Hiking routes

Old Kardamili can today be reached on foot by leaving the village main street just next to the bridge and following the path that leads up to a main gateway. You quickly arrive at the 18th century church of Aghios Spiridon (Saint Spiridon), whose slender 17 metre-tall bell tower bears ornamental designs depicting the sun and moon, the stars, concentric circles and a double eagle. Further along, there are more fortified houses and the small chapel of Aghios Theodoros (Saint Theodore). As you walk back down towards modern Kardamili, you pass through enchanting olive groves and fruit orchards and see the last tower-houses that now belong to the descendants of the Troupakis-Mourtzinos patriarchs: the Dimitreas, Petreas and Theodoreas families. The fortified enclave has been recently converted into a beautiful museum.

Located atop the first foothill just behind Ritsa Beach are the ruins of Lazos: a cluster of small stone buildings and foundations in decay. The remnants of these ancient houses date back to the turn of 20th century, and it is said that some of the first settlers of modern Kardamili originally came from this now-abandoned outpost, their eventual move from the hillside hamlet perhaps stemming from the age-old tradition of spending summers on the beach in large family tents. Nowadays, the ruins offer an interesting glimpse into the past and marvellous views of all Kardamili. On 8th September, the fest of Panaghia Tou Lazou is celebrated, although somewhat privately. To reach it by foot, there’s a path just behind the old bakery on the last bend leading to Kardamili; to go by car, head north (towards Kalamata) and turn left just before the village of Prosilio.

The Viros Gorge is described as a sublime experience. Descending from the peak of Profitis Ilias (Taygetos summit), it unwinds into the seas of Kardamili Bay and, though the gorge is usually bone dry in the summer, its river in full spate is reported to be awesome in winter. There are numerous beautiful things to see on this hike: caves, cliffs, monasteries full of frescoes and, of course, wild life. Setting off from Kardamili, the Viros river bed soon narrows into a classic gorge; after a kilometre or so this opens out into a verdant valley. Paths lead off to the right (towards Aghia Sofia), but the real jewel of the Gorge is hidden in the trees to the left: the monastery of Lykaki whose interior is delectable. This church was built in 1570 but the frescoes date from 1783. The church is in a parlous state, but inside the frescoes inside are vivid and in an almost complete

10 km south of Areopolis are the famous Diros Caves. They are part of an underground river that flows out into the surrounding sea, and their natural beauty is fascinating. From the entrance, gondoliers steer small boats through narrow passageways around beautiful stalactites and stalagmites (calcified formations created by rain water that penetrates the calcium carbonate in the rock) whose colours, enhanced by the surrounding lights and waters, are spectacular. The caves were inhabited from 4800 to 3200 BC, serving as places of worship in Paleolithic and Neolithic times, but the life of the community was interrupted abruptly by a severe earthquake in about 3200 BC: the mouth of the cave was blocked and those trapped inside died of starvation; those who escaped abandoned the area because they had lost their supply of drinking water. First explored in 1950 – and the archaeological research that followed brought to light important findings dating from Neolithic times – they are nowadays a major tourist attraction, visited by thousands of travellers each year. Diros also has a museum where the original findings are stored on display: artifacts and perfectly preserved human skeletons.

Nestled on a gentle slope just behind the main street of the modern village is the mystical setting of Skardamoula (Old Kardamili): a small collection of abandoned fortified tower-houses clustered around a beautiful 18th century church. During the 19th century, Kardamili was the stronghold of the Troupakis-Mourtzinos clan, arch rivals of the Mavromihalis clan from Limeni, a seaside village further south in the Mani, both of which played very important roles in the Greek Revolution of 1821. The fortified tower-houses are fairly well-preserved and the Tower of Mourtzinos (Mourtzinos was the Troupakis family nickname) has been recently renovated.

We take the main road to Mani and in the village of Kampos we turn left towards Kentro. There, we can catch the old cobblestone road and descend to the Ridomo gorge. In a few minutes we are standing on top of the impressive “pigadiotiko gefyri”, a small stone bridge that spans only a few feet at the narrowest point of the gorge. At this point we have these choices: a) After crossing we can ascend towards Pigadia and continue to Altomira. b) Descend to the bottom of the gorge and walk to the Koskaraka bridge (main road). c) Explore the upper part of the gorge towards Ridomo.

From the center of the village Sotirianika of the Messinian Mani we take a farm road. Our direction is south. In 2 km we are confronted with the ruins of stone structures which according to the tradition was the site of the ancient convent of Mavrinitsa. We continue on a picturesque cobblestone road and descend to the Koskaraka gorge (which is an extention of the Ridomo gorge). At that point, we can see the damage done by the bulldozers in an attempt to construct a road on top of the traditional trail a few years ago. That was prevented by the immediate reaction of our club and a few alerted area residents. After a 20 minute walk we come to the stone bridge. This is the old road that leads to the village of Kampos. We leave the bridge behind and continue through the olive groves on a mild upslope course. It is a pleasant 2 hour walk across the plateau of Avia, in central Messinian Mani.

Sotirianika is only 15 km from Kalamata and just one km from the main road to inner Mani. After a 1 km walk through the alive groves heading south, not far from the ruins of Mavrinitsa (see previous trail) we come to the foot of the steep slope and we stand on the first steps of the famous “Biliovo”. The colossal work of human labor that swings and turns endlessly embracing the mountain until it disappears in the distance. The cobblestone road used to connect Sotirianika with Altomira and was completed in the 1st quarter of the 20th century. We admire the aesthetic balance of this work. Today, modern highways and progress have made these roads of no practical use. However, walking the 5 km of this trail always rewards the visitor.

The Vasiliki forest covers an area of roughly 11.000.000 square meters of mainly spruce and pine, and extends to the southern segment of the Taygetus mountain range. We can catch the E4 international trail at Agios Dimitrios and slowly sink into the Viros gorge. Walking on the gorge bed and in the shadow of the highest peak (Prophet Eliah) and mount Halasmeno we follow the streamline to the west towards Kardamili. We are moving on the traces of the ancient “Vasiliki odos” (the Royal road), the passage way used by the kings of Lakonia who had access to the coast west of Taygetus. We pass by the places named Dilagado and Troskona, and after a harsh 5 hour walk we can ascend on the left slope of the gorge to Exohori, a village situated at 420 meters above sea level, just 10 km from Kardamili by road. We should mention that there is a 21 km access road from Exohori to the Vasiliki forest.