Showing posts with label Mani. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mani. Show all posts

Friday, June 28, 2019

Patrick Leigh Fermor: Visiting 'Paddy's' Place

For years we've been waiting to visit 'that' house
 Paddy's House, . . .it's just up the road in Kalamitsi. 

We'd heard and read so much about him

And, after all. . .he's the one who got us here.

Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor's home near Kardamyli July 2018

Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, war hero and adventurer, considered by some to be the most notable travel writer of the 20th century, is known simply as Paddy or Michalis around here.  The Englishman and his wife, Joan, were early-on expats, having lived for decades in the home they designed and built in the early 1960's just outside the village of Kardamyli. 

Sir Patrick was Knighted in 2004 for his services to literature and to Greek-British relationships. In 2007 the Greek government named him a Knight of the Order of the Phoenix, its highest honor. Around here the titles don't matter; Paddy is remembered for being Paddy.

We think of him as the guy who introduced us to The Mani. . .

The 'highway' we first traveled into the Inner Mani 

The Back Story. . .

Paddy and Joan's lives have been chronicled by many a writer and the two are immensely well-known on this side of the Atlantic. Perhaps our favorite tales were written in, News from the Village, Aegean friends, a memoir by American poet David Mason, who for a time in the 1980's lived next-door to the Fermor's compound. His book brought to life the area's villages while recounting his life-long friendship with the couple.

Stoupa as it was when Fermor arrived in the 1950's and as it looks today.

It was a well more than a half dozen years ago that we read David's book and subsequently Paddy's, Mani, Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, (published in 1958). Paddy's book chronicles his first trip to the Mani, back when it was a decidedly undeveloped and remote place (just check that 1955 photo of our present-day tourist magnet, Stoupa). He came to the Mani on foot, having climbed up and over the Taygetos Mountain range to get here. 

The two books were all it took to convince us that we needed to visit this still unspoiled and rugged place on the Greek Peloponnese ourselves.

Patio at the Fermor house

Our first visit  to the Mani - Kardamyli, Stoupa, Agios Nikolaos -- in 2012 was a year after Paddy's death in England at the age of 96. Joan had predeceased him in 2003 at age 91. The two had met in wartime Cairo in the 1950's, then traveled together, and finally made their home in a picturesque seaside setting in an area called Kalamitsi, just outside Kardamyli. 

Our slice of The Mani-- The mountains Fermor crossed

Back when we first visited The Mani the idea to live in Greece wasn't a serious consideration of ours. But we were soon caught up in the area's spell. We just kept coming back. And, the fact that we ended up living so close to where they both lived, is one of those goosepimple-kind-of-coincidences that life randomly tosses at you.

Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor Center

Hallway at the Fermor house.

The Fermor's bequeathed their home to the Benaki Museum in Athens with a stipulation that it be used as a retreat center for scholars and intellectuals, (loosely defined as writers, researchers, artists, poets, etc.).  

A place to curl up with a good book off the house's great room

When it opens this fall it will  be known as the Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor Center. Although I suspect with so many in the village who still remember the unassuming couple, that around here it will continue to be thought of as 'the place Paddy and Joan lived'.

Garden restoration underway

The Center will serve as a retreat, be the site of events and also welcome the public in set tours. In order to generate funds for on-going maintenance and upkeep, the museum will rent the house for three months each year. A partnership with Aria Hotels will make that happen.

Main floor bedroom lit with morning sun

Beginning June 1, 2020 the three-bedroom house with a separate studio (once Paddy's writing studio) and another one-bedroom cottage (once occupied by his housekeeper, Lela, and her family) will be available for rent. Guests can rent the entire complex or just a room.

I did a quick check for a one-night stay for two persons next summer and found prices were 280-, 400- and 480- euro for a room, depending on the date selected. I didn't find the cost of renting the entire complex. (Several weeks are already booked.)

Visiting Paddy's House

Entryway at the Fermor house

I've been monitoring the process of turning the house into a retreat center for at least two years. Each time I'd think I could visit some rehabilitation project was slated and the house closed up again.

