Category Archives: Mani

A reading from Mani: In the Footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor

The travel firm Kudu Travel runs walking holidays, with some in the Mani. They are fans of Paddy! Here one of their guides reads from Mani after a drive to Gaitses, high on the western flank of the Taygettus range at the edge of the Koskarakas Gorge.

After a pleasant, three hour easy walk following the route taken by Paddy and Joan when they emerged from the overgrown gorge, after their momentous crossing of the mountain. They visited the ‘handsome old church’ on top of a knoll, and the neighbourhood where they sampled their first glass of Mani wine, and listened to a reading.

Kudu’s highly rated footsteps of Paddy tour to the Mani is due to run 10-20 October 2020.

The Man of the Mani now on BBC Sounds

In 2015, the experienced BBC reporter and presenter, John Humphrys, hosted a BBC Radio 4 programme about Paddy’s life in the village of Kardamyli in the Mani, exploring his the life and work. The programme is now available (for how long I don’t know) on the BBC Sounds website. Maybe take half an hour this weekend to listen to one seasoned veteran talk about his passion for another.

At the time the BBC website introduced the programme thus:

Fermor is arguably the most influential travel writer of the 20th Century. At the age of eighteen he took off, with notebook in hand, on a walk across Europe. During the Second World War he fought in Greece and Crete, and is still remembered in the country today for his daring exploits with the resistance. His most celebrated action came in 1944 when he led a commando operation to abduct the German General Heinrich Kreipe.

In the early 1960s he moved to Greece, to the Southern Peloponnese. He built a house in the village of Kardamyli in the Mani. It was here that he wrote much of his most celebrated work and where he remained until his death in June 2011.

John Humphrys visits Fermor’s village to explore the influence that Greece had upon his life and work, and also to consider the impact that he had on the village and the people he lived alongside. John visits Fermor’s former home, now in the care of the Benaki Museum in Athens, and discusses the plans for its future. He meets those in the village who met Leigh Fermor when he first arrived in the 1960s – a man in his nineties recalls how they “danced on the tables into the night” – and he hears tales of influential guests, great writers like Bruce Chatwin and John Betjeman, even a King and Queen.

Accompanied by Fermor’s book ‘Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese’, John Humphrys also travels into the deep Mani, one of the remotest, wildest and most isolated regions in Greece.

Visit the BBC Sounds website here for further details.

Exhibition – Painting the Southern Peloponnese: In the Footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor

Mount Elijah above Anno Boularii, Sundown

I have just been alerted to what looks like a marvellous exhibition of paintings running until 11 March in the Friends Room of the Hellenic Centre in London.

In October 2017 Toby Wiggins embarked on an adventurous trek over mountains and across arid plains to the sound of gun shot in the mornings and howling jackals by night. He retraced the path taken by one of the 20th centuries leading travel writers Paddy Leigh Fermor, who in 1951 walked the peninsula and later published his seminal work ‘Mani’. After his own odyssey, Toby returned home with a rucksack full of tiny oil studies of the places described by Paddy and in his studio he used these studies to make larger paintings, about which he says:

…they are an attempt to translate the sensation of being there, the texture of this harsh land; iron-like outcrops and intense blue skies. Then there are those moments when the harshness is transformed by intense, luminous colour into something altogether ethereal.

Profoundly influenced by Patrick Leigh Fermor and artist John Craxton, who illustrated Leigh Fermor’s books, the beguiling lure of this remote place, the southernmost tip of mainland Greece, is plain to see in the intense light, colours and textures that run through Toby’s works.

The exhibition is free to visit during opening hours, please call 020 7487 5060 to confirm (Toby advises to call first), but usually 10 am -5 pm. The exhibition opens 12st February and runs until 11th March.

To view the paintings on-line visit Toby’s website. Call Toby on 07939 661075 for more information.

The exhibition catalogue can be found here.

Location and contact details for the Hellenic Centre are here.

Royal Academy Schools trained Toby Wiggins RP is renowned for his highly-regarded portraiture. He has won awards including the BP Travel Award (NPG), the Lynn Painter-Stainer Prize for Figurative Painting and the Prince of Wales Drawing Award. His interest in landscape has spread from his native Dorset to this most austere, but compelling landscape of ‘Mani’, one of the wildest and most remote corners of Greece.

The romance of the past: that’s what drives the traveller’s impossible quest

‘Kardamyli now makes most of its money from tourism. It wasn’t as immune to tourism as Leigh Fermor imagined or wanted it to be.’ Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Writing in 1958 about the little Greek town that was eventually to become his home, the travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor was satisfied to note that the Guide Bleu gave it only half a line. “It is better so,” Leigh Fermor wrote. “It is too inaccessible and there is too little to do there, fortunately, for it ever to be seriously endangered by tourism.”

By Ian Jack

First published in the Guardian

His next paragraph describes the town in early evening when, waiting for a freshly caught fish to cook on a grill, he and a few fishermen sit under a mulberry tree outside a taverna and watch the sun sink over the mountains. Caiques – the wooden working boats of the Mediterranean – rock gently “with each sigh of the green transparent water … tethered a few yards above their shadows on the pebbly bottom”. One of Leigh Fermor’s typically exact (and perhaps exacting) images follows when he describes the sea lapping over a flat rock “with just enough impetus to net the surface with a frail white reticulation of foam which slid softly away and dissolved while a new one formed”.

Some of these things still exist. The Mediterranean is clear and green and blue, and on a calm day it will rise and fall against the rocks as Leigh Fermor describes. The sun goes down as he depicts it. There is even a caique or two; and, of course, tavernas – more tavernas than ever. But in most other ways the township of Kardamyli in the Peloponnese is utterly changed. Charter flights land at the little airport in the regional capital, Kalamata, and from there a twisting, expensively engineered road takes taxis, hire cars and air-conditioned coaches over the mountains to a resort that has nice hotels, trinket shops and olive-oil boutiques, as well as pretty restaurants with tea-lights on their tables that look down on the sea. The usual story: Kardamyli now makes most of its money from tourism. It wasn’t as immune to tourism as Leigh Fermor imagined or wanted it to be, and the writer himself is partly to blame.

The tumbledown factory loomed on the shore, a picturesque ruin in brick and concrete where fig trees grew. First, he published an account of his travels in the southern Peloponnese, the peninsula known as the Mani, which was then not much visited, and invested it with the beauty and mystery of a place and people that the 20th century had passed by. Then, six years later, in 1964, he bought a plot of land there – in a bay to the south of Kardamyli – and built a beautiful villa that he lived in almost to the last day of his life, in June 2011. Today his books are available in at least three languages in the local bookshop. People go there because of him – to experience similar sights and sensations to those he saw and felt, even though they understand this can never be completely accomplished, the world having moved on.

But was it ever quite as he described it in the first place? Leigh Fermor’s view of the Mani was essentially romantic: there are few better describers of landscape, but it’s a landscape with omissions. His first sight of Kardamyli is of an enchanting, castellated hamlet at the sea’s edge, where towers, turrets and cupolas rise above houses built of golden stone. “It was unlike any village I had seen in Greece,” Leigh Fermor writes in a page-long depiction that somehow ignores the village’s tallest manmade attribute: the factory chimney of the old olive-oil works. This is difficult to miss. Look down on Kardamyli from almost any vantage point and there it stands, its bricks pale against a background of blue sea and rather more noticeable than the towers and the turrets lying further inland among the cypresses and the olive groves.

The towers date from the age of banditry, feuding clans and resistance to the Ottoman empire. The chimney has cleaner and more peaceable origins. This month I lived next door to it for 10 days in a fine little hotel, and swam morning and afternoon from a ladder bolted to the rocks. The tumbledown factory loomed on the shore behind, a picturesque ruin in brick and concrete where fig trees grew and rusting pipes sprang from the wall at odd angles. A high fence surrounded it, with warnings to keep out.

Olive oil had once been made here – not virgin, cold-pressed or estate bottled, but the roughest kind, which goes into soap. Some accounts online suggest it was owned by the Palmolive company (and when I read this I understood, for the first time, how that familiar name had come about); others say a local family were the proprietors. It used olives – and the residues left from edible oil production – from as far away as Crete, shipped to a concrete pier nearby whose size was inexplicable unless you knew its original purpose. It was said to have employed 150 workers, with steam machinery that, as well as operating its crushers, had the spare capacity to supply the village with its first electricity. Opened in 1932, it closed in either 1958 or 1975 – local memories differed – when new techniques of oil production made it redundant. Since then, a dispute among the site’s three or four owners had prevented demolition or development.

I liked the chimney; three stepped rings of brick, progressively larger in diameter, gave its top a decorative flourish. But then, I’ve always been fascinated by factory chimneys of all kinds, for reasons that I’ve never really examined, the most important probably being that I spent some of my childhood among them: the great smoking verticals of the Lancashire plain, formerly beloved of geography textbooks as the illustrations to the chapter on the textile industry. To find them situated outside what might be considered their natural homelands – the old industrial towns of northern Europe and North America – is always a surprise. They look solitary, like isolated monuments to a faraway and not properly understood revolution. One still standing on the coast of Argyll marks the site of a Victorian factory that made acetic acid from the oak and birch wood. Another on the Ionian island of Paxos served the same kind of mill as Kardamyli’s.

Smoke was most probably still drifting from the Kardamyli chimney when Leigh Fermor reached here in the mid-1950s, but he can hardly be blamed for omitting it from his picture. Like many travellers in our age, he had a distaste for modernity. (He hated radios, for instance, and was relieved that the Mani had so few of them. “Rabid wirelesses should be hunted out and muzzled or shot down like mad dogs.”) He travelled to reach some agreeable form of the past, which has been a motive for the holidaymaker since the days of the Grand Tour.

On an afternoon last week in Kardamyli, I climbed up the ladder from the sea to find three or four men inside the factory fence inspecting the ruins. One wore a pith helmet and carried a theodolite. Another unpacked a drone from its box and directed its flight to the chimney, which it hovered above rather threateningly. It looked as though change was in the offing. I’d known of the chimney for less than a week – and, really, what was it to me? But already I felt a slight alarm that it too might pass, just like the fishermen who watched the sunset with Leigh Fermor from underneath a mulberry tree.

