Having previously visited the northern Peloponnesian region of Nemea, we set our sites on the Mani Peninsula, to the south, for our annual summer getaway.
A three hour drive from our home in the western Peloponnese, we reached the seaside town and capital of Mani, Gythio, by mid-day. With a few hours to spare before our room would be ready, we enjoyed a relaxing lunch in town and headed out for our first adventure, the caves of Diros, a scenic 45 minute drive away.
A light Greek lunch of pickled anchovies, boiled wild greens, eggplant salad, and house rosé
A complex network of underground passages, the caves are filled with stunning stalagmites and stalactites. Long dinghy boats transport visitors through the narrow passageways, as expert navigators guide the boats with taps of their single oars against the cave walls.
Where the boats enter and exit the cave of Diros
The boat tour is awe inspiring and definitely worth a visit. Unless of course, you are claustrophobic, in which case you may want to reconsider.
Following our stop at the caves, we returned to the town of Gythio. Wanting to stay on the beach, we booked a room at Thirides Beach Resort, a five minute drive from the center of town. The accommodations, which included a complementary breakfast buffet, were excellent. However, our beachside location required us to drive and seek out parking when wanting to enjoy food and drinks in town. While not yet open at the time of our visit, Las Hotel & Spa provides an enjoyable and centrally located alternative.
Sunset view of the Gythio Lighthouse from one of the town center's rooftop bars
On our second day, we ventured to the southern most tip of the Peloponnese, Cape Tainaron, referred to by some as "the end of the world". Intrigued by the location's mythology, we headed to the Cave of Hades, a stone structure and historical landmark dating back to ancient times.
Driving along the winding mountainside roads, we marveled at our surroundings - steep rocky cliffs crashing into the ocean, surrounded by endless blue skies.
Guided by the GPS, we reached the Cave of Hades, hopeful that the hour and a half drive would prove worthwhile. What we found far exceeded our expectations.
A few feet below the historical landmark, we noticed a pathway etched into the ground leading to a pebbled cove. Feeling adventurous, we grabbed our swimsuits and wandered down the rugged pathway. Beyond the path lay a small white pebbled cove. Surrounded by only a few boats and a lone fisherman, we ventured into the water. Protected from the open seas, the water was calm and pristine, its blue color intensified by the white rock of the sea floor.
Buoyed by the salt, we floated quietly, soaking up the peacefulness of our lucky find, appreciating the ancient Greek's choice to locate the Cave of Hades in such a beautiful place - an earthly paradise.
The cove below the Cave of Hades
As the sun began its decent toward the horizon, we wondered whether we might delay our return to Gythio by a few hours to witness the sunset, but quickly realized that as narrow as the mountainside roads appeared in broad daylight, they would be far too treacherous at night.
As we drove back, we did make note of the cliffside Marmari Paradise Resort and Tainaron Blue Retreat, vowing to return for an overnight stay in the future.
The hilltop village of Vatheia
Following a second night in Gythio, we began the drive home with a stop along the way, at the ancient Byzantine city "Mystras", a UNESCO world heritage site. While I don't plan to write a separate story about our time there, I wanted to share some of the highlights.
Located above today's city of Sparta, Mystras was built in the 13th century on the slopes of Mount Taygetos. With beautifully preserved stone structures, pottery, church frescoes, and Byzantine art, the ancient city is a fabulous testament to the richness and complexity of a life lived long ago.
The Despot's palace, view of the valley below, and a preserved structure housing clay amphoras
Frescos on the walls and ceiling of the Pantanassa Monastery
Months have passed since our trip across the Mani peninsula, yet the memories and impressions remain just as vivid. The Peloponnese's authentic beauty and cultural heritage continue to amaze. And while there is still much left to explore, my heart looks forward to the day when we might return to "the end of the world", at last enjoying what is sure to be a stunning sunset.