Magne: lost paradise on the edge of Greece

Magne

Set course for the Peloponnese, in the province of Magne. Welcome to a land of tradition, piracy and sunshine, steep cliffs and crystal-clear waters.

How strong and persistent are the clichés about Greece! In the minds of many French people, this beautiful Mediterranean country is nothing more than a tangle of paradisiacal islands with blue and white houses. Yet Greece is a land of mountains, valleys and canyons, with forests and rivers bathed in an atmosphere sometimes reminiscent of the Ariège or Corsica.

A land of contrasts, with unsuspected riches that are simply unknown. Behind the great classics, far from the postcards of blue and white houses, we invite you to discover Magne, one of these hidden destinations.

Magne

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Inu & Anastasios71

La Magne, a timeless story

Magne, or Mani, is a small region that remained cut off from the rest of the continent until the 1970s (when the first road was built to reach it). The inhabitants claim to be direct descendants of the Spartans, and indeed, the history of this little tongue of land is quite eventful. With a central place on the political chessboard in antiquity, at the time of the Crusades, the Venetians or during the Ottoman invasion, Magne has nevertheless managed to retain a certain autonomy.

Magne

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Heracles Kritikos

For a long time, the land of the Maniotes was a land of piracy, clans, vendettas and conflicts of all kinds. Once the scene of a rich geopolitical, military and commercial history, Mani now tells a more modern tale, far removed from its proud origins. And with good reason: it was in Magne that Greece declared its independence, at Areópoli.

Far from the main roads, nestled in its own setting, Magne is a timeless place. A lost paradise, frozen on the shores of the Mediterranean. A landmark just waiting to be discovered by travelers passing through.

Stone villages, singular heritages

From one of the two roads that take us to Magne (via Areópoli or Gytheio), as we enter the province, something calls out to us… Along the coast, the stone villages here portray a singular architecture, the kind you don’t forget. Populated by fortified towers, these villages watch out for travelers from the towers that adorn each house. Inherited from the Middle Ages, these fortified dwellings bear witness to the peninsula’s ongoing conflict with the Ottoman Empire, until its liberation in 1829.

Tour de pierre - Magne

Wandering through these often sparsely populated, even deserted, villages, it’s easy to get carried away. What were these Matriot clans like? How did they live this tumultuous life, in the shadow of their towers? There’s a certain nostalgia that comes with knowing that Mani no longer shelters all its heirs. Modern times have brought waves of population exodus to Greece’s urban centers.

Tour de pierre - Magne

Photo credit: Flickr – peuplier & Thiery

Driving along the coast from Kalamata, we pass through Areópoli, Oitylo, Vathia (surely the best known, as it was still densely populated in the 70s and 80s), Lagia and Drodopigi. Watching these villages unfold, you might almost wonder if this is really Greece we’re discovering. And yet… The land of Magne is just as symbolic for the Hellenes, who already in ancient times regarded it as the gateway to the kingdom of Hades.

From the hell of Hades…

The north of the Magne region is made up of small valleys and mountains, giving it a temperate climate and Mediterranean vegetation similar to the rest of the Peloponnese.

The south, on the other hand, is an arid zone where it’s hot and dry in summer and cold in winter. A land of extremes, where mysticism has rapidly taken its place in the collective imagination of the Maiotes and Greeks.

Grotte de diros - Magne

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Georgios Tsichlis

Not far from Areópoli, to the south, a naked landscape unfolds before our eyes in the Diros caves. This time, you’re underground. Fourteen kilometers of natural underground galleries have been stretching since Neolithic times, when they were already used as places of refuge and for funerary ceremonies. For the Greeks, this is one of the entrances to the realm of Hades, a fearsome and majestic place that resonates particularly well in this inhospitable, windswept region.

…to paradise on earth

However, it’s in the realm of the living, on the surface, that the Magne region really comes into its own. It’s easy to get lost by car, following the region’s few roads and stopping off at a few beaches with crystal-clear waters reminiscent of postcard Greece. We stop off at tavernas where we eat continental Greek specialties, especially grilled meats and vegetables. We’re happy to chat with the locals, who love to share their history and landscapes. In the end, the deeper you get into the region, the more endearing it seems, and the closer it is to the romantic, authentic image of modern Greece you imagine when you arrive.

Areópoli - Mani

Photo credit: Shutterstock – leoks & smoxx

But in this world where time has stood still, the road takes us inexorably towards the extreme south of the peninsula. After long, winding roads, we encounter an increasingly arid and depopulated landscape. En route to Cape Tenare, the southernmost point of continental Greece. It’s here that a hike dotted with coves and barely visible ancient heritages awaits us.

Magne

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Gabriela Insuratelu & Andronos Haris

Azure jewels on cliffsides

So how did maniotes acclimatize to such a hostile and dangerous land, where almost nothing grows? As is often the case in Greece, the answer lies in the sea. Diving in the superb waters surrounding the Peloponnese reveals a hitherto untouched fauna, such as the Careta-Careta turtles.

Magne

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Dima Andrei Lucian & blue-sea.cz

As mentioned above, the life and history of the Maniotes was punctuated by fishing and piracy, as evidenced by the many remains… Among them, the castles of Kelefas and Tigani. As you explore the region, it’s easy to see why. Along the cliffs, side roads lead down to small coves that were once fortresses during the troubled times of the Magne. In fact, some bays are just a few hundred meters long. Perfect stopovers for boats, they often feature small fishing ports surrounded by one of these famous fortified villages. In the center of these villages you can be sure to find a shady tavern where it’s almost essential to stop during the day when it’s too hot to get back on the road.

Magne

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Elena Krivorotova

Other villages, such as Limeni or Gerolimenas, are real little tourist attractions. So, if you’re one of those travellers looking for peace and quiet, we invite you to set sail for the East Coast. There, you’ll find small pearls nestled in the rock, known as Agios Kiprianos, Kokkala and Nyfi.

A people, first and foremost

And yet, once we’ve explored all these landscapes and spent some time in the region, we’ve come to the conclusion that Magne’s greatest resource is not to be found in its crystal-clear waters, but in the hearts of its people. Magne’s greatest resource lies not in its crystal-clear waters, but in the hearts of its people. Far from overcrowded seaside resorts, the Maniotes are generous people, attached to their land and very accessible. Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, the famous British traveller and writer, wrote about them:

« By passing, you can see Magne in 3 days, by walking you see her in 3 months, and to see her soul you will need 3 lives. One for the sea, one for the mountain and one for its people. »

Magne

Photo credit: Instagram – manigreecegr

A peninsula at the end of the world, a paradise lost on the edge of the Greek world. Magne is also, and above all, a destination of excellence for travellers in search of time for themselves and freedom.

Magne

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Voyagerix

So yes, La Magne is definitely a land of contrasts. Its landscapes, its history, its people, its heritage: many are the witnesses. While today’s small province has nothing to envy the islands of the Aegean Sea, it remains a destination for enthusiasts and nature-lovers alike, just waiting to be discovered.

By plane from Kalamata or by car from Athens, setting off to discover the Magne promises you one thing: the real Greece.