Painting Paddy’s Greece

Gerolimenas by Katyuli Lloyd (Source: Oldie magazine Aug 2017)

Some readers have advised me that there is an article in this month’s Oldie magazine by Katyuli Lloyd about her meeting with Paddy, and her work on the illustrations for Folio editions of Mani and Roumeli.

An example of her work is above and I’m pretty sure that’s Gerolimenas on the Mani, a place where I stayed on holiday last year.

You can access the article here online by subscription or if in the UK you ocan probably buy the magazine from your local newsagent.

Following Michalis in Mycenae

13694300_10105313766032178_664315251_oSoon I will be travelling to the Mani and will make my first visit to Paddy’s house, something that is rather belated, but an experience that I am looking forward too very much. My friend Ryan Eyre from Seattle has been on a long trip to Europe this summer. Not long after he stayed with me here in Winchester, he travelled to Greece and found himself in historic Mycenae. What he discovered was a virtually moribund tourist industry, and an interesting story about Patrick Leigh Fermor.

By Ryan Eyre

On a recent visit to Mycenae, the Oreia Eleni Hotel seemed the obvious place to stay. The Oreia Eleni, also known as La Belle Helene and the House of Schliemann, is a simple hotel but rich with historical associations. Heinrich Schliemann lived in the building during his excavation work at Mycenae in the 1870s and a generation or more later it was converted into a hotel. Agamemnon Dassis is the current proprietor and is the third-generation of his family to run it. He lives in a house next door with his wife and young daughter. A youthful looking man in his late 40s, Agamemnon is an energetic and quite attentive host.

Mycenae is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Greece but Greece’s economic woes have definitely affected business in the modern village half a mile below the citadel. The number of tourists has declined in recent years and most people who currently visit Mycenae do so as a day-trip and pass through the village without stopping. The owners of the almost empty shops, restaurants and hotels in Mycenae sit rather forlornly, waiting for customers who largely never appear.

I was the only guest at the Oraia Eleni during my two-night stay and Agamemnon told me that I was in fact the first guest they had had in three weeks. This was in July. As a guest, I benefited from being able to talk to Agamemnon at length.

The second day of my stay he showed me the small museum that is on the ground floor of the building. Agamemnon’s father photocopied famous people’s signatures from the guestbook and they are displayed in note-card size form behind glass. He pointed out the signatures of Agatha Christie (I was staying in the same room she supposedly did), Virginia Woolf, Stephen Spender, Carl Jung, Jean-Paul Sartre, Alec Guinness, Charlton Heston and J.K. Rowling (among others) and provided some anecdotal information about each visit. I was interested to note that Albert Speer, Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Goebbels and Herman Goering all passed through in the 1930s (it was unclear whether they visited separately or together).

Up to that point Patrick Leigh Fermor’s association with the hotel hadn’t crossed my mind. Thinking about it for a moment it seemed obvious he must have stayed here. I asked Agamemnon whether Leigh Fermor’s signature could be found anywhere on the display. “Oh, yes, I forgot to mention him”, Agamemnon said before pointing out PLF’s name scrawled in his own and dated from 1960.

“He came here many times over the years. He came in the 1950s, and in the 1960s and many times afterwards I remember when I was a young man he telephoned and asked me whether I was George. I said no, I am his son. Who is this? This was in Greek but I could tell from the accent that it was a foreigner. He said, tell George that Michalis from Kardamyli called. I was a little confused. Later I met him. As I said, he came here a number of times. I also visited him in Kardamyli. One time when his wife was in England he came and stayed for a week. He was a great man, a very great man. I last saw him in 1998. When I came back here in 2007 after some years living abroad I did not contact him before he died. I regret this.”

I didn’t immediately tell Agamemnon my own story about meeting Patrick Leigh Fermor in Kardamyli in 2009. That evening at the dinner table and after drinking an ouzo and some wine, I asked him to sit with me because I wanted to tell him something. I began to recount my last trip to Greece when I had gone to the Mani to try to meet the author, who was then 94 years old.

“You met him in the end?” Agamemnon asked before I could go on much further. I told him I had written PLF a brief letter that I had dropped off at his house and ended up being invited to lunch the next day, where I spent several hours drinking, eating and talking with the great man.

I acknowledged I was extremely lucky. Agamemnon agreed and opened up more. He told me about how Paddy would come to Mycenae and disappear for the entire day, only returning at night. Paddy didn’t tell people he was a famous writer; Agamemnon only discovered this on his own.

Paddy was pretty self-deprecating and didn’t take himself so seriously. He was happy to talk to all sorts of people and showed genuine curiosity in their lives. “He had this constant curiosity about people and the world. That’s why he lived so long,” Agamemnon remarked.

He told me about various friends of Paddy’s who have stayed at the Oraia Eleni and that the Patrick Leigh Fermor Society had also passed through in the last two years.

Moving into more salacious territory, he then told me that he was going to tell me something about Paddy that most people haven’t heard. He didn’t have the heart to tell the members of the PLF Society when they visited. Agamemnon asked me to keep it off the record so I can’t fully disclose what I heard. What I will say is that it was an anecdote that I have very reason to believe is true and confirms that well into his 70s Paddy was sexually active with women who were not his wife and were considerably younger than himself. Agamemnon and I agreed that Paddy’s mixture of looks, charm and erudition was remarkable. “He really had the mentality of a teenager,” Agamemnon added.

Drinking wine and hearing these stories as the only guest in an atmospheric place gave me the thrilling feeling of luck and leventia, or feeling of lightness, that Paddy would refer to in connection with Greece. It was an evening that reminded me why I travel.

Walks amid the watchtowers of the Mani

An early 19th-century watchtower, now the Tainaron Blue Retreat guesthouse, overlooking the coastline of Cape Matapan

The most recent of quite a number of articles about visiting the Mani that I have seen of late. This being the best, written by William Dalrymple.

First published in the Financial Times, 28 August 2015.

I first came to the Mani through the pages of my literary hero and travel writing guru, Patrick Leigh Fermor. Paddy, who was once described by the BBC as a “cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Greene”, published Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, in 1958. It was the first non-fiction book he wrote about Greece, and in many ways it is his most passionate: a love song to the middle prong of the trident-shaped southern coast of the Peloponnese. This was the place where he had been happiest, and the destination he would eventually pick in which to settle down, and spend the final years of his life.

For Paddy, the Ottoman Mani was to Greece what Cornwall was to 18th-century Britain: the most remote of places, cut off from the rest of the country by distance, unpredictable tides and wild cliffs, the abode of brave brigands, chivalrous smugglers and gentleman pirates. It was, he liked to point out, the southernmost point of mainland Greece: only a few islands intervene between Cape Matapan, the tip of the peninsula and location of the cave which the ancients believed to be the Mouth of Hades, and the shoreline of north Africa.

Many years later, shortly before his death in 2011, I went to stay with Paddy at the house he built in the Maniot village of Kardamyli. His villa was the most perfect writer’s house I have ever seen, designed and partly built by the man himself in an olive grove a mile outside the town, and with a view out to a small coastal island. Each morning, until a heart bypass prevented him, he would swim around the island, before returning home for breakfast.

Since Paddy’s death, however, the house has been given to the Benaki museum in Athens, and on my most recent visit I could only drive past it with a melancholic wave. Instead I headed on a further 90 minutes southwards, past tavernas hung with vine trellising, past chapels with red pepper pot domes, through stripfields and a patchwork of walled olive groves. These lower slopes rose to steep and arid hilltops, and it was on one of these, above the whitewashed village of Kotronas, that lay the beautiful house where I would be staying. It dominated a blue, mirror-like bay on the south-east coast of the peninsula and it was here, watching the ships come and go below, and with the mountains rising on all sides, that I planned a succession of treks into the deep Mani to see for myself the landscapes that Paddy had described so lovingly in his book.

To my surprise, the more I walked in the cactus-haunted hills, through spires of yellow verbascum and the seed heads of dried grasses as straight as miniature cedar trees, the more I found that the wildness of the Mani reminded me less of the bucolic Mediterranean than the bleakly beautiful mountains of the north-west frontier of Pakistan. For both the turbulent Maniots and the Pashtuns have an ancient tradition of blood feuds, which has led them to live in the fortified towers that are still the dominant architectural feature of their regions. In both, every man is a chieftain, and every farm a fort.
Tourism bounces back

“In these contests,” wrote Paddy, “the first blow was never struck without warning. War was formally declared by the challenging side. The church bells were rung: We are enemies! Beware! Then both sides would take to their towers, the war was on, and any means of destroying the other side was fair.” These included, apparently “bombarding them from above with boulders and smashing their marble roofs; so the towers began to grow, each in turn, during periods of truce, calling his neighbour’s bluff with yet another storey.” Paddy was fascinated by the proximity of the combatants in these feuds, “the equivalent, in distance, of the cannonading of Brooks’s by White’s, Chatham House by the London Library . . . or of the Athenaeum and the Reform by the Travellers’.”

There was apparently only one thing that could reconcile the warring hamlets of the Maniots: “a Turkish inroad, when, suddenly, for brief idyllic periods of internal harmony, their long guns would all point the same way.”

Such a moment came in 1826 when the Ottoman commander Ibrahim Pasha arrived, intent on crushing the resistance of the most independent-minded of all the Sultan’s Greek subjects. From the point of view of the Sublime Porte, the Maniots were merely pirates and brigands, and a thorn in the flesh of honest Turkish shipping going about its business in the Mediterranean. The Maniots had a rather different view of themselves: as the flower of Hellenic chivalry and the last pure-blooded descendants of both the ancient kings of Sparta and the emperors of Byzantium. Both sides were spoiling for a fight; and they got it.

To block Ibrahim’s advance, the Maniots concentrated their forces at Verga, the entrance to the desolate passes of the Taygetus mountains, in the extreme north of the region. Ibrahim therefore decided instead to launch a surprise marine attack on Areopolis, far to the south, which the patriots had left undefended. Ibrahim successfully landed 1,500 Egyptian troops on the shingle beaches in Diros Bay, south of Kardamyli, a magnificent natural cauldron where the peaks of Taygetus dip down to the blue waters of the Aegean, so clear, even today, that it is said you can still see the wrecks of galleys lying on the seabed below. Soon the Ottoman troops were marching inland, up the coastal paths, looting as they went, and heading for the walls of Areopolis.

