The inhabitants of the Mani peninsula, the "middle finger" of the Peloponnese, Greece's southern mainland, have long been known for their independence and self-reliance. When the Greeks rose up against the Turks in 1821, the fighting started in the Mani, where leaders such as Petrobey Mavromichalis (Black Michael) rejected the usual Greek cry of "Freedom or Death!" in favour of "Victory or Death!". The Maniots were already free.

This wild and independent spirit survived the crushing poverty that was the Mani's fate for much of the 20th century – and especially lately – and is typified by Gaia, a local volunteer organisation that does everything from fighting wildfires to cleaning the area's golden beaches before each year's tourist season begins.

The Mani's renaissance began in the 1990s, when visitors tired of the over-commercialisation of the islands started to explore the mainland. Kardamyli, in the outer, northern Mani had long been a favourite of more bohemian travellers (the writer Patrick Leigh Fermor built a house there in the 1960s), but what attracted the holiday companies was the sandy beaches of Stoupa, just to the south. Development was low-key and careful, though. Families that owned property by the beaches soon adapted to new businesses. One such is Patriko, a cafe-bar built in a well-restored stone house on Stoupa's beach. Its lively courtyard, filled with English, Dutch and Greek holidaymakers for much of the year, hides a more industrious secret, however – for behind the scenes, Patriko is the hub of Gaia.

Gaia began back in 2000, but really came into its own after the financial crisis hit in 2008. Out-of-the-way places such as Kardamyli and Stoupa seemed to be the first to have their services cut back, and even in a good year are still an hour's drive from resources such as hospitals and firefighters. The volunteers of Gaia run two fire engines, co-ordinated by radio from the back room of Patriko.

While wildfires remain the most obvious threat to the natural environment of the Mani, Gaia turns its attention to multiple other tasks. Many of its volunteers also work in the tourism industry, and have realised that one of the big draws of the area is its natural beauty. If this is to endure, someone has to take responsibility for it, and in these troubled economic times it seems that the local community has to step up.

Fortunately the community spirit in this rural area of Greece remains strong. Christina Constantios, the owner of Patriko and a leading light of Gaia, says she could not have continued without the support of her family and the wider neighbourhood. Her daughter now keeps the business running, giving her time to run the charity, while local support from Greeks and the foreigners who have made the Mani their home, is vital. In 2012, apart from firefighting duties, Gaia volunteers were involved in planting trees, clearing hiking trails, repairing storm damage, responding to accidents and emergencies and, of course, keeping those stunning beaches in pristine condition.

article source: Guardian.co.uk

Greece is in turmoil and politicians say they are the only ones who can save it. But, as every Greek knows in his heart, it's the gods that count. And Zeus, the most powerful god of all, is also the god of hospitality. He can't afford to let his people down.

Earlier this month, I was in Greece during the elections and subsequent confusion. The hospitality, as always, was genuine. Taverna owners, who remembered us from previous visits, shook my hand and asked after the family. When I asked how things were with them, they smiled and shrugged. 'What can we do? We are far from Athens. There is no rioting here. We just want to get on.'

I was on the west coast of the Mani, the middle finger of the Peloponnese, casting an eye on two villages, Stoupa and Kardamyli, less than five miles apart and both in the lee of the majestic Taygetos mountains.

Stoupa is perfection, set serenely in a south-facing bay with a safe, sandy beach, where the only high rise is the Taygetos range. Strolling along the quiet, taverna-lined seafront is a joy. A young couple, relaxing with their 14-month-old son on Stoupa's Kalogria beach, were delighted with their first visit. 'They're so good with the baby when we eat out,' they said. 'We'll certainly come back.'

Kardamyli, whose literary pedigree stretches from Homer to Patrick Leigh Fermor, the noted British writer who lived here until his death last year, has fine 19th Century houses, an 'old town' and beguiling shops. A centre for eco-tourism, it attracts climbers, scuba-divers and anyone in search of tranquillity.

Over the past decade, the two villages have become increasingly tourist-oriented and now offer guided walks, Greek lessons, yoga classes and summer concerts - from classical to jazz - in an amphitheatre in the hills. Telegraph poles, the local equivalent of notice boards, list what's happening.

There are waymarked paths through the mountains - a group of Norwegian walkers comes every year to repaint the signs - while the fine coastal walk from Stoupa to the fishing village of Agios Nikolaos, once a twisty track, is now paved and suitable even for pushchairs.

