Sir Patrick ‘Paddy’ Fermor was nothing so pedestrian as a ‘travel writer’, whether he was falling in love with Romanian princesses on Continent-wide treks, capturing German generals in World War II or swimming the Hellespont aged 69, he lived a life of Byronic poetry and Indiana Jones-worthy adventure. His fantastical Patrick & Joan Leigh Fermor House, in the Peloponnese – the only place he loved enough to stay tethered to for long – reflects his extraordinary life with its party-ready terraces, lavish libraries, and hoiked-from-his-travels design touches. It’s now part museum, part writer’s retreat, and – for just three months a year – a stay like no other, where you can follow his sensational path, with a little less waywardness.
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A bottle of wine and a selection of local delicacies
Three residences with a total of five bedrooms (three in the Main House and one in each of the two guesthouses).
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £590.66 (€700), including tax at 13 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €0.50 per room per night on check-in.
Rates usually include breakfast. Guests can only stay at the house for 90 days a year; during this time there’s a seven-night minimum stay, and you'll have to pay a €500 security deposit.
It’s best to note that the Fermor’s bequeathment was to use the house to further the arts and nurture young creatives; its use as a hideaway is to fund these endeavours. So, in this spirit, the Benaki custodians still give the public access to the house in summer, on a guided tour at 11am on Monday mornings. You may even wish to join in to learn a little more about the house’s foibles. Say the cat pawprint mosaics inlaid in the sunset-watching pergola, a nod to Joan’s favourite animal, and the snake icons throughout the house, a nod to Patrick’s.
The house is open to guests in the summer months, from 1 June to 30 September.
At the hotel
Rocky beach, indoor and outdoor lounges. In rooms: Access to a shared pool, furnished alfresco terrace, library, artwork (some original), TVs, air-conditioning, free WiFi. The Traditional House has a kitchenette.
Our favourite rooms
Are you feeling gregarious? If so, book the Main House (or the whole estate), where the Fermor’s would often throw glamorous parties for the likes of Evelyn Waugh, Nancy Mitford, John Betjeman and – Fermor’s travel-writing mentee – Bruce Chatwin. It’s where they’d drink under the pergolas till the wee hours, taking long siesta the next day to ease the hangovers, and where Fermor would keep books to hand so he could jump up to answer any burning questions his guests had, if he wasn’t regaling them with poems and songs recited backwards in Hindustani or German. And, it’s a charming property, often dubbed the ‘most beautiful in Greece’. We’re not sure how his wife took the design choice, but the living room with its Moorish elements was inspired by the castle of a former Romanian princess paramour. We also rather like the scholarly cocoon that is the Traditional House, Fermor’s former writing room.
The pool is one of the new additions to the house, which – according to locals who knew the Fermors – sea-loving Paddy would have hated. But, we were rather taken with it, enshrouded with trees and fragrant plants as it is; an elegant strip of blue at the coastal cliff edge, a little prelude to the even more saturated hue of the sea below. And there’s a line of loungers where you can lay and fall madly in love with all around you.
Bookworms, no need to bulk up your bag with reading material or even download something new on the Kindle – this former writer’s house, which fledgling writers can retreat to to work on upcoming projects, has around 6,000 books crammed into every nook, in all three residences. These include Patrick Fermor’s lauded travel writings and the finished tomes of the house’s protégés.
The privacy exclusive use affords means this is an excellent family stay, and little ones will thrill at the secret gardens and nooks and crannies to explore.
Very little children will need to be watched by the pool and the beach stairs, but juniors and tweens will enjoy the freedom to roam the grounds.
For the utmost seclusion and to really feel like this is your own family villa, book the whole place; otherwise, one extra bed can be added to the Traditional House.
Play games of tennis or take yoga together, drive out to ruins to give them a lesson in ancient Grecian history and paddle about in the bay.
While the pool will be a hit with smalls, parents will need to keep an eye on lesser-confident swimmers.
