Globetrotters in Slow Motion: From Kazantzakis’s Kalogria to Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Kardamyli
Memories of a lifetime in a family vacation in Mani…I remember playing on the sandy beaches of Kalogria and Stοupa even before I went to primary school; or hiding as a restless teenager in the caves of Foneas beach; or sunbathing on the hot white pebbles of Kardamyli beach, with the cypress trees growing almost at the seaside. Here I am now with my own kids, returning to my years of innocence!
Kalogria: Family Vacation at Zorba the Greek’s beach in Mani
“It was early afternoon as we approached our sandy beach. Thin white sand, blooming oleander bushes, fig trees, carob trees and further away, a low, grayish, treeless mound that looked like a woman’s face ready to spring up.” This is how Kazantzakis describes the beach by which he and Zorba spent two whole years. The Kalogria beach has not changed since then except for that female face that now hides behind some new buildings.
Kazantzakis stayed on the Kalogria beach during the years of 1917 and 1918, working the Prastova lignite mine where he had appointed superintendent the hero of his book, Giorgos Zorbas. Indeed, the road that leads to the beach bears his name. The house where the two men stayed lies on one side of the beach while on the other you will find “Kazantzakis’s cave,” that you can only approach by boat.
Even if your kids are so young that they have not yet discovered Kazantzakis, Kalogria is an oasis for family vacation with very young kids against Mani’s rough landscape. Its sand is perfect to build castles with, the water is crystal clear and cool due to underwater springs and its northern rocky side abounds with small crabs and other harmless sea creatures. A butterfly net will keep your younger explorers busy for hours while the locally improvised springboard will provide equal fun to older kids. During the tourist period, the beach will be full of umbrellas and beach chairs laid out by the nearby eateries; but no, there won’t be the racket-and-ball “war” that you may find in other Greek beaches. Feel free to lounge…
As you slowly travel north, the next beach is Stoupa. It is just as beautiful as Kalogria but much more crowded because the nearby small and very authentic town of Stoupa offers many amenities and attracts more traffic. In any case, the coast of Kalogria and Stoupa is the best for a beach family vacation with babies and toddlers in Mani.
Mani with Kids? From Kalogria to Kalamitsi
The farther we drive north to Mani the less suitable the area is for families with small kids. The next beach after Kalogria is Delphinia. It has a canteen but is not accessible by car. The next beach is Foneas. Although accessible by car, the drive to Foneas is bumpy and the big white pebbles too hot for your young ones to walk on barefoot. The comfort provided by the shady caves and the canteen is better suited to romantic adults rather than little kids.
Family Holidays in the Land of the Great Travellers
“I need the hot stones, the thorns, the olive trees and the prickly pear bushes,” British author and experienced traveller Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor had said when he and his wife chose this part of the world to live. Indeed, “hot stones, thorns, olive trees and prickly pear bushes” is Kalamitsi in a nutshell!
The area from the hill with the cypress trees all the way down to the white-pebbled beach (they really are burning hot!) is ideal as a meditational retreat for one’s more “mature” years. The only way to the beach is from the road that runs on the southern part of the bay. The same road also leads you to a path that will take you to the main entrance of the Fermor residence, a stone building in an olive grove.
The Fermors bequeathed the property to the Benaki Museum to use as a retreat for men and women of letters and culture. To visit it you will have to join one of the guided tours regularly organized by the Museum.
A few stone steps right at the property’s edge will lead you down to a small, pebbled beach which you can also reach from the main Kalamitsi beach by walking on the fairly rocky seashore. Right across, you will see Meropi, the small islet with the miniscule St. Nicholas church (built in 1779) that Patrick Leigh Fermor loved to swim around.
A path in the back of the house leads to a flat area with a canopy of olive trees. The path continues past a little white church, some prickly pear bushes, one or two goat pens and ends at Hotel Kalamitsi, the perfect retreat for a retired couple. From the hotel, a straight downward path with large stone steps leads to yet another small bay, all green and, (again!) paved with white pebbles.
The Family Friendly Version of Mani in Kardamyli
The small town of Kardamyli that you will come across driving further north remains subtle and authentic through the years. The road to it does not run by the sea, so in order to discover its beautiful seaside taverns and patisseries you will have to explore each cobbled street separately. Several of those streets will lead you to a rocky end.
Kardamyli is the best place in Mani for a family vacation with kids who love hiking in Nature. The cyclical path starting from the old part of town (Palia Kardamyli) offers a beautiful hike in the spring or autumn months when the sun is not burning hot. It is a gentle introduction to the magnificent but sometimes harsh Mani landscape. As it is high summer and we are looking for as much cool as possible, our guides, Katerina and Giorgos, take us on a coastal kayak ride from Kardamyli to Stoupa. Otherwise inaccessible beaches with blue-green waters welcome us at every turn. Sea kayaking will be among the most memorable family vacation experiences you will live in Mani, especially in the safe guidance of these experienced professional guides.
When the sun is ready to “dip” in the sea, go ahead and dip along from the Kardamyli pier (there are steps that will allow you back on solid, dry ground). Then have a seafood dinner at Harilaos’s, where the last scene of the movie “Before Midnight” was shot. The movie ends with the heroes reflecting on their future life and the time when their children will have left the family nest.
Drive On from Mani to Kalamata
Travelling north towards Kalamata, you have the chance to visit an “artistic” farm, a cultural establishment with tree houses and tents, that organizes educational activities for young and old. It offers the opportunity for hands-on farming activities for children, or for slow-pace family vacations in a natural environment. Coffee is offered as well as facilities for food preparation with the produce of the farm, like eggs from the chicken and milk from the goats raised locally. A beautiful little donkey, Marigo, is also a great attraction for the kids.
A little further north, at the Avia Beach (Acrogiali Avias) and at Mikri Mantinia (Small Mantinia) you will find nice taverns right by the sea. Take the time to enjoy them!
On the Kalamata beach, there are great restaurants and cafés. Most of them spread out their own umbrellas and chaises. During the summer months the pebbly Kalamata beach is ideal for family vacation and practically a huge playground for kids, especially after the day cools off. The water is clear and beautiful but deepens all of a sudden, so pay extra attention if you have younger kids who don’t swim. If you are looking for a sandy beach, you may choose nearby Booka or Analipsi, where you will also find taverns and cafés.
The best time to visit the Old Town of Kalamata and the Castle is at sunset. Nearby Plateia Agion Apostolon (St. Apostles’ Square) is a spacious playground surrounded by pedestrian roads. In the evening, Jimmy’s Souvlakia (skewered meat) located right at the square provides an easy dinner solution that kids just love. If, however, you are looking for a traditional, special dish like “coq au spaghetti,” you should go to Mylos Restaurant at Pidima. Good food and lots of space for your children to play so you can have a restful dinner. Do go early though, because the restaurant closes as soon as the big pot empties!
If you are a slow traveler, download the MAMAKITA tried and tested 9-day family friendly itinerary here. You will have the chance to plan your family vacation with the guidance of local family travel advisors, to explore hidden beaches in a private cruise or in a sea kayaking trip, to participate in a mosaic workshop, to follow the photo journey of Joan Leigh Fermor in Mesa or Exo Mani, and Mystras, to hike in the famous Maniot towers around Old Kardamyli and to relish Nature at a slow pace. Peak summer months (especially August) to be avoided.
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