In the second part of our tribute to Laconian Mani we visit Areopolis and Limeni, learn the history of Mavromichalis family, taste local dishes, visit Pikoulakis Tower and meet an award-winning Mani company.
We will start the second part of our tribute with a walk in the picturesque Limeni, the natural port of Areopolis, built in a small cove on the road from Areopolis to Kalamata. This is a small seaside settlement, picturesque and traditional, great to continue our beautiful routes! We learned that Limeni was the seat of the commercial activities of the Mavromichalis family and is inextricably linked to the history of Areopolis.
While walking in Limeni, we found the Mavromichalis Tower -the first residence of Petrobey Mavromichalis, ruler of Mani and pioneer of the Greek Revolution of 1821- built in 1762 and the Mavromichalis Palace, opposite each other. Mavromichalis Tower operates today as a hotel.
We searched on occasion for some information about the great family of this place, the Mavromichalis family. We read that in the 14th century, when the Ottomans engaged in killings, looting and kidnappings in the region of eastern Thrace, many residents got on boats and after many deprivations and hardships reached the beach of the village of Alika (shortly after Kyparissos) in Mani. Many of those populations settled there. Among them was a little boy, alone, because the Turks had killed his whole family. The boy was called Michalis. Because in Mani there is a custom to say about those who do not have relatives that their fate is black, the child was named Mavro-Michalis, meaning black Michalis.
The child grew up, married and had four sons. From them began the four related branches of the Mavromichalis family. One of them, the generation of Georgios Mavromichalis, at some point was forced, due to conflicts with other families, to move to Areopolis, and from there to Limeni where it consolidated its rule.
In a pamphlet of the Cultural Center of Eastern Mani we read that Petrobey Mavromichalis, a descendant of the historical family and the last ruler of Mani, played an important role in the Greek Revolution. Leader of the Mani, he proclaimed the Revolution on March 17, 1821 in Areopolis and was the first to enter the liberated Kalamata. He distinguished himself on all battlefields and at the same time enjoyed high political positions.
After our short, historic walk in the beautiful Limeni, we sat down for our dinner at the tavern “I oka“. We were told that the sunset looks great from there, so we hurried to catch it… and we did it!
In “Oka” we spoke with Vasiliki Makri, manager of the tavern for two years, who told us a few things about their philosophy. The restaurant has been around for two and a half years, along with the grocery store below. It is the only restaurant that has exclusively traditional dishes, trying to be a traditional tavern with local products. Vassiliki stressed that they make sure that everything is always fresh, even if there are fewer portions that will come out. All the raw materials they use are local -even the tomatoes are from Gythio.
The store is open from Easter until the end of September, because the rest of the time the area is very windy. Residents of Limeni are counted on the fingers of one hand. Vassiliki told us that the situation this year is quite different from other years, because they work more with Greeks, while the rest of the years most of the customers were foreigners. Vasiliki believes that it is good that more Greeks are coming this year.
All the dishes we tried were really great! Authentic Mani recipes with local products, all handmade, what else can one ask for… A nice view? We had the best!
The portions were so big that by the time we enjoyed them it got dark! Now overlooking the lights at the back of the harbor, we closed the meal with an amazing dessert, a no-bake chocolate cake with a wild fig spoon sweet, a taste we had never tried before. We warmly thank the restaurant “I oka” for their delicious meal and their wonderful dessert!
We returned to our hotel, Koukouri Village in Kafiona, near Areopolis, for a deep sleep in the wonderful room in which we were hosted. We had a relaxing and cool sleep and the next day we were ready for the rest of our tribute!
This time we chose to have our breakfast in the room. It included toasted sandwiches, bread, breadsticks, rusks, butter, honey, jam, omelette, cakes, croissants, pears, natural orange juice and coffee. We enjoyed it in the yard of our room-house, overlooking the mountain and the sea. Absolute calmness in a landscape full of contrasts…
Having enjoyed our nice breakfast, we set off for a cultural destination, Pikoulakis Tower in Areopolis, where we would see the exhibition named “Stories of religious faith in Mani”.
As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by the head of the museum, Giannis Dimopoulos, who guided us to the exhibition and told us a few words about the history of the place. He told us that the tower belonged to the Pikoulakis family, who were first cousins of the Mavromichalis family. The Pikoulakis family were wealthy merchants of the time. During the 80’s and 90’s the grandmother of the family lived in the tower. Later, the former priest of Areopolis lived there, since he had been given the tower to live with his family.
The last descendants donated the tower to the Ministry of Culture. The museum opened in 2006 with co-financing from European programs. Mr. Dimopoulos pointed out that with the restoration the tower did not change at all.
The permanent exhibition “Stories of religious faith in Mani” extends to the two floors of the tower, where it presents and interprets the course of the evolution of Christianity in Mani peninsula from antiquity to the most recent years. On the ground floor there are exhibits that narrate the spread of Christianity in the area of Mani, while on the upper floor the Christian church is approached through its various elements, with the aim of its interpretation and its correlation with the faith and the faithful.
The narrative of the exhibition unfolds through the informational material, the archeological findings and the various objects, such as ecclesiastical books, votive inscriptions, and liturgical objects and utensils.
One of the exhibits that made a great impression on us was an image of Saint John the Baptist, which looked you in the eyes wherever you stood, due to a special technique in its creation…
We read that in the Pikoulakis Tower there is a museum-educational program entitled “Lord help… Aspects and expressions of worship and faith in Mani”. The aim of the program is for the children through the exhibits of the exhibition to obtain information about the appearance and spread of Christianity in Mani, the organization of the interior of Christian churches, the objects of worship, the ways of expressing the piety of the faithful, as well as the artistic creation in the area.
With all those interesting things that we saw in the museum, noon had arrived and the sky had begun to get cloudy… But we would not miss our swim, we would just enjoy it even more. The meteorological forecast had said that it would rain in the afternoon, so we hurried to leave Areopolis and returned to Limeni, where we had not had time to swim the day before. We left our things on a step and dived from the rocks into a crystal clear sea, overlooking the beautiful harbor. This dive will be unforgettable!
When time has come for our bath to end, we thought it was time to get some souvenirs for Athens. Of course, we wanted them to be local products!
Honey, along with sigklino, extra virgin olive oil, salt, lupins, herb pies and lalagia are among the most famous local products of Mani. We saw some of them in our previous article. Local honey can be obtained from stores in Gythio and Areopolis, but also directly from local producers.
We visited the store “Maniatika Paradosiaka Proionta” at the entrance of Areopolis, where we found the awarded “Meli Manis Manolakos” honey, along with many other traditional Mani products, which were shown to us by the store owner Mrs. Fotini Braimi. The producer Panagiotis Manolakos gave us sage, thyme and errica honey and we thank him very much for the gifts!
“Meli Manis Manolakos” is a family business based in Nifion, East Mani, which was started in 1955 by Konstantinos P. Manolakos and continues today by Panagiotis K. Manolakos with the help of his wife Athena and his children Konstantinos and Dimitra. What makes them stand out is that they approach beekeeping with a lot of love and passion. Three of the family honeys have been awarded at the Olymp Awards with taste and quality awards and this year Mr. Manolakos’s honeys were awarded again in London. Congratulations!
In this sweet way we will say goodbye for now… Next stop, Gythio and Diros Caves, in the upcoming third part of our tribute!