Driving around the Mani Peninsula in Greece
Last I wrote about our Greece trip was the beautiful view at the top of Monemvasia. We were only there for a few hours and stayed the night before continuing our drive around the Mani Peninsula.
A couple of things I wanted to drop in first – two spots we covered on the way to Monemvasia. You can read my blog post about that beautiful hike!
We quickly stopped by this statue of Leonidas, the king of Sparta who led an army of men in the Greco-Persian War. There isn’t much to see in Sparta, but this statue that is outside of the town is a popular spot for people to stop by.
We had also visited Mystras, yet another historic site. We didn’t climb all the way to the top, since we had already spent a lot of time walking there and needed to conserve energy to explore Monemvasia later that same day. However, we were welcomed with lovely views of the Peloponnese region.
Moving onto our drive around the Mani Peninsula…
Something I had originally planned to see was the Caves of Diros, right at the southernmost point of the peninsula, but when were revisited our itinerary and looked into the cave tours, it looked like it might not be worth it due to limited time and the fact that most tour guides could only speak Greek. It would add many hours to our trip if we drove all the way down to the southernmost point. I had in mind that the hike to the lighthouse at that point might be interesting, but it would be a 45 minute walk one-way. So that definitely adds on a lot of time, both for driving and sightseeing, if we were not planning to stay in the area and were just driving around.
Our next stop after Monemvasia was Kardamyli. It’s a small seaside town not too far from Kalamata (yes, where the Kalamata olives get their name from). On the leg from Monemvasia to Kardamyli, we didn’t have much planned to stop by and look at, other than the abandoned fortress town of Vatheia, a few white pebble beaches, and a shipwreck.
The history of the shipwreck seems a bit unknown and there are many rumours. But according to a book written by a senior naval officer, the ship originally made an emergency docking in Gytheio nearby, but financial problems arose with the crew and they were later fired, and when organising removal of the ship, there was no response for six months. Severe weather conditions swept the ship further from the shore, and finally became stranded in its current location (Valtaki Beach).
The shipwreck was something I quickly found on Google Maps when looking for things to see on the drive, and that was our first stop, about an hour from Monemvasia. Reviews said it wasn’t much to see up close, so we took that suggestion and just took a picture from a distance. It made for a good picture regardless, and you could also see it when you were approaching on the road. We had to walk on some sand, but decided to keep our shoes on. It’s often a lot of bother to take shoes off to walk in sand and then try to shake off the excess before putting your shoes back on.
Alypa Beach – a hidden gem if you want to go for a swim
About another hour away we stopped at Alypa Beach, a beach that’s really only known with the locals. The water is beautifully clear and the shore is made up of white pebbles. There were a couple of people nearby enjoying the water, and some small boats. It would have been so, so nice for a swim, but we didn’t plan for that, and we’re not really big beach people. 😅 Very un-Australian of us, we’ve been told. Nick does like pools, though, and I have to agree, because at the very least, I prefer them to beaches. There isn’t a lot of parking here and it’s in a tight space after following a narrow dirt road, so if you plan to stay here for a bit, be prepared.
Although we didn’t drive all the way around the peninsula, we saw some really beautiful views of it, thanks to all the winding roads on hilly areas. I mostly took photos out the window, as there wasn’t much of an opportunity to stop. We turned at the fork in the road to head back up the west side of the peninsula, instead of driving further south.
The abandoned town of Vatheia
Our next stop, where we planned to spend some time, was Vatheia, a quite recently abandoned fortress town. In 2011 the Greek census collected information that suggested that about 30 people were living in the town, but over the years they seem to have moved on. It’s a little unusual seeing a fortress town with many buildings still intact. There were a lot of weeds growing and there was a somewhat clear path going around the buildings of the town. It wasn’t necessarily spooky, but it had this eerie feeling of the homes still potentially having people living there, even though it was pretty apparent that some belongings and the homes themselves had been abandoned.
Many people stopped to photograph the town from a stop on the highway nearby. It looked pretty from afar and I was expecting it to be bigger and have a bit more to climb up, but that wasn’t the case. We were maybe only there for about ten or fifteen minutes before continuing along.
Gerolimenas Beach was our next stop, a slightly more popular place than Alypa Beach with more eateries and more tourists, but we were only really having a look at their similar white pebble beach. We were able to walk on some of the rocks and the water really did look inviting, especially in the heat, but again, we didn’t plan for a swim. It was also when we parked here that we accidentally hit a stone step when parking the car – parking was pretty tight, and neither Nick nor myself noticed that the short wall behind the car had a taller part jutting out, so we unfortunately damaged the brake light. It was really strange that we couldn’t locate the large pieces that had broken off, though it was obvious from the red mark on the wall that it had hit it. 🥴
We stopped at Areopoli for lunch. I was hoping it would have more interesting options to eat and that it would be lively with people, but it was actually a little quiet. There were a lot of cocktail bars – which we normally would have loved – but we just wanted a bite to eat, so stopped at one that looked like it had OK food options. The buildings were much like the old stone buildings we had already seen, with many restaurants having quirky decor and often bougainvillea flowers growing around the outside walls.
I didn’t get too many photos here, because I already had so many photos of Nafplio and other lovely spots with similar appearances that we spent more time in. A quick search on the internet will definitely give you a plethora of photos with the lovely pink bougainvillea! 💖
Arriving in and exploring Kardamyli
We arrived in Kardamyli a couple of hours later and checked into our accommodation. Nick had missed an email where the owner asked what time we would be arriving, but we followed instructions to find the parking spot and called the owner, who had a friend living on the premises who gave us a little tour of the place. He was quite funny, actually, he said, “I’m not even Greek, I’m from Romania”. He still had a friendly attitude just like that of the Greeks!
I really loved our accomodation and wished we could stay longer. It was just so pleasant and there was more than enough room for two people. There was a jacuzzi – Pauline and I had a conversation about how having a hot tub or a jacuzzi in accommodation sometimes makes things way more exciting, for some reason. 🤣 Nick and I did end up using it in the late afternoon, and the temperature wasn’t too hot, given that it was summertime in Greece.
The Main Street of Kardamyli was less than ten minutes’ walk away. We explored some of the small shops and went close to the water – but as per usual, we didn’t plan to go for a swim. Typical us. 😜 A Spanish couple asked us if swimming in the water was permitted. There was nothing suggesting that it wasn’t, and Greeks are pretty relaxed, so together we deduced that the stairs leading into the water and the small boats around the shores were clues that it was OK. Later, Nick and I were at a restaurant further up the hill and we did see that they decided to go for a swim. 🏊🏻♀️
We spotted a lot of stray cats in Kardamyli, and many of them were in the restaurant we ate at for dinner. They are pretty harmless, and most of them just want to be petted.
The next morning we picked out a place for breakfast that had a nice view of the sea. Although I don’t there there is too much to do in Kardamyli, it makes for a good base for visiting other spots around the Mani Peninsula. I really liked our accommodation and that was the only reason I would stay another night. But Nick and I had a bit of a giggle at a British man in the restaurant who was chatting to two other British women about how he visited Kardamyli twice a year, every year, for the past eight years, and even came to this same restaurant every time. We didn’t think it was that worth coming back to so often, but I guess people travel differently and your mileage may vary. 😝
After quickly packing the rest of our luggage, we continued on our way, leaving the Mani Peninsula and heading towards the Menalon Trail. We were staying in Vitina, but would visit some of the other villages on the trail, where we would have quite the adventure…