Have a word with the house’s chef and we’re sure she’ll find something Maniot suitable for minis.
The Guest House and Traditional House terraces are both scented with lavender and rosemary and are sheltered by cypress and olive trees, so they’re all set for romantic meals. Or take tea in the sea-facing pergola.
Go down the bohemian writer route and swan about in a kimono.
To complete the illusion that you’re the master (or mistress) of a Grecian manor, you call the shots when it comes to dining – just give the chef some advance warning and she’ll whip you up traditional Maniot meals or take requests if there’s something you’re jonesing. And you can dine pretty much anywhere.
As with dining, drinking arrangements are laissez faire. You could swirl a glass of Peloponnese red while worrying over a manuscript in the study, wistfully mull over a martini while standing on the rocky shore, clink Grecian beers over a card game on the terrace… Any alcohol-based scenario you can dream up.
A snack menu runs from 11am to 4pm, but otherwise dining times are as you wish.
Of course you can dine in-room – it’s just like being at home, where the housekeeper will deliver meals from 8am to 10pm (with some notice). Yes, just like being at home.
The Patrick & Joan Leigh Fermor House was built in agrarian seclusion, just outside fishing village Kardamyli on Mani, the middle finger of the Peloponnese’s three southeastern prongs.
Kalamata International is the closest travel hub, about an hour’s drive away along the coast. Flights arrive direct here from many major cities throughout Europe, though flights from further afield will need a connecting flight. Alternatively, Athens airport services a wider range of flights and it’s a do-able three-and-a-half-hour drive away.
Patrick Fermor fell wildly in love with Mani, a peninsula that crests out into the clear-as-day waters of the Messenian Gulf, when he hiked the length of it to Sparta in the north. But, the man had stamina – enough to swim round an islet off his private beach each morning till he was 94 – so you may prefer zipping from ancient ruin to secluded cove in a hire car. And it’ll make it easier to explore the other treasures sprinkled out across the wilds of the Peloponnese. There’s private parking onsite.
A limited number of ferries arrive from nearby islands to the port at Gytheio, a two-hour drive away, and some arrive at Porto Heli, a three-and-a-half-hour drive away. But, if you are arriving by sea, you’re more likely to dock at Piraeus, which has strong links with the most famous of the isles, just over a three-hour drive away.
Worth getting out of bed for
Fermor described living in Mani as ‘the feeling of being lost in time and geography with months and years hazily sparkling ahead in a prospect of inconjecturable magic’ – in short, he was besotted with the place, and we’d bet our last Euro you’ll be equally enamoured by the time you leave. There’s plenty to see on the peninsula alone, from the mysterious Alepotrypa cave at its southernmost tip (believed to be a gate to Hades due to its use as an ancient burial ground), to Sparta in the far north. First take a trip into charming local village Kardamyli where there are pebbly beaches you can kayak off and historic churches to explore. From the village you could follow in Fermor’s intrepid footsteps and hike to Sparta, but you may want to skip the 13-hour slog and instead exert your energy on climbing Mount Taygetus. From the top you’re privy to a breathtaking panorama and you can stop into the well-preserved Byzantine town of Mystras, built on the slopes, which is still occupied by a small religious community. The hotel can help to arrange bike hire or send you on a tasting tour across the region – expect Maniot favourites such as squash flowers, charcuterie and diples (the area’s take on doughnuts). Float under chandeliers of stalactites in the atmospheric Caves of Diros, or ask the hotel to book you a boat to sail out into the blue-green waters of Kardamyli and Stoupa bays. Back at the house, follow the winding steps that lead off from the main villa down to a rocky beach – while it’s a little hard to flop on, the crystalline waters are just right for a refreshing dip. There’s a large rock dubbed ‘Geronimo’ because guests were fond of leaping from it into the sea – do so with caution. For a sandy shore, head to Stoupa or Skoutari which has a trio of beaches to choose from. A day trip to Sparta is a must for its many archaeological intrigues (amphitheatres, monasteries, tombs), buff statues, gallery and traditional olive-oil factory. Or you could waft around the house as if you own it – with a tennis court close by, thousands of books to read and yoga lessons on request, you won’t get bored. Even just sitting on Joan’s mosaicked sunken outdoor lounge, glass of Assyrtiko in hand, is a very acceptable way to pass the time.
