May 22, 2016
This is a fun day of driving through the rugged Mediterranean landscape of stone villages and sea views. There is something for everyone, windy roads, crumbly stone villages and churches, lonely seascapes, hiking, beaches and even a cave.
Rick Steves packs a lot into the tour so you will have to make some choices if you are planning on doing his loop drive in a single day. Just driving the route probably takes about 4 and half hours. We skipped poking around most of the towns and churches and did only the cave and the walk at the end of the peninsula, stopping for lunch at the restaurant after the walk.
If you have time for a longer stay, the peninsula is more built up than it used to be so there are quite a few hotels in the small towns along the coast with more on the west coast than the east.
The morning started clear with just a light mist in the air. By mid-morning clouds started to gather in the mountain tops. As we headed across the peninsula to the east coast the sky became increasingly clearer with beautiful weather as we headed south. Later in the afternoon as we headed back north, towards Kardamyli, we drove into rain clouds with a light sprinkle now and again. The two sides of the peninsula can definitely have different weather patterns.
Pyrgos Dirou Caves –This hour long trip, first on boat and then a short walk out, is a fun and pretty detour just south of Areopoli. Rick claims it rivals some of the best caves in Europe. I’m not sure I agree, but the rain formations, very fine stalagmites that sparkle like rain drops, are definitely eye catching. None of the rooms are impressively large, but it’s an enjoyable boat ride on a lazy day.
With 6 in a boat the front seat has the best view as it not always easy to see from the back rows. At just after 10 on a Sunday morning we had to wait for others to arrive to fill up a boat. The posted hours at the time of writing were 8:30 am to 3:30pm, but the museum was closed for renovation. 13 euros/person.
They don’t like you taking any bags on the boat, just your camera. Leave your bag in the office where you get a life jacket. I forgot my flash so was somewhat limited on what photos I could take in the low light.
The east side of the peninsula is drier with weathered stone villages in a desolate landscape.
Shortly after you cross over the mountains you start to see the typical stone towers that characterize these villages.
Rick says that as you first descend towards the east coast this is “the best stretch of scenery on the Mani”. Maybe in sunnier weather but when the sky isn’t blue the sea doesn’t sparkle, leaving the landscape rather drab. Further south near the end of the peninsula we hit the sun with dramatic views and sparkling blue water.
At the end of the road we checked out the Roman mosaics and made our way to the lighthouse to get a little exercise.
Albeit a pretty walk, the lighthouse is only really worth it if you are looking for a chance to enjoy a beautiful day and walk along the coast or feel the need to stand at the end of mainland Greece.
We had lunch at the restaurant just above the parking area. The food was surprisingly good. Of course the fact that we were hungry made it that much better. We feasted on Greek salad, taramasalata – fish roe dip – and grilled sardines. I know it sounds a lot like previous lunches but it is what we love and the Greeks are masters at grilling up little fish. Along with fresh bread and beer it’s the perfect lunch and at 20 Euros you can’t beat it.
Driving back up the west coast, the sun still shining, we hit what I thought was the most dramatic section of the coastline around the ancient town of Vathia perched on a hill.
Here you see the most remarkable example of the stone towers the region is known for.
As we head north to Kardamyli the amazing views continue even as the cloud cover increases with rain in the distance.