I reached Agios Nikolaos as the fishing boats came into harbour. As each catch was unloaded, it was scooped up by taverna-owners and enthusiastic self-caterers. The four Britons watching, retired academics driving round in a hired van, were in good spirits. 'As long as petrol's available, we'll be fine,' they said. 'The Greeks are so welcoming. We walked part of the Viros Gorge when we were in Kardamyli. You should try it. Marvellous.'

So I did, but with a guide. Vangelis, who runs the 2407 sports shop in Kardamyli, takes groups of three to 20 on treks of various difficulties through the Taygetos mountains. My modest walk from the village of Exochori up the ancient goat tracks took us to 500ft above sea level. The air was cool, the vegetation lush, the views spectacular and the silence intense.

Later, I tried my hand as a chef's assistant. Guests at Liakoto - fine seafront apartments in Kardamyli - can spend a couple of hours with Petrus, the owner/chef of the nearby Kastro restaurant. I'd no idea how much time went into preparing Greek food, such as lamb kleftiko or stuffed aubergines.

And then there are the ancient sites, including Olympia, Sparta and beautiful Byzantine Mystras. Messinia, the 4th Century BC capital of the Messinians, which is still being excavated, is one of Greece's most exciting sites.

Because it was never destroyed by enemies, it is rich in temples, towers, theatres, shrines, tombs and more. There were few people there the day we wandered round. It was almost possible, as we sat in deep silence on the stone seats of one of the theatres gazing at the sea far below, to catch the faintest whisper of the spirit of ancient Greece.

The gods have looked favourably on this part of Greece. It only remains for Irene, the goddess of peace, to sort out the politicians.

article source: DailyMail.co.uk

The southern Peloponnese may be Greece's mythical heart, but a holiday here is not all about the ancients, says Fiona Hardcastle.

Why go…

Ignore the islands, turn left at Athens and make the journey that defeated Nero across the dramatic Corinth canal, for it is in the Peloponnese that you will find staggering landscapes, soaring mountains and the mythical heart of Greece. Fill your lungs with the scent of olives, oranges, cypresses and history. The cast of ancient characters is a classicist’s dream – Clytemnestra’s murderous welcome of Agamemnon returning home to Mycenae from the Trojan War; Nestor’s Palace at Pylos, from which Odysseus’s son set out in search of his father; the inspiration for the river Styx and the entrance to Hades. And you don’t have to own a well-thumbed Thucydides to feel a thrill driving through the once-mighty city states of Corinth and Sparta.

But it’s not all about the ancients: the Peloponnese today is an unspoilt patchwork of dizzying mountains, deep gorges, green valleys and wild flower meadows. The further south you get, the fresher the air, the more splendid the isolation. Go before the blistering August temperatures nudge 40C.

 

 Spend the morning…

Exploring the fortified town of Monemvasia, nicknamed the “Gibraltar of Greece”. Separated from the mainland by an earthquake in 375 AD, this huge rock is reached by a causeway and is divided into a charming lower and upper Byzantine town.

Park the car outside the city walls and explore the winding cobbled streets lined with pretty shops and cafes, leading to the 13th-century cathedral Christos Elkomenos, one of four churches left from an original 40. You’ll need stamina to make the steep climb up the paved stair-street to the upper town, now totally deserted, the last inhabitant having left in 1911. But you will be rewarded with breathtaking views.

 Spend the afternoon…

Adjusting to the deliciously slow pace of life. Nothing happens here in a hurry. Take up position under one of the orange trees that line the Kinsterna’s fresh springwater infinity pool, jolting back to life only when water-winged children attempt to get out of it on the wrong side.

article source: Telegraph.co.uk

The cultural riches and natural beauty of the Peloponnese can hardly be overstated. This southern peninsula – technically an island since the cutting of the Corinth Canal – seems to have the best of almost everything Greek. Ancient sites include the Homeric palaces of Agamemnon at Mycenae and of Nestor at Pýlos, the best preserved of all Greek theatres at Epidaurus, and the lush sanctuary of Olympia, host to the Olympic Games for a millennium. The medieval remains are scarcely less rich, with the fabulous Venetian, Frankish and Turkish castles of Náfplio, Methóni and ancient Corinth; the strange battle towers and frescoed churches of the Máni; and the extraordinarily well-preserved Byzantine enclaves of Mystra and Monemvasiá.