The Fermor’s made quite the impression on their locality, so much so that they’ve unwittingly spurred on Kardamyli’s dining scene (in a roundabout way). Seafront restaurant Lela’s was started by their former chef (now run by her son) and serves traditional Maniot fare made with ingredients from the olive-oil factory next door, Mount Taygetus and Kalamata’s vegetable market. Start with zucchini pies and smoked aubergine dip, then try the Greek salad with capers picked from the shore, and move on to Lela’s renowned moussaka. And, the owner of rustic open-air restaurant Elies grew up in their Guest House when it was the housekeeper’s cottage. Here you can dine in an olive grove, brightened by blobs of red geranium blooms, on colourful and flavourful Mediterranean dishes, many made using their homegrown vegetables. The lemony lamb is a favourite.
You can’t come to Greece and not have yoghurt, but in the heat of the day the frozen option is much more alluring. Lola has a variety of flavours and toppings (try the sour cherries) and some vegan options, plus intensely flavoured fruit sorbets. Once you’ve made your choice take it to their picturesque garden to devour – you may even meet their pet George the tortoise.
1866 Beer Bar does indeed serve the sudsy stuff, but it’s also known for its shots – and as a result, it’s lively late-night banter. And for something more sophisticated, Aquarella is all about the alfresco high-life. A coffee shop by day, come evening it serves wines, locally brewed beers and craft cocktails on a terrace bedecked with flowers overlooking the sea.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this covetable timepiece of a house in laidback Mani and regaled you with their scandalous travel anecdotes, a full account of their come-to-a-stop break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside the Patrick & Joan Leigh Fermor House in the Peloponnese…
Sir Patrick ‘Paddy’ Leigh Fermor was a Renaissance man whose life unfolded as a Byronic epic. He was expelled from school for holding hands with a shopkeeper’s daughter; spent his 20s walking from the Netherlands to Constantinople, falling in love with a Romanian princess along the way; was decorated during World War II for his part in the capture of a German general as part of the Cretan Resistance; he was a scholar of languages, so much so that when Dirk Bogarde played his wartime self in Ill Met by Moonlight, he dubbed the actor into Greek himself, and would often entertain dinner guests with songs sung backwards in foreign tongues; Somerset Maugham tossed him out of his Cap Ferrat villa when he arrived with five steamer trunks, assuming an indefinite stay; and he swam the Hellespont aged 69. And that just scratches the surface of the wanderlusting romp that was his life. You can’t expect such a rogue-ish sort, who would frequently entertain the likes of John Betjeman, Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh, to live in a basic two-up, two-down. And so, he built the Patrick & Joan Leigh Fermor House (sometimes literally, hauling huge hunks of stone with the local masons), by a sleepy fishing village in his beloved Mani Peninsula, paid for by his wife Joan’s heirloom jewellery. With its medieval-cloister-style walkways (Fermont spent time in a monastery); gardens of cypress and olive trees, oleander and wildflowers; mosaicked alfresco lounges; direct access to a rocky beach and clear Messenian waters; and books, books, everywhere, it was a home befitting his mighty character – and that of his photographer wife’s, whose one request was that she could watch the sunset. It’s the dream: a house with adventure built into it, ready-made for elegant soirées that ride late into the night, and yet, an intimate peaceful home with lived-in comfort. When Fermont, active till his twilight years, passed on, he bequeathed it to Athens’ Benaki Museum, so that a new generation of creatives could come, stay and be inspired; and for three months of the year, in summer, you can do the same. Choose between three charming villas, or book the whole thing out, then swagger through the vestiges of a life well and truly lived, in a place with a lot of living left to offer.
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