Mani is a region in Southern Peloponnese that begins, in the North, at the village of Verga and it ends South at Cape Tainaron, which is also the most Southern point of mainland Greece. Nowadays, the region does not constitute an administrative division in itself as it is divided between the municipalities of Messinia and Laconia; however, it is recognized as a region of its own right due to cultural consistency that has survived through the ages. The region used to be autonomous during the Byzantine era and subsequently during Ottoman rule of Greece that lasted until 1821. Maniots were fierce and brave warriors that resisted every attempt to be conquered until the constitution of the modern Greek state. The region had an infamy for piracy and it was the last to be Christianized in Greece.
Mani features a rocky terrain with very little vegetation and steep mountains. The visitor is often stunt by the raw, wild-like Maniot landscape and upon visiting one can understand how this inaccessible natural environment contributed to Mani’s past isolation and cultural uniqueness to the rest of Greece. Maniot masonry towers, some 800 structures scattered around the region, are unique examples of traditional Maniot architecture.
Gytheio is the largest town in Mani. Administratively it belongs to Laconia and it serves as the municipality’s port, located in the middle of the Laconian Gulf. It is a very vibrant picturesque town with alleys and stairways between buildings and houses of neo-classical architecture and with a beautiful harbor, characteristic of Greek coastal towns. Gytheio is connected by a small dam to the small island of Kranai, where a Maniot fortress that existed there now functions as a shelter for the History and Ethnology Museum of Mani.
Another mentionable town in Mani is Kardamyli. A beautiful, cosmopolitan coastal town, surrounded by olive groves, tucked away in this corner of the Mediterranean, remaining undiscovered by most. It is a chosen destination by those who wish to enjoy a tranquil, yet picturesque, setting; a little bit off Greece’s beaten path.
To sum up, Mani is the ideal destination for those who wish to investigate the Byzantine part of the Greek past. Mystras, the capital of the Byzantine Despotate of Morea, although not in Mani, is located around 50 Km to the North and has been a cultural center for the whole of Southern Peloponnese during Byzantine times. Another place of interest is the Diros stalagmite and stalactite caves, near the Maniot town of Oitylo.
You can get to Mani from Athens in about 3-4 hours either by car or bus. Once there, you will be able to get accommodation in Gytheio or Kardamyli. If you are just travelling to Mani, it is best that you fly to Kalamata as your road trip will be shortened to around 45 minutes – 1 hour.