Ibrahim Pasha had achieved complete surprise; but he had not taken the women of the Mani into his calculations. As the church bells pealed from their Byzantine belfries, several hundred women who had been out in the fields harvesting converged on the Ottoman rear with their sickles and farm instruments. In an indignant song still sung in the region, the woman allegedly declaimed:

O Turkish men, have you no shame
To war with womenfolk?
We are alone, our men are gone
To fight at Almiro.
But we with sickles in our hands
Will lop off your heads like corn!

Within a few hours, those Egyptians who lived to tell the tale were running headlong for their boats. Only a third were rescued; the rest fell where they stood on the beach. That, at least, is the version of the story they tell today in the Mani.

Modern travellers to the region may end up feeling a certain sneaking sympathy with the Egyptians; for the descendants of those feisty Maniot women are still alive and well, and today they guard the keys to their village churches as determinedly as they once defended Areopolis. As Paddy knew, and wrote about so beautifully, the Mani contains some of the most ancient and Byzantine chapels and basilicas in Greece, dotted around olive groves above steep coastal cliffs; but any traveller who wants to get inside and see their celebrated frescoes must first find the guardian grannies who keep the keys, and then persuade them to disgorge them and to let you into their carefully tended holy places.

Watchtowers in the town of Vathia

Watchtowers in the town of Vathia

This can be more difficult than it sounds. On one occasion, trying to get inside the famed 11th-century church of the Taxiarches at Charouda, I was directed to the door of Antonia, a black-clad matriarch in widow’s weeds who looked so ancient she could almost have lost her husband to Ibrahim Pasha’s Egyptians. Yes, she said, with deep suspicion in her voice, she did hold the keys, but no, this was the time of her lunch. I should come back in an hour. I did as I was bid, only to find she was taking her siesta. Deciding to walk along the coast until she woke, I returned only to be told she was unable to take me to the church as she was feeding her great-grandchildren. Then she was putting out fodder for her donkeys: wouldn’t I like to come back tomorrow morning?

It was well past 7pm when, after a lot of begging and pleading, a huge primeval key was finally, reluctantly flourished and I followed the bent-backed matriarch to the church on the edge of the village. The sun was now slowly sinking over the hills at the end of a hot day; from the higher slopes, the tinkle of unseen goat bells cut through the background whirr of cicadas as shepherds led the flocks back for their night.

The church — in truth it was barely larger than a chapel — was very small, but very beautiful. It had a domed, tiled roof and round arcaded windows, whose brick tiles were made from fired red mud. It lay in a rocky graveyard dotted with oleanders and ilexes at the edge of olive groves, and was built from stone the colour of halloumi cheese. Only when Antonia finally ground the key in the wards of the ancient lock, and had crossed herself several times, was I allowed to step inside.

Nothing prepares you for the darkly melancholic and baleful beauty of the wall paintings of the Mani churches; but remote as it is, the church of the Taxiarches at Charouda is especially fine. The anonymous painter had a particular quirk of giving some of the saints a black triangular lower eyelid. The intention seem to be to enhance their gaunt asceticism and melancholic sadness, but I thought it gave them a look oddly like the buffoonish Pierrot in the Commedia dell ’Arte.

A grim-faced Christ Pantocrator glowers down from the decorative brickwork of the dome, hands opened and upheld as if in surprise at the wonders of his own creation. Below him, ranks of cherubim and seraphim stand with their wings raised. A phalanx of prophets line the lower drum; nearby stylites preach from pillars; and patriarchs in monochrome vestments like Malevich abstracts grip their bibles and proudly display the instruments of their martyrdom. More martyrs have their flesh ripped and eyes gouged out over the walls of the nave, the background landscapes to both virgins and saints as high and mountainously craggy as the Taygetus themselves, the men and the jagged rocks of the mountains sharing a clear affinity, and a similar angularity.

The most beautiful images of all lay at the west end, near the porch where the matriarch Antonia still stood silhouetted by the last rays of the sun. That light, reflecting off the foot-polished stone floor, illuminated a pair of youthful Byzantine soldiers: a young, swaggering St George astride his white charger, all glittering armour and levelled spear, while standing at ease slightly to his left, leaning on his javelin, was a swarthily beautiful St Demetrius with a glistening mail coat, a bow slung over his shoulder and sporting a single, rather dandyish earring; the very model of Maniot resistance to the encroachments of the outside world.

Looking both at Antonia, and the St Demetrius, it was no longer impossible to believe the old legends: that these remarkable, tough, independent Maniots really were the last descendants of Spartans who took refuge here when their hegemony beyond the Taygetus was finally destroyed, their struggle finally over.

Read more about where William Dalrymple stayed here.

Audible

2014 Stavros Niarchos Foundation Lecture at Yale University: “Patrick Leigh Fermor In Greece”

Artemis Cooper presenting the 2014 Stavros Niarchos Foundation lecture

Artemis Cooper presenting the 2014 Stavros Niarchos Foundation lecture

Artemis Cooper giving the 2014 Stavros Niarchos Foundation Lecture at Yale University.

A video is available on YouTube here or via the embed below. The blurb introduces things as follows:

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s first travels in Greece took place before the outbreak of the Second World War, and he already spoke fluent Greek by the time he was parachuted into occupied Crete in 1942 to help the Cretan Resistance, which in May 1944 resulted in the abduction of a German general. Leigh Fermor settled in Greece in the 1960s, and lived there until his death in 2011. His books Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece and Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese are two of the best travel books in the English language. The talk is about his life and friends in Greece, and how much the country meant to him.

Mark Granelli brought this video to my attention and had this to say:

It is quite fascinating, and includes a beautiful extract from ‘Mani’ where Paddy is accompanied by dolphins on a ferry trip.

It focuses a lot on Paddy’s time in Crete.

The Q&A at the end turns up some personal information about Paddy and also references Olivia Manning and Fitzroy Maclean.

Salmagundi Magazine special feature on Patrick Leigh Fermor

Paddy at BaleniI am grateful to Marc Woodworth for sending me this feature about Paddy posted in Salmagundi Magazine.

It includes excerpts from three essays:

  • Joanna Kavenna on memory and the past in A Time of Gifts
  • George Prochnik on Byzantium and style in Mani
  • Bina Gogineni on exoticism in The Traveller’s Tree

Plus exclusive online contributions from Nick Delbanco, Nick Delbanco, our very own Nick Hunt (Following Fermor in Romania)
and a Micro-Anthology selected by Michael Ondaatje, Thomas de Waal, Michael Gorra, Andrew Eames and photographs of Kövecses by Andrew Hillard.

Download the pdf here … salmagundi magazine

Bradt Travel Guides’ revised version of Greece:The Peloponnese by Andrew Bostock

Bradt Guide to the Peloponnese by Andrew Bostock

Bradt Guide to the Peloponnese by Andrew Bostock

Continuing the Peloponnese travel theme it would be remiss of me not to mention that the nice people at Bradt have let Andrew Bostock update his excellent guide to the Peloponnese just in time for your 2013 excursion. And rather like the paperback of An Adventure it shows a certain house. I think that Andy may have had some influence on this choice of cover!

Andy also gets in touch with me quite often, and it was he, working in close collaboration with that other Karmayli expert, John Chapman, who first picked up on the filming of the movie Before Midnight at Paddy’s house. Andy has lived in the area with his family so he is no fly-by-night travel guide author. I have a copy. I know the Peloponnese pretty well having holidayed there on three occasions. There is a lot to see and it is by no means all about the Mani, or Paddy. There is so much more. If you would like to get in touch directly with Andy about travel to the area his details are here.

Andrew Bostock: +44 7961 061 052 (cell)
Twitter: @andybostock

You can buy Greece: The Peloponnese (Bradt Travel Guides) at this link, and the blurb tells us this:

The Peloponnese contains a huge diversity of landscape, everything from the classic image of Greece – white sand beaches and sleepy white-washed villages through to the ancient sites of Olympia and Mycenae, Byzantine churches and medieval fortresses; towering mountains for hiking and skiing, olive groves which produce the finest fruit, and mountains covered in flowers.

In recent months Greece has undergone a well-publicized economic meltdown. However cheaper prices and the expense of long-haul tourism has actually led to an increase in visitor numbers. The government is keen to invest in tourism as a way to reinvigorate the country. Specific examples of this are the new year-round flights from Athens to Kalamata and a major new international spa / golf resort in Messinia.

Greece is no longer an ‘easy’ travel destination and there as been an increase in the trend towards independent travel, away from package tourism. The new edition reflects this with reviews of the plentiful new accommodation, details of independent tours and activities as well as excellent coverage of off-the-beaten-track sites and attractions.

Greek expert, Andrew Bostock leads travellers to hidden villages, sophisticated towns, and to other top attractions – one of Europe’s most spectacular train journeys and the tower houses of the famed Mani. He explores the lesser-known sites and attractions, including details of places not covered anywhere else. The guide is packed with information on agritourism spots, eco-conscious boutique hotels, camping under the stars, rustic tavernas and locally grown produce. Traditionally the tourist season in Greece is the summer, but this is fast changing, with savvy travelers discovering the wild flowers of spring, the joys of the olive harvest in late autumn, and skiing opportunities during the winter. Bird life and marine life are also a huge attraction for visitors to the Peloponnese. The guide also focuses on the colourful life of the traditional ‘paneyiri’ and those who still embrace the Greek spirit of ‘philoxenia’.

Related article:

The movie Before Midnight, featuring a certain house in a starring role

Remote places and landscapes in Greece – Walks in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor: Part 10

The last of Christian Peter’s walks. In my view you can’t go wrong if your walk involves visiting a monastery. I would like to thank Christian for all the work he put into this series. I am sure that he would welcome your feedback and comments in the Comments section below.

