Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Mani Peninsula: Diros Caves and Elies Hotel

Phil and I just returned from our Presintine's Day weekend trip. Before I launch into a glorious narrative of the excursion, I have to give credit to Phil for planning the entire thing. I did nothing, except for packing some Cheez-Its for the road. It was a great trip. We started out in the Mani Peninsula on Saturday. It is so beautiful. I really want you to go there, but I also don't want you to go there, because part of what makes it so beautiful is that it's remote enough that most people don't go there.

Historically, Mani was an isolated, inaccessible place. It's mountainous, and most of the inhabitants (descendants of Ancient Spartans), lived in fortified stone castles on the slopes. When the Ottomans took over Greece, Mani held out. They retained autonomy by brokering a deal with the Ottomans, where they were supposed to pay an annual tribute. They paid it once, and then never paid it again. It's only been in the last 40 years that good, driveable roads have been laid into the peninsula. Some of them are still very new. Tourism and development are increasing, but plenty of the old fortifications and stone terraces are still standing. They are impressive. Mani has also gained fame for its olive oil, and honey, both of which bring a lot of gastronomical lookie loos to the area.

On the Road to Mani:
Part of the freeway from Athens to the Peloponnese was shut down because of a farmers' protest. It's been going on for a few weeks. The farmers are upset about austerity measures. We were detoured off the freeway onto a side street. It didn't add too much time to our drive. These are some of the angry farmers' tractors in the Peloponnese.

Diros Caves:
Our first stop in Mani was Diros caves. The caves are right along the shore, and are accessible by boat. For 12 euros, a Greek guy will ferry you through the caves in a little gondola/canoe thing. They've tunneled out some areas, and have set up lighting so you can see all the formations, but they've done little else to alter the caves. The boat ride was about 20-30 minutes. We had to duck a few times because, as our captain said, "The water is higher today, and the roof is lower." Traveling during the off-season has its perks. We were the only ones in the caves, along with two German tourists, and the guy paddling us all along in the boat. Right as we were leaving, a giant tour bus pulled up. Hah!

This is another shot of the interior of the caves, lit by one of the big flood lights they've set up. After your boat ride, they kick you out onto a walking path through the rest of the cave. It was an easy ten minute stroll to the exit, with absolutely no supervision. We could have touched whatever we wanted, in spite of the sign asking us not to touch things. 

This is the view right outside of the cave exit. The water is beautiful. 

Phil just exited the caves. He's grinning big because the whole thing reminded him of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. He said he kept expecting animatronic pirates to pop out of the dark tunnels. "It's exactly like the ride, except this cave is real!" 

After Diros, we stopped in the nearby town, Areopoli, for some food. Not many restaurants were open. Areopoli is the capital city of Mani. There's probably more to do there in the summer. I tried a real Fanta for the first time. My gosh, it's horrible. I don't know what I'd been expecting. So after that disillusionment, we drove to our amazing hotel in Kardamyli.

Elies Hotel in Kardamyli:

Elies hotel is the #1 ranked Inn on TripAdvisor in Kardamyli. Phil found it in our Lonely Planet guide to Greece. It was completely lovely, and I highly recommend it if you're in the area. Phil booked a regular hotel room with a sea view, but because we were the only ones staying there this weekend (!!!!!!), the owner, Stavros, upgraded us to a beach cottage. We had an entire beach cottage just to ourselves. I filmed some crappy videos of it for you. Check those out after I tell you a little bit more about the amenities. I swear I'm not being paid for this. I wonder if I should ask to be paid for this?

Elies is nestled in an olive grove between the beach and the mountains. During the summer, the hotel offers an on-site taverna with traditional Greek food. The hotel is equipped with WiFi, though it was a bit spotty while we were there. Our cottage was stocked with fresh eggs, oranges, breads, fruits, and jams. The rooms were clean and big. The water is safe to drink. The decor is gorgeous. They replaced our towels, made our bed, and took out our trash while we were sightseeing on Sunday, even though we were only staying there for two nights. Stavros was more than willing to show us around, and direct us to places for dinner, but he was also willing to leave us entirely alone. It was perfect.

I'm positive that this place has a different vibe in the summer, but that wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. You'd have to give up your solitary olive grove, but you'd be able to find food within walking distance of the hotel. We had to drive to the next town over for dinner the first night. It wasn't a horrible distance, but it would've been very difficult without a car. Even so, it's hard to beat the location and the view. I'd happily stay here again, in case you want to see it for yourself. You're paying, right?

Okay, here are my crappy videos, followed by two photos from the beach.

Gorgeous, right? Sorry for the motion sickness. I didn't realize how quickly I was whipping the camera around, especially in the second video. Blame the staircase. I was terribly winded.

This is the beach in Kardamyli, directly across the street from our hotel. All night, we could hear the waves.

Sunset in Kardamyli. 

I have 2.5 more days of trip to show you, but you'll have to wait. Bella didn't come with us on the trip, and she wants attention. Dogs.

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