Beyond this incredible profusion and density of cultural monuments, the Peloponnese is also a superb place to relax and wander. Its beaches, especially along the west coast, are among the finest and least developed in the country, and the landscape inland is superb – dominated by forested mountains cut by some of the most captivating valleys and gorges to be imagined. Not for nothing did its heartland province of Arcadia become synonymous with the very concept of a Classical rural idyll.

The Peloponnese reveals its true character most clearly when you venture off the beaten track: to the old Arcadian hill towns  like Karítena, Stemnítsa and Dhimitsána; the Máni tower villages such as Kítta or Váthia; at Voïdhokiliá and Elafónissos beaches in the south; or a trip through the Vouraikós Gorge, possibly on the old rack-and-pinion railway.

The region will amply repay any amount of time you spend. The Argolid, the area richest in ancient history, is just a couple of hours from Athens, and if pushed you could complete a circuit of the main sights here – Corinth, Mycenae and Epidaurus – in a couple of days, making your base by the sea in Náfplio. Given a week, you could add in the two large sites of Mystra and Olympia at a more leisurely pace. To get to grips with all this, however, plus the southern peninsulas of the Máni and Messinía, and the hill towns of Arcadia, you’ll need at least a couple of weeks.

If you were planning a combination of Peloponnese-plus-islands, then the Argo-Saronic or Ionian islands are most convenient. Of the Ionian islands, isolated Kýthira is covered in this section since closest access is from the southern Peloponnese ports.
Brief history

Anciently known as the Moreas, from the resemblance of its outline to the leaf of a mulberry tree (mouriá), the Peloponnese was home to some of the most powerful rulers in ancient Greece. During the Mycenaean period (around 2000–1100 BC), the peninsula hosted the semi-legendary kingdoms of Agamemnon at Mycenae, Nestor at Pýlos and Menelaus at Sparta. In the Dorian and Classical eras, the region’s principal city-state was Sparta, which, with its allies, brought down Athens in the ruinous Peloponnesian War. Under Roman rule, Corinth was the capital of the southern Greek province.

From the decline of the Roman Empire to the Ottoman conquest, the Peloponnese pursued a more complex, individual course from the rest of Greece. A succession of occupations and conquests, with attendant outposts and castles, left an extraordinary legacy of medieval remains. It retained a nominally Roman civilization well after colonial rule had dissipated, with Corinth at the fore until it was destroyed by two major earthquakes in the fourth and sixth centuries.

The Byzantines established their courts, castles and towns from the ninth century onward; their control, however, was only partial. The Venetians dominated the coast, founding trading ports at Monemvasiá, Pýlos and Koróni, which endured, for the most part, into the fifteenth century. The Franks, fresh from the sacking of Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade, arrived in 1204 and swiftly conquered large tracts of the peninsula, dividing it into feudal baronies under a prince of the Moreas.

Towards the mid-thirteenth century, there was a remarkable Byzantine renaissance, which spread from the court at Mystra to reassert control over the peninsula. A last flicker of “Greek” rule, it was eventually extinguished by the Turkish conquest between 1458 and 1460, and was to lie dormant, save for sporadic rebellions in the perennially intransigent Máni, until the nineteenth-century Greek War of Independence.
The nineteenth and twentieth centuries

The Peloponnese played a major part in the revolt against the Turks, with local heroes Theodhoros Kolokotronis and Petros Mavromihalis becoming important military leaders. At Pýlos, the international but accidental naval battle at Navarino Bay in 1827 decided the war, and the first Greek parliament was convened at Náfplio. After independence, however, power swiftly drained away from the Peloponnese to Athens, where it was to stay. The peninsula became disaffected, highlighted by the assassination of Kapodhistrías, the first Greek president, by Maniots in Náfplio.

Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the region developed important ports at Pátra, Kórinthos and Kalamáta, but its interior reverted to backwater status, starting a population decline that has continued up to the present. It was little disturbed until World War II, during which the area saw some of the worst German atrocities; there was much brave resistance in the mountains, but also some of the most shameful collaboration. The subsequent civil war left many of the towns polarized and physically in ruins; in its wake there was substantial emigration from both towns and countryside, to North America and Australia in particular. Earthquakes still cause considerable disruption, as at Kórinthos in 1981, Kalamáta in 1986, and Éyio in 1995.

Today, the southern Peloponnese has a reputation for being one of the most traditional and politically conservative regions of Greece. The people are held in rather poor regard by other Greeks, though to outsiders they seem unfailingly hospitable.

