In the village of Kita residents are outnumbered by both these beasts and what remain of its buildings: tumbledown megalithic structures hewn out of vast stone boulders. I may not have trekked days through the parched Taygetus Mountains to reach Kita but pulling up here after a long drive through yawning, shadowy valleys feels very much like arriving in the Mani immortalised in the eponymous Patrick Leigh Fermor 1950s travelogue.
The Mani Peninsula is truly a Greece that time forgot . The exodus of young families from Kita began way before the current economic crisis; for decades its 18th-century buildings have been left to nature. It's a glorious, organic wreck of a place within which stands a hotel that is surely a contender for being the greatest labour of love in a region that has its fair share of rescued ruins. The building's Ottoman-era towers have been home to the Greek Royal Gendarmerie, the German army during the Second World War and, since it opened as a hotel in 2011, savvy tourists who come here for hiking, biking and sun-baked solitude. The Peloponnese can't claim the postcard-perfect sandy beaches of the islands but Kita is 10 minutes' drive from some of its best, Gerolimenas and Marmari. Run by the Sepsas family, the hotel centres around a large, leafy courtyard where home-cooked, hearty meals are served and wine tastings can be arranged. They are led by the very personable Panagiotis, son of Illias, the civil engineer who initiated the extensive renovations of what was the family's house.
The story behind the restoration involves an exhausting battle to get permission (the building is a designated ancient monument), all the while having the confidence to believe in a destination where passing trade is scarce, to say the least. But it's worth the journey. Furnishings are as homely as the cooking, and the atmosphere is one of pure retreat. Choose a bottle from the cellar (home to some 400 mainly Greek labels), and sit back in the courtyard to hear the family tell legends of warring villagechieftains.
In the deepest western reaches of the Deep (or “Mesa”) Mani, the southern tip of the Peloponnese. The seaside city of Kalamata and its airport are a couple of hours' drive, while the restaurants and churches of Areopoli are 20 minutes by car, as are the caves of Diros. Athens is four to five hours' drive away.All seven rooms are en-suite, with aGuyLaroche bed linen, plus free wi-fi and satellite TVs. All rooms have terracotta tiled or wooden floors and dramatic, exposed stone walls with engravings and paintings by Greek artists.