In a Mani context, the caves at Pyrgos Dirou, just south of Areopolis, have been the main destination for day-trippers for many years now. In the summer, numerous coaches can be seen in the car park, although their passengers are not visible as they make their way through the labyrinth of caves in a small punt. Their popularity must lie in the fact that a visit offers ‘something for all the family’. Regardless of age, the experience of being punted around a dramatically lit series of caves, each dripping with stalactites leaves an impression on all who visit. The museum is now fully operational, adding an educational dimension with exhibits dating from the Neolithic age.
There are in fact a number of cave systems in this area. Between the Bay of Pyrgos Dirou and the Bay of Limeni are two Palaeolithic caves; the Apidima cave (‘apidia’ means pear tree) and the Kalamakia cave (the diminutive of ‘kalamaki’ meaning straw), the latter, being at sea level, has not provided any evidence of human habitation. But it is south of the beach of Pirgos Dirou where you can find a true cave experience. The Katafigi cave (shelter/ refuge) is also at sea level and only approachable by sea but the Vlyhada caves (Maniat dialect for fresh water spring), also now known as the Glyfada caves, and the Alepotrypa cave (literally ‘fox hole’) are accessible.
The Vlyhada Caves
These are the caves that the coaches head for. Discovered in 1895, though not open to the public until the 1960’s, the impressive network of stalactite-studded caves are seen from the confines of a small punt, holding no more than 10 people. The journey takes you from cave to cave (each of which have their own name as a leaflet available from the ticket office explains) which are often linked by quite narrow passageways (claustrophobics beware). The final stage is now taken on foot. It can be quite chilly inside, so even on a boiling August day, you may want to take an extra layer.
The caves are run by the Ministry of Tourism (EOT).
OCT-MAY: 8.30-15.00 (closed Mondays)
Tel: 27330 52222
The cave network is the Mani's number 1 tourist attraction and rightly so. Great for kids and adults alike and well-worth the entrance fee. It can get a bit busy at peak times so be prepared to wait before entering.