It appeared earlier this year that the house would be finished and open for tours in mid-June. Again that official opening has been delayed but is far enough along that the Museum is honoring requests for public tours. (Limited times and days because it is still under construction and empty.) 

Entry way and art work

Admittedly from the stories we've heard about their hospitality, it would have been far more fun to have been a dinner or lunch guest of Paddy and Joan's but visiting Paddy's house last week was a pretty special experience.  I had goosepimples walking through the massive entry.

Workers completing The Great Room renovations

While a backhoe clattered away in the lower gardens, a woman mopped the kitchen floor and workers concentrated on completing the living room - the small group of about a dozen of us were set loose to explore the house.

Gardens filled with herbs, oleander, cypress (kiparrisi) and fir trees

It was a perfect time to imagine how it must have been back in the day that these two opened their doors and welcomed guests.  One account reported that this twosome would plan their discussion topics for the evening in advance, so that there would never be a lull in the conversation.

Can you imagine sitting around this table with Paddy and Joan?

Writer Artemis Cooper, a frequent guest, and author of the 2012 book, Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, recalled her first visit as being on a calm night with a million stars and six people at the table:

'What did we discuss that night?' she says. 
'I don't remember anything but the velvet night, the sound of the sea, the faces 
in the candlelight, the laughter and the voices - 
and the thought that nothing could be better than that moment.'

One of many patio seating areas at Paddy's house

And in Fermor also wrote of those gatherings that stretched long into the night:

'These summer nights are short,' he  wrote.
 'Going to bed before midnight is unthinkable and talk, wine, moonlight and the warm air 
are often in league to defer it one, two or three hours more.'

Open corridor between rooms had garden and sea views

The Fermor's L-shaped  main house is built on two-levels. Bedrooms, a kitchen and the grand room all open off an open stone corridor. Another bedroom is on the lower level. I could imagine houseguests waking  to morning sunlight streaming through the windows, later sipping coffee in the patio, perhaps taking a dip in the water just a stairway away.

Fermor's stairway to the sea

Many of those guests recall with amazement the many books in the home. One writer who toured the home estimated some 5,000 books were tucked away on built in book shelves.

'. . .dictionaries, lexicons, encyclopedias, special editions, Oxford companions, anthologies based on birds, beasts, fishes and stars in the immense libraries -- 
even the bathrooms had bookshelves. . .' he wrote.  

Cartons of books waiting to be re-shelved 

So, even though the bookshelves were bare when we toured, the mountains of boxes stacked in each room led us to speculate the books would soon be back on the shelves.  

Paddy's writing studio 

We followed our tour guide -- a woman who had worked for the Fermor's -- through the sprawling gardens and to his writing studio. It was here he wrote several of his books. His desk  to the right of the group in the photo above, seemed a shrine to the great man. The guide asked that no photos be taken of it (although all of us had photographed the room with it in it). 

The writing studio 

Our tour ended at Lela's House, at the back of the main house. Lela was a long-time housekeeper and cook.  We did have the good fortune to see her before she passed away. She opened Lela's Restaurant on the waterfront in Kardamyli after leaving the Fermor house. Even when she became too old to work in it, she sat 'guard-like' outside her eatery keeping an eye on all preparations and the comings and goings of customers.

Kalamitsi, lower right, and Kardamyli, upper right

After our tour we joined our friends for coffee in Kardamyli, I couldn't help but think of a passage Fermor wrote about the village in his Mani book:

'The Guide Bleu only spares it a half a line, 
mentioning little beyond the existence of its four hundred and ninety inhabitants.  
It is better so. It is too inaccessible and there is too little to do there, fortunately, 
for it ever to be endangered by tourism.'

The village was packed with people that morning, we had to search for parking.  Tourist season has begun.  And I chuckled wondering if Paddy ever imagined as he left his home to the Museum that his place would one day bring even more tourists to the village.

For those coming this way and who want to take part in a tour,contact:

If you want to book a hotel stay there: 

Thanks for joining us on a trip just down the road and back in time today. As always, we appreciate the time you spend with us.  Wishing safe travels to you and yours until we are together again next week.  A special thanks to those of you who've been sharing our posts with friends ~ it is the best compliment a writer can get!

