Messenia is one of the most well-endowed regions of Greece, with a stunning coastline and rich hinterland, with a glorious past that has left its mark everywhere, from antiquity to the latest events of modern Greek history.
Day 1 – Kalamata
Kalamata, the capital of Messenia, is built in the heart of the Messenian Bay. It is 223 km from Athens (just 2.5 hours by modern highway) and is a modern city with public services, university departments, hospital and international airport.
The city has a lively night life all year round, in the historic center and the beach. From the numerous sporting events held in Kalamata it is worth mentioning the Papaflessia (athletics) and Kalamata Cup (rhythmic gymnastics), while from the cultural events – the International Dance Festival.
The history of Kalamata starts from the times of Homer and continues without interruption until late Byzantium, when it successively passes to Franks, Turks, Venetians and Turks again until the formal liberation in 1821, which is considered the most important event of its long history.
We start our tour with the Castle of Kalamata, built in the early 13th century in the northwestern part of the city, over the river Nedonta. In the early 20th century, the great novelist Zacharias Papantoniou, who served as a Prefect of Messenia, turned it into a grove until the earthquake of 1986 made many parts of the castle dangerous, so its center is no longer open to the public.
We enjoy the view of the historic center of Kalamata and look back through time to the years of its glory, when in the Castle lived “Princess Isabeau” from the widely read novel by Angelos Terzakis.
Afterwards we descend to the Monastery Kalogreon, dedicated to Saints Constantine and Helena. The Monastery is where the famous Kalamatiano mandili (scarves from Kalamata) with a history of more than 200 years are made.
We continue our walk to the picturesque Old Town of Kalamata, the modern haunt for the youth because of the many cafes and bars that have opened in the traditional buildings.
Dozens of mansions, stone-churches, museums and shops with local produce, welcome the guests who should definitely visit the Byzantine church of the Agion Apostolon (Holy Apostles), the imposing church of Ipapanti tou Sotiros (the Presentation of Christ) on the Ipapanti Square, Alexandrakeio Nursing Home, the Municipal Conservatory, the Historical and Folklore Museum of Kalamata and the Archaeological Museum of Messenia.
On 23 Martiou square, which is our next stop, is the historic church of the Holy Apostles, where, according to tradition, on 23 March the Revolution of 1821 was declared. In the streets surrounding it are coffee shops, traditional cafes and bakeries, that fill the air with the wonderful smells of their goodies. Descend Aristomenous Street, one of the most central and most beautiful streets of Kalamata, admiring the old, beautiful buildings, until you get to the Telonio (Customs) at the port.
The REX hotel building, the Town Hall of Kalamata, the square Vasileos Georgiou with the composition “Elevtheria (Freedom)” erected in its middle with the heroes of the Greek Revolution, Papaflessas, Kolokotronis, Mavromichalis, the building of the Bank of Greece, the Cultural Center , which hosts the Public Library of Kalamata and the Popular Library, as well as the Parko Sididodromon (Railway Park), the unique open-air museum, with an area of 54 acres.
The famous beach of Kalamata is now before us and we follow the Navarino boulevard, with the large sidewalks bordered by palm trees, in order to enjoy the walk by the sea, with unique sights. Navarino is the “heart” of the city, especially during the summer months, as dozens of shops open here.
The beach of Kalamata, right below, is one of the few in Greece, where you can swim in the city center, so if we want we can go for a refreshing swim there and continue our tour of the city right after. The beach has been awarded a Blue Flag, is covered with small pebbles and the sea deepens smoothly, and its location in the center of the closed Messenian bay ensures warm and calm waters.
Day 2 – West Mani
We start from Kalamata and head east to one of the most outstanding areas of Messenia, with its own identity and character – West Mani, also called Exo Mani, with small villages built in the shadow of the lush mountain Taygetos, with gorges, Byzantine monasteries, the towers of Mani and impressive beaches.
The first impressive tower that we see is the Tower of Kapetanakides in Sotirianika. It stands at the top of a hill, was built in the 18th century, three-storied, and has more than 100 turrets. It belonged to the family of Kapetanakides, many of whom fought in the revolution. Going inside, the visitor encounters a tomb, in which you can still make out a human skeleton. There are no indications regarding the dead, but probably it was a family member.
We continue to the Monastery Androumpevitsis near Stavropigio, which was built between the 12th-13th century and is a Byzantine building with Mani’s traditional architectural elements.
Then we head towards the Castle of Zarnata, an impressive fortress between the villages Kampos and Stavropigio. Today, at its highest point, stands a three-story tower of 15 m., and next to it a five-storey house in which lived the captains of the region.
