Mani: Discovering Tradition in the Furthest Corner of the Greek Mainland

Located at the southern tip of the Peloponnese, the region known as Mani is a must-see when traveling in Greece. Rugged, barren, and wild, it’s an area which boasts both incredible country and a remarkably well-preserved, traditional way of life. When I went to Mani, I found a stark landscape, wonderfully warm people, and tasty, unique local dishes.

map from http://leonidas33x.blogspot.com/2010/08/blog-post_13.html

The bright green area is the Mani.

As I did not have a car, I was only able to see Areopolis and Gerolimenas. However, these two towns were an excellent first look at Mani and everything it has to offer.

Areopolis

An evening walk in Areopolis.

A couple of the traditional Maniot stone buildings in Areopolis

Traditional buildings in this region are made from stone. Because Mani is an area of Greece which has managed to preserve its traditional way of life, this means that every building is made from stone. With cobbled walkways and a rocky landscape, too, Mani gives the impression of being made entirely of stone. Being so far south, it can get incredibly hot; and with my fair skin, at times I had the impression of being baked on the stones! And I was only there in May. I can’t imagine what it’s like in August.

Strolling down one of the main walkways in Areopolis

I did a lot of strolling while in Mani.

The only postcards and other touristy knickknacks are sold outside a bakery, and the town blessedly abounds with people carrying out their everyday and thoroughly Greek lives. Kids stop briefly at the threshold to shout to their taverna-owner parents that they’re off to play with Yiannis/Yiorgos/Maria/Katerina from next door. Old men sip ouzo together on porches and carry on in animated, curmudgeonly commentary about the happenings in town. Priests in their traditional garb stop to chat with shopkeepers, bakers, cafe owners, you name it: it’s easy to see that everyone knows each other in this lively little town.

My favorite photograph from my trip to Mani.

Just by sitting and watching, I was given access to this totally authentic little world, and the single greatest gem of this authenticity occurred when I was sitting outside at a cafe. I had my laptop with me in order to briefly catch up with the e-world, and my friend Bennett video-chatted me all the way from Bozeman, Montana. (“How is that POSSIBLE?!” the simple humanities geek who lives in my brain wants to know. I don’t know what to tell her.) We were getting caught up when I saw three people rush by with video cameras. Just as I began to register that something was about to happen, the church bells across the way pounded out a telltale “Dum dum da dum! Dum DUM da-DUM!” to warn me that yes, an entire Greek wedding procession was about to pass before my very eyes. Indeed, it was. I turned my laptop so Bennett could see the amazing parade of fancy dresses, tuxedos, and little kids in their Sunday best. Then came the bride. She was simply stunning. I had never met her and barely even speak her language, but I totally teared up a little while watching her make her way into the church.

I sat at that cafe until the wedding was over. The church couldn’t hold all the guests, as it was quite small, so many of them waited outside during the actual ceremony. It was great fun to watch the kids excitedly clutching their sachets of rice and waiting impatiently for the big moment, when they would get to empty the rice into their hands and toss fistfuls of it at the couple as they made their married debut. As for the ceremony itself, it was broadcast through the church speakers, and I noticed three things. First, it was much longer than an American wedding ceremony. Second, it was done entirely (or almost entirely) by the priest himself–I didn’t hear any other voices, nor any pauses during which other voices would have spoken. And third, I heard quite a few “Christos Anesti”s. Some of you may remember from my Easter post that “Christos Anesti” means “Christ has risen.” I’m not sure if this is something usually said at weddings or was merely said at this one because it took place after Easter, though I’m guessing it was because of the latter.

I now pronounce you covered in rice!

The back of the church in which the wedding took place, taken later that evening.

Another lovely part of my visit to Areopolis was my hotel. It was a traditional Maniot building, and was located ten minutes’ walk from the town center. The owners personified the very best of Greek hospitality. I was the only person staying in the hotel that weekend, and they still cooked breakfast for what could have easily been a dozen people every morning I was there (and not only woke up extra early to do so on my last morning, but also drove me to the bus stop!). Interestingly, the husband had a PhD in hard sciences but still couldn’t get a job in his field, so he opened a hotel instead. If that’s not the Greek economic crisis in action, I don’t know what is.