10  . Patmos

One of the most impressive and intense places in Greece for me is the atrium of the Monastery Agios Ioannis o Theologos in Patmos . The Monastery of St. John the Divine is a fortified Orthodox monastery dominating the highest part of the Chora of the island. It was and continues to be one of the most important monasteries in Greece.  Its interior is like a  muli-leveled building complex with  interior courtyards, colonnades and narrow corridors. From time to time Paddy used to live in monasteries for a while. In the introduction of his monastery-book “A Time to Keep Silence“ (1957) he describes longer visits to Wandrille de Fontanelle, La Grande Trappe and the monasteries of Cappadocia, but also mentions that he has visited all the important monasteries of the Greek word. You can about his visits to Mount Athos and monasteries of Meteora, and I am pretty sure he has been to Patmos.

Remote places and landscapes in Greece – Walks in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor: Part 9

The ninth of Christian Peter’s walks and still in the Dodecanese.

9.     Astypalaia /Dodecanese

Situated between the Cyclades and the Dodecanese the “forgotten” island of Astypalaia  is even today calm and traditional.  Having the form of a butterfly a small band of land of only 200 meters separates the island into two sections: Exo Nisi and Mesa Nisi.  A day-long hike over the entire island starting in Chora ( Exo Nisi) brings you to the remote, almost abandoned village of Exo Vathy (Mesa Nisi). Only a few people live here leading a very simple and traditional island life as fisherman and farmer. One old couple runs a tavern.

Remote places and landscapes in Greece – Walks in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor: Part 8

The eighth of Christian Peter’s walks.

8.     The “Italian Road” from Pothia to Vathi – Kalymnos

Paddy must have widely been travelling the Dodecanese, as he was so obsessed by pebbelstone mosaics. The islands of the Dodecanese offer a great variety of fantastic pebblestone mosaics. Nearly every old church has one  and the Kalymnian capital of  Pothia has one of the largest and most beautiful. Recently Kalymnos became a world class destination for rock climbers, but there are a number of wonderful walks on the island, too. The best known one is the walk on the old Italian Road (Italikós drómos) from the vibrant city of Pothia into the fertile valley of Vathys. Those who really want to follow Paddy’s footsteps  should visit Kalymnos for Easter celebrations. What you will find to happen in the streets of and on the mountains around  Pothia on those days is really Paddy-like: The local people like to celecrate the holy days with dynamite, this is why during those days people tend to call their island the “Aegean Afghanistan”.

Remote places and landscapes in Greece – Walks in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor: Part 7

Back to Crete for the seventh walk in Christian Peter’s series.

7.     From Sougia to Agia Roumeli – Crete

a.       One of the wildest and most difficult walks on Crete is the one along the coastline  between Sougia and Agia Roumeli. But it is rewarding as it offers not only a great variety of natural beauties, but also access to the Gorge of Tripiti which as “a clandestine landing point for the whole of the area” played a major role during the occupation. In his book “The Stronghold” Xan Fielding describes it  as “a needle-narrow opening in the littoral  ramparts, which travelers until recently believed to be inaccessible  except by sea” (p. 55). The Tripiti gorge marks the border between the provinces of Selino and Sfakiá and offers insights into the “highland labyrinth” above Koustogerako which during WW II “was probably the only habitable area in the whole of Crete  which could have sheltered in safety such a vast clandestine concourse as ours had been (Xan Fielding; Hide and Seek, p. 167).

Remote places and landscapes in Greece – Walks in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor: Part 6

The sixth of Christian Peter’s walks.

6.     From Christos Raches to Manganitis  – Ikaría

This unknown, but astonishing walk starts in the mountain village of Xristos Raches in Western Ikaria. The day long walk first heads towards the high plateau of Ammoudia from where you follow a steep, but paved kalderimi into the fishermen´s village of Manganitis.  As Ikaría even today does not have too much tourism, walking on the island still feels like the expedition into the everyday island life of former times .

Remote places and landscapes in Greece – Walks in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor: Part 5

The fifth of Christian Peter’s walks. I hope that you are enjoying this; the scenery is stunning.

5. Amorgos/Cyclades

a. The longest hike on the Cycladic island of Armogos is also the most beautiful. The old connection between the main island villages of Chora in the Island centre and Aigiáli in the North is a one day walk on old, partly paved paths with fantastic bird eye views upon the whole island. Along the way lies the monastery of Chozoviótissa which is among the most important monasteries of the Aegean Sea.

Remote places and landscapes in Greece – Walks in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor: Part 4

The fourth of Christian Peter’s walks.

4.   Sfakián Monopatia – The old connection between Asi Gonia and Anopoli  – Sfakiá/Crete

How often did Paddy, Xan Fielding and George Psychoundakis walk the old Monopati from Asi Goni via Askifou to the Sfakian mountain villages of Anopoli and Agios Ioannis? Did that connection play a major role during the Cretan resistance?

The mountain region of Sfakiá is the heartland of what Xan Fielding called The stronghold.  Here, in the Highlands of the White Mountains, Crete until today remained as pure and unspoiled as it always was. The walk starts in the birthplace of the Cretan Runner, George Psychoundakis, then reaches the hamlet of Goni in the Askifou-Plateau and continues via to Kali Lakki to Anopoli. Next to Anopoli, on the ridge of the Aradena Gorge, lies the ruined village of Aradena, where in 1947 a vendetta broke out and made its inhabitants leave. Aradena is as well the imaginary village, where Ioanna Karystiani’s novel Suit in the earth (Greek title: Koustoumi sto choma) might take place. Karystiani’s family is originally from Askifou. Following the bridge over the gorge, the walker continues to Agios Ioannis, Crete`s highest mountain village. A little bit underneath of Agios Ioannis you can find a place called Sellouda, which for me is the most impressive place in entire Crete. With the Levka Ori in your back you stand thousand meters high above the sea spotting Africa on the horizon. Although the cliffs seem impossible to pass through you can easily follow a stone paved Kalderimi through steepest terrain which leads you almost thousand meters difference in altitude down to the church of Agios Pavlos on the beach. From there you can continue your two days trek to Agia Roumeli.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Books about the region:

Xan Fielding (1954): Hide and Seek. Secker and Warburg.

Xan Fielding (1955): The Stronghold: An account of the four seasons in the White Mountains of Crete. Secker and Warburg.

Ioanna Karystiani (2000): Suit in the earth (German title: Schattenhochzeit)

Loraine Wilson (2002): Crete. The White mountains. A walking and Trekking guide. Cicerone

Peter Trudgill (2008): In Sfakiá. Passing time in the Wilds of Crete. Lycabettus Press.

Remote places and landscapes in Greece – Walks in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor: Part 3

The Third of Christian Peter’s walks.

3.   The village of Olymbos in the North of Karpathos

There is no village like Olymbos in the entire Agean Sea. I don`t know if Paddy ever visited the Dodekanese Island of Karpathos and the vilalge of Olymbos. If not he missed an important impression.  A village without bakery due to the fact that the Olymbites still use their old ovens in the gardens, a village where the women still wear their old costumes, a village where byzantine traditions (Songs, easter Tuesday) are still alive.

The old Monopati from Spoa to Olymbos is one of the most impressive walks I have ever made on Greek islands. It is partly paved, especially the last part leading into the village of Olympos is fantastic. If you want to understand what life was like in this remote village in former times, you need to get there by walking the old path.

Remote places and landscapes in Greece – Walks in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor: Part 2

The second of Christian Peter’s walks.

2.    The old Kalderimi to the village of Altomirá – Exo Mani

a.    I have often been thinking which way Paddy and Joan might have taken when they first walked over the Taygetos Mountains into the Mani in summer 1952.  Starting in Anavriti they probably headed towards Pighadia and Altomirá. That means they must have come down the fantastic Kalderimi from Altomirá to Kambos. For me this is even today the most impressive way to reach the Mani.

Remote places and landscapes in Greece – Walks in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor: Part 1

Paddy is quite popular in Germany, there being a lot of interest in his work about Greece, and of course A Time of Gifts is set mostly in Germany. His is also famous for the Kreipe kidnap. We have many fellow blog readers from Germany, but one of the longest is Christian Peters who lives in Koln but has a passion for Greece. He sent me a series of short articles about walks in a variety of locations in Greece, with accompanying photographs. If you are thinking of what to do for your holidays in 2013, I hope that Christian’s articles which I will publish over a period of weeks will help to inspire you. Of course some are in the footsteps of Paddy. Over to Christian for an introduction …..

When I traveled in Greece this summer (2012), the consequences of the crisis were capable everywhere. The decrease in this year’s incoming tourism might create the need for a bit of stimulation. 🙂  And the remote places and landscapes, Paddy talks about in the introduction of his Mani-Book, are still there. They probably changed a lot during the last sixty years, but are still worth to be visited.

If you are interested I would send you a couple of ideas (8-10 walks and places with short texts and two or three photos each) of remote walks, places and landscapes in Greece I have been traveling during the last years. The places and walks are partly related to Paddy and his life, but there will be some, which I only assume, he would have liked.

1.    Walk one – Kalderimi in Western Crete – Selino

a.    Koustogerako, the village of the Paterakis Family in the Selino Eparchía of Western Crete, played a major role in the Cretan resistance during WWII. On the 29th of September 1943 it was completely burnt down by the Germans. Paddy visited the village a couple of times because Manoli Paterakis, one of the Kreipe abductors, was a close friend of him. Today, one of the most fascinating Kalderimi-Walks in Western Crete leaves the Omalos Plateau from Agii Theodori to the west, then descends into the Irini Gorge (Faragi Agia Irinis) until it reaches the main road heading towards Sougia between the villages of Moni and Livadas. From there it is only about an hour ascent up to Koustogerako.

I felt like staying there for ever

A short extract from Paddy’s masterpiece about Greece, the Mani, and a lost way of life. And of course he did stay.

Beyond the bars of my window the towers descended, their walls blazoned with diagonals of light and shade; and, through a wide gap, castellated villages were poised above the sea on coils of terraces. Through another gap our host’s second daughter, wide-hatted and perched on the back of a wooden sledge and grasping three reins, was sliding round and round a threshing floor behind a horse, a mule and a cow – the first cow I had seen in the Mani – all of them linked in a triple yoke. On a bank above this busy stone disc, the rest of the family were flinging wooden shovelfuls of wheat in the air for the grain to fall on outstretched coloured blankets while the husks drifted away. Others shook large sieves. The sun which climbed behind them outlined this group with a rim of gold and each time a winnower sent up his great fan, for long seconds the floating chaff embowered him in a gold mist.

