Saturday is market day in Areopolis and the fruit and vegetable stalls at the back of the car park are busy. One woman sniffs the proffered jars of Mani honey as though they were fine wine. A white van at the entrance displays wire crates full of live chickens, ducks and rabbits.
In the large square at the centre of town, the sunshine brings people to the cafes after the morning rain and the chairs that are in the open are given a quick wipe down with a cloth. There are only a handful of tourists but the air is one of expectation; the busy summer season is now almost within touching distance. A candidate for the mayoral election in smart dark suit and black shirt and large entourage shakes hands and has a quiet word with some of those having their morning coffee. Leaflets and smiles are handed out. The election is not for some months but clearly there is no harm in getting in early.
Near Lagkada, on the ridge above Neo Itilo and again at Gerolimnas, the maquis and abandoned olive groves are filled with the sound of calling short-toed eagles; pairs quarter the ground beneath the sheer limestone mountains and hang motionless on the onshore wind above the ridges beyond the coastal fringe; sometimes the male holds his short tail up with wings outstretched in a display of his flying prowess. One is chased by a frantic buzzard half the size but the eagle outflies it easily There are perhaps four or five short-toed eagle territories on the western flank of the peninsula between Agios Nikolaos and Gerolimnas. Pairs have been arriving since 1st April and now dominate the sky when the sun shines; these birds hunt snakes and lizards, so the hot weather is important.
Near Lagkada on a high cliff, a raven energetically chases off an immature golden eagle but breeding pairs seem absent here, perhaps there is insufficient prey or they are poisoned by shepherds protecting their flocks from stray dogs and jackals. There are now black-eared wheatears, woodchat shrikes and nightingales settling in; pied flycatchers, redstarts, whinchats, northern wheatears and wood warblers are all moving through. As dusk falls, scops and little owls take to the telegraph poles.
The architecture of the Deep Mani is unique; stark stone towers sit on hill tops and within the villages that hug the edge of the escarpments presumably where springs are located; isolated stone towers merge into the bare limestone hills and increasingly spare vegetation. This is an isolated land where the population has steadily departed over the past 50 years; the silence of the villages, the closed shutters and crumbling houses, is uncomfortably balanced by the richness and industry of the wildlife.
At the peninsula end, there is a walk across a coastal heath of flowering white cistus and other short maquis shrubs to the old, redundant lighthouse at the southern tip of mainland Europe. Close to shore, brilliant white yachts sail east round the cape to find safe anchor in one of the sheltered bays on the other side of the peninsula and further out, huge, black oil tankers and other merchant vessels inch north west, heading to the port of Kalamata.