My breakfast at the hotel, composed entirely of local food. Clockwise, I had: orange juice from Mani oranges; a sort of fried bread dish, which was a local speciality and was just like Native American fry bread; a local goat cheese; and smoked local pork, another Maniot specialty.

Walking down the road from my hotel to the town.

On the road to town, I saw one huge turtle and two roadkilled snakes. Mani wildlife!

All in all, I highly recommend Areopolis as a base for seeing Mani, especially if you don’t have a car. I was even able to get a bus all the way back to Athens on Sunday morning. It’s a charming town and a solid example of the Maniot way of life.

An evening in one of the two main squares

Gerolimenas

I had heard that Gerolimenas was a picturesque seaside village. I had also heard that one of Greece’s top chefs has a restaurant in one of the super-chic hotels in the town.

Naturally, I had to go to Gerolimenas.

I ate cheaply for days before in order to be able to afford to eat at this restaurant, and neither the food nor the village itself was a disappointment. I spent my time in Gerolimenas finishing my book, gazing at the gorgeous scenery, and indulging in shameless foodgasms.

The village of Gerolimenas.

The water in Greece never ceases to amaze.

I had a Greek coffee while I read (and what I mean by “read” is “read a few sentences, looked up at the baffling beauty of the scenery around me, read a few more sentences, looked up again…”). For those of you who have never met a Greek coffee before, it’s sort of like espresso, but the coffee grounds are still in the cup. Never–and I mean never–try to drink the sludge at the bottom of your Greek coffee! Bleh!

Greek coffee! I like mine "sketo," which means served with no sugar. Because servers can tell I'm a foreigner, I'd say about half the time they bring it to me "metrio," or with a medium level of sweetness, because they simply don't believe that this crazy Amerikanaki could possibly ACTUALLY want it sketo. This one was no exception, and came with sugar in it. Hilarious.

Finally, it was time to EAT! I was so excited as I walked into the restaurant. The hotel itself is totally honeymoon-worthy (dear future husband, whoever you may be: get excited to go to Mani!). I was absolutely in foodie heaven as I sat on the deck, looking out at the water and eating such expertly-prepared food. It was totally worth saving up for days beforehand.

My view while eating!

First course: a salad with wild greens, tomato and Cretan cheese with a balsamic syrup. The sweetness of the cheese was perfectly paired with the bitter greens.

Just looking at this photo again makes me drool. The pasta and its light tomato sauce were lovely, but the shrimp were the real star. They were local shrimp, and from the natural sweetness and their rich texture, you could tell they were fresh.

I hope the other guests weren’t alarmed by the noises I was making. I just really loved this meal. It was divine. Truly. The local, seasonal ingredients spoke to the Greekness of the meal, while culinary elements from other cultures offered the perfect accompaniments to boost their flavors and textures.

I send postcards to my parents and one of my best friends from every single place I visit in Greece, and as the “Wish you were here!” thing got old, I started writing a haiku on each one instead. Here is my postcard haiku from Gerolimenas:

If I were a shrimp
And I knew I’d taste this good
I would not fear death.

Mani is certainly an area to which I feel I must return someday, with a car and my hiking gear. The extensive trail system is perfect for a backpacking trip. And the further south you go in Mani, the more remote and traditional it is. Next time, I’m going all the way to the tip.

Στην υγειά σας,

Kate

P.S. Stay tuned for a recipe for a regional specialty from Mani!

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About wrap me in phyllo dough

travel addict. greece-obsessed. grad student. bottomless pit.
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57 Responses to Mani: Discovering Tradition in the Furthest Corner of the Greek Mainland

  1. frixos says:

    Again, I’m amazed at your ability to make people happy just by reading your diary about how you enjoy life!
    (that picture at the square of Areópolis has got to be the best picture of a square without the .. square!)

  2. Hannah says:

    I LOVED this entry about fooooooood! The pictures helped so much to understand and grasp the marvel that is/was your incredible meal. How big are the towns you have been in?

    • Hurray! Glad you liked it! These two are quite small. According to my Lonely Planet guidebook, Areopolis has a population of 774, and Gerolimenas’s is only 55! I’ve been all over Greece to other towns of varying sizes, but the city I live in, Thessaloniki, is Greece’s second largest city. There are about 1 million people in it and the urban area around it.

