Messinian Mani in green and blue, part a

Read here the second part of our tribute to Messinian Mani.

Our journey in Mani continues … We leave Laconia and travel by car to the Messinian side, in a landscape more green and less wild than the one we were used to. Come on another sweet trip with us…

On the roads of Messinian Mani

In the first part of our tribute to Messinian Mani we visit Stoupa and Kardamili, we stay in a beautiful maisonette, we taste local and modern dishes, we discover local products and we learn about the house of Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor in Kardamili.

Our first stop is the hotel that will host us, a complex of three maisonettes, La Pietra Maisonettes, in Neochori, Messinia, near Stoupa, where we were welcomed by the most gentle manager Evangelia Pantazi. As soon as we saw the house we were going to live in we were really left speechless, since it was huge… And as soon as we entered it we saw that it had everything from basic amenities, towels, soaps and air conditioners to coffee capsules, batteries and books to read.

Our stone-built maisonette
In the yard overlooking the endless blue…

The stone maisonette we were given, named “Levanta House” had two floors and an attic, three double beds, two spotless spacious bathrooms, a living room with a fireplace, a fully equipped kitchen, a courtyard with seats, a large terrace and all the amenities that one can imagine. With shades of purple on the walls, it matched its name perfectly… And since it had a fireplace in its living room, we thought it would be great to stay there in the winter too! It can comfortably accommodate a large family or three couples!

In the wonderful living room with a fireplace…
The fully equipped kitchen and the staircase leading to the attic
The large terrace with a comfortable corner sofa
The view from the terrace
The bedroom in which we chose to sleep
The second bedroom with a door to the courtyard
The attic of the maisonette
Opening the window and seeing this view… What more could one ask for?

Outside, each maisonette has its own courtyard with tables. Apart from these, nearby, on the grass, there is a lounge with pillows and a canopy, ideal for drinking your coffee in the morning overlooking the sea or your drink at night in complete silence and coolness, since the maisonettes are located at an altitude of about 150 m., with Taygetos mountain behind them and the sea in front of them.

The cool lounge outside of La Pietra Maisonettes

After settling in our house, we prepared for our first walk in Messinian Mani. Although it was a bit late for a bath, we first of all wanted to see the beach of Stoupa. Stoupa is a seaside village of Messinian Mani, built at the foot of Taygetos. We read, in fact, that it is the most developed tourist village not only of its municipality, but also of the whole of Messinia. We saw it with our own eyes, seeing the people on the beach and in the cafes and restaurants that surround it. We may not have taken a bath in the sea, but judging by the sandy beach and the families who enjoyed it, we would say that it is a beach suitable for parents with children.

The sandy, huge beach of Stoupa
The beach of Stoupa has many organized spots, but also place to spread your towel and set up your umbrella

After a stroll in the coastal Stoupa, we headed to another well-known destination of Messinian Mani, Kardamili, a seaside village overlooking the Messinian Gulf. We took another walk there, before sitting down to enjoy a dinner by the sea.

On the road from Stoupa to Kardamili

As we have learned, Kardamili is a city of ancient Laconia, which is considered to have existed since prehistoric times. It has a long history, since it is already mentioned by Homer. It was one of the seven cities that Agamemnon gave to Achilles to return to the siege of Troy. It also played an important role in the Greek Revolution, since we read that Kolokotronis was hosted in the tower of Panagiotis Troupakis, of the hegemonic family of Mani, in January 1821 in order to organize the liberation struggle. On March 21, 1821 they started from there for the occupation of Kalamata.

The bust of the fighter of 1821 Panagiotis Troupakis (Mourtzinos) in the central square of Kardamili. We will see the story of his great family in the second part of the tribute to Messinian Mani, where we will visit their tower.

With stone alleys, picturesque houses and beautiful small shops, Kardamili was the perfect place for our afternoon walk. Kardamili has many shops with local products, souvenirs, sweets, cafes, restaurants and bars, to satisfy every visitor of any age… Let alone the village’s beautiful port!

Even the main street of Kardamili has a picturesque character…
The dusk by the sea is really magical…

One of the places we wanted to see in Kardamili was the Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor House. On the website of the Benaki Museum we read that the British writer Patrick Leigh Fermor and his partner Joan loved Greece very much and decided to build the house in Kardamili and live there for the rest of their lives, in the “quiet charm of Kardamili” as characterized by Patrick -or Paddy- in his travel book about Mani.

The alley that leads to the Leigh Fermor house
The Leigh Fermor house from afar, emerges in such a natural way among the trees, against the background of Taygetos…
The Lwigh Fermor house now belongs to the Benaki Museum.

Unfortunately, during the hours we were in Kardamili, the house was closed to the public, so we could only see it from outside. However, we contacted the Benaki Museum, to which Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor donated their house, and they sent us information and rich photographic material, which we are happy to publish in our article and for which we are very grateful!

(click on the photos for full view)

Photos of the Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor House by Leonidas Kourgiantakis, autumn 2019, and by Vassilis Paschalis, autumn 2018

Although we saw the building only from the outside, we saw with our own eyes how beautifully it fits into the landscape around it, as if it is part of the nature that surrounds it, as if it comes out of the ground, as if it has always been there. Having immersed ourselves even more in its history, thanks to the material sent to us by the Benaki Museum, we wanted to learn a few more things about its owners. Thus, we readq that Sir Patrick Michael Leigh Fermor (1915-2011) played an important role in the resistance in Crete during World War II. During his lifetime he was considered one of the most important living travel writers.