The sun poured into this stone casket through deep embrasures. Dust gyrated along the shafts of sunlight like plankton under a microscope, and the room was full of the aroma of decay. There was a rusty double-barrelled gun in the corner, a couple of dog-eared Orthodox missals on the shelf, and, pinned to the wall above the table, a faded oleograph of King Constantine and Queen Sophia, with King George and the Queen Mother, Olga Feodorovna, smiling with time-dimmed benevolence through wreaths of laurel. Another picture showed King Constantine’s entry into re-conquered Salonika at the end of the Balkan war. On a poster, Petro Mavromichalis, the ex-war minister, between a pin-up girl cut-out from the cover of Romantzo and a 1926 calendar for the Be Smart Tailors of Madison Avenue, flashed goodwill from his paper monocle. Across this, in a hand unaccustomed to Latin script, Long live Uncle Truman was painstakingly inscribed.

I felt like staying there for ever.

From Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, by Patrick Leigh Fermor which you can buy here,

Order Paddy’s biography Patrick Leigh Fermor:An Adventure by Artemis Cooper here.

‘A Tonic and a Treat’ – Patrick Leigh Fermor: A Celebration

Last Wednesday over seven hundred people packed out the main lecture hall of the Royal Geographic Society to hear Colin Thubron question Artemis Cooper about Paddy’s life in a joint event with the Royal Society of Literature, of which Colin is President. The event, sponsored by Art Tours, was entertaining, if perhaps a little shorter than one would have liked.

By Tom Sawford.

Artemis revealed how difficult it was to get Paddy to talk about his life, his experience and friends until on one visit to Kardamyli after Joan’s death she found every horizontal surface of his study, including the floor, covered with groaning piles of books, magazines, journals and personal correspondence (and I daresay some unpaid bills!). She offered to help him create some order and in doing so she started to ask questions: ‘I didn’t know that you had met so-and-so’ at which point Paddy, always happy to be distracted from his Herculean struggle with Vol Three, would brighten and start to expound on this outing, that visit or other glittering adventure. It was in this way that Artemis was able to make notes and get behind what she describes as the ‘waterfall’ of banter when asked directly to talk about his life.

It appears also that Paddy was perhaps always happy to receive visitors and recount old stories as he suffered both from bouts of personal depression and writer’s block.  Colin Thubron described the time that he and Paddy went for a long swim at Kardamyli and when well away from the house and others he talked to Colin about his struggles with this block, and his inability to understand this and his state of mind. Artemis said that Paddy was not ‘an intellectual’ and did not think too deeply. He was a ‘polymath’, less inclined to ask why, but rather dazzled, entertained, and fascinated by outward appearances and the sheer joy of being.

The other great excuse for not working was his correspondence with the three great correspondents of his life: Debo Devonshire, Annie Fleming and Diana Cooper. They were an ‘entertainment’ which Paddy approached with great enthusiasm and which ‘took up a lot of his time’ enabling him to divert his energies from his other writing.

We were also given a glimpse of The Broken Road (Vol Three) which is being edited jointly by Artemis and Colin. As the biography tells us it will be based almost entirely on the work that Paddy wrote in the early sixties for a US magazine ‘A Youthful Journey’ which was meant to be no more than 5,000 words. Once Paddy had reached the Romanian-Bulgarian border in this retelling he was suddenly gripped by a passion to write down this story in great detail, the result being over 50,000 words about the leg from Romania to Istanbul, although Colin said that the account does not include his time in the City.

Colin told us that this is difficult work, and they are being most careful not to add their own words. There is much work to be done but as I was told last week by Roland Phillips from John Murray, the publication date remains September 2013, not far short of the 70th anniversary of the start of Paddy’s youthful journey.

During the question and answer session a variety of subjects were raised from the condition of the house at Kardamylli – things are moving forward – to whether or not the Horace ode recitation actually did happen – yes it did but it may not have been on Mount Ida.

When it came to the last question a rather large man, wrapped in colourful braces stood up and shouted out that this was not a question but a statement, a Traveller’s Tribute. I think I could hear the whole audience groan quietly in apprehension, but all turned out well. Holding up a copy of the biography he boomed ‘This book is nothing short of a tonic and a treat! It kept me sane today during a long and boring train journey from Scotland!!’ Cue laughter and applause.

The event was sponsored by Art Tours who are arranging a tour of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Mani in the spring of 2013. Places are limited and already about half are taken so if you wish to go on this tour, which will include Artemis Cooper as a guide and key speaker, please make contact with Edward Gates at Art Tours as quickly as you can edward[at]arttoursltd.com

In addition Art Tours have 15 signed copies of the biography Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure to give away in a competition. To have a chance of winning, please send your Name, Postal Address, email address, and telephone number to Edward. Winners will be contacted in early November.

If you would like to know more about the Mani tour please download this pdf or contact Edward Gates at Art Tours Ltd on +44 (0)207 449 9707 or by email edward[at]arttoursltd.com

 

The ultimate pilgrimage to Paddy’s house in the Mani?

Paddy with Goat! Photo by Joan Leigh Fermor, from the Trustees of the National Library of Scotland

If you wanted to make a trip to see Paddy’s house at Kardamyli and to visit the wider Mani this may be the one for you. In the company of Paddy’s biographer, Artemis Cooper, this six-day tour will take in Mistra, Monemvasia, and Paddy’s house in Kardamyli, as well as other sites in the Mani.

This tour has been arranged by Art Tours (sponsors of the Royal Geographic Society event about Paddy 24 Oct) and is designed to celebrate Paddy’s life, whilst exploring the dazzling, rocky region he loved best in Greece, and where he and Joan lived for over forty years.

It is a celebration of his life and travels and is planned to run from 7-12 May 2013. Artemis will bring a unique insight into Paddy’s life and personality, and to cover the wider history of the region she will be joined by art historian James McDonaugh.

If you would like to know more please download this pdf or contact Edward Gates at Art Tours Ltd on +44 (0)207 449 9707 or by email edward[at]arttoursltd.com

John Chapman’s ManiGuide

The publication this week of the article by Kevin Rushby about his search for the memories of Paddy and Bruce Chatwin in the Mani prompted a degree of comment; not much of it particularly flattering. There were many unfavourable comparisons made with the excellent work of John Chapman in his ManiGuide website.

Back in 2010 I did a feature about the Guide saying ‘Having had a quick scoot around it certainly looks very comprehensive, so if you are planning on a visit to the Mani you may wish to use it…  the content looks very useful indeed.’

Following the comments about Rushby’s article I thought it would be a good idea to bring John’s work back to your attention, particularly as he has now become a regular contributor to the blog, having provided some excellent photographic material and articles.

As I said ‘ …. if you are planning on a visit to the Mani you may wish to use it.’ In fact I would recommend it. Visit —> Mani: A Guide and History by John Chapman

Related articles:

On the trail of Patrick Leigh Fermor in Greece

John Chapman at Kardamyli

John Chapman’s photographs of Paddy at home in Kardamyli 2005

On the trail of Patrick Leigh Fermor in Greece

This is a little bit toe-curling but as I always say we place all things Paddy related here …  for the record!

Ahead of a new Patrick Leigh Fermor biography, Kevin Rushby visits the Mani peninsula, home of the great man and unsung resting place of another British travel writing giant, Bruce Chatwin.

By Kevin Rushby

First published in the Guardian 28 September 2012.

Kardamyli, on Greece’s Mani peninsula, was home to Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor.

Old Mr Fotis turned my question over in his mind while sipping his morning coffee. Below the veranda some youths had been playing noisily on the harbour wall, but now they all dived into the turquoise sea and set off on the long swim to the rocky island in the bay. It had a fragment of crenellated wall on top of it, the ruins of a Venetian fortress. Fotis watched them go, half-smiling.

“We do seem to attract a lot of writers,” said the old man eventually. “But that’s a name I don’t remember.”

“Bruce Chatwin, Baroose Chit-win, Chaatwing.” I tried a few variations but none struck a chord. “His ashes are scattered somewhere in the hills.”

“No, I never heard of him.”

“What about Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor? You must know about him.”

I’d first heard of Kardamyli because of Leigh Fermor, who had made the place his home. I’d always hoped we might meet, but then the grand old man of British travel writing had died in June 2011 (leaving the literary world praying that he had finished the final volume of his Time of Gifts trilogy). I’d come to the Mani on a sort of literary homage, hoping to find a little of the magic that had attracted first Leigh Fermor and later Chatwin.

The old man shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. There was a writer called Robert. Now he was famous – cured himself of cancer by walking around Crete. [Former South Africa cricketer Bob Crisp wrote of his walk around Crete in the 1970s.] He was very famous.”

This felt all wrong. Was I in the right place? How annoying that the locals should raise this unknown above the two giants of travel literature.

Fotis leaned back and shouted in Greek to his wife in the kitchen. She came through, cloth in hand. “Robert Crisp,” she said, smiling. “What a wonderful man! So handsome! I remember him sitting up at Dioskouri’s taverna drinking and talking with Paddy. They were always laughing.”

My ears pricked up. Fotis’s face underwent a transformation. “Ah Paddy! That is him – your English writer. Of course, Paddy – or Michali we called him. Yes, Paddy was here for years and years. When I was young we used to say he was a British spy and had a tunnel going out to sea where submarines would come.”

It didn’t surprise me. Leigh Fermor had been, by all accounts, extremely old school, endlessly curious and an accomplished linguist – all well-known attributes of British spies. He produced a clutch of good books and two classics of the genre, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, detailing his journey as an 18-year-old on foot to Constantinople.

“Did you see a lot of him?” I asked.

Fotis shrugged. “Sometimes. He liked to walk a lot. Now Robert Crisp – I used to see him. What a character!”

“Is Paddy’s house still empty?” I persisted. “I heard it was now a museum.”

Fotis shook his head. “No, no. He left it to the Benaki Museum in Athens (benaki.gr) and they’re supposed to turn it into a writers’ centre. My guess is nothing will happen for a while.”

