Driving from Pyrgos to Kastania village you can stop at Blauel Oil factory. It is owned by a Austrian guy who moved here in the '70 and started bottling by hand olive oil. It was the first organic farm in Greece and now it works with over 500 local farmers. When we were there it was closed for some restoration works but usually it is possible to taste and buy their olive oil and other products.
After you have been shopping for olive oil at the Blauel farm keep driving until you reach Kastania Village that is hidden in a fold of the mountain.
You can park your car after the tiny but beautiful bizantine church of Agios Gioannis and than you walk uphill to the center of the village.
The central square is shortly on the right, there is a caffee under a wonderful huge shady tree, a church, a basic taverna and the Durakis Tower, an example of the 18th century defensive architecture. It is a five storey tower and it was supposed to be fully restored and turned in a museum but in 2011 it still looked like a ruin.. that is too bad.
If you are not too tired and hot you can walk uphill to the top of the village, you will be rewarded by several nice churches, tiny alley, blue doors and, if you are lucky, the view of the local old woman, still dressed black, sitting in the shade chatting or knitting.
If you get tired of swimming and sumbathing you can decide to go for a drive following an itinerary up to the hills. We drove North of Ag. Nikolaos and then right toward the village of Pyrgos.
Pyrgos is a small village with stones houses and a nice church. There is bar, full of old photographs and with a bunch of locals resting in the shade. We stopped for a cold beverage and talked to the barman, he told us the village has 300 hinabitants during the summer and 40 during winter time.
From the village you have an amazing view of the coast.
There are many choices of beaches near Agios Nikolaos, on both sides of the village. We chose 3 different ones, each one was different, on had small pebbles on the entire beach, one had sand, and one had large round rocks. The round rock one had the most clear water, but was difficult to put the pole of an umbrella in place. It offered the best swimming opportunity to swim with the fish that came when we dropped small pieces of bread to lure them in.
The whole beach scene there is wonderful, the water is refreshing, not cold, the sun is good, and it is not too crowded.
We found a small cave that you can swim through, see photo.
In the village of Agios Nikolaos you will find a small port where the fishermen bring their catch in at 9:00 in the morning. They have left their nets out all night, and you will see what they have caught.
They lay the fish out on a table for all to see and buyers step right up and get their plastic bag filled with their selection which has been weighed.
The men of the village sit above and discuss what was brought in. This is all very quaint and quite charming, of course. See photos.
Pirgos Dirou is a small village 8 km south to Areopoli. You must drive a further 4 km to get to the caves that are open for visits. Even in summer, the temperature of the air remains below 20°C while the water is around 12°C ! The cave is visited by small boats on about 1 km. It has plenty of stalactites that reflect on the perfectly still water. It is considered as one of the most beautiful lake-caves in the world. A must see ! Sorry, I did not take any photo : though they are well lit, that would not have been enough for a good photo with the film that I used.
The castle of Kelefa was built by the Ottomans near Itilo in 1670. The name Kelefa means bald land as it was built on a barren plateau bluff overlooking the bay of Itilo It is a large rectangular construction very similar to Passava castle. Though is is much decayed, it nevertheless looks very impressive by its size.
The first photo shows one of the 800 traditional house towers of Mani, built with local stones and with narrow openings. (see my Eastern Mani page for more on the house-towers).
The second photo shows a modern fancy house tower just finished built with bricks, with wide openings and that has amazingly been topped with four turrets on each angles, which is never found in the traditional house-towers!
Gerolimin is another pleasant small village of south western Mani, 24 km south to Areopolis. It has not more than a hundred permanent residents but in summer, the population increases dramatically as there are many “room to let”
With 800 inhabitants, this small village is the second largest town in Mani. The name of the city means "city of Ares", the ancient Greek god of war. Areopoli was known from medieval times as Tsimova. This was the area’s name until 1836. This is where started the Greek War of Independence on March 17th 1821 under the led of Petros Mavromichalis (or Petrobeis Mavromihalis), bey of Mani. He has his statue in the center of the village.
Areopoli is the seat of the municipality of Itilos (or Oitylos)
These photos shows Kato Limini or Porto Vitylo, the harbor part of Areopoli. This is not the center, which stands a few kilometers inland.
Kato Limini (which means something like "lower swamp") is not far from Areopoli. The village (on the right side of the bay, almost hidden), spreads in a wide bay that makes a magnificent landscape and offers a better place for agriculture! However, though this is not as rocky and stony as most parts in Mani, agriculture is scarce: soil is available but water is not!
North to Areopoli, this olive grove shows how hard it is to grow anything, even olive trees in Mani. The hard rock is everywhere, covered by a very thin crust of vegetal earth. Along the centuries, peasants have collected the smaller stones and piled them into walls. The larger stones, those that were too large to be removed, have stayed there and look at what that gives: meager trees trying to make their living in a stamp size place amidst rocks, rocks and rocks. No wonder that the olive oil is expensive but very tasty!
When you drive from Kalamata and before getting to Areopoli, this place is where you can see the first and famous house-towers of Mani. I will explain more about this type of housing in my East Mani page as they are more numerous in eastern and southern Mani than in the west.
Driving along the peninsula, you will find chapels along the road, chapels along the shore!
First photo. Look at this one! It is protected by several outer walls and with its many roofs, looks like a large church!
Second and third photos. This chapel is not as beautiful as the previous one but it sands, almost alone on a one on a chapel size peninsula! There is enough space for this chapel, but nothing else. Is there any place in the world where you can find such a situation?
Fourth photo. This one stands right along the road but nevertheless in the wild, in the middle of nothing!
In Greece, my policy is to always look for the narrowest gravel roads. If I have to choose between a paved road and a dirt road, I take the dirt. If I have to choose between a road with road signs and an unsigned road, I choose the later. If I have to choose between a wide road and a narrow one, I chose the narrow one, etc… You do not win each time. This is often deceiving, but when it is not, it is worth all the failed attempts!