      There’s a recipe from Mani coming soon! 🙂

  3. How pretty. I love the street scene photos and, of course, THE FOOD! This is so high on our travel list.

  4. Really great post. I so miss Greece and the food, but live every moment with you in your stunning photos. Congrats on Freshly Pressed.

  5. Woo hoo! You’re Freshly Pressed how cool is that!

  6. I don’t know quite what to say first: Yum! Beautiful! Wow! Fun!

    (But maybe not in that order)

    Such fun photos…thank you for sharing!

    Mikalee

  7. thirdeyemom says:

    Fabulous post! My husband and I spent three weeks island hopping on our honeymoon in Greece and loved it! I have yet to return….it was 11 years ago now! Amazing pics. I sure loved Santorini where we spent six lovely days I’ll never forget.

    • Oh, Santorini! What a gem. I’m almost afraid to go back, because I know I will end up there for far longer than I will have originally intended! It’s definitely the kind of place one could get sucked into. Not that that would be bad… 🙂

  8. gaycarboys says:

    I love your slices of life. I don’t know how people think to take pics of their food, and how it always looks more interesting than what I’m eating!!!

    • Actually, it’s hard to remember to take the picture before you start eating; I have many a picture of a half-eaten morsel that just doesn’t quite look as appealing once I’ve demolished the pretty part. And even if you remember, it’s even harder to make yourself wait! 😉

  9. Ian Wolcott says:

    The great British travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor (nearing 100 now) lives in Kardamyli and wrote a book on the area titled (what else?) Mani.

    • Yes! I just finished his Roumeli and was hoping to find Mani to take with me on this trip, but could only find it in Greek. It’s most definitely on my list; his prose is just jam-packed with such wonderful little gems! What a character. I particularly love his comparison of the “Romios” and the “Hellene” in Roumeli.

  10. beyondanomie says:

    Lovely post. I used to regularly visit Greece when I was a kid (we had a small place there), so it brought back some memories. Haven’t been back for years, but I’m going back later this year and really looking forward to it, especially after reading your post!

    By the way, the fried bread dish is probably ladopsomi – you can have it with honey as you’ve done, but if you have it again, try adding some mizythra cheese on top too!

    • Thank you for telling me the name of the bread dish! I really enjoyed it, and I love myzithra, so I can only imagine how great these two things would be together. My friend Georgia told me about strawberries, myzithra and honey together, and I highly recommend that as well! I just hope I can find myzithra when I get back to the States…

  11. ournote2self says:

    My mouth is watering looking at some of those pics. Looks like an amazing trip. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  12. Niki Fulton says:

    The photos say it all – they gave me butterflies. I love Greece and you reminded me its time for another visit. You are so good to share this gem, thank you.

  13. sheokhanda says:

    beautiful place and lovely pics to prove that… 🙂

  14. Virgilio says:

    Just got back a few weeks ago from a whirlwind tour of Greece, but I never did make it out to Mani. I suppose I’ll just have go to back one day!

  15. trialsinfood says:

    great post! makes me want to go to Greece even more. luv your haiku!

  16. Aliya says:

    Hi
    Nice post! It made me re-live my sweet memories of Greece.

    I’m an indie author who wrote a travelogue on Greece and it was published at Kindle EBooks just today. I think you would totally enjoy it. If you’d be interested in reading it and sharing it with your readers, I can give you a free download coupon. 🙂
    Thanks!
    Aliya

    • Absolutely!! I am actually planning to do a whole post of reviews of different travel writing books about Greece I have read, and would be delighted to give it a read. Definitely send it my way!

  17. Liv says:

    Oh my goodness. You are giving me the “travel bug” once again. Reading your beautiful descriptions makes me want to jump on the next plane to Europe!! I love your style of writing. I am now off to read all of your other articles and quite possibly comment on them all. =)

    • The travel bug is a cruel mistress, isn’t it? Really! It commands more money than all my other vices combined, and more of my thoughts too, as I find myself busily planning a zillion future trips in my head all the time. The sickness is deep. 😉 Glad you like the blog! Happy travels!

  18. ashleypaige4 says:

    I just recently returned from Greece, but didn’t make it to this area! I now have something amazing to look forward to on a return visit! Thanks! Great post and photos!