I could hardly complain about Greek tardiness: Leigh Fermor himself had taken 78 years over his trilogy, and even then no one seemed very sure if he had completed the task. There was, I decided, only one way to get close to the spirit of these colossi of travel-writing: to walk.

“Which paths did Paddy like best?”

Fotis fetched a map and gave me directions. It was already hot when I left him on his veranda. I could see the youths lazing on the harbour wall again, tired by their long swim. Was this really the time of year for walking?

I headed through the ruined village, as instructed, and found a narrow steep path rising up the hillside. Before too long I came across the stone tomb that locals say is the grave of Castor and Pollux, heavenly twins and brothers to Helen of Troy. Kardamyli is mentioned in Homer’s Iliad as one of the seven towns that Agamemnon gave to Achilles.

Sweat was pouring off me now, but I kept going. Scents of thyme and sage rose from the undergrowth. Fotis had said there were lots of snakes up here, but I didn’t see any. The views of the bay below, however, were becoming more and more magnificent.

The Mani is the middle finger of the three-pronged southern Peloponnese, a 40-mile long skeletal digit that was almost inaccessible, except by sea, until recently. When Leigh Fermor first came here in 1951, it was by a marathon mountain hike across the Taygetus range, whose slopes seem always to be either burned dry by summer sun, or weighted with winter snow.

Tower in the Taygetus mountains. Photograph: Kevin Rushby

The people here were different. For a start they had turned vengeance into a lifelong passion, building war towers to threaten their neighbours and generally making life on a stony mountain even grimmer than it needed to be and clinging to weird atavistic beliefs. No wonder that in the 1950s most of the younger people abandoned it for places not as badly infested with saltwater ghouls and blood-sucking phantoms – Melbourne and Tottenham were particularly popular.

Fotis himself had been one of them, settling in Australia for many years before coming home and opening a hotel. Nowadays some parts of the Mani are thick with holiday homes and development, but Kardamyli remains delightfully quiet and understated, the sort of Greek village where old widows in black sit out every morning watching the world go by.

Having reached a good height on the mountain I started to follow the contours, dipping in and out of the shade of walnut trees and cypress, drinking clear cold water from a spring. Further on I came to the village of Proastio, where Fotis had told me there was a church for every family, the ancestors having been sailors, and very superstitious. At the gorgeous little basilica of Agios Nikolaos in the main street I got the priest to come and unlock the door, revealing a gallery of perfect 17th-century Byzantine murals.

Byzantine murals in Proastio church. Photograph: Kevin Rushby

I tried the name Chatwin on him, and wondered how to mime death, cremation and scattering of ashes. But the Orthodox Church does not approve of cremation and his face told me I would not get far.

Returning to Kardamyli by a steep cobbled donkey trail, a kalderimi, I passed Fotis’s veranda once again.

“Who was that writer?” he called. “My wife thinks she knows.”

Anna came out. “Paddy himself scattered the ashes of a writer friend of his, up in Exochori.”

That was where I had just been walking, only higher. Next morning I started much earlier and with a water bottle. Fotis was already up and about when I passed his house.

“Exochori is my home village,” he said. “But what you see now is just old people up there. The old Maniati culture is gone. We used to grow silkworms and our mothers made all our underclothes from it. Can you believe it? We were peasants in the most remote part of Europe, but we wore silk.”

He tried to give me directions to the church, but it got so confusing that I just pretended to understand and resolved to ask along the way. As it happened, this was a useless strategy since the few old people I bumped into spoke no English, and my phrasebook was inexplicably silent on the important line, “Where are scattered the remains of the travel writer?”

In the end I came across a small white-washed shrine with a view of the sea. There was just room to enter, and inside a votive candle burned on a tray with some fresh flowers. A white dog appeared. I elected to call it the Chatwin Church. After a few minutes of contemplation I set off again, southwards past one of the war towers, a gorgeous forest monastery and finally the unspoilt hamlet of Castania, where the taverna owner marched me into the kitchen, pointed out the various dishes and then served a vast quantity of delicious food with a jug of rough wine. It took several strong coffees to get me moving again for the long tramp home.

Back in Kardamyli late that afternoon, Fotis was keen to hear of my walk, but he scoffed at my description of the Chatwin Church. “No, no! That is not it. Come on – I’ll take you there.”

“I’m a bit tired.”

“Good God, we’re not walking! In my car.”

Soon we were on a longer, twisting route. Fotis pointed out landmarks and patches of land that his family owned. I asked about his ancestors.

“The Mani was always where people came to hide,” he said. “Our family are said to have arrived when Byzantium fell to the Ottomans in 1453.”

“They came from Constantinople?”

He nodded. “Our family tradition is that we were clowns for the Byzantine emperor.” He smiled. “But I’ve no idea if that is true.”

He slowed the car down. “Look. This is where you turn off the main road, between the school and the cemetery.”

We pulled up in the shade of two pine trees then set off walking. We picked our way through some old stone houses, their walls overgrown with vines, their shutters closed.

“Holiday homes now,” said Fotis. “Exochori people working in Athens.”

Sunset above Kardamyli. Photograph: Kevin Rushby

Then we were on a grassy rill of land and I could see the church, a tiny Byzantine basilica, its rough stone walls and ancient pantiles crusted with lichens. Laid out before it was a wonderful tranquil panorama of the sea, its surface smooth as a sheet of silk. It was obvious why a traveller would want to come to rest here, overlooking the sea Homer’s heroes had sailed.

I stood there for a long time. Fotis was searching for the key to the church, normally left in a crack or niche, but there was no sign of it and we gave up. Back in the car, I asked Fotis to point out the house of Paddy Leigh Fermor and glimpsed a low pantiled roof almost submerged in trees on a crag next to the sea.

“Is there no way to see it?”

He shrugged. “It’s all shut up.”

“Is there a beach?”

“Yes – a tiny one.”

I memorised the spot. When Leigh Fermor came to the Mani he did some impressive wild swimming. To honour his adventurous spirit I felt I should swim around to his house and take a look. So next morning, before the heat of day, I entered the sea by the harbour and swam south down the rocky coast hunting for that tiny beach. I swam for what seemed a long time and had given up and turned back when I saw it: a little shingly beach with a single-storey house above. I swam closer until I could stand in the water.

It was a lovely place: deep verandas and stone walls under a pantile roof. Mosaics of pebbles had been made on a flight of steps. I called out but got no answer. The house was shuttered and quiet as though still in mourning. I waded up the beach and sat at the foot of the pebble path. I could see a colonnade with rooms off it, then a larger living room.

I thought of the years that Leigh Fermor had spent here: by all accounts he was a great host and storyteller. When I’d asked one old lady in the village if she had read any of his books, she’d laughed, “Why would any of us read his books? He told us all the stories himself!”

The last story had been that third volume of his epic walk across Europe, but he had never finished it, perhaps never would have. And now a great peace had descended on the place, a peace I didn’t want to disturb. I walked back down to the water and swam out into the bay. Without thinking, I found myself heading for the island of Meropi, the one that those youths had swum to. I would explore the ruins of that Venetian castle.

Order Paddy’s biographyPatrick Leigh Fermor:An Adventure by Artemis Cooper here.

Related article:

Chatwin and Paddy: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin

Patrick Leigh Fermor in Greece – a talk by Artemis Cooper

Paddy’s biographer and good friend, Artemis Cooper, will talk about his life in Greece at the Gannadius Library in Athens at 7.00 pm on 24 May 2012. 

Full details of the event can be found here.

Biographer Artemis Cooper, who is preparing a biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor, will trace his life, experiences, and legacy in Greece from his early travels to the end of his life, on 10 June 2011. She will talk about what drew Patrick Leigh Fermor to Greece in the first place; his ‘participation’ in the Venizelist rebellion of 1935; his early travels in Thrace and Macedonia, and first encounters with the Sarakatsani; his experiences in the war on the Albanian front and Crete, as well as the post-war explorations of Greece that produced Mani and Roumeli. She will also touch on the Cyprus years; his friendship with George Seferis, George Katsimbalis, and Nicos Hadjikyriacos Ghika; how he and his wife came to settle in Kardamyli, and built their house with the architect Nicos Hadjimichalis; how the Greek translation of Mani was undertaken by Tzannis Tzannatakis, while he was in exile in Kythera under the Junta of the Colonels. She will also reflect on his position in the village of Kardamyli and how he is seen in Greece today.

PS – I have been told that there will be a webcast available after the event. I will post the details when I have them.

Der letzte englische Gentleman

I have at last made a start on the book review section. This is an attempt to bring together as many online book reviews as I can find. Most are pretty formulaic, repetitive and dull, but in the quest to build as complete an on-line archive as possible it has to be done. 

This is my most recent addition, to add also to the content of the site which is in German. There is nothing startlingly new here I am afraid, but it is an opportunity to practice your German (if you have any!).

Copy and paste into Google Translate if you need to.

by Sven Boedecker

First published in the Sonntags Zeitung, 4 July 2010

Abenteurer, Kriegsheld und Künstler: Mit Patrick Leigh Fermor können wir ein Griechenland entdecken, das inzwischen verschwunden ist

Als Hitler kam, ist er gegangen. Wie ein mittelalterlicher Pilger ist er 1933 von London nach Konstantinopel gewandert, hat in Scheunen und Schlössern übernachtet. Da war er gerade mal achtzehn Jahre alt. Über diese Reise hat er Jahrzehnte später zwei Bücher voller Esprit, Wissen und Lebenslust geschrieben – «Die Zeit der Gaben» (1977) und «Zwischen Wäldern und Wasser» (1986) haben Patrick Leigh Fermor zur Schriftsteller-Legende gemacht.

