First of all, thanks to the new Tripoli-Kalamata motorway it is now a much shorter, pleasant drive away. It is also ideal for a three-day budget break – easy to access, reasonable prices for accommodation and food, cleanliness and a landscape for all tastes: lush green in Messinian Mani, parched Cycladic in Laconian Mani! Then there are its crystal clear waters, history, architecture and local products! Or the fact that you’ve just seen the movie Before Midnight and you’re feeling jealous!So you go, again and again! Mani beckons for hundreds of reasons and in just two hours you find yourself in Kalamata. The road signs will guide you effortlessly out of the city in the direction of Mani. For a more practical place to stay in this popular part of Mani is the undisputed tourist centre of the area, Stoupa. It is said to have been named after the yarn waste (stoupia) which the locals used to make, but it is famous as the place where Nikos Kazantzakis hooked up with George Zorbas, on whom he based the main character in his celebrated novel, Zorba the Greek. The seaside village offers a wide variety of accommodation and restaurants for all preferences and pockets. To find the accommodation that best suits you, at prices ranging from – depending on the season –30 or 40 euros to the sky’s the limit, contact or visit THOMEAS TRAVEL at the southern end of Stoupa beach. Eager to help and knowledgeable about the area, they will make recommendations or put you up in their own studios, which are equipped with everything you need, from air conditioning and refrigerator to small cooker, television and beach umbrella.
Stoupa has two large sandy beaches, both easily accessible on foot from wherever you are staying in the village. The main beach, where most of the tourism businesses are located, is quieter and more family-oriented. Right next to it is Kalogria beach – hip, trendy, a little “Mykonian”, sometimes plenty: inviting blue water, fine white sand, full service, an attractive crowd, great for people watching, if you get my drift...
For the more alternative-minded, halfway between Kardamyli and Stoupa, below a small bridge with yellow and black railings, lies the small, little known beach of Foneas. You can descend by car and marvel at the contrast between the large white pebbles and the imposing dark rock that divides the beach into two parts – the more convenient stretch on the left and the more rugged side on the right. Swim in aquamarine waters and when you feel peckish, head for the canteen just behind the beach for village style salad made with fresh, local ingredients, delicious sandwiches, skewered pork, charcoal-grilled on the spot and paper-wrapped to go. All quite excellent and the ice cold beer an added bonus.
In the evening there are a number of dining options in the village. Among my personal favourites is the charming Italian Rodi, about halfway along the beach, for delicious pizza and al dente delights, with very friendly service and free Wi-Fi. Also, «The Butcher»
with a variety of meat dishes, including one of the best spit-roasted suckling pigs I have ever eaten, served in chunks, off the bone.Bars such as Patriko and «Enigma», all of which are along the beach, will keep you happy well into the night.
Stoupa’s location is also ideal for anyone wishing to explore the greater area. In a radius of 20-30 kilometres from the village, there are a number of enchanting places:
Celebrated Kardamyli – a walk along the narrow streets between stone tower houses is an absolute must!
Characteristic Mani villages, such as Proastio and Platsa.
The flat rocks at Trachila – for bolder, more experienced swimmers only!
Lastly, picturesque Limeni, with its turquoise waters at the southern edge of the village and the exceptional Taki`s tavern
in the middle, below the Mavromichalis tower house.
If you have time and the inclination, continue on past Limeni further south. During the next 30 kilometres it is well worth making a stop at historic, beautifully preserved Areopoli for a stroll around the town and, for Mani aficionados, a visit to the bookstore of Adouloti Mani publications, where you will find almost everything ever written about Mani, before enjoying a swim in crystal-clear waters at Gerolimenas, taking a walk in amazing Vatheia, the well-intentioned project of the Greek National Tourism Organisation, which admirably restored an entire settlement but failed as a business venture. The end of this particular route, about one hour’s drive from Stoupa, is the southernmost point of mainland Greece, Cape Tainaron with its lighthouse. But even if you don’t get that far, since it involves a rugged hike, you will have been rewarded by the pleasure of one of the most spectacular routes in Greece. The verdant, tranquil landscape of Messinian Mani changes dramatically into scenery dominated by reddish brown rocks as you enter Laconian Mani, but the deep blue of the sea retains all its beauty, just as the incredible light throughout the region – responsible for truly magical sunsets – offers a unique experience.
Your return trip will be accompanied by lasting images and, if you want, many local products, which you can buy from roadside stalls: honey, olives, oil and most definitely salt, hand-harvested on the shores. The locals say it is much healthier than regular salt. And I believe them...
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