Sparta is an agricultural city on a flat plain where the Evrotas River flows through it. The men of Sparta were considered the walls of the city and there are few ruins from classical times, but they include the remains of the ancient acropolis, the sanctuary of Artemis and the tomb of Leonidas, whose small band of Spartan warriors held the Persians at Thermopaleae. On nearby Mount Taygetos there are numerous traditional villages, well worth a visit. The city of Sparta is modern with wide avenues and a big main square and lots of restaurants. It can get pretty hot here in the summertime but in the off-season it is an interesting place to be and the people are extra friendly. Be sure to visit the Archeological Museum and the Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil at 129 Othonos-Amalias Street. Open every day but Tuesday from 10 to 16:00.
The nearby ruins of Mystras, which are being gradually restored, are worth a trip. Mystras was the central town of the Morea (Peloponessos) until the Turkish occupation in the fifteenth century. It was inhabited until it was abandoned in the 1820’s when the Turks re-took much of the Peloponessos after Ibriham Pasha’s invasion from Egypt. The old city is rich in churches and is topped by a Frankish castle. There are houses and mansions and many of the churches have impressive frescos. The Pantanassa is a convent inhabited by nuns, the only people living in the city of Mistras today. The Perivlepto is a monastery built under a rock and contains impressive frescos. If you keep climbing through the ruins of the old city you will find yourself in the castle with a view of the valley below. Also worth a visit is the Byzantine city above the town of Geraki , east of Sparta, currently being excavated by the Dutch School of Archaeology. On the way you can stop at the village of Kalithea where my grandfather was born. There are a couple small cafeneons, a beautiful tree shaded square and a Byzantine church with some very interesting frescos you can see if you can find the guy with the key.
The citadel town of Monemvasia on the Eastern Peninsula of the Peloponessos is Greece’s answer to the Rock of Gibraltar. It’s a walled city on the site of a giant stone mountain which rises from the sea, connected by a narrow isthmus. The village that is contained within these walls was in ruins twenty years ago but has now been restored by the Germans who bought it one house at a time. The modern town of Nea Monemvasia is full of tourists in the summer. The nearby island of Elafonisos can be expensive since it caters to wealthy Athenians but the beaches are great, as is the seafood. North of Monemvasia is the town of Gerakas, which is approached by Flying Dolphin through a long channel that seems more like a river. It was the primary source of the gray mullet eggs used at one time for tarama but which is now made from carp.
The port of Gythio is rich in fish taverns, beautiful old Turkish style houses and a bustling waterfront, which is the town’s center of gravity. There are long sandy beaches nearby. Marathonisi, which used to be an island but is now connected, is supposedly where Paris spent the night with Helen when he first abducted her from King Menelaous of Sparta. There is an ancient acropolis and a small museum in the town hall. Most people use Gythio as his base when he travels around the Peloponessos.
(Source: www.greecetravel.com – Matt Barrett’s Travel Guides)
The most obvious way to explore this dramatic area, once known as Kakavoulia (‘evil counsel’) is to follow the road that runs down one coast and then loops round to come back up the other side, starting and finishing at Areopolis.
The total driving time to do this is just under 2 hours with no stops, so doing it in one day is perfectly possible if an early start is taken.
The landscape is very different from the outer Mani – much more barren and windswept.
It is such a dry area that a French traveller in the 18th century recorded, “When a Kakavoulian gets married, his first job is to measure how much water is in the cistern because it is one of the most important dowry gifts. Whoever lavishes a lot of water on the wedding is considered rich. This extravagance makes an impression and all the region learns about how much water the in-laws drank.”
Driving on each of the coasts is also very different. On the west side the road enjoys a relatively straight course on a wide plateau whereas the mountains come dramatically down to sea level on the east coast, causing the road to bend and twist.
This is not their only difference. The west coast is all about tower villages and churches; the east offers a greater number of swimming opportunities in a series of small, fairly secluded pebbly coves, many of which have beach side tavernas. Whatever your chosen itinerary, it is a “must do” experience – the combination of the harsh landscape and rugged coastline, the austere tower houses and their violent history and the religious fervour intrinsic to every one of the numerous churches, gives the area a unique, mystical quality, appropriate for an area right on the fringes of Europe.
For a really full day out, or to stay overnight to enjoy a couple of days in the area, there is the possibility of combining this “loop” with a visit to Cape Tainaron.
(Source: http://www.insidemani.gr – Inside the Mani – a guide)