A mountainous region in the far south of Greece, the Mani Peninsula has had a “world’s edge” reputation since the earliest days of civilisation. One way to explore and get a sense of its rugged beauty is on a week-long trip with The Slow Cyclist, says Pamela Goodman in The Sunday Times. This “boutique” company’s tours are as much about “the finer indulgences” as they are about “pedal power”.
Guests spend three nights at Citta dei Nicliani, a tiny hotel with a superb wine cellar in the village of Kitta, and three nights at the “exquisite” Ilias estate, set in olive groves further north. You are guided by historians and the bikes are electric, so the trips are interesting but not arduous, with daily swims and fine picnics as well as some outings on foot. Known as the Deep Mani, the peninsula’s southern stretches are wild and barren places where stony hillsides plunge down to pebble beaches and “sparkling blue” seas. Kitta is typical of its villages, a huddle of age-old stone towers – “sturdy” fortified houses built by feuding families in this famously fierce (and fiercely independent) corner of the country.
At Cape Matapan, a shrine to Poseidon was once a place of sanctuary for rebels, pirates and adventurers. It is the second southernmost point of mainland Europe (after Tarifa, in Spain), a “last gasp of rocky desolation”, where a small cave, accessible only by boat, was once said to be the entrance to Hades. The north feels “positively lush” by comparison. Here, forested river gorges cut through the Taygetos Mountains to the sea. James Heneage, the historicalfiction writer who owns Ilias with his wife Charlotte, is a fine guide, leading you to Byzantine churches with elaborate frescoes, and to the town of Kardamyli, made famous by another writer, Patrick Leigh Fermor. Just one suggestion: though unstrenuous, the whole itinerary is so “action-packed”, you might do well to add a couple of days’ R&R at the end.