Few areas in Greece are as wild and remote as the Mani Peninsula in the Peloponnese. We spent a week in this amazing region, and loved every minute of it. Here is how to explore Mani Greece.
In this travel guide, I'll introduce you to the Mani Peninsula in southern Greece, and then show how you can enjoy it on a road trip!
The Mani Peninsula in Greece
There's something indefinably special about the Mani area of Greece. It has a wild, untamed nature to it. A rugged beauty. A feeling of being literally at the edge of the world.
You may already know about the many tower houses and beautiful beaches. Perhaps you've heard that the Maniots might be descendants of the Spartans, and the role they played in the Greek War of independence.
What you may not appreciate until you are actually there though, is just how empty this mysterious land is outside of the main towns and villages.
If you're looking for an adventurous journey in the Southern Peloponnese, spend some time traveling in the Mani Peninsula – you've probably never been anywhere like it before!
Where is Mani Greece?
Mani, often called “the Mani”, is in the Peloponnese, the southernmost region of mainland Greece. Looking at a map, you will see that the Peloponnese has three smaller peninsulas in the south. Mani is the peninsula in the middle.
Mani’s northernmost points are Verga, just outside Kalamata, and Trinisa, close to Gythion. It goes all the way to Cape Tainaron, which is the southernmost point of mainland Greece.
As we live in Athens, we decided to drive directly to Gythion in Mani first of all, and use this as the start point for our road trip.
Another logical starting point for a tour of the Mani in the Peloponnese might be Kalamata.
If you're planning a similar Mani road trip yourself, you can find plenty of car hire opportunities in both Athens and Kalamata.
I've a a few local insights here into renting a car in Greece which is worth reading.
What’s so special about Mani Greece?
This remote, arid area is incredibly interesting. From a historical point of view, Mani is where the Greek Independence War seems to have started.
In fact, several places claim to have hosted the first Greek rebellion against the Ottoman Empire. Though some of them, like Kalavrita, are further north in the Peloponnese, it is certain that many towns in Mani were involved in the first days of the Revolution.
The Maniots, the people of the Mani, have always been proud and independent. They had been known to be rebellious since long before the Revolution.
Mani was never actually properly occupied by the Ottomans, although there had been a few attempts. They rejected Ottoman rule to retain local autonomy over their own affairs.
For the most part, the Ottomans left them to it – the rocky coast made landing ships difficult, and the terrain of this middle peninsula of the Peloponnese was just too challenging for their armies to traverse.
Even during the War of Independence, the Maniots stood against armies much bigger than their own when joint Ottoman and Egyptian armies invaded. Perhaps there's more than just legends behind their ancient Spartans ancestry!
In terms of the region itself, Mani is one of the wildest areas in Greece. There are some lovely sandy beaches, but the coastline is often rough and pebbly.
The landscape is arid and rocky, and the more south you go, the less fertile it is. This explains why many people left Mani in the 20th century, to go and find work abroad. The population has rapidly declined, and very few people live down south.
Not much grows on this dry land, but you will see the famous Mani stone towers everywhere. Many of them are abandoned, but others are still in use, and some of the stone buildings and tower houses have even been transformed to boutique hotels.
All in all, Mani is a very special part of Greece. See Mani in a day, and you will enjoy some pretty unique landscapes. Take a road trip around Mani, and you will discover a whole new world.
Our Mani Peloponnese Road Trip Itinerary
We had been to Mani once before this road trip, but had really only spent one full day driving around. This time, we decided to come back to explore it properly in our faithful, if slightly beaten up looking, Starlet.
We spent a week in the Mani towards the end of September – a time when few people choose to visit. There was a very welcome quietness, and some of the areas we visited almost seemed deserted.
Visiting the untamed Mani at the end of season was a great experience. We had the chance to talk to people who live there all year round and ask about their lives.
We also got to enjoy some very quiet beaches, and to see the early autumn colours. Inside tip: Autumn in Greece is one of the best times to visit!
Here is how we spent a week in Mani Greece, travelling around in our own car.
Speaking of which, it is important to have your own form of transportation if you want to explore Mani properly. While you could get to the bigger towns on buses, you will only be able to really experience Mani in your own vehicle.
Days 1-3 – Gythio Town and Beaches
On day 1, we drove from Athens to Gythion. This is a small coastal town which is pretty much the northernmost point of the Mani to the east.
It took us just under 4 hours to get to Gythio, with a stop or two. The new highway is excellent, just be prepared for many toll stops along the way.