 

article source: roughguides

Shimmering in summer, ice-clad in winter, the grey-green Taygetus mountains rise off olive-strewn plains, shutting out progress and warning of what's to come - the barren, southern-most finger of the Peloponnese, battered by the howling tramontana winds and inhabited by black-draped villagers with stern codes of honour. As much blood-stained opera as geography, the Mani peninsula has long been a destination approached by foreigners, even other Greeks, with high anxiety.

"You're mad," said an Athenian friend when I first came here. "If you look the wrong way at a Maniot, he'll slit your throat." That was 1984: she'd never been to the Mani, not even to its more hospitable edges. "But I'm a Maniot," I protested. "That's how we got our family name." My Greek father was born in Turkey and had never been to the Mani either, but some ancestors had fled from here, and he'd certainly inherited their qualities of resilience and authority. As a lumbering bus carried me deeper into the Mani on that opening journey, I looked out a dusty window and saw, crudely painted in metre-high letters: "Stop! Communists go back!" They were unswerving supporters of royalty and right-wing politics. Now, four hours from Athens and a quarter of a century on, I'm wondering if "Long Live the King" and "Death to All Traitors" still hold sway.

The fishing town of Gythio is a useful start, though hardly the Mani in extremis; that comes later. It's a short drive south-east of Sparta and handy, if you're coming from the capital, for an early lunch: the sight of raw octopus drying in the morning sun might not stir your appetite, but marinated anchovies (gavros) and deep-fried whitebait (marides) - hyper-fresh off the boat and stacked like bullets on the plate - are difficult to resist, especially if you add a glass of pungent Maniatiko ouzo and ice. Across a causeway sits Marathonisi (fennel island) - called Kranae by Homer - where mythical elopers Paris and Helen spent their first night of bliss. Today it hosts a shabby but hard-working boatyard; in the Mani, practicality always wins over looks. The typical Maniot has no interest in out-styling those around him, just as his great-grandfather's primary interest was in out-gunning the neighbours. Today's warning sign is more likely to be, "Stop! Fashionistas go back!"

But they come. Both coasts of the Mani - the Aegean in the east, the Ionian in the west - are dotted now with substantial stone houses, bloated replicas of the villas of the past, and most of the owners are wealthy outsiders. I spot a blazing red Ferrari, with Athenian plates of course. In 1984, Gythio seemed - like most of the Mani - a backwater, its charms buried under grime. Today it sparkles with Euro-cash. So great is the construction boom that Albanian stonemasons have been imported to erect the faux fortresses; the locals have long forgotten how to carve the deep-grey rocks that shaped their own architecture.

"What's changed most?" I ask 80-year-old Mitsos, sitting patiently at his family-run taverna, watching the fishing boats come in. "Tourismos," tourism, he unravels in a shaky voice. "They changed everything. Foreigners came, they know the place now." The first wave appeared a decade ago and saved the Mani from deeper penury. "I was a poor boy, one of eight," Mitsos declares. "We didn't bother anybody. But if anybody bothered us, we soon knocked them down." He quickly warms to the Mani's us-versus-them ethos. "We fought the Italians in the war and chased them out, and before that, Greece was occupied for four centuries - but no Ottoman Turk set foot here." The Mani is famed for producing the country's toughest sea captains, police chiefs and army officers, a source of local pride and beyond challenge. ("In Athens," a waiter boasts, "those who protect nightclubs are all Maniots too.") Does old Mitsos see himself as Greek first, or a Manioti? He laughs, at the idiocy of my question. "Manioti!"

The rudiments of Mani life and rejection of external influences ("we don't use spices in our cooking," says another local, "because the Turks did") emerge the deeper south you go, well beyond the clichéd Greece of classical ruins, whitewashed houses and plate-smashing Zorbas. None of that here: crumbling stone walls still delineate who owns to a centimetre exactly what, and empty shotgun cartridges from the hunting season (migratory birds from Africa, quail, wild boar) hint at a deeply embedded culture of vendettas that survived into the 1970s. "A hard life makes hard people," says George Rostandis, my guide. "This is the life they live, and love."

