After staying for a couple of days in a Medieval castle perched on a rock in the sea, as one does, our Big Fat Greek Roadtrip led us to the little town of Stoupa, located on the Mani Peninsula (find it on a map, pals, it’s in the Pelopponese part of Greece), where my lovely pal Ezza Fez had been living for about a year. (Her actual name is Erin, just in case you’re confused by the whole Ezza Fez thing.) Having navigated our way through an exceedingly high mountain-range and round approximately 536 hairpin bends to reach the tiny seaside resort, it became very clear why despite the area’s incredible beauty- surrounded by olive groves and with it’s backdrop of mountains- it receives far fewer visitors in comparison to other parts of Greece. It’s all about that isolated location isn’t it!? But let me tell you, the distinct lack of hordes of tourists was a leading factor in why I’d say the Pelopponese was the part of Greece that I’d revisit again and again.
Stay in an AirBnB
We went with AirBnB the entire time we were gallivanting around Greece, and for the Stoupa section of the gallivants we chose a beaut two bedroomed stone house which turned out to be halfway back up a mountain, just when we thought we were over all that mountainous business.
On the day of our arrival we were instructed by our host George to wait for him in a supermarket car park, from where he would lead us to the top secret location of our AirBnB house. Now if that seems a bit on the dodgy side to you pals, then I’m glad because I thought it sounded dodgy too. But it turns out that round those parts the roads have no names, making locating a house rather tricky business; so thank god for our supermarket meeting with George as otherwise we would have been driving round all evening. (On a side note, this also means that receiving post is even trickier; if you’re expecting any mail it doesn’t go to your house but instead to one of several different collection points in and around the town, the tricky part being that there’s no way of knowing which point it’s going to go to or when the post has arrived)
The whole mountain-top thing did also mean that we had to be rescued a couple of times when it became apparent that driving around winding and very steep roads in pitch darkness was a more than petrifying prospect. It’s true that Rachel (my fellow Big Fat Roadtrip-participator and sole driver of our hire car) was well on her way to becoming a professional cruiser of Greek roads, but I do not blame her one bit for questioning whether it was really a sensible idea to be cavorting down a mountainside with minimal visibility. So All Hail Ezza Fez!! As she drove up and down the mountain several times like a true rally driver to ensure we could still go back and forth to appreciate Stoupa by night. What a good’n.
BUT perilous drives aside (and I’m only slightly exaggerating on the perilous point), as well as the fact that the house was lovely, the true beauty of the whole halfway-up-a-mountain thing was that the view from the garden was nothing short of spectacular, particularly when the sun was setting. There’s nothing like a good old fashioned sunset is there for goodness sake!?
Explore the water!!
Now guys I’m sorry for going on quite so much about my pal Erin but she’s pretty much a hero in my eyes as she’s one of those people who just decides they’re going to do something and then just bloody well gets on and does it. In this case, Ezza Fez all of a sudden decided she wanted to move to Greece and train to be a diving instructor. So that is exactly what she did. Not only does that mean she’s really full on good at diving, it also follows that she’s rather skilled at driving boats around and knowing a thing or two about the waters around these Pelopponesian parts.
So when she said she was taking us out on the boat we were naturally rather excited. I mean; what a lovely and legendary thing to do!
We located Erin, the boat, and her cousin and boyfriend, and then sped onwards all the way along the rocky coastline, bouncing up and down to the max as it turned out the sea was actually surprisingly choppier than it appeared. The wind was in our hair and the sun was beating down! It was glorious! I was also beginning to feel mildly nauseous.
(Now let’s face it, that is a less than ideal feeling to feel when you’re on a boat with some pals you’ve not seen in a long old time. How very awkward.)
The first stop was near to a rocky outcrop jutting upwards from the sea, which as it turns out was perfect for a bit of cliff jumping. I say perfect- but I am what is commonly known as A Massive Chicken- so stayed in the boat appreciating the scenery and concentrating very hard on not throwing up while the others, who are way braver than I am, went to fling themselves joyously into the ocean. It did look proper awesome, I’m just a scaredy-cat with seasickness so what can ya do?
The coastline of that area is a rather rugged and beautiful sight to behold, every now and then punctuated with the mouth of a cave swallowing the sea, or a little church (I’m pretty sure I saw at least 84 churches the day of our arrival), perched on a tiny piece of rock. There’s also a fair few towers in the Mani area, which back in the day were not only home to the families of that part of the world but were also a way of settling- or exacerbating- feuds. If you were a bit angry at someone, you could go and have a bash at knocking their tower down just to prove your rage and fury. What a laugh! And speaking of caves, we went to one patch of the sea which isn’t seawater at all; an underwater cavern feeds freshwater into the ocean from a natural spring, meaning that the water also suddenly feels a bit on the chilly side.
