The Mani, in southernmost Greece, is a land where myths were born,gods once roamed, and the people are as proud and rugged as the mountains they call home. Jim Yardley gets lostin one of the last great undiscovered corners of Europe.
Somewhere in the Taiyetos Mountains, I was driving along a winding, two-lane road past thickets of prickly pear, navigating blind turns and pushing deeper into the Peloponnese peninsula of mainland Greece when the GPS device in my rental car suffered a fatal seizure.
Big problem. I couldn’t read the Greek road signs, and I didn’t know the route to the stone tower house converted into a tiny hotel where I had booked a room. I was planning to spend five days exploring the Mani, one of Europe’s most isolated and starkly beautiful regions, as well as the setting for several key scenes in Greek mythology. The ancient Greeks claimed it was here that Orpheus descended to the underworld; today, this primeval landscape remains largely undiscovered—meaning visitors will, in all likelihood, have it mostly to themselves.
That I was suddenly GPS-less seemed fitting, as reaching the Mani has never been easy. Over the centuries, Maniots have fought off invading Turks, slaughtered mercenary Egyptians, and unleashed homegrown pirates onto ships plying the trade routes between Venice and the Levant.
When they weren’t fighting outsiders, Maniots fought among themselves, blasting cannons or firing rifles, one clan against another. More recently, they resisted the leftist politics that swept through the rest of Greece as the country straggled to recover from its economic crisis. The feuding ended long ago, but civilisation did not immediately fill the vacuum. Man walked on the moon before a paved road reached southernmost Mani.