The gateway to the Mani on the Messenian side is Kardamyli, considered part of the outer Mani (or Exo Mani), an area less bleak and stark than the inner section, which begins at Areopolis, after which the lush vegetation of the north gives way to brown, treeless slopes and flat seas of stunted olive groves punctured only by crumbling tower houses. Here the foothills of the Taygettus range are still green, and the sun is considerably more forgiving.

This quiet and pleasant stone town has become a popular tourist stop for travelers attracted to its seaside lanes, boho boutiques, fine restaurants, and the dazzling beauty of its mountainous backdrop. It is particularly prized among hikers, who arrive en masse in the cooler months to explore the lush gorges, trails, and slopes as well as fragments of the "Royal Road," built during Roman occupation, that used to connect the town to Sparta. The old section of Kardamyli, above the modern town, lies on a pine-scented hillside dotted with small clusters of tower houses. Stone-paved paths cut through the enclave and lead to the local clan's old defensive tower, which is also the gateway for hikes into the beautiful Viros Gorge.

The area's most famous resident, and perhaps one reason for its growth in popularity in recent years, was the late Patrick Leigh Fermor, an Anglo-Irish writer who wrote extensively on the area. His old house (now a museum and seasonal hotel) lies in nearby Kalamitsi village, and battered copies of his 1958 book Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese are still clutched by visitors eager to live his prose.

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