Gythio is one of the most charming towns in the Peloponnese. It is really picturesque, and you can sit anywhere on the long promenade to have a coffee, meal or drink. Our favourite place to eat in Gythion is Trata, a small restaurant with a large menu and tiny prices.
There is a fair amount of sightseeing in Gythion, with neoclassical buildings, the cultural centre and Marathonisi.
The best known attraction in the wider area are the Diros Caves. They are located near Pyrgos Dirou, a half-hour drive from Gythion. If you are taking a road trip around Mani, you can visit them on your way to Areopoli.
At the time we visited Gythion, there was a small local festival, with an open-air market. There are often seasonal events and festivals, so ask around to see if there’s anything you shouldn’t miss.
Another great thing about Gythion are its wonderful beaches. You can visit the famous Dimitrios shipwreck on Valtaki beach, to the North. Our favourite beach around Gythion though is Mavrovounio, a long sandy beach where you can always have some privacy.
This was the second time we visited Gythion. We spent three days in the town, but could have happily stayed longer. We stayed in style, in a reconstructed stone tower house! Check it out here: Stone Tower in Gythion.
For more information about this lovely town, have a look here: Things to do in Gythion.
Day 4 – Driving from Gythio to Porto Kagio
On Day 4 of our week in Mani, we had to leave our lovely temporary home. Our next destination was Porto Kagio, a tiny village to the south of Mani.
The distance from Gythio to Porto Kagio is only 65 kms. However, if you were to drive without stopping, it would take about an hour and a half.
The roads are in pretty good condition overall, but many parts are narrow and steep.
We weren't in a rush though, and had plenty of stops planned on the way!
On our way to Porto Kagio, we stopped several times, to have a look at the landscapes and the fantastic beaches.
There are another couple of sandy beaches past Mavrovounio, such as Kamares and Skoutari beach.
We stopped for about an hour at Kamares, which was easily accessible from the road. This long beach is a mix of sand and pebbles. It’s not very special, but it was ok for a quick stop. We were pretty much the only people there, apart from two scuba divers and an old couple.
Most of the beaches we saw from that point onward were a lot pebblier. What was fascinating though, was the extreme change of scenery, especially when the weather started to turn.
We stopped at Chalikia Vatta beach for another swim, and to have a quick picnic on the beach. At that moment, many clouds appeared out of nowhere. Talk about tropical climate!
We were still only half way to Porto Kagio. We briefly considered hiding in one of the local tavernas, but decided to continue driving instead. With the weather changing every two minutes, we had no idea how long it would take us to get to Porto Kagio.
Flomochori Village in Mani
As the sun came back soon, we decided to stop and explore Flomochori village, a little further south. Everything was closed, so we wandered around the empty streets and stone houses.
The atmosphere was almost eerie, as we didn’t meet a single person. In fact, we almost couldn’t tell whether people lived there on a permanent basis.
Driving on, we made a small detour to check out Alypa beach. It was really pretty, though too cold to swim by that time of day. We wanted to stop for a quick coffee but the small taverna only served food. It was a shame, as we would have happily taken another break here!
Our last brief photo stop before getting to Porto Kagio was a settlement called Kokkala, the Greek word for “bones”. Although the name was somehow off-putting, it was quite picturesque.
At this stage, we realized what these areas lacked that is so obvious at other parts of Greece – tourist infrastructure. We had seen a handful of tavernas and cafes, but nothing like the most famous Greek destinations. Plus, there almost seemed to be no mini-markets, let alone supermarkets.
Finally… Porto Kagio
After a brief stop at Lagia settlement, we were very close to Porto Kagio. This was our view from up the top of the mountain, before starting our brief descent towards our destination.
We had booked a room in Porto Kagio for two nights, and it was just perfect. We found it surprising that, even at the end of September, there wasn’t much availability.
To be fair, however, there isn’t that much choice in this tiny settlement. If you want to visit during the summer months, it’s best to book well in advance.
Find out more here: Porto Kagio in Mani
Day 5 – Porto Kagio and Cape Tainaron
The tiny coastal settlement of Porto Kagio is ideal if you are after peace and quiet. There are a handful of hotels and a couple of tavernas, and that’s about it. No markets, no other shops, nowhere to buy anything from!
Apparently, taverna owners drive all the way to Gerolimenas in turn, to buy anything they want for their businesses. If you decide to stay here for a few days you should really get everything you need in advance.
Our hotel owner kindly provided us with filtered water, as tap water is not drinkable.