Coming off the winding, rock-strewn road into Kotronas Bay, we stop to absorb the view, a panorama of cloud-churned peaks and water so blue it seems out of place, too pretty for the Mani's intrigues and darkness of spirit. If this is hell, it's set against heaven. That night at En Plo, the eatery of Greek celebrity chef Mary Panagakos, we'll feast on Maniot specialties - pork sausages called loukanika, laced with chunks of orange and lemon peel, wild thyme and oregano; a salad of dried figs, lettuce, walnuts in grape juice and pomegranate seeds; and a roast of goat, potatoes and artichokes cooked on a bed of fennel, flavoured with salt, lemon juice, olive oil and oregano, and slowly oven-baked in its own juices. The meat is robust in flavour. Even goats here thrive on hardship, drinking sea water and feeding on thistles.

Down on the wharf, Petros Perinarkos coolly displays his catch: a three-kilo snapper. "I've worked since I was five years old. Every day we ate fish, it was the poor cousin of beef. Now it's just for the rich." Poverty sent a lot of Maniots away to Germany, to Australia, everywhere. "They worked in the frost and sun, and went to bed hungry." Since curses and the evil eye still count in the Mani, I'm curious if he knows any superstitions about the sea. Perinarkos nods solemnly: "But they are secret. If I told you, they might come true. About the sea you don't joke." Another fisherman, Aris, waves dismissively and laughs. "All rubbish. I don't believe in paradise or hell - life is only what we eat and drink." Deftly gutting a pink-red barbounia, much prized in the tavernas, he smiles cheekily. "And no need for Viagra - here we eat eels!"

If summer is devoted largely to fishing, winter is the season of olives. The harvest starts in November and runs until February, and picking and pressing go on across the coldest months. Olives are the Mani's big cash crop, grown on steep terraces carved into the hills centuries ago. I spot groves filled with olive trees, unharvested. "The owners have given them up to rot," says Alexi, one of the young pickers. "Nobody collects them. You only touch what is yours." Driving uphill, we spy an old woman going our way. She's bent, impossibly tiny, all in black with a white sack on her back. Where is she headed? Her eyes narrow. "To collect olives." Can we take her photo? "Oxi," no. Would she like a lift? "Oxi." She proceeds as if the exchange had never taken place. "That's how all the Maniots used to be," says Rostandis, shaking his head. "Believe me, these are very difficult people."

The land is harsh, and prone to earth tremors and quakes. The shifting plates under the Maniots' feet - a constant reminder of their tenuous grip on the land - surely added to their troubled psyche. Yet in spring the peninsula hosts Europe's most stunning wildflower display, with over 600 species, while roadsides yield herbal treasures in abundance.

Ahead waits the lighthouse at Cape Tenaron, where the escarpment falls hard to the sea; a terror for shipping, perfect for pirates. In the absence of fertile soil, piracy kept a lot of Maniots alive, and this was the ideal point of attack; ships rounding the southern-most tip of mainland Europe were laden with bounty and exposed to jagged rocks. When a French ship came to grief in 1786, locals plundered its cargo, its rigging and its timbers. An observer of the Mani pirates wrote, "They cannot resist, they say, the alluring spectacle of so many European vessels continually passing before their eyes..."

Graveyards cling desperately to the windswept hills as hawks and eagles wheel overhead, looking for insects and lesser birds. "This is the entry to the underworld," Rostandis declares. "The Death Oracle, the Gates of Hades." A small crypt-like stone structure rises from a field sprinkled with bright purple crocuses. In pre-Christian times, worried Greeks came here to consult priests about the afterlife. The Maniots were the last Europeans to convert to Christianity, in the 10th century; as befits extremists, the ferocity of their resistance gave way to profound conversion, and some villages boasted up to 30 churches, with family-appointed priests.

As we drive north again, up the west coast, rows of turquoise beehives suggest order and industry. Then an apparition rises off the hilltop like medieval Lego, a series of massive stone boxes piled on boxes to create disturbing shapes and a sense of foreboding. It was here - in the village of Vathia - that Maniot family feuds reached their pinnacle, an English traveller in 1805 noting the community had been "divided into two parties for the last 40 years, in which time they reckon that about 100 men have been killed." Today the austere towers are just as they were when I clambered through them 25 years ago, except for one telltale sign; on doors are numbers, evidence of a doomed effort in the 1990s to convert them into tourist lodgings. The rooms are again empty, wrecked, splattered with bird droppings.