Be a beach bum and have a read of a good book
Just chilling the hell out is an art form which I’m trying to get better at, particularly when exploring new places. So on our first full day there, Rachel and I decided to head down to the beach- which is a very cute little cove of sand featuring parasols and a small collection of restaurants and gift shops- and chilled the hell out. The last few days had involved several stressful but exhilarating drives, and a hike up a large rock without any water to prevent our deaths, and as exciting as that had all been it was definitely time to hang back and relax a little bit.
Sometimes a beach day is all you need to refresh your mind and soul, know what I’m saying!? The water was so lovely and warm, with fishing boats bobbing up and down a little way off, and the vibe on the beach was quiet but still family-filled.
Now obviously if you’re going to be chilling out maxing relaxing on a beach, you’re going to need a book to accompany you. I was a bit frustrated that I hadn’t bought Zorba the Greek when I’d seen a copy in Atlantis Books on Santorini, as it turned out that Nikos Kazantzakis, the author of Zorba’s adventures, lived in Stoupa many years ago and was full on inspired by the area he lived in. Well pals, my luck was in, as yet again Ezza Fez saved the day when she announced that she had a copy of the exact same book and brought it on down to the beach for me to have a gander. Reason number 46 of why Erin is a legend: she can read minds about what books you might need to read. Somebody give that girl a medal.
Take a trip to Kardamili
We set off for Kardamili on our second day, driving along a swooping and swerving road which led us right past the sea on our left and mountains and gorges on our right, which as you can imagine is pretty downright spectacular. About five minutes into this spectacular drive, after a moment of thoughtful silence Rachel announced,
‘I have a question’
Well I was rather concerned about what that question might be as Rachel seemed rather on the nervous side. The world sped by outside, at this point an almost flat rock face sloping steeply upwards above us and on the other side a steep drop into the crystal water twinkling in the sun. Rachel took a deep breath, and a gulp, both hands clutching the steering wheel.
‘What do we do…if when we’re driving along this road…there is an earthquake?’
Well my friends I did not really have an answer for that as in all honesty what would probably happen in that unlikely event is that we’d either get crushed by the mountain or plunge into the ocean, or both. If you’re gonna go, you’re gonna go, you know? Still, it’s good to be safety conscious and at least we were able to mentally prepare for any impending earthquakes that might have befallen us on our twenty minute drive to Kardamili.
Kardamili, as it happens, is one of the prettiest little places I ever did see. Filled with crumbling houses with olive trees knotted around the doors, it’s got a much more olde worlde feeling to it than it’s neighbour Stoupa, and therefore attracts a few more visitors. We stuck to exploring the main town, wandering in and out of the odd boutiquey shop and taking a look at the harbour-front, and sat down in a cafe with some tiny colourful birds twittering away in a cage on the wall and a little terrace looking across the water towards some distant lands. That place had a downright delicious orange cake which was unlike anything I’ve ever tried before, so just FYI if you’re ever in Greece and you see an orange cake on the menu you should probably order one on the double. Gradually a large black cloud lolloped across the sky in the distance, a few large spots of rain had a go at falling, and then the cloud rolled away again. Even the rain clouds of the Peloponnese have a relaxed air about them, it appears!
Sitting above the little seaside village up a sloping pathway are the very well-preserved buildings of Old Kardamili, including a few towers like the kind I mentioned earlier, and the village is also a great starting point for hiking through the Viros Gorge. If we’d have had a bit more time, I probs would have appreciated giving this a go, but on this occasion it was not to be!
Walk along the beach (and look for the local CrossFit while you’re at it)
Now my pal Rachel is something of a CrossFit superstar, and when visiting another country she often seeks out a CrossFit in her locality so she can keep up the good work. Apart from being a good way of keeping fit, it seems to me like a pretty good way of being sociable and meeting a few locals. She had done her research and discovered that there was a CrossFit at the Melitsina Village Hotel which was further along the seafront than the main town of Kardamili, but not too far that we couldn’t have a go at walking it. So that is precisely what we did.
And what a lovely walk it was too. The beachfront road from Kardamili to the hotel was so tranquil and filled with a hundred different things to marvel at; bright white pebbled beaches and turquoise water, crumbling brick walls and olives surrounding groves of olive trees, and then when we were almost there a whole plateau of porous rock which had formed into strange fissures and miniature jagged ravines, caves and cliffs. Steps or ladders had been placed strategically every now and then along the edges of these mysterious rock formations so that if you fancy a dip in the sea you can do it with a bit more ease than just jumping and praying for the best.