On this day, we went to Cape Tainaron, which is the southernmost spot in mainland Greece. In Ancient Greece, Cape Tainaron was one of the gateways to Hades, the world of the Dead.
When planning your route here, you may also see this called Cape Matapan or Cape Tenaro.
You can go on a 30-40 minute hike, and reach the lighthouse. There were a few more tourists there – none of them Greek apart from Vanessa.
Just before you begin the short hike, there is a taverna where you can get some water and a frappe.
After our hike, we drove to the beautiful Marmari beach, which is a short drive from Porto Kagio. Unfortunately, there were strong winds, so we couldn’t even stay on the beach, let alone go swimming.
It was a shame, as this beach was really lovely and we would have happily spent the rest of the day here.
As there are no other beaches in the area, we returned to Porto Kagio and went for a quick swim. Although the beach is small and not overly impressive, snorkelling was quite interesting.
In the evening, we returned to the same taverna where we ate on our first night, Akrotiri. This was some of the best local cuisine in the Peloponnese!
Find out more here: Cape Tainaron at the End of Greece
Day 6 – Driving from Porto Kagio to Areopoli via Vathia Tower Houses
On the next day, we set off towards Areopoli, where we were going to stay for a couple of nights. Areopoli is 40 kms from Porto Kagio, and driving time is about an hour.
Our first stop was Vathia, one of the most famous fortified villages. Even though you will see stone towers everywhere in the Mani, Vathia is pretty unique.
We spent about an hour walking around the old towers. Apparently, there was no electricity here until the 1980s.
Find out more here: Vathia in Mani Greece
The weather was pretty grim, but Vanessa wanted to stop for a swim nevertheless. The pebbly Kapi beach wasn’t too bad, and there’s a rock near the coast that you can explore underwater.
The beach is a short walk from the road, and some of the architecture reminded us of the Cyclades.
Mani Beaches Near Gerolimenas
There are a few other beaches on the way from Porto Kagio to Gerolimenas. We first stopped at Kyparissos, which wasn’t very special.
Our favourite beach in that area was Almyros, a bit further north. You will need to walk on a short footpath to get to that pebbly beach. There is even a cave there, which we thought would be a nice shaded spot in summer.
You might also like Gialia beach, just south of Gerolimenas. This is yet another pebbly beach.
Lunch at Gerolimenas
Our next stop, which is where many people choose to base themselves for a day or two, was Gerolimenas.
There is a small settlement in this natural bay, with a few hotels and some tavernas.
The local beach is very protected from the winds, and therefore ideal for kids. Just bear in mind that it’s fairly pebbly.
It was time to stop for a traditional Mani meal. Oranges are widely used in salads over here! Other local products you will find in Mani are smoked pork, olive oil, lupini beans, mountain tea, honey and several types of pies.
If you are heading south on this side of Mani, Gerolimenas would really be the last place where you could do any shopping. There are a couple of mini markets and even an ATM if you need it.
After leaving Gerolimenas, we set off to Areopoli. Locals would happily drive that route in about a half hour. Even though it was overcast, we took our time as we wanted to stop at a few places on the way.
We made a small detour to visit the church of St Sergius and Bacchus, just outside Kitta village. It was closed, but the views made up for it.
By the time we reached Mezapos beach, we knew that it was going to rain sooner or later. This was yet another pebbly beach, and one of the few accessible swimming spots in the immediate area.
We were probably about 10 minutes away from Areopoli, when it started raining. Within seconds, we had to stop on the side of the road, as we couldn’t see a thing! It’s not that the rain came out of nowhere, but it was really strong.
We probably spent around 20 minutes by the side of the road. People who have only been to Greece in the summer may never have experienced this sort of weather in Greece!
After the clouds disappeared, we soon arrived to Areopoli, where we would base ourselves for a couple of days. We had booked self-catering accommodation, so we went to a local supermarket and bought a few things.
Areopoli, also known as Areopolis, is a fairly big town. There is a small, beautiful historical centre, a few supermarkets, many tavernas and cafes, and even a hospital.
A couple of years ago, a friend of ours had to drive from Porto Kagio to the hospital in Areopoli as her child had an accident. The journey took well over an hour. This is something to keep in mind if you are exploring the Mani area in Greece!
Day 7 – Areopoli and Limeni
Our next day was mostly spent chilling, and exploring the charming, small town and its surroundings. Areopoli is one of the places where the Greek Revolution may have started.
Many of the stone houses are beautifully restored, and there are a few places worth visiting.
