Areopoli

Nestled in the foothills of the Saggias mountains on the western coast of the Peloponnese’s Mani Peninsula, Areopoli is often referred to as “Mani’s heart of stone”—a monicker that, it should be noted, has more to do with the town’s traditional stonemasonry buildings than with the (actually rather friendly and welcoming) disposition of its townsfolk. Mani, part of the district of Laconia, has emerged as a popular destination thanks to its winning combination of breathtaking rugged beauty and local history and culture, which you can delve deeper into with every village you visit. Just one glance at the map reveals that the region is dotted with scenic spots—gorgeous wild coves, tranquil beaches, and enchanting caves—as well as historical and built heritage sites, all within a stone’s throw from each other. The only thing you need to enjoy Areopoli and its nearby attractions is a little time. Thankfully, there are plenty of accommodation options to choose from in the area, from hotels and traditional guesthouses to vacation rentals and holiday villas, all of which combine traditional Maniot hospitality and architecture with modern amenities for a fantastic stay.
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“And there ahead of us, half castellated and with its roofs topped by a tower or two and the cupola and belfry of a little cathedral—lay the capital of the Deep Mani...” - Patrick Leigh Fermor

Exploring Mani’s delightful “heart of stone”

Areopoli is a town steeped in history. Taking pride of place in the town square is a statue of local chieftain Petrobey Mavromichalis, one of the leaders of the Greek Revolution of 1821. A prominent local family with a history of fighting for Greek independence, the Mavromichalises are said to have lost 69 sons on battlefields over the years—which brings us to the square’s official name: Plateia Athanaton (Immortals’ Square). It was here in Areopoli that 12,000 Maniots gathered on 17 March 1821, raising their white revolutionary flag, which bore the words “Victory or Death”, and becoming the first region in the country to declare the Greek War of Independence. The town is also home to many historic churches, where local clergy blessed the gathered fighters and swore them to the cause. Located on the aptly named Plateia 17 Martiou (17th March Square), the Church of Taxiarches is foremost among them, standing out for its imposing five-storied bell tower and the rather unusual reliefs depicting the 12 signs of the zodiac on the exterior of its apse.

The town’s churches, dating from the 17th through the 19th century and adorned with stone reliefs, frescoes, and icons, are one of the reasons Areopoli was granted conservation status in 1998. The Church of Agios Charalambos and Panagia, on Kapetan Matapas Street, features murals from 1869. The Church of Agios Ioannis and the Church of Panagia Georgianiki, both built by the Mavromichalis family, are known for their mid-18th-century frescoes and elaborate icon screen respectively, while the Byzantine Museum of Mani, housed in Pikoulakis Tower House between the two, offers wonderful insight into the region’s history and religious customs and features some remarkable examples of Byzantine ecclesiastical art. A little further afield, perched atop the peak with which it shares its name, the Chapel of Profitis Ilias offers exceptional views over Areopoli and Mani’s stunning coastline. Across town, to the west, the area of Spilioi is the place to be for fabulous sunset views over Diros Cove.

While the area’s history feels close enough to touch, Areopoli is also thriving in the present. Its charming streets are abuzz with life, particularly during the summer months when sun-kissed holidaymakers, having spent the day swimming at the nearby beaches of Limeni, Karavostasi, Itilo, and Diros, come out for an evening of dining on delicious local fare or enjoying a glass of wine. There’s an abundance of local dishes and delicacies as characterful as the land from which they come: from siglino (a type of smoked pork which goes beautifully with the local egg-and-tomato scramble known as kayianas) and other cured meats often flavoured with oranges from Laconia’s bountiful orange groves to fresh fish caught by local fishermen, traditional travichtes fry breads, crusty village loaves baked in wood-burning ovens, local pasta, artisanal cheese from the Taygetus mountains, and loukoumades, fried dough balls served with honey alongside your afternoon cup of coffee. And then, as the sun sets and night settles in, you’ll once again be spoilt for choice, with plenty of wine and cocktail bars to choose from in Areopoli itself as well as many of the area’s hotels.

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