Read here the first part of our tribute to Messinian Mani.
In the second part of our tribute to Messinian Mani we take a dip in the sea of Foneas, make a short trip to mountain villages in the area, eat breakfast from a local bakery, try creative, Greek dishes signed by Yiannis Baxevanis, drink our cocktails at the picturesque port of Agios Nikolaos and get immersed in the history of Mani settlements in the fortified complex of Troupakis – Mourtzinos.
The first part of our tribute to Messinian Mani stopped at the delicious breakfast we ate from the Balachtari bakery. Then, we sat in the cool courtyard of our maisonette, one of the three maisonettes of La Pietra Maisonettes in Neochori, next to Stoupa. We wanted to relax and digest, since our next destination would be for swimming in the famous beach of Foneas.
The beach of Foneas is located on the coastal road of Kalamata-Areopolis, approximately in the middle of the route from Stoupa to Kardamili. Foneas is a relatively quiet beach, which is reached by a path. It has white pebbles and turquoise, cool waters and what characterizes it is a large rock, which divides it in half. The rock had a small cave that can be entered from the sea, and is also suitable for making dives from above it, for the most adventurous ones. The beach is not organized, but at the entrance there is a cafe with tables.
We took a bath, sat on the pebbles and enjoyed the quietness, listening only to the relaxing sound of the sea.
After resting our gaze at the endless blue, we had decided to make a short trip to more mountainous places to explore the natural beauty of new parts of Messinian Mani. So, we got in the car and started our journey passing through the village of Saidona, Messinia. Saidona is a village built amphitheatrically at the foot of Taygetos, a short distance from Stoupa, near the Dubitsia wildlife refuge.
On the road to Saidona
We read that the first inhabitants settled in the village with the occupation of Greece by the Turks, something that is evident by the houses and monasteries that are built there. It is said that it got its name from the beauty of the landscape and from the existence of many nightingales (aidona means nightingale). The inhabitants of the village participated in all the struggles of the Greek nation. In fact, in World War II, one of the first blows Mussolini received was from this small, mountainous village.
We continued our mountain walk in nature, in the direction of Exochori. We read that Exochori is a traditional settlement, at an altitude of 500 m., which until 1932 was called Androuvista.
On the road to Exochori
Exochori -or Androuvista- was an area particularly important for the transition from Laconia to Messinia and was not a village, but an area with scattered micro-settlements. The area is mentioned for the first time in a historical source of the 13th c. and was the mountainous fortified old capital of the Medieval, but also of the Ancient Kardamili. In medieval times and during the Turkish occupation in the area there were a hundred churches, many of which are preserved to this day.
On the way to Exochori we saw the Kitriniaris Tower, which we read is located at a height of 700 m, on the borders of the Municipal District of Exochori of Messinian Mani. It is a typical example of a tower house of the 18th century, built with local stones, a historic building of pre-revolutionary Mani. Together with two monasteries, of Samuel and of Vaidenitsa, they formed the strong triangle of Saidona for the defense and guarding of the villages of Kardamili and Androuvista.
Another attraction of the area is the Vyros Gorge. The Vyros Gorge is located in Taygetos and has a length of 19 km. Also, apart from its natural beauty, we learned that it has historical significance, since the ancient “royal road” that connected ancient Sparta with the port of Kardamili passed through there.
In Exochori we met Mr. Christoforos Lambrineas. When we met him, he was making an improvised tool so that the goats would not drink the milk, with a stick and a knife. He told us that he comes from the village and that he is 96 years old! He also told us that when he was young he went to school, where he even did French, but stopped when the war started. He has children and grandchildren, some in Athens, others in Kalamata and others in the village. Mr. Christoforos told us that he feels sorry for us living in Athens, and we will not disagree at all!
We asked about the people who live in the village and he told us that it has a few permanent residents. In the summer it gathers more, since there are some rented studios from very good people, as he told us. He also told us that the route to the Vyros Gorge is beautiful and that if he listened better -because he is physically and mentally healthy- he would walk the mountain every day!
Mr. Lambrineas also told us that in the village they make very nice food with their own products from their chickens and animals and invited us in the future to come and stay a few days in the village. We wished him to rejoice his children and grandchildren, to always be strong, healthy and smiling, we thanked him and got back in the car to return from our short mountain trip.
On the way back
The time had passed and so we headed to the restaurant where we would dine that day, the Stoupa Restaurant on the beach of Stoupa. As we read in the menu of the restaurant, its gastronomy bears the signature of Yiannis Baxevanis, one of the first chefs who occupied themselves with Greek cuisine. Yiannis Baxevanis stands out, as he brings to his dishes forgotten ingredients, such as wild greens and carob and highlights them in a pioneering way.
Award-winning for his gastronomic creations and gastronomic “ambassador” of our country abroad, chef Yiannis Baxevanis places the signature “By Baxevanis” in the menus of selected gastronomic destinations that have a strong Greek character and use local ingredients, such as wild herbs on the dishes they serve. One of them is the Stoupa Restaurant where we had the pleasure to try his creative, Greek dishes.