Patrick Leigh Fermor, Hydra 1959, Benaki Museum / The Ghika Gallery
Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor in Kardamili, Christmas 1975, Benaki Museum / The Ghika Gallery

As for the house in Kardamili, we learned that in 1963 Patrick and his wife Joan located the place where they built their house, with personal effort and the help of local craftsmen and workers. The house was based on their own plans and was completed with the help of the modernist architect and friend Nikos Hatzimichalis. So, come with us to enter and enjoy it through wonderful photos!

(click on the photos for full view)

Photos of the Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor House by Leonidas Kourgiantakis, autumn 2019, and by Vassilis Paschalis, autumn 2018

In 1996, the Fermor couple donated alive their home to the Benaki Museum to be transferred to the museum after their death -one of the most important donations the museum has received in decades. Patrick Leigh Fermor’s relationship with the Benaki Museum lasted for many years, as he had a friendship with the museum’s founder Antonis Benakis, as well as with his daughter Irini Kalligas from the war years. The choice of the Benaki Museum was proposed and supported by their very close friend and translator of the book “Mani”, the former Greek Prime Minister Tzannis Tzannetakis. The museum acquired full ownership of the home after the death of Patrick Leigh Fermor in 2011, along with some artwork and most of the books and household items. Subsequently, the feasibility study, the renovation and the acquisition of the necessary equipment became possible thanks to the generous support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

The Fermor couple wanted their home space to be used for museum purposes, to host researchers and to remain open to the public. And so it happened, since today it operates as a place to host academics and artists, as an educational center with educational activities in collaboration with educational institutions, and as an attraction with organized guided tours for the public and special cultural events. The first educational institution to be have been hosted is Princeton University.

The aim of the Benaki Museum is for the house to contribute to the promotion of our country, to the development of cultural dialogue, to the promotion of Greek culture and to the cultivation of a deep personal relationship of academics, creators and researchers with the Greek landscape and the Greek environment. Finally, the mobility and publicity that will develop around the Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor House is expected to contribute to the local touristic and economic development of Kardamili, and the wider area of Mani too.

The Leigh Fermor House is truly one of the most beautiful houses we have ever seen and we are very sorry that we were not able to see it up close… Next time! Going back to our narration, after we walked around the Fermor house and as dusk fell on the beautiful beach in front of it, it was time to eat.

On the beach in front of the Leigh Fermor House, at dusk it is really beautiful…

Our choice for this day was the restaurant Tikla Cuzina & Wine Bar, by the sea and the port of Kardamili. “Tikla” in Mani is called a gray-green type of slate, which was one of the most common roofing materials in the area.

At the restaurant we were greeted by the manager Mr. Vangelis and he told us a few words about the philosophy of the restaurant. He told us that it works from early in the morning until late at night, with food inspired by local ingredients, familiar and modern at the same time. With a wonderful view and relaxing atmosphere one can enjoy his coffee, the unique dishes of the menu and wine from a rich list of wines. We tasted its dishes and wine and got very excited!

For starters, tomato soup with chili
Seared tuna with fish roe dip and salt cedar greens
Green salad mesclun with falafel, cucumber, carrot, pumpkin, sesame and yogurt sauce
Grilled salmon with quinoa, peas, cucumber, grape and lime, fruity rosé wine Mati Fortuna of Inomessiniaki Winery, Agiorgitiko-merlot from Peloponnese and fruity white wine Mati Fortuna, of Inomessiniaki Winery, Moschofilero-chardonnay from Peloponnese
Linguine with a variety of mushrooms, truffle cream and goat cheese
Decomposed millefeuille with vanilla cream and strawberry jam
Lemon tart with sour cherry and strawberry sorbet
Mastic liqueur with lemon for closing

After enjoying the calm atmosphere of the Tikla restaurant and tasting its delicious gastronomic suggestions, we returned to our maisonette, at La Pietra Maisonettes, for a restful and peaceful sleep.

The next morning what we needed to start our day was a hearty breakfast. Breakfast is not provided in the maisonette, which is like a detached house. So, we went to the Balachtari bakery in Stoupa, to get delicacies for our breakfast.

There, we met Mr. George Balachtaris, who told us that in his products he uses local ingredients and traditional local recipes. Mr. Balachtaris showed us that the feta cheese and all the cheeses he uses in his pies are from the award-winning company Tyrokomiki Messini-G. Petropoulos Bros. We chose handmade pies, spinach pie, cheese pie, chicken pie and bougatsa (sweet cream pie) and enjoyed them on the balcony of our wonderful maisonette with coffee and sea views.

Mr. George Balachtaris leaving the workshop of his bakery
Local traditional products of Balachtari bakery
Traditional handmade pies
Our delicious traditional breakfast from Balachtari bakery

Along with the pies, we also got traditional lalagia (fried dough strips) made by Mr. Balachtaris himself, which he provides via an e-shop -an idea given to him by his own customers- and via selected stores in other parts of the country, along with other traditional Mani products such as the Mani oil rusks and other products based on olive oil. We tried the lalagia and the oil rusks and they were pure and very tasty.

Traditional Mani lalagia from the Balachtari bakery
The lalagia reached the kitchen of our house in Athens!

We filled our batteries for another full day… The rest will be in the second part of our tribute to Messinian Mani with even more images, flavors and experiences…

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