Staying in a Mongolian yurt (traditional round tent) was the last thing I thought I would be doing in Greece. But there I was *staying in a yurt in a mountain village in The Mani Peninsula visiting two **Servas Hosts who were house sitting for an English friend. Views of the surrounding Taygetos Mountains and the Mediterranean sea were dramatic from the patio of the compound.
The Mongolian yurt has been used for thousands of years by the nomads of Central Asia. With its unique design, structure and practical features, the yurt is still a popular habitation.
The Mani is the region covering the remote central peninsula in the southern part of the Peloponnese. It withstood foreign invaders for centuries, including the Ottomans who occupied the rest of Greece for 400 years. Villages of unique tower settlements that were built as refuges during clan wars from the 17th century onwards are throughout The Mani.
My English Servas Hosts, Maggi and Ken, retired in the area several years ago. During our morning walks in the hills with the dog they were taking care of, the clouds rolled in and around the surrounding mountains. They occasionally dumped on us without warning, leaving behind beautiful rainbows.
Our solar-powered compound invited exploration among the terraced gardens, two yurts, and out buildings. At night, due to the light insulation in the walls and ceiling of the yurt I was sleeping in, I could near the pounding surf in the distance even though we were high up in the mountains.
One afternoon Maggi and I took the dog for a walk from our village of Megali Mantinelia to the seashore below. The weather was spring-like with colorful wild flowers springing up around olive groves. Steep rocky paths wound through old stone houses interspersed with newer stucco ones. Beautiful views of the rugged coastline greeted us at every turn.
A villager who was picking olives high on a tree climbed down from his ladder when he saw us passing by. He just wanted to say hello. The small village of Akrogiali on the undeveloped seashore felt like a ghost town. Not so in the summertime, I was told. The surf crashed on the pristine sandy beach.
On our last night together we ate traditional food at a taverna (restaurant) with a crackling wood fireplace, a ten minute walk from our residence. It was a cozy way to say goodbye to my Servas Hosts.
At the northern end of The Mani lies the lovely port town of Kalamata, the second largest city in the Peloponnese. The ruins of a 13th century castle loom over the city. In the taverna opposite my charming hotel where I stayed one night, I was entertained royally by a Greek playing a traditional stringed instrument called the “santouri” (a type of hammered dulcimer). He was joined occasionally by a talented young boy playing a bouzouki. They played from memory for hours. Several diners danced spontaneously.
After visiting Kalamata’s renowned archeological museum the next morning, I boarded a bus for a two-hour ride back to the town of Loutraki near the Corinth Canal where I am currently making my headquarters in the Peloponnese (see “Why Greece and Italy?” above). The bus service in the Peloponnese is outstanding with well-maintained, frequent buses allowing me to explore this fascinating peninsula with ease.
*The owner of this yurt rents it out on a nightly basis. For more information visit: http://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1295744
** Servas – A non-profit international organization of hosts and travelers: http://www.USServas.org