You can read more information here: Areopoli in Greece
Diros Caves in Mani
One of the most popular attractions in the area of Areopoli, are Diros Caves. We didn’t visit on this occasion, as we had been there a couple of years ago. These caves are pretty unique, as you will be transferred around in a boat!
We headed out to nearby Oitylo and Limeni instead. These coastal settlements are quite charming. You can go for a meal, or go for a swim, or both. In our case, we decided to head to the quieter Karavostasi beach to get some sun.
In the evening, we spent some time wandering around the stone towers and alleyways. We also followed a path promising to lead us to the sunset – and it did! There is something very special about sunset over the Aegean.
Most of the tavernas in Areopoli looked quite promising. We chose to have meat dishes on that night – totally recommend the lamb, and the chicken with local pasta!
Day 8 – Areopoli to Kalamata
Our next destination, and the final stop of our road trip around Mani, was Kalamata, a couple of hours north of Areopolis.
We made a quick stop at Stoupa, a reasonably famous coastal resort town. On a summer visit to the Peloponnese we had skipped it, as it was too crowded.
We drove around, and we still found it too busy and built-up for our taste. We left immediately, without even taking a single photo! Though we understand why some people like it, Stoupa is definitely not for us.
Patrick Leigh Fermor House
Our next destination was a visit to the Patrick Leigh Fermor house in Kardamyli. This is the house of the renowned English author, which is now open to the public for visits and short stays.
We soon arrived at the Patrick Leigh Fermor House, where we spent about an hour. We really enjoyed our brief guided visit to this amazing house, which would be best described as an exclusive villa.
The chat with his former housekeeper was very interesting, and shed some light on his personality. He must have been a pretty cool guy!
If you are on a road trip around Mani, you should definitely arrange your schedule to include a visit here. The house is open for visits on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, at 11 am.
The house is a 2 minute walk from Kalamitsi beach. We thought this was one of the best beaches in Mani, and spent a good couple of hours there.
Snorkelling was great, and there were very few other people around, so we really enjoyed our time on the beach. We were rather jealous when we thought that Patrick Leigh Fermor must have enjoyed this beach entirely on his own!
Read more here: Visiting Patrick Leigh Fermor House
Continuing to Kalamata
As we left for Kalamata, we backtracked slightly, to check out Foneas beach which we had heard was great. It was definitely one of the nicest beaches in Mani. This explains why it was relatively busy, even on a late September weekday!
Access to the beach is not entirely straightforward, though it is marked clearly on google maps. You can bring your car down to the beach. Though there was plenty of parking in September, this may not be the case in peak tourist season.
We had also planned to stop at Old Kardamyli, another beautifully preserved town with many stone towers. You may recognize it if you have seen the movie “Before Midnight”. However, by that time we felt rather lazy, so we kept on driving to Kalamata.
Kardamyli is another important resort area, and gets reasonably busy during peak season. The best known beach in the immediate area is Ritsa, which we feel would be pretty busy in summer.
Soon, we were driving past Verga beach, at the outskirts of Kalamata, which is the natural border of Mani. Even though we were going to stay in Kalamata for a few days, it somehow felt that the holiday was over already.
As we entered the pretty coastal city, we were already missing the wilderness, the quietness and the untamed Mani.
This is not to say that Kalamata isn’t worth a visit – on the contrary! Kalamata is a lovely destination, and we were very happy to spend a few days there. You can see our extensive Kalamata guide here: Things to do in Kalamata Greece.
Mani Greece – Our Opinion
As you will have probably gathered, we loved every single spot of the Mani. This remote, wild landscape is one of the best places in Greece if you are looking for peace, quiet and authenticity. Hopefully this Mani guide will inspire you to visit!
FAQ About the Mani in Greece
Readers who want to find out more about the Mani region often ask questions similar to:
Where is the Mani Peninsula?
The Mani is the central, rugged mountain peninsula of the three which stretch southwards from bottom of the Peloponnese in Greece. It features a wild and uncompromising terrain with coastal villages and abandoned hill towns with tower houses and fortifications.
How do I get to Mani Peninsula from UK?
The closest international airport to the Mani region is in Kalamata. From there, you could hire a car and drive for two hours through the mountains and by the coast until you reached the outer Mani area.
Are the Maniots Spartans?
The Maniots are thought to be descendants of the ancient Dorians who inhabited the Peloponnese and, as a result, may be related to the legendary Spartans.
How do I get from Athens to the Mani Peninsula?
The distance between Athens and Mani is just under 200 km. If you drive, the journey should take about 4 hours. You can also reach Areopoli by KTEL bus, although the journey can take around 7 hours.