Capital and chief port of the prefecture Messinia is the muchsung Kalamata, the land of the Kalamatianos dance and the silk kerchief.Every summer cultural events like concerts and plays put on by the Kalamata theatre are held in the amphitheatre of the castle.
In the evening, the town comes alive, especially along the waterfront which is lined with taverns, seafood restaurants and rotisseries serving local dishes and drinks, fresh fish, roast suckling pig and chicken, sausages, cheese, olives, retsina and raki.From neighboring Eleia you can already feel the charm of that most cheerful and bountiful of places, Messinia.Euripides sung its praises, calling it “a land of fair fruit age and watered by innumerable streams, abounding in pasturage for cattle and sheep, being neither very wintry in the blasts of winter, nor yet made too hot by the chariot of Hellos”.
And this happy situation has continued into our own day.
Long, cool summers, the sweetest of springs, gentle autumns, and mild winters, many springs and abundant water, fertile soil, verdant mountains.
The first stop is Kiparissia.
The town sits as if wedged into the base of its fortress, its lower districts reaching as far as the sandy shore lapped by the lonian sea.
Round about the castle is a plain planted with olive trees and grapevines.
The sea opens into an infinite expanse of azure.
They say that the view of the sunset from the castle is one of the most splendid in the world.
Everything here is imbued with history and a fascinating light.
Everywhere you look see ancient, Byzantine and Frankish monuments.
Peristera is a place a little beyond the village of Raches (5 km. from Kiparissia), where three beehive tombs have been excavated.
Filiatra is not far off. The whole district is dotted with churches, Byzantine and Frankish, of a venerable age.
Gargaliani sits on a lush hillside. It’s worth going up to the town to see the view below: a magical carpet of olive trees and vines that stretches to the sea with Marathoupoli and the islet of Proti, the site of a ruined Mycenaean acropolis, in the background. Hora is built on a hilltop.
This village has preserved its old-fashioned appearance — stone houses with tiled roofs and narrow lanes.
Pilos is a pretty little town built up a hill on the south coast of the bay of Navarino.Snow-white two-storey houses with courtyards drenched in flowers. The arcaded streets make you think you’ve been transported to an island.The main square ringed with pastry shops is sheltered by humongous, centuries-old plane trees. The TurkoVenetian fortress, known as Neokastro, dominates the west side of town.
One of the most attractive in the Peloponnese, it is called that to distinguish it from the ancient fortress to the southwest, named Paliokastro or Palionavarino. The bay of Voidokilia extends from the base of the old castle. A tranquil, carefree sanctuary, the floor of the bay is covered with a thick layer of sand.
A the southernmost tip of the west coast of the Peloponnese lies Methoni. In the town are some enormous Venetian wells whose marble rims are furrowed by the pressure of huge ropes over the centuries.
Homer called Methoni “rich in vines” and tradition maintains that the town is so called because the donkeys (onoi) carrying its wine used to get drunk (methoun), from the heady aroma.
You enter the castle by crossing a massive bridge, impressed by the gigantic walls, imposing bastions and monumental gates.
To the south another bridge unites the citadel with the Bourtzi, a fortified islet with case mates and towers.
But there’s much more to see in Messinia.
Finikounda is a picturesque fishing village at the back of a bay.
Caiques and fishing boats are drawn up all along its sandy shore, while its taverns serve their fresh catch to little tables at the water’s edge.
The road winds like a vast serpent slowly amidst lush fields to arrive at Koroni. Its medieval atmosphere is imprinted in its old mansions, its churches and its castle.Still, diaphanous water, sandy beaches and opposite the little island of Venetiko with its enchanting beach.
From its hilltop site the Venetian citadel crowns the town.
A proper eagle’s nest, with thick walls and massive gates, it cuts a powerful and magnificent figure.
Below the fortress in a little palm grove is a small building housing Koroni’s collection of historical and archaeological artefacts.
The beauty of the area, unchecked, unbroken, is a constant surprise.
Petalidi juts out from the head of a little bay.
The sandy or pebbly beaches round about are shallow and sheltered from the wind. And surrounded by banana trees.
What would you remember first about this place?
Here, there, everywhere are souvenirs and expensive gifts.
Cutting through central Messinia you meet villages – mini natural paradises harbouring ruins of prehistoric settlements, ancient temples, medieval castles and Byzantine churches. And every so often friendly cafes for a cup of coffee and a “kalimera” (good morning).
Mavromati (32 km. from Kalamata) is a small village built like an amphitheatre up the foothills of the sacred mountain of Ithomi, today called Voulkano, where the sanctuary of Zeus Ithomatos was located.
One legend maintained that Zeus was born not in Crete or on Olympos but here at Ithomi, where he was brought up by two nymphs, Ithomi and Neda. Water flows from the heart of the mountain to splash out in the centre of the village.
Opposite Kalamata lies Almiro, above it Mt. Taigetos, the “masculine mountain” and next to it the sea, the Gulf of Messinia.
Almiro is a small settlement by the sea with a clean pebbly beach and translucent waters.
This is where the Messinian Mani begins.
It’s like entering another country.
The landscape is precipitous, plunging headlong towards the sea. Wooded slopes and rugged peaks.
Brooks and torrents.
Deep gorges and high ridges.
Only by the sea is it peaceful.
Mikri and Megali Mantinia, Avia, Ano and Kato Verga Akrogiali, Kitries are some of the villages.
Sand and pebbles and little coves but also pine and fir woods and crystalline springs, solitary chapels and caves once the dwelling place of nymphs and lined with stalagmites.
Hamlets hidden in the mountainsides and hamlets on the water’s edge. Stone houses.
Sitting rooms with fireplaces. Flower-filled courtyards. Cobbled lanes.
Byzantine churches and castles.
Smudged frescoes and tall towers. Painted archangels and slits in the walls for shooting.
As you penetrate further into this astonishing land, you want to get to the heart of it, to have fun with it, to fight for its sake.
You breathe the perfumed breeze that wafts down from Taigetos or you forget yourself swimming alone in a delightful cove.
Then more towers and churches (Kardamili) and more wild gorges (Diros) and after a while Maniot towers yet again and charming fishing villages and another irresistible cove (Stoupa).
On to shiny rocks and fabulous caves (Katafighi), more churches and bell towers (Thalames Platsa) as you keep walking, a bit bewildered by so much to contemplate but proud, and happy to be alive in such surroundings.
What else can you say about this place, about this wealth!