Gythion and Kranai islet
The place where the two gods (Apollo and Hercules) settled their differences was named “Gy Theon” (Land of Gods) which later gave rise to the name Gythio.
According to tradition, in Kranai islet beautiful Helen and Paris stayed the night before returning to Troy.
Two life-size statues on the quayside – one of a jaunty-tailed mermaid and one of a sailor in baggy trousers shading his eyes and gazing out to sea – are the first things you’ll spot as your tender noses its way into the harbor at Gythion. And their jolliness seems to encapsulate the spirit of the place.
Stroll around Gythion, and this joie de vivre is evident everywhere – in the higgledy-piggledy of the pastel-tinted houses, which jumble their way up the foothills of Mount Koumaros, and the crooked whitewashed staircases that snake their way between them; in the purple bougainvillea climbing past shutters and tumbling over wrought-iron balconies brightly painted in nautical shades of deep blue and green; in the gaily checked tablecloths of the restaurants that line the waterfront…….
Gythio is also a delightful spot with its wide harbour and fine selection of fish tavernas, some still indulging in the old habit of hanging their octopus out to dry on a nearby line.
Gythio is located at the center of the Laconian Gulf in East Mani.
It is said that the founder of the town is not a mortal person; Hercules and Apollo argued over the tripod and after their reconciliation, they co-inhabited this town. At the town market one can find their statues, Dionysus’ and Carneios Apollo’s statues, Ammon’s sanctum and Blind Aesculapius’ copper statue as well as Demeter’s and Poseidon’s sanctums.
Legend has it that the tiny island of Cranae was the island on which Paris spent his first night with Helen of Troy. With its 19th-century lighthouse; pine-scented, gecko-haunted woodland; whitewashed, red-roofed chapelchapel of Agios Petros; and stunning views of the sea, it certainly has an air of romance – in spite of the two comically scruffy but very tame ducks who greet you on arrival. To get there, walk left from the marina, around the bay and across the causeway.
Gythion has some beaches within walking distance – or a short taxi ride – from the tender drop-off. The largest beach in the area is Mavrovouni, which lies near a village of the same name, around two kilometres south of Gythion. It’s a pebbly beach, so if you’re looking for sandier terrain, try Selinitsa Beach. It’s even closer to the port, about one kilometer away.
If you’re interested in history, look out for the ancient amphitheater that lies 200 meters along the coast road from the main square (head right from the harbor). It’s not madly exciting — just the usual semicircle of stone seats, but part of an ancient Agora was discovered close by. More details of excavations and the history of the Mani region are contained in the Gythion Historical and Ethnological Museum, which is housed in the Tzanetakis Tower on Cranae (open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.).
Also worth visiting are the chapel of Agios Petros and the octagonal lighthouse of 22 m height, built in 1873 of tenarian marble.
A little island called “Kranai” and connected with the mainlaind by a short dam, protects the port of Gythio town from the open sea. It is a beautiful place with pine-trees and an ideal view-point to overlook the gulf towards the Parnon mountain range in the east and Taygetos in the north-west. As it is reported by Homer, the island was the first refuge of Helen and Paris on their journey to Troy. According to the myth, Paris forgot his helmet on the islet as he was leaving – hence its name, since in Greek a helmet is calle “kranos”.
An interesting site on Kranai is the restored Tzannetakis Tower, a Maniot fortress-residence belonging to the Tzannetakis-Grigorakis families.
It was donated to the state and currently houses the History and Ethnology Museum of Mani.
As Gythion is not a particularly tourist-oriented place, these are the only shore excursions typically on offer in this port:
Best for natural beauty (and spookiness!) is the Diros Caves tour (four hours).
Best for history lovers is the “Last Byzantine Stronghold” tour to Mystras (four hours).
Best for active travellers is the walking tour of Sparta (three hours).