenas is one of the best options with B&Bs for all budgets. Old warehouses have been converted into accommodation. Gerolimenas is a great spot for indulging in local history, tradition, and delicious food.
3rd part – arriving at VathiaRead more
Continuing southwards, the rocky prong starts to narrow in, its east and west coasts rushing to meet. The superb town of Vathia is perched high above the sea, consisting of tower houses, a church, a square and a small war museum. Vathia is under preservation and some of the larger houses have been converted into guesthouses.
4th part – from Vathia to Lagia
Between Porto Kagio and Marmari the coasts almost meet and a short distance further south you will see Cape Tenaro. On the edge is the tiny harbour of Porto Sternes and the sanctuary of Poseidon Tenarios. Have a 30 minutes’ walk down to the lighthouse of the cape. Nearby you will find the cave of Hades, one of the entrances to the underworld according to Greek mythology. Passing through the fishing village of Porto Kagio you can have a look at the enclosed bay. Drive on to Lagia, yet another town of well-preserved towers. On the west coast Marmari has a few sandy coves on its rocky coast, some stone-built guesthouses and a taverna.
5th part – the east coast of Deep Mani
If you thought the west coast of Deep Mani to be remote, then try traveling up the desolate east coast of the peninsula. Here the mountains drop straight into the deep sea and visitors in the villages are few. The first cove to find northwards from the cape is at Abela beach. Here the waters are crystal-clear, and the beach is white pebbled without facilities. A bit further north you will find the pebbled beach of Kokkala, more accessible, but not as attractive. It has a village with a taverna and accommodation.
6th part – arriving at Gythio port
Gythio, located at the foothills of Mt Koumaros, has been inhabited since ancient times. Today, it is an attractive and lively seaside town with good fish tavernas and picturesque traditional architecture with neo-classic houses. Worth visiting in Gythio: Tzanetakis tower, today the Mani Historical and Ethnological Museum. It is built on the tiny island of Krane (Marthonissi) right next to the port.
Hiking in Mani
The European footpath E4 passes through Mani. Starting from Gythio it is a 7 hours’ hike to the refuge on Mt Taygetos passing through Kastania and past the Monastery of Panagia Giatrissa.
Climb Mt Taygetos
CHOOSE BETWEEN ONE DAY OR TWO DAYS TRIP
Mani Beach Guide
The Mani beaches are characterized by crystal-clear and unpolluted seas. Sandy or pebbled most are hidden in tiny coves along the rugged coastline. Find the best beaches in Mani below:
- Skoutari beaches – three sandy beaches, non-organized with clean blue water.
- Marmari beaches – in southern Mani is considered one of the best beaches in the area. Just before reaching Cape Tainaron, you will find three consecutive beaches lined up in a big bay. The third, divided in two is the best with sand all the way into the sea.
- Mavrovouni beach – is one of the best beaches in all of Mani, organized with water sports. It is also a resort village with all tourist facilities.
- Stoupa beaches – the two great beaches, Stoupa and Kalogria have fine fine sand, big trees, good, traditional tavernas and a few pensions with rooms for rent. In the famous beach of Kalogria Nikos Kazantzakis was inspired and wrote the uniqe novel Life and Times of Alexis Zorbas.
- Agios Nikolaos beach – a small, pebbled beach near Stoupa.
- Kardamyli beach “Ritsa” – nice, pebbled beach with crystal-clear waters. Non-organized beach located next to Kardamyli village.
Weather and climate in Mani (Kardamyli)