Jana Gutsche was in Mani in Greece and can’t stop raving about it: a little summer getaway
For me it’s THE travel destination when I want to be anything else but wild. And that happens to me at least once a year, happily sometime around the middle. Then, I need a week here because the effect is the same as what three weeks of Ayurveda in Bali has on other people: I am relaxed, tanned, sated, rested, and most of all, back to being myself again!
Mani – located in the southern part of the middle finger of the Peloponnese peninsula – is visually the opposite of what you usually imagine when you think of Greece. The palette of the landscape exists in sparse nudes and neutrals, everything looks like it’s been desaturated through an Instagram filter, the typical architecture clean and cubic, built from rough natural stone. The parched grass fields look like a soft-focus on the expansive mountain landscapes and everything somehow smells as delicious as Aesop’s products.
The noise is restricted to the sharp and even chirping of birds, the water feels warm from June on and is crystal clear, the beaches undiscovered, and the fish fresh daily. Magnificent! Nothing to distract or annoy. Nothing that you have to see or do. Here, you can just be. Everything original and simple and just simply beautiful. Minimalism meets slow living. So to speak
Where to stay
Nowhere else and always here here here, in my beloved Pirgos Mavromichali hotel in Limeni. This boutique hotel with 13 rooms is in a converted former battle tower and to this day is in the hands of the storied Mavromichalis family! I wish I was interested in history, but in any case I’m rather fascinated here that three generations of Rheinish Greeks (I say! That is wonderful!) run the business. Now it maybe sounds like you’ll be completely engaged in conversation or entertained here – the opposite is the case. All of the owners are very considerate and discreet. But if you invite it (like me, with my Rheinish background), you’ll be met with openheartedness and humor.
Now the important bits, which means the facts that booking sites are always promotionally greased with: 13 rooms, individually cut, mostly ocean views, from 120 euro/per night/per room including breakfast, sun loungers and beach towels come with the room, the hotel has its own access to the beach via a stone staircase.
Likewise, the fact is: here you’ll find a certain aesthetic design standard (elegant wood furniture by Coco-mat, Korres products in the bathroom, grey granite tiles, whitewashed walls, and a lot of natural stone), but certainly no decorated “ethnic feeling” and no loungy electro music or anything. Everything classic, pure, beautiful, and tastefully done – simply because it’s nice like that, not because it’s popular now. I like!
More impressions of the place can be found on their Instagram account. Good for the lazy ones: you don’t even have to leave the house because there’s an all-day restaurant on the property that serves, for example, a Greek salad for lunch (9 euros) or a fresh fish fillet with grilled vegetables (30 euros) in the evening. And they have a handful of selected wines (bottles start at 25 euros), tasty cappuccinos (3.50 euros), fresh juices (3 euros) – all around, you’ll get by. And possibly get a bit more around your waist in the process. Dislike!
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What to do
Other people like to wander Mani, but personally I like to drive. A small, rented island speedster is sufficient. Once I tried, as fancy as I wanted to be, to rent a VW Beetle Cabrio and I learned: it doesn’t matter which class, they are all kind of junky, outdated, and standardly fall under normalized expectations. So: just go for the cheapest option and use it to cruise through Mani.
There are a lot of picturesque little mountain towns to visit (Kardamili is my favorite!) and countless little swimming coves for quick cool-downs. Beach-wise, I can recommend the beach at Flomochori. It may be shingle rather than sand, but so small and smooth that it feels wonderful. Mostly locals go to this cove! There’s a simple tavern here – Greek salad and octopus and urgently needed Amstel beers! Ice cold, please! Efharisto!
Cities are rather so-so. Areopoli, a small town about 3km from the hotel in Limeni, is in any case worth seeing. It’s worth bar hopping here after sundown – the bars are like a chain of pearls running through the old town. Just so it’s clear: the “old town” is a small alley about 100m long. Strings of lights, colorful chairs, tourist families, young Greeks, and music coming from every bar all add to the semblance of a “lively public”. Absolutely stop in at my favorite bar, the Aula, if only because the completely adorable barman is so nice!
A totally crazy alternative to all of that: stay home at the hotel and do nothing! Get up, eat breakfast, sunbathe/swim/read, snack on salad, sunbathe/swim/read, go to your room for a nap, drink a caffè freddo, sunbathe/swim/read, have an apéritif, swim/snooze, dine, heavy digesting, go straight to bed, sleep. Repeat.
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Where to eat
Fish – just next to the hotel in Limeni is the Takis fish taverna, one of the most popular restaurants in the region. Boats actually moor in the bay every day just to eat here! The taverna also sits directly on the water and there is only outdoor seating, crudely covered and nicely shaded. You’ll get the best view of the bay here. And again, typically Mani: everything is straightforward and unintentionally cool. Do it like the locals and go there for late lunch (first, because it’s too full at dinner and there’s no view because the sun is gone. Secondly, do it just right for siesta, because it’s just too hot in the sun! So rather a nice little white wine while slurping oysters!).
Meat – drive in the evening to the little town of Drosopigi and visit the only, impossible-to-miss taverna (whose name I unfortunately couldn’t decipher). Get directions from the hotel-teo! Hardly a tourist manages to make it here. Plastic table clothes, neon lights, and lots interior design-wise that you don’t notice. That makes the view over the plains and the food good again! Absolutely try the lamb chops sourced from their own farm.
Snacks – just discovered on my last trip and immediately added to my Mani top list: Taverna Kalamakia. In this really large beach restaurant, you can sit under a thatched roof and look back and forth between the beach and the open long bar counter. What belongs to every good afternoon snack: little fried fish, cold Amstel beer, and watermelon for dessert.
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How to get there
The easiest way to get there is with a flight to Kalamata airport (i.e. Aegean Airlines). From here you drive with your rental car (the hotel also offers pick-ups) for about one and a half hours on the most beautiful mountain coast road in the direction of Areopoli until Limeni. It takes about twice as long from Athens and the airport is essentially bigger (more complicated on the way back) and the drive on the freeway nowhere near as idyllic.
Whoever wants a really nice slow-vacay can also book a ferry with Anek Lines. I did that once with the car – the Venice-Patras route. A very comfortable little holiday adventure. Alongside a parking place, I would absolutely choose a deck ticket as well. Bring your own folding lounger and sleeping bags, because the cabins on these boats are ice cold and nowhere near as romantic as you think! It’s rather: happy DIY-glamping.
Translation: Melissa Frost
Jana Gutsche works as a creative director style at the German women’s magazine freundin and is responsible there for the content and visual design for the fashion and beauty departments – still believe that you can also make German commerce cool (J.Crew manages that too!).
In the meantime, she’s travelled every continent and to every dream destination for photo productions and is slowly recognizing, at 36 years old, that home really is the best.
After stations in Cologne and Berlin, she now calls Munich home, where she consults on family projects like the "besch_food" (@besch_food) Instagram account and assists at her boyfriend Marlon Schuler’s bar, "girls” (Instagram: @mjunikgirls). And when it all gets too much for her, it’s always there – the wild Mani.