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Greece getaways: Why you will be captivated by the Peloponnese’s unspoilt middle prong

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Nobody could possibly describe the Mesa Mani (Deep Mani) as ‘chi chi’. And it’ll be a protracted time — hopefully never — before the southernmost tip of this middle section of the Peloponnese and the word ‘twee’ will probably be mentioned in the identical breath.

Barren, arid, rocky. And the farther south you go the more austere it becomes but, strangely, more fascinating, too.

After we arrived on the little village of Gerolimenas (not that we knew for certain we’d got there, as all signs are in Greek only and few locals speak English), I assumed we had chanced on a secret society. We were pioneers. Which was clearly nonsense but throughout our short trip I kept considering to myself: why would anyone wish to go to Mykonos and pay €200 for a sunbed when you may have a complete beach to yourself within the Deep Mani and the persons are much more friendly?

Mark Palmer explored the Deep Mani in Greece by automobile, stopping off at Kardamyli (pictured), where the travel author Patrick Leigh Fermor made his home within the Sixties 

Travel writer Leigh Fermor (pictured above in Ithaca in 1946) was once described as ‘a cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Greene’, Mark reveals

Travel author Leigh Fermor (pictured above in Ithaca in 1946) was once described as ‘a cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Greene’, Mark reveals

Getting here is not any longer a problem, either, with each BA and easyJet flying into Kalamata (yes, as in Kalamata olives) from around April to October.

Kalamata airport isn’t a thing of beauty nevertheless it jogged my memory of a ramshackle Caribbean equivalent; a two-storey constructing, with arrivals at one end, departures at the opposite and well-stocked bar in between.

We had arranged automobile hire with a small local company, slightly than considered one of the large boys with a kiosk within the terminal. This meant being greeted by a person from My Automobile holding up an indication with our names on it, with the vehicle parked directly outside the terminal. A striking woman in a protracted, flowing dress and expensive sunglasses was waiting handy over the keys.

‘Any problems, call. My Automobile is my company,’ she said. After I asked if she had a map of the Mani, she apologised and said, ‘follow me’. Which we did, all the way in which into the historic centre of the town, where she bought a map and asked us to depart it within the glove compartment for future customers.

But she wasn’t done yet. ‘Before you head down the coast, you have to see this,’ she said, crossing the road and walking into the square, which has the gorgeous little Eleventh-century Church of The Holy Apostles standing in its centre. The earthquake of 1986 knocked it down nevertheless it has been rebuilt and reinforced, with stellar results.

We were pleased about this unplanned tour, not least after learning that the primary shots of the civil war in 1821— which led eventually to the liberation of the country from the Ottoman Turks — were fired in Kalamata.

Mark checked into the 'gorgeous' Hotel Kyrimai in Gerolimenas, which has creaking floorboards, stone terraces, a pool (above) and jetty with steps leading down into the sea

Mark checked into the ‘gorgeous’ Hotel Kyrimai in Gerolimenas, which has creaking floorboards, stone terraces, a pool (above) and jetty with steps leading down into the ocean 

'Throughout our short trip I kept thinking to myself: why would anyone want to go to Mykonos and pay €200 for a sunbed when you can have a whole beach to yourself in the Deep Mani and the people are far more friendly?' says Mark

‘Throughout our short trip I kept considering to myself: why would anyone wish to go to Mykonos and pay €200 for a sunbed when you may have a complete beach to yourself within the Deep Mani and the persons are much more friendly?’ says Mark

‘See you back on the airport in three days’ time and don’t forget to fill the automobile with petrol,’ said Mrs My Automobile. But before heading south, we stopped for an early lunch at a restaurant called Ego on the seafront, where the homemade tzatziki was in a special league to the stuff you get in a plastic tub from British supermarkets. An outstanding Greek salad followed.

We felt embedded — and now the Mani was all ours, with the Taygetos Mountains running down its spine on our left and the dark blue, inviting water of the Messenian Gulf on our right.

Hardly anyone was on the road and after lower than an hour of driving, we resisted the temptation to stop at Kardamyli, where Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor built their magnificent villa in a main spot within the Sixties, because we had planned to spend time there on the way in which back.

As a substitute, we kept going until the landscape became increasingly moon-like — hardly any trees, giant boulders, spiky shrubs —before arriving at Gerolimenas.

Within the 1870s, this was a thriving port. Today, it’s an unpretentious village with a couple of bobbing boats, an immaculate pebbly beach (with pebbles the dimensions of ostrich eggs), two or three tavernas, a food market and, crucially, Hotel Kyrimai on its southern tip, fashioned from an old shipping warehouse where the family used to live above the shop.

It’s a stunning place to remain: creaking floorboards and double doors, stone terraces (some private, some shared), a pool and jetty with steps leading down into the ocean. The all-day restaurant, perched on rocks, looks back to the village in a single direction, farther along the coast in the opposite — and the entire confection suits effortlessly into the encircling landscape.

