Today’s top destination is the abandoned stone town of Vathia and possibly the southernmost point of the Mani Peninsula, crowned with a lighthouse, but anyway according to Google Maps the road to get there is only about 60 km, so I target 18 : 30 hours as our arrival time in order to have the light more acceptable for photos. We will fill the time with several beaches in the area that look interesting.
The first is the Valtaki beach, only 6 km from Gythio, which is famous mostly for the shipwreck of the ship “Dimitrios”. He mysteriously appeared on the beach, smashed and burned, in 1981 and has remained there ever since, much to the delight of Instagram-tempted tourists.
We arrive at the beach at 12:00 at noon and the sun is scorching shamelessly, and on top of that the wind is so strong that the umbrella must be pressed with weights on all sides and additionally held by hand. But direct sunlight is so strong that without an umbrella it is impossible to last 5 minutes here. The sand is heated like an oven. In these extreme conditions, I am very surprised that it is dotted with sea turtle nests everywhere, each one carefully insulated and surrounded by conservationists with nets and signposts, so that they are not trampled by beachgoers. Apparently, a few centimeters below the surface, the sand already has the necessary parameters to ensure the development of small turtles in the eggs. But on the surface is hot as hell!
The next beach – Sebi’s Beach – we choose at random by looking at photos in Google Maps. It looks pretty wild, I just hope the road there is acceptable for our fragile and rather low based rental car. 28 km to get there takes us almost an hour, because the road winds through small holiday villages and is not quite perfect, but in general it is passable, without serious risks for the car. Finally we reach the sign “dead end” and it becomes clear that the last 600 meters to the beach, which is a dirt and quite rutted road, will be on foot. The cicadas are deafening, the sun continues to punish us and I imagine the grief on the way back, because the descent to the beach is quite steep, but we are already here and we will not give up at the last moment.
From my point of view, the small bay and the rocky beach are ideal, but I guess most beachgoers would not bother to get here. I relax on my back in the crystal clear water and enjoy this truly wild Peloponnesian bay, which is currently only mine. The bottom is rocky and of course dotted with sea urchins, and many small and large fish, standard for the Aegean Sea, swim around. I look for octopuses with hope of spotting one at last, but again I’m not lucky enough to see a representative of the shy and well-disguised octo-legged beasts.
The time is running and we have to think about lunch. We head to Kotronas, which is located 17 km southwest of here and brings us closer to the final destination a little more. We eat in Εν Πλω (En Plo), located directly on the beach and despite the slow service at the beginning, we are satisfied with the huge portions and the quality of the food (we decide to try the local cuisine – homemade smoked sausages from Mani and meatballs in tomato sauce).
At 17:00 it is high time to chase the goal of today’s trip – Vathia and the lighthouse of Porto Cagio. Again the standard 60 km in an hour and a half. Just in time to catch a suitable light in the abandoned stone city. On the way, of course, we stop several times for panoramic photos of the sea, because the heavily broken coastline is dotted with incredibly beautiful bays and small rocky beaches.
We pass in transit through Aeropoli, which if one has more time is absolutely recommended to visit. Here, on March 17, 1821, Petros Mavromihalis declared war on the Turks and led 2000 maniots to Kalamata, where he joined forces with other Greek revolutionary leaders. If one reads selectively, especially tourist articles on the Internet, one may be left with the impression that this is the most important representative of the Greek liberation movement and with this act the Greek Revolution started, but the truth is not so one-sided and if you are interested in history of the region I recommend a very comprehensive article on the topic, which made me rethink the facts about our own Liberation (of Bulgaria) and the significance of the events for the Balkans as a whole – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_War_of_Independence.
But let’s not to dilute the journey with too much history. From Aeropolis southwards, the road runs mainly along the coastline and tempts with too many intermediate stops for photos. About 3 km of the road are under active repair, but it is not closed and we have to drive on the still hot tarmac, spread by the machines just a few hours ago, which has not yet been rolled. The sound of gravel rising from the tires and hitting the fenders is quite frightening and I expect the car to have serious damage below (this is exactly what is NOT covered by the insurance). After passing the section, I stop to look below and with relief find that there is no serious damage.
