We have spent the last several days driving the Mani. The Mani is the central peninsula of the Peloponnese, the Gulf of Messina to the west, the Gulf of Lakonia to the east. It’s a little different from the rest of the Peloponnese and very different from mainland Greece. It’s isolated, there are no freeways, very little wifi or even a internet on our phone, barely a road sign except in Greek Latin, no supermarkets more like what you may consider a poorly stocked corner shop. Its hilly and relatively desolate, low and scrubby vegetation prevail. The people of the Mani consider themselves Spartan rather than Greek, every man’s home is his castle and in most cases they are. The area is famous for its tower houses, they look like a series of little castles clustered together in small villages normally less than a few kilometres apart. From a touring motorhome perspective it’s interesting as every crest has a fabulous view of some rugged piece of coastline, interesting village or isolated beach.
Travelled: 55 kilometres from Mystras to Valtakiou Beach, just east of Gythio, the Peloponnese.
Visited: Just the beach
Stayed: Another PJs campsite, free no services, nice little Taverna with good wifi. N36.78916, E22.58189
We drive south from Sparta, adding fuel and filling the water tank on the Hymer on our way. The road is rough for several kilometres and we hope this isn’t a premonition but eventually we are on some pot hole free bitumen and it’s low rolling hills terraced with olive trees all the way to Skala. Turning west along the coast into the Mani for several kilometres is orange and lemon trees in huge orchards as far as the eye can see.
Soon enough we are hugging the coast either next to the Aegean or above it around the headlands. We can see an obvious shipwreck on the beach, we know our next campsite is close and a kilometre later we pull into a huddle of motorhomes just off the beach in Valkakiou. There is a taverna right next door and the beach is sandy and clean. There is a small freighter rusting away half on the beach it’s stern in the water. An interesting bit of snorkelling I think to myself.
Travelled: 24 kilometres from Gythio to Kamares, the Peloponnese
Visited: Gythio and on the beach in Kamares
Stayed: Kamares, on the fine pebble beach. Free no services N36.67923, E22.52240
It’s only a couple of kilometres into Gythio and we’re looking for a parking spot. It’s apparently market day and stalls are set up on the esplanade and another road running up the hill. We have a bit of a wander about, purchase some bread and an interesting piece of pizza from a bakery. Gythio is a port village, lots of fishing boats and a few cruising yachts. We move the Hymer onto the break wall behind another motorhome and have a late breakfast and coffee.
It’s a picturesque place with a lovely waterfront but there’s no beach, so after a quick supermarket stop we continue south on the eastern side of the Mani. The road is good but hard work, bend after bend rugged coastline on our left, barren hills on our right. Half an hour later we turn off to Kamares. It’s a long sweeping beach, we can see 6-8 motorhomes at the far end and feel comfortable already.
We spend the afternoon swimming and sunbathing. The old Dutch couple parked in front of us tell us the bread van comes at 10am so we head off to bed thinking Kamares may do for a few days. About 5am the sound of thunder has us stirring, by 5.30 the lightning has our interest, still dark at 6am it starts to rain. At first light around 7am the heavens open up and the wind and rain hammer the Hymer for two hours. After 9am it eases and just after 10, true to his word we hear a horn sound and it’s the bread man.
Travelled: 56 kilometres from Kamares to Gerolimenas, the Peloponnese.
Visited: Mani west coast and Gerolimenas.
Stayed: Carpark opposite the rocky cove, lovely little village, nice tavernas. No Services. N36.482330, E22.399580
It’s still drizzling after breakfast and we decide to move on, no point sitting in the Hymer all day. We continue south along the Gulf of Lakonia. The road continues to hug the coast, a series of endless bends. The scenery is stark but captivating, occasionally we glimpse a little beach or a few fishing boats at their moorings. The villages are only 6-8 tower houses, no shops or taverns for the next 30 kilometres. Suddenly we drive down a step hill into what seems like a larger village, cars are parked on either side of the road. It continues to narrow, cars are everywhere, it’s like Miranda on Saturday morning.
Then every motorhomer’s nightmare, we come to an intersection, just a fork really, directly outside the village church. Suddenly a car appears from the opposite direction, I stop the Hymer and look around. It’s a funeral, the hundred cars in the street belong to the hundreds of people milling outside the church. I look in the mirror there is already a couple of cars behind the Hymer and we cannot go back. Like a scene from an old Zeffirelli movie, the funeral comes to a stop and men start arguing, arms are waving about. A group of men all wearing black armbands noisily debate the dilemma and the decision made, the old man driving the little white van must reverse back. There are some poor drivers in Greece but this old fellow was the worst. He couldn’t reverse more than 5 metres without moving of track and almost hitting another parked car. This of course resulted in more yelling, more arm waving. Finally he can pull into a little laneway and we scoot passed, I give him a wave he gives me the look of someone ready for a stroke.