"Why would anyone pay to stay here in the heat of summer when they could holiday at the beach?" asks Rostandis. He's right; why reside in a labyrinth of cells an hour's walk up from the crystalline sea? Yet the towers of Vathia retain an eerie fascination. Reflections of power, much as skyscrapers are today, they were instruments of revenge too - "spite architecture", built ever-higher to block their neighbour's view. As battles raged and shots were exchanged, the towers rose, each side vying for vertical supremacy. Now only the wind hisses through the ruins, and wild fig trees threaten to engulf the place.

We retreat to Areopoli, a bustling market centre that hosts, behind a simple façade, one of Greece's best traditional bakeries. Presiding at Artos is Melia Tsatsouli, as authentic and crusty as the country bread (psomi horiatiko) that emerges from the 200-year-old wood-fuelled oven. "Sugar, flour, sunflower oil, cream," she calls, mixing up sweet bread, "and ground oriental seed called mahlepi, to give flavour." And then, the magic ingredient: ouzo. "You'll honour me if you drink one, and I won't take no for an answer." She sloshes out a generous shot. "You must learn how to do business with the Maniots." It's eleven in the morning, but time for Tsatsouli is obviously flexible. We clink glasses: "Yia mas!"

The shop is packed. One man buys 10 aromatic loaves for family and friends. Some have come far for the delicious tiropites (cheese pies), and koulourakia Smyrneika (sweet biscuits), others for the hard-baked paksimadia that Greeks dip in their morning coffee.

Tsatsouli knows all about elopements and vendettas. "Only these days we're civilised," she says. "The children know each other, so the matchmakers have nothing to do. By the 1990s, the 'old minds' of the Mani had emigrated to the Lord - and young Maniots went to Athens to study and found a different life." The photos of Tsatsouli as a young woman, coated in a veil of flour, offer a classic Greek beauty, windblown in a floral dress, legs on show. Widowed in her twenties, she raised six children and remains optimistic. "When I retire," she tells her customers, "I will find myself a rich American, or even an Australian, and live my life!"

A few steps away, in the fresco-filled Orthodox church of the archangels Gabriel and Michael, Patir Yiorgis oversees a dwindling congregation. "Once it was an incredibly religious part of Greece," he reflects, opening his palms. "A double problem faces us - the young men don't want to be priests any more, and those who do can't find women eager to be priests' wives." Does he have this problem? Father George laughs. "I have three teenage boys who make my life difficult. It's a war. A daily war in the house."

It's hard to imagine any priest having the power to stop Maniots from warring; in the words of one early observer, it was customary "for priests to wear a brace of pistols" as they pursued their religious duties. "It was difficult," Father George agrees, "but a priest's opinion carried weight. To have an idea of the distrust between the Mani families, imagine this - you see a wall, you think the wall is solid, you see no window, no opening, only the barrel of a gun. You see no person, and then you feel the bullet, and that's it."

Our journey closes before a glistening bay. The fishing village of Limeni once served as the sheltered port for Areopoli, although in the wild winter it's said to be anything but safe. These days a culinary drawcard puts Limeni firmly on the map: Takis Fish Taverna, hailed as one of Greece's finest and frequented by presidents of the republic, business tycoons and actors. "The queen of Denmark also," says owner Takis Kalapothaki. Opened for business in 1986, shortly after I first trekked along these shores, the taverna keeps expanding.

Kalapothaki has no trouble naming the house specialty: "Fresh fish." In the modern world, nothing could be simpler or more complicated. "By the traditional Mani way of preparing it; we cook the fish slowly over hot charcoal, with salt on the fish." And not any salt. "It's from very old salt fields near here. There are rocks, with deep holes, and they fill them with buckets of salt water and it evaporates." Sounds easy enough, but I've discovered nothing here is easy. "One single rainy day in August," says Kalapothaki, "and you don't get any salt for another year."

The long tides of history lap at our feet, blue and white tablecloths flutter in the breeze, lunch customers are settling in, overlooking waters so pristine we can spot schools of bream two metres down. The undersea world of the Mani constantly re-creates itself, every day and every hour - unlike the land behind us, strong and stubborn yet worn by the centuries. "What makes this place different from the rest of Greece," he reflects, "is the people. We had nothing and we fought for everything." Outsiders may arrive with bulging pockets, the kids might depart for Athens and beyond, the vendettas are fading into legend, but Takis Kalapothaki and his fellow Maniots remain a breed apart - those stone walls are still in place. "We consider ourselves the toughest of all," he says with a broad smile, and just a hint of danger.

article source:GourmetTraveller

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