Aber der Engländer kann mehr als nur gut schreiben, er vollbrachte auch Heldentaten, für die er bis heute in seiner Heimat wie in Griechenland verehrt wird. Denn als Soldat sprang er im Zweiten Weltkrieg über dem Nazi-besetzten Kreta mit dem Fallschirm ab, lebte dort verkleidet als Berghirte und organisierte den kretischen Widerstand. Und dann entführte er 1944 in einer Nacht-und-Nebel-Aktion einen General der deutschen Wehrmacht und schmuggelte ihn nach Libyen. Dieser Coup machte Leigh Fermor später sogar zum Leinwandhelden, gespielt von Dirk Bogarde. Continue reading

The troubled waters of the mind grow still and clear

Paddy in Greece photographed by Joan

Don’t you feel like me that with the passing of Paddy as one of the last of his generation we have clearly entered a new age dominated by uncertainty; a lack of confidence in the values we once held as unquestionably true? These beliefs that bound us (in the West?) together for the latter part of the twentieth century are now unravelling at an ever-increasing pace. As we enter the End Game of the economic crisis, and as the decade of The Forever War rumbles on like the noise of a busy road in the middle distance – there only when we take the trouble to notice – we suffer a dearth of leadership and heroes of substance. Paddy and those of his generation had no such crisis of confidence; they served without question. They sacrificed themselves for the things they believed in, and they provided the leadership, entrepreneurship, creativity, and wisdom that helped rebuild Europe after almost half a century of ethnic and social strife, and destructive war. Maybe they also share some blame for the way things turned out, but who will step up now?

In this considered profile, which prompted my rambling reflection, Paddy’s good friend Colin Thubron assesses his contribution, not as a warrior, but as a writer, and I think for the first time, reveals the torment of Paddy’s troubling writer’s block towards the end of his life.

by Colin Thubron

First published in the New York Review of Books, Volume 58, Number 14

When Patrick Leigh Fermor died in June at the age of ninety-six, it seemed as if an era had come to an end. He was the last of a generation of warrior–travel writers that included the Arabian explorer Wilfred Thesiger, the controversial mystic Laurens van der Post, and the indefatigable Norman Lewis of Naples ‘44. Among these, Leigh Fermor shines with the élan and the effortlessly cultured glow of an apparent golden age. A war hero of polymathic exuberance, brilliant linguistic skills, and an elephantine memory, he was sometimes fancifully compared to Lord Byron or Sir Philip Sydney.

Two pairs of books came to exemplify his achievement. The first pair—Mani (1958) and Roumeli (1966)—celebrated the Greece that held his abiding fascination and where he lived for forty-five years on a once-wild promontory in the Peloponnese. In Mani, especially, he described this backwater region as a world whose way of life had survived in a fierce and enchanted time warp.

The land he depicted is barely recognizable now—tourism, he observed, destroys the object it loves—but it was less the Greece of classical antiquity that beguiled him than the spirit and folk culture of the hinterland: the earthy, demotic Romiosyne that he once contrasted with the Hellenic ideal in a playful balance sheet of the country’s character.

In these, and in later books, the style was the man: robustly imaginative, cultivated without pedantry, unstoppably digressive, forgivably swanky, and filled with infectious learning. The impression—overflowing into elaborate footnotes and flights of learned fantasy—is one of omnivorous delight in the quirks and byways of history, art, language, genealogy, myth, song, superstition, costume, heraldry, and everything else that struck his fancy.

His literary models were Norman Douglas and Robert Byron, but his writing was more vivid than the one, more kindly than the other. Despite the richness of his prose (occasionally slipping into purple) he forged an illusion of intimacy with his readers, as if they were sharing his mind in the moment of writing. But in fact his manuscripts were worked, reworked, and reworked again with such painstaking perfectionism that his publisher (the benign Jock Murray) often had to reset his galley proofs wholesale. The apparently natural flow of words was in reality a densely worked choreography, which came at cost.

Fifteen years ago, swimming in the Ionian Sea beneath his home, where nobody could overhear us, Paddy (as friends and fans called him) suddenly confessed to me the writer’s block that would plague the rest of his life. The expectations of a now-avid public, and his own obsessive perfectionism, were taking their toll, and he could not overleap this cruel impediment.

I remember him strong into old age. He swam every morning, with a sturdy breaststroke far out to sea, the tattoo of a twin-tailed mermaid glistening on his shoulder. He still kept up a striding march in the Taygetus foothills, where he and his wife Joan had designed their own house above the ocean. It was a place of “mad splendor,” he wrote. Its sitting-room library—bookshelves banked nine feet high—opened onto a vista of cypresses and the Messenian Gulf, and was flagged with the greenish stone of Mount Pelion. In the afternoon Paddy would disappear into his study to confront—or escape—the demons of his failed writing, and would emerge to the liberation of ouzo or whiskey, generally to report some arcane piece of research—that the Huns wore stitched field-mouse skins, perhaps—or to share a passage of Ovid. We dined in the monastic half-cloister he had built beside his home, and once we visited the tiny, red-tiled Byzantine chapel where—five years before—he had buried the ashes of Bruce Chatwin.

The conflict between a natural gregariousness and the solitude of writing never quite resolved for him. In a short, intriguing study named A Time to Keep Silence (1953) he recorded his sojourn in three great French monasteries. He described this retreat not as a religious exercise, but as a need for a haven for writing, and the nature of its cleansing—”the troubled waters of the mind grow still and clear”—remains suspended like a question mark in the oeuvre of a man to whom self-revelation seemed indulgence.

The second pair of books, which established Paddy’s primacy among travel writers, must be among the most extraordinary ever written. In 1933, as a youth of eighteen, he left England for a journey that would take a year and a half. As “a thousand glistening umbrellas were tilted over a thousand bowler hats in Piccadilly,” he set out to walk to Constantinople (as he nostalgically called Istanbul). Walking stick in hand, a copy of Horace’s Odes in his rucksack, he pursued a meandering course up the Rhine and down the Danube, across the Great Hungarian Plain, into Romania and through the Balkans to Turkey.

It was almost forty-five years before he published the first part of this journey, and another nine years before the second. A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between the Woods and the Water (1986) represent prodigious feats of memory. They record the rite of passage of a precocious, exuberant young man as he encounters the peoples and languages of a Middle Europe now littered with obsolete names: Bohemia, Transylvania, Wallachia. His story must have become the dream journey of every enterprising and footloose adolescent.

Inevitably the accuracy of Paddy’s memory was questioned, and he was frank about occasional imaginative license and conflation. (His first diary was stolen in Munich, a solitary last one recovered years later in Romania.) Certainly his recall was extraordinary. I remember the first time we met (by chance), when he quoted verbatim from my first book passages that I had myself forgotten. A year before his death we chanted verses from the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám together in an antiphonal competition (which he won).

His urge to describe his epic journey more than forty years after its end was a deeply natural one. He was revisiting his youthful persona with the judgment and knowledge of maturity; yet in a sense he had remained unchanged. Despite his sophisticated learning, he retained an almost boyish innocence, as if the troubles of the modern age had bypassed him. In the Peloponnese, where he settled to live in the 1960s, he had remained in thrall to a more ancient, rooted culture than that of the urban West.

The final volume of his proposed trilogy—carrying its author through the Balkans and down the Black Sea coast to Turkey—became his tormenting and elusive project for the next quarter- century, and was never completed. Some near-finished version, however, survives him, and will eventually be published.

With his youthful trek done, Leigh Fermor’s career took off into near fable. Caught up in Greek unrest, he joined in a triumphal royalist cavalry charge against wilting Venizelist rebels. In Athens he fell in love with the artist Princess Balasha Cantacuzene, twelve years older than him, and lived with her in Moldavia for over two years, before World War II recalled him to London.

As a fluent Greek speaker he was recruited by the Intelligence Corps, and sent as a liaison officer with the Greek army first to Albania and finally to Crete, where he survived the brutal German invasion. For almost two years, while an officer in the Special Operations Executive, he lived disguised as a shepherd in the Cretan mountains, organizing the gathering of intelligence.

Then, in 1944, occurred the exploit that—more than any other—was to burnish him into legend. He and his fellow SOE officer Stanley Moss dreamed up a scheme of harebrained bravado. Dressed in stolen German uniforms, with a party of Cretan guerrillas, they ambushed the car of General Heinrich Kreipe, the German commander of occupied Crete, kidnapped him, and concealed him under the back seat. Moss took the wheel, Paddy donned the general’s cap, and together they drove through twenty-two checkpoints to emerge on the far side of Herakleion and march Kreipe for three weeks over the mountains, to be picked up by motor launch and taken to Egypt.

It was during this hazardous Cretan march, as the dawn broke over Mount Ida, mythical birthplace of Zeus, that the abducted general began to murmur a verse of Horace: Vides ut alta stet nive candidum/Soracte….1 It was an ode that Paddy knew by heart, and he completed the six stanzas to their end. “The general’s blue eyes had swivelled away from the mountain-top to mine,” Paddy later wrote,

—and when I’d finished, after a long silence, he said: “Ach so, Herr Major!” It was very strange. As though, for a long moment, the war had ceased to exist. We had both drunk at the same fountains long before; and things were different between us for the rest of our time together.

This precocious kidnapping was later reimagined in a lackluster movie named Ill Met by Moonlight (1957) with Dirk Bogarde playing Paddy. But there were other exploits too. Paddy had already engineered the defection of the Italian General Angelico Carta from Crete; and he was due to undertake a near-suicidal mission to Colditz when the war ended.

His upbeat account of these events was tempered by regret. He had planned that the abduction of Kreipe be bloodless, but his accompanying Cretan partisans slit the chauffeur’s throat, and rumors of grim German reprisals for the abduction have never quite died down. Above all, Paddy’s accidental shooting of one of his fellow guerrillas may have stained his memory of the whole period.

On June 16 Leigh Fermor was buried back in the English countryside, attended by an Intelligence Corps guard of honor, to lie beside his wife Joan, his dear comrade since 1946. This was, in a sense, fitting. For in certain ways he was exemplary of a wartime Englishness now almost gone, whose more dashing qualities merged seamlessly into the hardy stylishness of Greek leventéa.

To those who knew him, his books are hauntingly redolent of his sensibility. His conversation was irrepressibly warm and inventive far into old age, moving from arcane anecdotes to fanciful wordplay or bursting into polyglot song (sometimes singing the lyrics backward). His friends ranged from Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire—last of the six legendary Mitford sisters (his correspondence with her was published in 20082)—to early acquaintance with a raffish interwar bohemia and his own great predecessor, the travel writer and aesthete Robert Byron, whose borrowed rucksack he bore across Central Europe as a youth.