Rugged charm: Above is the 'eerie' Vatheia village, a largely abandoned collection of towers once fought over by feuding clans

Rugged charm: Above is the ‘eerie’ Vatheia village, a largely abandoned collection of towers once fought over by feuding clans

We ate famously and slept soundly. On our first morning, we walked into the village and booked our table at Mani Mani taverna.

‘It’s Sunday, so if you happen to want fish it’s best to order now,’ said the patron. What he really meant was: ‘It’s Sunday and I still have a great deal of fish to do away with, so do me a favour.’ We selected an enormous grouper enough for no less than three people — but he said we would have liked one each. That was a favour too far.

Then we headed off into the deep, Deep Mani and still nobody else gave the impression to be around. It was blissfully eerie, much more so after we reached Vatheia, a largely abandoned collection of towers once fought over by feuding clans. An account from 1805 has it that a sectarian war raged within the village for 40 years and value 100 lives.

We noticed that a few the towers showed signs of habitation. This got my wife going. ‘We wouldn’t need to pay much. It could be the last word doer-upper,’ she said.

I quickly moved the conversation on, then we headed towards Cape Tenaro, the southernmost point of mainland Greece and reputedly an entrance to the Kingdom of Hades, through which Heracles dragged Cerberus, the three-headed canine guardian of the Underworld. It could only be reached on foot and, fittingly, is each beautiful and brutal.

Elegance: Inside the 'magnificent' villa owned by Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor. 'We chatted to various Paddy pilgrims as we wandered from room to room,' Mark reveals

Elegance: Contained in the ‘magnificent’ villa owned by Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor. ‘We chatted to varied Paddy pilgrims as we wandered from room to room,’ Mark reveals 

The Leigh Fermors' villa can be rented in summer but is also open to the public on certain days of the week

The Leigh Fermors’ villa might be rented in summer but can also be open to the general public on certain days of the week

There’s nothing brutal about Kardamyli, where we stopped on our return. It’s enchanting — even though it helps if you happen to are enthralled by Paddy Leigh Fermor, once described as ‘a cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Greene’.

What a life! What a author! Devilishly good-looking and outlandishly charming, Paddy bunked out of further education on the age of 18 and opted into derring-do adventure, first walking — in 1934 — from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul, sleeping variously in haystacks and castles, and falling in love with a Romanian princess along the way in which.

What makes his trilogy of books about this trek so extraordinary is that they were written through the prism of maturity, as the primary one, A Time Of Gifts, was not published until the Nineteen Seventies.

The discreet sign by the important road simply points towards the coast and says: ‘Paddy and Joan Leigh Fermor’s House’. But even then, it isn’t easy to search out.

Paddy, who died aged 96 in 2011, bequeathed the home to the Benaki Museum. It could be rented in summer but can also be open to the general public on certain days of the week.

Mark enjoyed lunch at Lela’s Taverna (pictured), the restaurant owned by the Leigh Fermors’ housekeeper and now run by her son and grandsons in Kardamyli

Mark enjoyed lunch at Lela’s Taverna (pictured), the restaurant owned by the Leigh Fermors’ housekeeper and now run by her son and grandsons in Kardamyli

TRAVEL FACTS

Kyrimai Hotel has doubles from 130 euros B&B (kyrimai.gr); Villa Vager Mani has doubles from €270 B&B for a set sleeping as much as 4 people (villavagermani.gr). My Automobile Rentals delivers cars to Kalamata Airport from 30 euros per day (mycarrentals.gr, 0030 6936778127). EasyJet flies to Kalamata from £99 return.

We chatted to varied Paddy pilgrims as we wandered from room to room and sat on the terrace in something of a trance, before eventually adjourning for lunch at Lela’s, the restaurant owned by the Leigh Fermors’ housekeeper and now run by her son and grandsons.

Simply to the north of the village is a wonderful stretch of shingle beach. Wading into the ocean felt like shuffling into a special era — as did our last stop within the tiny hilltop village of Megali Mantineia, about 20 minutes from Kalamata, where we had booked a B&B called Villa Vager Mani. Our room was on the highest floor, with an enormous terrace looking down across rooftops towards the ocean.

Before supper, we drove to the coast and swam, after which we stopped again… and again, each dip more melancholic than the last because the tide went out on our life-affirming trip.

How slightly village like this could support three tavernas is beyond me. We selected the one closest to the church, ordering what was called ‘local rabbit’. Delicious, however the mosquitoes were out in force.

‘Do you’ve any insect repellent?’ I asked the friendly woman in charge, who had little English. She shrugged. So I itched some more. Then, two minutes later, she arrived with a glass full of vinegar and gesticulated. It was clear I should splash the stuff throughout my bare legs and ankles.

Which I did — and no mosquito got here near me for the remaining of the evening. If only all the things in life were this easy.

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