  19. sketchjay says:

    your posts are wonderful. Greece is like no other place on earth – I hope to visit again sonn but until I do I will continue to enjoy your site. You have really captured the essence of the country.

  20. Harold says:

    A nice read and good photos! Looks like a nice place to visit…maybe some day.
    Congrats on being FP! Again!

  21. malichou says:

    Mani is beautiful and have a really weird,unique and wild beauty..
    I thank you for the post and the fotos,because they reminded me of old moments and memories,i come from mani and i have spent all my teen summers there,it;s really the best place on earth..

  22. malichou says:

    ” Interestingly, the husband had a PhD in hard sciences but still couldn’t get a job in his field, so he opened a hotel instead. If that’s not the Greek economic crisis in action, I don’t know what is.”

    Unfortunately that’s Greece.There are so many such examples..

  23. Lovely sights, appealing food! What you’ve done well in this post is sharing the atmosphere of Mani. I feel like I know how it feels to be there, dine there, and how special your experience there. Of course, it’s actually about how I feel when I read this post, but still, it feels very real to me. This is one place I should plan to visit!

    Thanks for transferring you experience to us!

  24. abhishek says:

    Greece is so lovely. Great pictures.

  25. Pingback: Mani: Discovering Tradition in the Furthest Corner of the Greek Mainland (via wrap me in phyllo dough) | a girl who loves science so much.

  26. Cocktails of History and Prose says:

    I Love, LOVE Greece. My husband and I took our honeymoon there in 2000 and then went there again in 2003. I long to be back there. I’ll never forget the time we took the off road and drove to a taverna on the isle of Mykonos. We ordered fried Feta and then saw a lady get out a blow torch, flip down a heavy duty blow torchy mask and blast the hell out of some cheese wrapped up in some tin foil. Gotta love that. And…only in Greece. It was fantastic, btw.

  27. george says:

    hello 🙂 i am from skala lakwnias greece 🙂 nice

  28. palamidi says:

    Best area i ve never been. I m greek and i was tired of all those touristic, extremely expensive places, so last year i discovered Mani. Areopolis is nice and calm, you can meet local people and not hordes of tourists pushing eachother for a sunbed. i am from argolida, a nice place as well but much more touristic. I have written a kind of guide of beaches around Nafplio, have a look: http://wp.me/p1d3Px-1mT Please note: the guide is supposed to be funy

    • Thanks for the link! I will definitely take a look, especially because travel guides with humor are the best kinds of travel guides. And because I adore Nafplio and would love to go back for some beach time!

  29. Greece, Greece, Greece. Now the vision of amazing the amazing landscape and building structures are all stuck in my brain. congrats!

  30. Loved your post and pictures (especially of the food)! I am going to Greece on my honeymoon in one month. I’m so excited to eat, sightsee, and experience all that Greece has to offer! Loved your post!

  31. Congratulations on FP, Kate!!! I am surprised more of your stories don’t make it there. About the Christos Anesti, it is usually said up to a month after Easter! I love how you never fail to capture the beauty and culture of Greece so perfectly. You make me proud, haha =)

  32. Georgia says:

    We can sing Christos Anesti up to 40 days after the resurrection. At that point, Pentecost hits (when the holy spirit enters the 12 disciples and sends them to share Christianity with the world. It’s definitely the best 40 days to go to church in Greece!

    More critically, your photos are making me drool. FOOD HERE IS NOT AS GOOD AS IN GREECE. I miss it. and your Dakos recipe is coming up soon!

    Georgia

    • GEEEOOORGIAAA! We miss you over here!! Hope the start of med school is going splendidly and you’re readjusting as easily as possible (in other words, hope the horta withdrawals are starting to abate). Thanks for the Christos Anesti info and stay in touch. Filakia!

  33. Georgia says:

    and I miss you, obviously. have fun!

  34. kitsatwork says:

    These are breathtaking photos. I’ve always dreamt of visiting Santorini after seeing the movie Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. I guess now Areopolis and Gerolimenas are also on my list of Places-to-Visit!

  35. bonfood says:

    What a great post. I love the look of all the food you are eating!. Fresh and simple by the looks of it. I feel as if I have just been for a mini trip to Mani…while I read and salivated over the dishes. Yum!

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