WRITTEN IN STONE – The Mani Peninsula, Greece

This was unusual, since local families usually hand down property to younger generations (who then often fight over it). In 2008, Zouvelos and a partner began a five-year renovation that produced the Tainaron Blue Retreat, a three-room hotel.

The view from Tainaron Blue Retreat

The latest and most elegant in a series of Maniot towers to be converted into hotels, Tainaron Blue has turned a dusty stone fortification into a contemporary refuge with an infinity pool overlooking the Mediterranean. Zouvelos has also introduced a menu of regional delicacies like chylopites—traditional sheep-milk pasta— with olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and smoked cheese, and freshly caught fish prepared by his chef, Sakis Bellis. My two-story suite was at the top of the renovated tower, up a steep flight of wooden stairs. It had a small half-door leading onto a tiny wooden balcony, where Zouvelos had built a folding bench just big enough for one person to sit and gaze at the infinite blue of the sea. At night I watched distant ships garlanded with lights moving slowly along the water. The half-door had been a window, and I liked to imagine that some crazy Maniot had once used it to blast a cannon at another crazy Maniot one hilltop over, who, no doubt, had quickly blasted back.

Tainaron Blue Retreat

The first real Maniot I met was Stavros Androutsakos, a stern, thick-chested man who claims he can trace his ancestry back to the Niklians, an upper-class clan that once dominated this part of the Mani and demonstrated their social superiority through the size of their towers. Clans were so consumed with the idea that ‘Bigger is better’ that the tops of towers were often left unfinished as a signal to neighbors that a new level might be added at any moment. Fermor described the limestone towers as ‘bundles of petrified asparagus.’

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