The Mani Peninsula is a land of olives and honey squeezed between the steep slopes of the Taygetos mountains and rocky coastline. The limestone landscape is dry and unyielding yet after the winter rains spring brings a rich and colourful flora.
After an unusually harsh winter, the February sun warms the day but the nights remain cool; the roads and tavernas in the small fishing villages are empty except for locals. At one seaside restaurant, octopus tentacles are pegged out on a line to dry. Plumes of smoke from bonfires appear within the swathe of olive trees as pruning and clearing the vegetation around the trunks continues. Builders work to complete new villas, which increasingly pepper the olive groves and inch round the coast. The tower design reflects a violent past where every home was a castle. Most stand empty with shutters drawn waiting for Easter and the arrival of planes at Kalamata airport just up the road.
Here near Agios Nikolaos, the sun finally climbs over the Taygetos mountains an hour after dawn; with a heavy dew on the ground the olive groves are full of blackcaps that ‘tak’ and churr; great and blue tits forage and call, buntings rattle and greenfinches wheeze from the tops of cypress trees. House sparrows add to the morning chorus. There are also black redstarts around the houses and pairs of elegant grey wagtails walk the narrow roads.
The flora includes white blankets of Greek chamomile under the olives, also bright yellow banks of Bermuda buttercups and pink rocket; giant orchids are just that and blue Algerian irises and bright red and mauve peacock anemones bring startling colours to the olive groves and grass banks.