If you have ever travelled up through Italy to the Mont Blanc tunnel and then on into France you will know that on the Italian side the road sweeps you under mountains in the form of long tunnels and across ravines on high viaducts whilst on the French side you spend hours turning the steering wheel as you negotiate a seemingly endless series of hairpin bends that take you tortuously up and down the mountains on their side of the Alps.
From our rented house base I had planned to take day trips down into the Mani as this area is known ( it is to those of you with Google maps the middle of the three fingers that stick out at the bottom of the Peloponnese) . However the weather has proved too nice and instead we have spent the days swimming and sitting on sun loungers a few kilometres down the road. The decision to adopt idleness was helped when I read that almost all the roads in the mountainous region of the Mani were built by a virtual army of occupation from France in the 1870s. I therefore knew what to expect from any venture through the mountains and down to the less developed ( I thought) areas to the south of Avia.
Today however with a dodgy weather forecast for the first time since arriving in Greece two weeks ago we set off for un giro ( a trip).
The French didn’t disappoint. The first hour was spent winding up and then down the mountains with only one small break for the arm muscles when we did cross a deep ravine over a large and very new bridge. It was so new that there were still news reporters standing on it doing interviews. The Greeks had clearly tired of going up and down the ravine and built across it. Bravo.
This is the bridge
We started the day by going to Kalamata to get on the road through the mountains and so to the southern area on the Mani. Kalamata is of course home to the famous olive of the same name and to the scene of yet another one of those heroic British Army retreats. This one was in 1941 when the expeditionary force was pushed into the sea by the rampant German Army and was once again taken off the beaches by the Royal Navy. However it wasn’t really so heroic as the officers decided that the delights of a Royal Navy ward room and the clubs of Alexandria and Cairo were far too good for their men and so left the majority of them behind on the beach whilst saving themselves. The men either surrendered or stole Greek fishing boats and set off for Egypt themselves. The British residents of which there were quite a few down here were similarly abandoned and Lawrence Durrell, at the time teaching English at the Kalamta British School, who we last heard of in my Corfu blog, managed with his family and a few another Brits to “borrow” a Greek boat and headed off to Alexandria. He, like the soldiers, had quite a harrowing time as the RAF had retreated too leaving the skies full of German aircraft. Once there he sat down and wrote his famous Alexandrian Quartet of books which are well worth a read.
Kalamta also now boasts a bloody great international airport that really should have warned me that the “ deserted” southern area of the Mani so beautifully talked about in guide books might not be as quiet as I thought.
The first big town after the mountains is Stoupa and it would seem that the Germans never really left. It is like a suburb of Dusseldorf but by the sea.
However we drove on and found Agios Nikolaos and that is nice. It is how you imagine a small Greek seaside village to be. The small harbour
The cafes lining the harbour wall
and the blue blue sea
We had bought picnic stuff from one of the ubiquitous Lidl stores that now populate all Greek towns of a certain size and a few miles outside of Ag. Nik. we found someone had helpfully put a large bench and so we sat
Not too bad is it?
Ag. Nik. is quite a nice find and one to store away in case we return again but maybe we will wait until the Greeks have been tunnelling more or asked the Italians for help.
Of course I would always stay at our rented house in Avia ( the lady we are renting from reads this blog I discovered) !!!