We drive into Gerolimenas in the late afternoon, once a little fishing village it now appears to be a stop for tourist coaches, there are three parked up the hill and all the taverns and restaurants are full of diners. After a short walk around we decide this will do for the night. There is a nice level carpark and we are in the shade of a lovely tree. After the stress of our uninvited attendance at the funeral, we have a nap. Ninety minutes later we emerge to a ghost town, the coaches and tourist are gone. Gerolimenas is just a little fishing village again.
We dine in a little restuarant next to our car park. We ask to see the menu, the proprietor who as it eventuates is also the cook and waitress, escorts us into the kitchen. We are shown what’s on offer today, in pots on the cooker and in the oven. Deciding on some local dish that looked like a giant dolmade and roast vegetable. It was a great meal and reasonable at €24 with beer and wine. We met a couple from Melbourne co-incidentally sitting next to us and had a good old chat.
Travelled: 23 kilometres from Gerolimenas to Diros Caves.
Visited: Diros Caves €12 pp
Stayed: Two nights, Ocean-side camping on a shingle beach adjacent Caves, free no services. N36.64168, E22.38336
It’s seems very dark in Gerolimenas in the morning. The village sits between two mountains and the sun doesn’t appear until almost 9 am. We are as far south as we feel comfortable taking the Hymer, so we swing north and start the drive up the west coast of the Mani peninsula. Other than that little has changed, we pass small clusters of tower houses and not much more. We keep an eye out for a spring as the Hymer’s water tank could use a fill.
We see a small church and graveyard, graveyards almost always have a handy tap. A quick stop to check and 5 minutes later we are full of water again. It’s only just over 20 kilometres to Diros Caves and we soon turn and start the descent down to the beach. It’s very steep and we take it slowly in second gear enjoying the view. We can see a few motorhomes along the beachfront and we are soon settled into this lovely shingle beach. The shingles as they call them are smooth white rocks about the size of your fist. They stop at the waters edge and it’s white sand from there out. On reflection we have come to the conclusion that shingle is better than sand for camper-car living. You don’t have to waste time and water washing your feet before going in the camper 20 times a day.
Anyway it’s so nice here we decided to stay on for a second night. Our campsite is about 500 metres over the headland to Diros Cave. So next morning we put shoes on (something we haven’t done for a while) and walk to the Cave’s entrance. €12 pp is a lot of money in camper car world and we think it the most expensive entry fee we have paid this trip. We are told we must wait 20 minutes or until they sell 6 tickets so the boat if full. After 20 minutes of watching the 15-20 staff sitting around having coffee and smoking at least 3 cigarettes each, we are called and walk down into the artificial opening to the cave and into a small barge with our guide.
Diros Cave has been explored for a distance of 14 kilometres, our barge ride however is 1.4 kilometres long with another 500m walking through a dry section of cave after the water section concludes. It was a great visual experience, the colours and the types of formations change as we pass from one gallery to the next. The water is crystal clear and the reflection adds to the spectacle. Here’s the funny bit, our guide did not say a word for the whole trip in the boat, more than 30 minutes. We had thought, that’s affirmative action a mute guide, but no ! When we climb out of the barge he points up a path and says “watch your head”. He jumps back in his barge and paddles off to spread more cheer and interesting facts about his workplace.
Travelled: 48 kilometres from Diros Caves to Pantazi Beach
Visited: Village of Agios Nikolaos and Pantazi Beach
Stayed: In the carpark on Pantazi Beach (2 nights), free no services, but a shower on the beach and some shade. Taverna has wifi and cheap drink and food. Water from a spring 500 metres north toward Nikolaos. N36.81780, E22.29370
After two beautiful days on the beach at Diros it’s time to find another beach and we say goodbye to our Austrian neighbours and continue north. While we have still had a few Dutch and French neighbours most are from Austria. In comparison to last year in Spain when most of our campsite neighbours were Dutch or the other Low Countries. I suppose it’s just the geography, Austria is much closer to Greece than Spain. Problem being most Dutch people speak English very well, not so with the Austrians.
As we drive north the road narrows and the villages become larger. We see more new homes or more correctly groups of new homes, still built in the Mani tower house style. Looks like the developers have moved in, though where not sure who has the money to buy them.
We have the co-ordinates for Pantazi Beach and an hour later we drive into the parking area next to the beach and position the Hymer between two large trees. It’s a sandy beach but the usual stoney strip just up from the water line, the water itself warm and crystal clear. We find a shower on the beach which is a real bonus. There is a little taverna with wifi so we may stay a day or two.
Michael and Pam