Picture this scene from a film: A road snakes along a sheer cliffside, above peacock-blue bays, dark cypresses and a sea of olive trees in the heart of the Peloponnese. On one side of the horizon is the placid gulf of Messinia, on the other, the massive hulk of Mt Taygetos. Between them harsh stone houses made gentler by the fertile soil.

This used to be a destination for the chosen few – the diamond of Messinian Mani. But its contrasts have captured the hearts of many visitors, and they keep coming back for more. To get to know it like they do, visit the old fortress town, take a dip at Ritsa beach, spend your nights in one of its many delightful boutique hotels, have a meal at famous tavernas and chill out at some of the sophisticated little bars. By then you’ll be hooked and you’ll never forget Kardamyli.

What to do in Kardamyli

Your first glimpse of Mani’s legendary tower houses
Just a short walk is all that’s needed to plunge you into the stern, unyielding world of a Mani holiday. Old Kardamyli, a fortified cluster of towerhouses, rises around the 18th-century church of Agios Spyridon. Step through the main gate, try to puzzle out the marble inscriptions and stop to admire the relief sculpture of the two-headed eagle of Byzantium, the empire’s emblem. The chieftains who created this stone village had a powerful influence on the modern history of Greece.

Cosmopolitan, lively Stoupa
Quite a contrast to Mani’ stern and stony image is this village on the beach, 8km from Kardamyli. Not only does it boast fully organised golden sands facing green-blue water, there are also hotels, restaurants and plenty of shops at arm’s reach. It is one of the most popular beaches in the Peloponnese.

Patrick Leigh Fermor
“Passing by you see Mani in three days, walking in three months and in order to see its soul you need three lives. One for the sea, one for its mountains and one for its people.” So wrote Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor – Paddy, or Kyr Michalis, as he was affectionately known – made Mani internationally famous through his writing. One of Britain’s most loved authors, he lived and wrote in Kardamyli until the ripe old age of 96, writing books such as A Time of Gifts and The Traveller’s Tree.

Special places to stay
Whatever your choice: elegant small hotels, built of stone and drenched in greenery, with spacious verandas and welcoming courtyards; suites in towerhouses; or even an entire villa can be yours in Kardamyli. It’s common knowledge that they are of exceptional quality. As are the breakfasts served with choice local products.

Hidden gems of Kardamyli

Walking the slopes of the great mountain
If you’re a hiker, don’t miss the marvellous network of paths that unwind east of Kardamyli on the slopes of Mt Taygetos. Of exceptional beauty is the Vyros gorge.

Meropi: a fortified, floating monastery
The lush islet opposite Kardamyli conceals the fortress walls and the 18th-century church of the Panagia in what was once a flourishing monastery. Be sure to put it on your holiday itinerary, you won’t regret it.

Hidden coves and private beaches
Which do you prefer? Pebbles, sand or rocks, organised or completely natural, popular or secluded? The coast around Kardamyli offers a beach for every taste. Each is beautiful in its own right, like all the beaches in the Peloponnese. Near the entrance to town you have Ritsa, an organised beach with white pebbles and crystalline water. Near the exit, Kalamitsi’s fine pebbles and shallow water (ideal for kids) are guarded by cypress trees. A few kilometres further, is Foneas, with pebbles, deep water, a canteen and a great rock to dive from.