We pass the “Vathia” road sign. In fact, it turned out that almost all towns (or perhaps it is more correct to call them villages) in the southern part of the peninsula are actually composed of stone two-story towers and Vathia is perhaps NOT the most picturesque of them. The reason the houses here are in this form is related to the history of the local population. Maniots have inhabited the peninsula since ancient times and are considered the direct descendants of the Spartans. They are known to be very freedom-loving and proud. For this reason, Christianity has had difficulties to be establish here, and a number of conquerors of the peninsula, such as Latins and Turks, met with serious resistance from the locals.
The primary means of survival for the maniots for centuries has been piracy. The bloody vendettas between different clans were very typical, which are the main reason why the houses are fortified like towers. During the vendetta, the two warring clans shut themselves in their towers and gradually killed each other. The other clans were locked in their own towers so as not to become collateral victims of the vendetta. Such vendettas lasted for months and sometimes years. They were interrupted to reap the harvest or if a common enemy appeared, such as the Turks. Then they continued, some ending in a truce and exchange of property, and others – with the complete destruction of one of the warring clans.
The culture of the Maniot vendettas is considered to be the fiercest and most uncompromising of all vendetta cultures in the Mediterranean and continues to rage even after the liberation of Greece. The suppression of the latest large-scale vendetta required the participation of the Greek police, 1000 Greek soldiers and 200 soldiers from the navy.
Initially, the road winds away from Vathia and seems to pass the village by. Soon, however, you make a 180-degree turn and find yourself directly in the small town. Some of the houses are habitable, they even rent out rooms, but most of them are abandoned and are in a different phase of destruction. I park the car and go with the camera along the narrow streets between the towers, and even manage to get into one of them for better shots.
The view is rather sad, like in a city affected by war or earthquake, rather than sinister or supernatural as some thrill seekers would expect. Here and there I meet other tourists who have obviously “written their homework” and have bothered to get through here.
We continue in the direction of Porto Cagio and the lighthouse, but it is already 20:00 and the sun begins to hide behind the surrounding hills, and the sea and the top of the peninsula with the lighthouse are already sinking into darkness. It doesn’t seem to make much sense to continue down the road.
We decide not to go through the road repairs for the second time and choose the alternative route along the eastern edge of the peninsula (anyway my secret plan was to cover both routes to see as much of Mani as possible).
We have 63 km of driving in the dark, on a road without a central line and without a guardrail, at places wunning along the edge of rocks that descend hundreds of meters down into the sea. I don’t have a lot of fun behind the wheel at all! Fortunately, there is not much traffic and I have the opportunity to drive most of the time as close to the inside of the narrow road as possible. From time to time we climb steeply upwards, and the road winds constantly and at times I even reach the 1st so that Tiny can cope with the slope. In some places there are amazing views of the stone villages perched on the opposite hill sides, but I just don’t have where to stop safely to take pictures. Well, at least the headlights are quite strong and illuminate well the unpredictable turns in front of me. We pass through Lagia, where I stop to photograph the local church at sunset, I also spot a roadside, almost invisible stone church, down the road, which was definitely a witness to the pirate past on the peninsula. Kokala and other small towns follow, with narrow streets illuminated by street lighting, but most of the stone towers darken lifelessly.
While planning the trip, I looked for accommodation options in Mani. There were offers for accommodation in a traditional Manioti stone house, with prices ranging from 100 per room to 400 EUR per night for the whole house. So, a rather isolated and forgotten place at first glance, Mani turns out to be a very modern and expensive destination. Evidence of this is the excellent condition of the roads, which does not imply that visitors rarely come here.
We pass through Kotronas once more, this time in the dark and after about 2 hours we get to Gythio for a classic late dinner, this time with gyros, to ease the budget.