Almost the last time I met Paddy, he had returned home after an operation for suspected cancer, and I feared he would be depleted, his old zest gone. He was growing deaf, and he suffered from tunnel vision (which he called Simplonitis). For a while, sitting over lunch, he seemed subdued. Then something struck him. He perked up, and said: “You know, there is an apple lying on a table in the hall. It’s been there all weekend. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if it cocked a snook at Newton, and simply took off into the air!”

This was typical of his boyish resilience. In the field of travel he evoked both the youthful wanderer who discovers another world and the avid scholar who melds with it. His prose was too rich and elaborate to be a safe influence on others (although a few have tried); but he brought to the genre not only the distinction of his densely brilliant books, but his innate dignity, ebullient mind, and capacious heart.

  1. 1″See Mount Soracte white with snow….”
  2. 2The correspondence, In Tearing Haste , edited by Charlotte Mosley, was published in the US by New York Review Books (2010), which has also republished the other books by Patrick Leigh Fermor mentioned in this article, as well as The Traveller’s Tree .

Gone for a walk in Greece

“YOU had better look out if you are going up to Anavriti.” The familiar words sound wonderful when spoken aloud in this cavernous, haunted and as yet sunless gorge. I repeat them, savouring their powerful energy.

Suddenly, I picture the streets of “roasting Sparta” and the Greek barber who, encouraged by his colourful customers, issued the warning as he clipped the dusty hair of a man now regarded as one of the world’s finest travel writers.

The barber’s words subsequently provided the opening salvo of what many believe is the best book in English about Greece.

by Ian Robert Smith

First published in The Australian 30 July 2011

Published in 1958, Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese is a dense, erudite and hugely entertaining account of the author’s peregrinations in a region that, at the time, was remote, untamed and singularly archaic. Mani is also, more broadly, an affectionate portrait of a rural Greece where centuries-old customs were fast disappearing — “hammered to powder . . . between the butt of a Coca-Cola bottle and the Iron Curtain” — and for which today’s traveller hunts in vain.

I, too, am going up to Anavriti. And like Leigh Fermor when he came this way with his partner (later wife) Joan in the mid-1950s, I intend to use the village, perched on a spur of the Taygetos range, as a stepping stone into the Mani.

A battered copy of Leigh Fermor’s book resides in the top flap of my rucksack, both talisman and inspiration. Handily within reach in the side pocket is the Anavasi map of the region. Its bundled contours, crossed by the black-dotted lines of footpaths, reflect the momentous regions that await overhead.

Rich in myth and history, the Taygetos dominates the Spartan plain over which it looms like an impenetrable barrier. The northern foothills rise in the wilds of Arcadia. They shoot upwards into a vast, serrated ridge that culminates in the peak of Mt Profitis Ilias — at 2407m, the highest point in the Peloponnese — before dropping away through the Mani Peninsula.

Foothills clad in oak, hornbeam and black pine and daubed with villages buttress the eastern slopes. But the west is wild. Ancient gorges provide means of egress into this planetary world.

Some say this gorge is where the ancient Spartans left unwanted children to die. The rumble of plunging water resounds along its length.

In a large cave, a frescoed chapel, painted ox-blood red, crouches among icons and vases of the white Madonna lilies that grow wild on the slopes. Climbing further, past a sudden and terrifying drop, a curious sound wafts towards me; incoherent initially, it develops into an ethereal chanting that, echoing off the cliffs, sounds strange and beautiful in this wilderness. Bewilderment turns to rapt appreciation as I recognise the monks at Faneromeni Monastery, high above, conducting a Sunday morning service.

Beyond the monastery and a couple of antique threshing floors, Anavriti appears. Dwarfed by the glittering and snow-streaked Taygetos, several belfries and a cluster of stone houses adorn a hillside plumed with walnut, plane and cherry trees.

Not so long ago Anavriti had a thriving tanning and leather-goods industry and a population of several thousand. Nowadays, like most mountain villages in Greece, it is barely inhabited.

I amble along the main street, seeking wide balconies reached “by boxed-in staircases on wooden stilts”. In one such edifice, Leigh Fermor and Joan spent the night. Something similar faces a solitary taverna. Light-headed at finding myself in Anavriti at last, I lunch on spaghetti with rooster and abundant rose wine and, as a jovial crowd materialises, observe clouds thickening around the mountaintops. The taverna owner shrugs when I inquire what they portend, then asks, unhelpfully, whether I have a raincoat, before advising: “Go towards the good.”

This I attempt, only to become drenched, then unpleasantly steamed when the sun reappears, conjuring wondrous aromas from the glistening earth. The experience is chastening and, toiling upwards through fir forest, I conclude that following in the footsteps of literary legends can be tricky. Writing in Mani, Leigh Fermor gives fair warning.

“Feet became cannonballs,” he recounts, “loads turned to lead, hearts pounded, hands slipped on the handles of sticks and rivers of sweat streamed over burning faces and trickled into our mouths like brine.” I arrive, similarly challenged, at the author’s “unattractively alpine wall of mineral”.

It is the flank of Spanakaki Peak and also a crossroads. Intent on the Mani, Leigh Fermor bypassed Profitis Ilias and headed off to the right. Determined to tackle the summit, I veer left, up over a spur with a derelict sheepfold and across a meadow that, as thunder rumbles and rain buckets down, tilts vertically to the watershed. I reach this, hand-over-foot, but discover the view of the Messenian Gulf beyond obscured by thick mist breaking over the ridge.

Visibility shrinks to nothing as I’m engulfed, precipitating a tedious descent, followed by a forced march to the EOS refuge, where I meet a group from Athens who provide food, wine and spirited conversation. Occasionally the talk turns to Greece’s economic troubles and, predictably, as these are young people from the capital, nearly everyone has a sobering tale. They are related simply, without rancour and often with humour; but beneath the levity, disappointment and uncertainty are palpable.

The evening proves unexpectedly affecting and our farewells the next day, when I renew my assault on the summit, are heartfelt. I ascend through meadows thick with ferns, thyme and wildflowers, which give way to barren, stratified limestone, before an opening leads over the watershed. It might well be a door into another world.

Jagged pinnacles roll away to the north. Westward, rumpled slopes sundered by ravines plunge to the shores of the Messenian gulf. Silence reigns. Nothing moves except the clouds rolling across the peaks. I climb through them, tentatively over scree, on to a desolate platform scattered with stone huts and a roofless chapel dedicated to the prophet Elijah and crammed with icons, melted candles and votive offerings left by midsummer devotees.

The moment evokes a heady elation, tempered by disbelief that I am here, alone, atop the Peloponnese. Finally the sight of Kardamyli, fathoms below, reminds me it is time to catch up with Leigh Fermor. A headlong descent begins. Nightfall finds me in the Viros gorge. It is the ancient route to the coast: a massive, 14km-long canyon enclosed by fir-tufted cliffs and paved with boulders worn smooth by winter torrents, and not particularly restful.

Escaping next morning to Exochori, I locate a small chapel with a battered turret astride cicada-haunted olive terraces looking out to sea. In this lovely place, appropriate for a man who wrote so beautifully, the ashes of author Bruce Chatwin are scattered. I pause to pay my respects.

Kardamyli appears, its blond towers jutting above the sea. A cobbled path curls below the ancient acropolis. Nearby, adjacent to the reputed tombs of Castor and Pollux, I fall into conversation with a friendly English couple. Inevitably the name of Leigh Fermor comes up. We are speaking of the blood feuds in Mani when the woman says abruptly: “We’ve heard the funeral is on Thursday.”

Seeing my uncomprehending look, she adds, “You didn’t know? Paddy died last week.”

It was the day before I set out, ostensibly in his footsteps. The news fills me with sadness coupled with bewilderment at the workings of providence. I enter Kardamyli in a valedictory mood, passing through an arched gateway into a dusty square flanked by byzantine towers and a church.

In Mani, Leigh Fermor writes that Kardamyli was “unlike any village I had seen in Greece”. He and Joan loved it so much that they returned several years later and built a house in an olive grove.

Kardamyli remains laid-back and relatively unspoilt, with a long pebble beach, pretty stone houses, a small fishing harbour and friendly people. It is popular with trekkers who tackle the hinterland trails. But my walking days are over for now and my stay is marked by restlessness and an odd nostalgia. Each morning I swim to the wooded islet with the fortified wall and ruined chapel, a few hundred metres offshore. I scribble in cafes, drink with other travellers and dine out every night, once at Lelas, the waterfront taverna owned by the woman who was Leigh Fermor’s original housekeeper. Everyone, it seems, has a Paddy story to tell.

One morning, a strange impulse takes me. Just outside town, a path leaves the road and winds downhill through olive groves throbbing with cicadas. It continues, away from recent development higher up the slope, into a wilderness of trees and yellow grain fields where I pass a whitewashed chapel and, just beyond, a long stone wall, above which a mottled tile roof protrudes. Finally I come to a beach.

It lies just over the rocks, a hermetic cove enfolded by cliffs. A shiver sweeps through me when I realise: this is the place. Pushing through a wooden gate marked Private, I climb a stone staircase that zigzags up to a sprawling garden. Olive trees bestride ancient terraces.

The aromas of rosemary and cypress mingle in the hot, pulsating air. Paths of pebble mosaic thread between judiciously placed tables and benches of slate and a rambling house, built of golden stone, empty now, yet with the accumulations of a long and abundant life in place. An air of recent abandonment prevails. Leigh Fermor died in England.

Standing on the clifftop, beside one of those tables where so many delightful moments must have unfolded, I gaze out past the island to the distant peninsula, a smudge on the horizon. An age passes before I tear myself away.

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese was first published in 1958. The acclaimed war hero and travel writer died on June 10, aged 96.

Sir Wanderlust – Portrait von Patrick Leigh Fermor

Here are two more articles from Germany supplied to me by Christian Peters from Koln.

Sir Wanderlust vonWolf Reiser, first published in Travellers World

Travellersworld-Sir Wanderlust-1

Die Heimat der Nomaden, first published in Süddeutsche Zeitung

SZ-MANI-REISER