I myself didn’t got to any CrossFit classes. (Classes? Sessions? Not sure what the technical term is), but when we found the hotel it looked like probably one of the most awesome spots on earth to be doing CrossFit in…I mean, it was outside, looking over the actual sea! Rachel confirmed that it was indeed, an awesome spot, when she returned from her class/session/gathering which happened to take place just before sunset. Apparently the hotel is going to start up some CrossFit and generally active retreats right there on the seafront in Kardamili which I’d say is a downright brilliant plan.
Experience true Greek dancing in a true Greek restaurant
One full on brilliant thing about visiting Ezza Fez (I mean, one of an infinite list, evidently), is that whenever we went anywhere, and I mean literally anywhere in Stoupa with her, it was a bit like how I imagine it is to be walking around with royalty or at the very least a local celebrity. Stoupa is a tiny town where it seems most people know most people, but throw into the pot the fact that Greeks are generally a very hospitable bunch of people and you’ve got a recipe for a very warm welcome and a whole load of people that have got your proverbial back.
Going out for dinner or for a classic cocktail or two was always a joy, partly because the food was so full on delicious and partly because it seemed like everyone genuinely wanted us to have a really nice time. We went to a few different bars and restaurants around the area, including one bar that served potentially the best waffles I have ever sampled in the history of my entire life, but my most favourite evening of all was the night that we went to Erin’s boss’s restaurant at Kalogria beach.
This is for several reasons, which I will explain right here, right now. Firstly, Erin’s family had arrived in Stoupa that day, including her proper cute niece, so we were joining them for dinner at the restaurant. Secondly, Erin’s boss (who classic Greek gent) was intent on making sure that everyone had a jolly good time and was doing a grand job of being a generally brilliant host of his restaurant. Thirdly, the food was full..on…DELICIOUS. We managed to sample just about every dish in the history of Greece as we were served simultaneously with an infinite platter of treats, and as fast as we finished each one, something new was brought out to us. It was MENTAL. It was AWESOME. I was LOVING IT.
Reason number four was that there was a small troupe of musicians performing some rather enchanting traditional music in one corner of the little outdoor terrace. I’m the type of person who, if I’m out and about and hear music in the distance, I immediately have to follow the sound until I reach the source; live music (particularly if it’s a style of music I’ve not heard a lot of before), is just a very interesting and awesome thing to behold. In this case there were several chaps who may or may not have been related to one another, each either playing a mysterious instrument or singing in a very unique style. One of the instruments was made out of an actual goat. I WAS FASCINATED.
Reason number five, and perhaps the most important reason of all, became apparent when an entire table of German ladies stood up, the tables were cleared, and they proceeded to Greek-dance their way around the room. They had come prepared, as some of them were even wearing jazz trainers to aid their movements. I have never witnessed Greek dancing before, and I’m not sure exactly how authentic this particular night’s dancing was, given that it was after all performed entirely by middle-aged German women. But let me tell you this for free, it was nothing short of spectacular.
Mostly they wound their way around the room in a sideways conga line but with very clear steps to match the strange beats of the music, and bonus points went to whoever was at the head of the line as they got to perform some solo moves separately from the rest of the group, maybe adding in a turn or a sweeping of an arm. When the male singer got involved, things really escalated; if a man is leading the line (according to Ezza Fez), it’s pretty standard practice that the guy goes all out leaping and lungeing all over the place like there’s no tomorrow. This man reminded me most of how a majestic rooster would dance, if roosters were actually able to. And I mean that with the greatest of compliments, pals. The best part of all was one particular dance involving some handkerchiefs, where the women all had to simultaneously make ‘weeeeeh!!!!’ sounds and wave their hankies around at specific points in the song. I’m not gonna lie, it was sort of an odd moment to bear witness to- fifteen German ladies waving hankies around a restaurant in Greece and shrieking ‘weeeeeh!!’ at the tops of their voices- but quite honestly a moment I will treasure forever thanks to its downright bizarreness. I mean, guys…the whole thing came as quite a shock so we could barely breathe from trying to hold in confused laughter…but I was loving every second, for goodness’ sake! What a way to end our time in Stoupa.
- We reached Stoupa by car- I mean, we were on a Big Fat Greek Roadtrip after all- but the closest airport is Kalamata, which is just over an hour’s drive away.
- If you’re interested, our AirBnB is right here! (It’s a beaut house, though there are other options if perilous mountain drives aren’t your thing)
- We didn’t go diving ourselves, but if you read the word ‘diving’ earlier on and thought ‘ooooh!’ the name of the place with all the diving courses is Dive Code, located at Kalogria so there ya go.