Sorry about the type size changes throughout the text. Google Blogger is about to drive me to drink. . .or find a new blog platform. . .changes are coming!

Linking this week with:

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Greece: ‘That’ Stone House ~ Dwelling in Possibility

‘Dwell in Possibility’
                          -Emily Dickenson
Taygetos Mountains - Peloponnese, Greece

Our trip to Greece last spring had a two-fold purpose: one was the enjoyment of revisiting as much of this vast country as our time allowed and the other was to pursue a daydream – to search for ‘that’ stone house.

I wrote a post as our search began that seemed to strike a chord with those of you who suffer from wanderlust and “possibility” as we do. Many wrote and told us our tale had made you laugh –others sent words of encouragement to continue the search; the one started by following a couple of Albanians – one a home builder – up into an olive grove until our little rental car could go no further.


Our search did continue. We set off on our own – sometimes ending up in the most interesting places, usually near and sometimes in an olive grove. Often times not finding a house but always having an adventure, like the day we came face-to-face with this cow.  You know the thought going through her mind, “OMG! What are those crazed tourists doing here?!”

PicMonkey Collage
Homes we visited in the Peloponnese - 'The Scout' at work
We also spent two days of our time in The Mani, as this area of the Peloponnese is known, with two realtors – a valuable time in which we learned much about Greek homes and the area. One fellow was most congenial and the other seemed exasperated with the task of showing homes from the moment we met. At the end of a day spent parading through occupied homes and looking at construction shells – none of which caught our eye – Mr. Exasperated asked, “Just what do you want in a home?!?”  I snapped back, “I don’t know but I will know it when I see it. . .and I haven’t seen it!” (Daydreams can be difficult to articulate but you know them when you see them!)

Street Scene near Kalamata Municipal Market
While out exploring the normal tourist routes we added visits to grocery and hardware stores. . .just in case we should wake from the daydream and decide we really were going to buy a home. On Market Day we drove to the area’s largest city, Kalamata, (yes, those olives are grown here)  and shopped at its huge municipal market, making notes of the plant vendors along the route. We visited furniture stores. . .again, just in case.  These outings were fun and certainly added a different feel to the area than our normal tourist outings would have done.


We spent more than a week exploring this part of the country following looping roads to, and through, small mountain villages or to the beaches that dot the coastline. At the end of each day we retreated to our hotel, sipped wine at sunset and pondered buying a home. There were pluses and minuses and we probably exhausted them all on those quiet hours watching the day come to a close. ‘Were we too old?’ ‘Did we have another adventure left in us?’ (We did own homes in Mexico for 15 years – but then that was back some years ago. . .)


We didn’t fret about things like is there health care available and whether people spoke English here (those are questions we’ve been asked since we returned home – the answer is ‘yes’, to both in case you are wondering).
Our concern was the impact such a purchase would have on our current travel life – Would it open new avenues of adventure or limit our travels?
We also discussed the logistics and requirements. We’d learned that buying a home in a foreign country requires a few more steps than forking over a deposit  – in Greece a ‘stranger’ (as they call foreigners) must have a Greek bank account and have a Greek tax ID number.  Both of those were steps we could take just in case . . .but in the end, we didn’t.

A Map in the Lap and my travel journal - necessities of a road trip
Our days in The Mani came to an end. We headed north, looping our way back to the Athens airport where we returned the car and hopped a plane to Crete, then island-hopped our way back through the Cycladic islands and then back to Istanbul and home. We’d kept our eyes open to home possibilities in each of the Greek areas we visited.

We had at least moved those daydreams to possibilities. . .we could now 'dwell in possibility'. . .


As you might have guessed this story’s ending hasn’t yet been written. Although, we’ve finally answered those questions we pondered so regularly at sunset. I’ll tell you the answers and, perhaps, the ending of this daydream in a future post. Stay tuned. . . 

Thanks for the time you’ve spent with us today!

Linking up with:
Travel Photo Thursday
Weekend Travel Inspiration
Travel Photo Monday


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