Nestled between the base of the Teygatos mountains and the foot of the Messinian Gulf in the Mani peninsula, a stunning region in the southern Peloponnese, is the picturesque seaside village of Kardamyli - one of the best kept secrets in Greece. A drive along the winding roads down from Kalamata into the village affords breathtaking views of bright orange, clay-tiled rooftops set dramatically against a backdrop of crystalline aqua-blue waters, wild olive groves, verdant rolling hills and, distant snowcapped mountains. With its secluded beaches, lush gardens, and picturesque harbor it is a quintessentially Greek village.
After a day of hiking in the surrounding hills and walking along the beach, the large veranda at Lela’s Taverna, where its namesake cooks all the food, seemed an ideal way to end the day. The sun was just beginning to dip over the Messinian Gulf as Lela showed us to our table.
We asked for a miso kilo krasi lefko, a half kilo of the house white wine. Lela smiled and nodded and left us to enjoy the stunning view as a soft, cool breeze carried bits of salty spray to where we sat, and large waves of foamy white water crashed against a stone wall at the edge of the veranda, each wave more forceful than the last, as a full moon began to rise in the dusky blue-grey sky. Lela returned with a carafe of golden wine, and a bowl of large, black Kalamata olives. Just as I popped one of the briny olives into my mouth, Lela’s husband Giorgos pulled up a chair and joined us.
As the three of us discussed life in Greece and politics in America, Lela began sending out dish after beautiful dish from her small kitchen. All locally sourced and served family-style, that night we feasted on tangy feta nestled in a pool of locally pressed olive oil and topped with dried oregano, crispy fried sardellas, piquant skordalia, local greens or horta boiled down and served simply with olive oil and lemon, and gemista, stuffed tomatoes and peppers. When we simply could eat no more, Lela brought out a plate of succulent Mani oranges, drizzled with local honey and a small bottle of tsipouro. As we reached for the orange slices, Lela poured the clear liquid into four glasses. And there, with our stomachs full, and our fingers sticky, we toasted stin yeia mas! To our health!