Having enjoyed our wonderful dinner at Stoupa Restaurant, what was missing to complete our evening out was a nice, refreshing cocktail. So, we got in the car once again to go to Agios Nikolaos, a village that we had heard of having very nice shops in its port.
Agios Nikolaos is a picturesque fishing village with a well-developed tourist traffic. We read that it is a relatively new village, since it was first inhabited during the decades 1830-1840. The first name of the village was Selinitsa which means little moon or little Helen. Legend has it that Paris landed on the beach of the area and stole the beautiful Helen, causing the Trojan War to begin.
After our evening walk in the port of Agios Nikolaos, which was full of life, we sat in the cafe-bar Lithos to enjoy our cocktails and the wonderful view of the fishing boats of the port. Both the cocktails and the view were wonderful! Something that impressed us was that the store uses recyclable paper straws, an initiative we really liked!
We spoke with the manager, and son of the owner, George Kelepouris, who told us that Lithos has existed since 1999. We asked him about tourism in Agios Nikolaos and he told us that they are usually 60% foreigners and 40% Greeks, while this year there are more Greeks. Agios Nikolaos is mostly visited by families and German tourists, as it is a quiet, family place.
Lithos is open from morning with breakfast, coffees, drinks and salads with local products until the evening with some Mediterranean dishes, sweets, wine and drinks, an all-day cafe-bar, with a relaxed and calm atmosphere, the way we like it! Finally, Mr. Kelepouris told us that at the same time they also have a complex of rental houses, whose breakfast is served in the cafe. Judging by the cocktails we tried, everything will definitely be delicious!
We returned to our hotel, the maisonette of La Pietra Maisonettes in Neochori, full of flavors and images for a restful and cool sleep.
The next morning we made coffee in the kitchen of our maisonette and then we went to get nice baked goods from the Balachtari bakery in Stoupa to enjoy them on the balcony of our maisonette. Cheese pies, chicken pie, ham and cheese pie and chocolate croissants, they were all fresh and delicious!
We wanted to end our trip to Messinian Mani with a historic destination. So, we decided to visit the fortified complex of the Troupakis-Mourtzinos family in old Kardamili. This was a hegemonic and historical family of the region, which dominated during the Turkish occupation.
In texts of the exhibition hosted in the complex we read that according to the oral tradition the Troupakis family is a branch of the Byzantine family of Palaiologos and that the first references to it are recorded in the 17th century. Michael Paleologos is considered to be its ancestor. The surname Troupakis has a history: it comes from an incident where the son of the family, Panagiotis, in a persecution by the Turks got fortified in a cave (tripono means hide in a hole). His descendant Panagiotis acquired the nickname Mourtzinos. Troupakis or else Mourtzinos, was a great captain of the region and played an important role in the Revolution of 1821. He and his son Dionysios were members of the secret organisation “Filiki Eteria”. Panagiotis and his men participated in the liberation of Kalamata on March 23, 1821, as well as in the siege of Tripoli. In 1967 the last descendants of the family donated their historic complex to the Greek state to become a museum.
The fortified complex of Troupakis-Mourtzinos is a typical fortified house of the area of that time. As we read in an informational sign, the complex is built on a rocky hill, which allows the supervision of the Messinian Gulf and the land road Mani-Kalamata.
The complex includes various buildings: the church of Agios Spyridon, the private church of the family, the tower house or “ontas”, ie their residence, the main tower, and auxiliary spaces such as a vegetable garden and an olive mill. Another of its auxiliary spaces is identified with a blacksmith workshop, which seems to be the only one in Mani. The construction of the first buildings dates back to the end of the 17th century, while continuous reconstructions and additions were made until the beginning of the 19th century.
The tower house and its adjacent buildings have been turned into a museum, which belongs to the “Mani Museum Network” together with Pikoulakis Tower, which we visited in our previous article about Laconian Mani. In the museum of the Troupakis-Mourtzinos complex we learned about the evolution of the settlement of old Kardamili, about the history of the great family of Troupakis, and about the history of the settlements of Mani and their special characteristics, such as towers and castles, but also watermills and windmills, beehives, olive mills, salt pans and terraces. We learned about the differences of the North from the South of Mani, about the organization of the social life in Mani, about the paths, the ports, the temples and the cemeteries, the fountains and the wells. We learned a lot more, from the very interesting and clearly structured posters of the exhibition, as well as from the exhibits that accompanied them.
Walking on the grounds of the fortified complex we felt as if we were immersed in the past of the place, making an experiential plunge into its history. The exhibition with its supervisory material gave us important information about the past of the place and its characteristics, thus helping us to better organize in our minds our experiences and memories of all the things that we had seen these days in the historic place of Mani, which are of course so many…
Somewhere here our journey to Messinian Mani ends… Next and last stop of our journey will be Kalamata. Stay tuned!