Visitors to Zarnata castle can also see parts of the medieval walls, some frescoes of the 15th century in the abandoned church of Agios Nicholas, and the Church of Zoodoxou Pigis (the Life Giving Spring), which was built in the middle of the castle around 1776.
We continiue on to the heart of Exo Mani and pass from the Tower of Patriarcheas in Prosilio to arrive to, arguably, the most beautiful village in the area, Kardamyli. The stone, seaside town has a history of thousands of years, and was the main port of the powerful ancient city-state of Sparta.
According to the local legend, the tombs of the twin brothers of Helen, the Dioscuri Castor and Pollux, are located on a steep hill overlooking the sea behind the modern village, where the rectangular cavities of two Hellenistic chamber tombs are carved on the vertical rock beneath the medieval castle of the 12th century.
Palia Kardamyli, – a fortified complex of towers, – hides dozens of attractions, intertwined with its history. The imposing Mourtzinos Tower, which was accessible through a retractable wooden bridge, is proclaimed a listed historical fortress complex and inside the tower operates the Museum of Mourtzinos, while at its entrance stands the church of Agios Spyridon, built according to the Ionian style.
In Kardamyli ends the wooded gorge of Viros, which attracts nature lovers with countless hiking trails and stunning views of the peaks of Taygetos. In the Palio Telonio (Old Customs) of Kardamyli is the quaint, small complex of buildings located in the old harbor of the homonymous settlement, and right in front of it is another jewel of the village, the green islet of Meropi (or Amygdalonisos) on which are preserved the ruins of the Venetian walls and the aisled vaulted basilica of Kimisis tis Theotokou (the Assumption), 1779. Over the old harbor of Kardamyli stands the so called Vardia ton Dimitreon, an observatory tower that oversaw the area.
Just outside Kardamyli is the Gorge of Foneas, or as it is also called the Gorge of Noupantis, which begins from Moni Vaidenitsas to end on Foneas beach, with the crystal clear waters. In order to cross the gorge you will have to follow the path for five and a half to six and a half hours, which is divided into three sections and along which you will see the Monastery Vaidenitsas, the Tower of Kitriniari, the Monastery Samouil and Monokamaro Petrogefyro (stone bridge).
If you are not fans of hiking, however, that does not mean you cannot enjoy the spectacular beach Foneas with the characteristic rock that separates the beach in two, as it is well “hidden” at the end of a path through the trees.
Other options for unforgettable dives in West Mani is the Kalogria beach, the most famous and lively beach of the area, just 6.5 km from Kardamyli and Stoupa beach with turquoise waters, fine golden sand, countless umbrellas and sunbeds and endless streams of people.
Day 3 – Messene
We change course and head westward. We can only start from Messini, which is only 10 km from Kalamata and is a picturesque small town, known as the “Nisi (Island)”, a name it acquired during the Frankish rule. From there we head to ancient Messini, one of the most important archaeological sites in Messinia, but also throughout Greece.
We devote all the time necessary to thoroughly see this ancient city, located near the village Mavrommatis and that is still being excavated and gradually revealed. According to historical data, it was built in 369 BC by the Theban general Epaminondas, after the battle of Leuctra, where he defeated the Spartans, invaded Laconia and freed the Messenians from Spartan dominance.
The ancient town took its name from the mythical queen of the country, who was the Argive king Triopas’ daughter and wife of the Laconian Polykaona. According to Pausanias, Messene was deified around the 10th century BC and was gradually proclaimed as one of the main deities of the city.
The wall surrounding the Ancient Messene has a total length of 9 km and had two monumental gates, the imposing Arcadian Gate (or Gate of Megalopolis) and the Laconian, which has not been preserved. The Theatre of Messene is the first monument that one sees at the archaeological site, while between the Theater and the Agora of Ancient Messene, the Fountain of Arsinoe was discovered.
Asklepieion was the foremost site of Ancient Messene, center of the public life of the city, which operated along with the Agora. The Stadium and the Gymnasium are also preserved, in an ancient city that many regard as the best preserved to the present day.
Departing from Ancient Messene, we visit the Castle of Androusa, the medieval construction of the 13th century, from which important remains are preserved, including the observatory. Today in this area various cultural events are held.
It is time for swimming and we have again plenty of choices. In Buka, located just four kilometers from the center of Messene, there is a beautiful beach, one of the largest and most organized beaches of Messinia.
Alternatively, we can go to the beach of Velika, with the fine golden sand and trees or to the beach of Petalidi, located 15 km from Messene. It is located just before the harbor of the seaside resort of Messenia, has a length of 300 meters and is covered with large pebbles, while the bottom of the sea is sandy.