GREECE AND QUIET... as the Beaches Clear and Tavernas Empty, PAUL MANSFIELD Goes on an Odyssey in Search of the Best of Authentic Greece

Article excerpt

Byline: PAUL MANSFIELD

FOLEGANDROS

FOLEGANDROS is everyone's idea of a classic Cycladean island: stark brown hills, a tiny harbour and a hilltop village of white-painted houses.

This houses a medieval quarter of tangled, narrow streets designed to confuse marauding pirates, and below it, three connecting, picture-postcard squares shaded by plane and fig trees.

With no airport, Folegandros is a tenhour ferry trip from Athens, enough to deter most casual visitors, but tourist standards are surprisingly high.

The village has a handful of good hotels and tavernas, and one or two art galleries among the usual mini-markets.

I Piatsa is the best place to eat, with a raised stone terrace overlooking the main square, and simple but fresh island staples such as pastitsio (pasta and aubergine bake) and saganaki (fried cheese).

A twisting road leads through hills covered in barley to the second village of Ano Meria, where tractors rumble through the streets and black- clad elderly women sit on doorsteps.

At nearby Angali, the local bus drops you at the top of a half-mile descent to a pristine beach with two rough-andready tavernas; you can catch a donkey ride back up.

Further north, take one of the dirt roads spinning down to the sea and chances are you'll have a tiny pebble bay such as Ambeli or Livadaki to yourself.

This sense of rugged seclusion is Folegandros's main appeal.

DON'T MISS: The dazzling white cliff-top church of the Panagia; Angali beach.

GETTING THERE: Hidden Greece (020 8758 4707; hiddengreece.co.uk) has seven night stays at the Anemomilos Apartments from [pounds sterling]570pp B&B, including international and domestic flights via Santorini.

Small ferry charge payable locally.

THE MANI

AT CAPE Tenaro, at the southern tip of the Mani peninsula in the Peloponnese, a windblasted lighthouse looks out over choppy seas.

The ancient Greeks thought this was the entrance to the underworld. But then the Mani is a dramatic, mythological place - a land of jagged mountains and fiercely independent people, its landscape dotted with fortress-like tower houses, built as protection against the elements and outsiders.

Blood feuds were common here until about 100 years ago.

Male children were known as 'guns'.

Happily, these days the Mani is best-known for its oldfashioned but hospitable way of life, and is becoming a favourite with adventurous travellers.

The best way to explore is by car, along the network of excellent roads.

Areopolis, the capital, resembles a Mexican pueblo, with low, white houses ringed by scrubby hills. Old buses lumber in from the north and pull up in a blast of air brakes. From here roads spiral down to the coast.

At the village of Yerolimenas a horseshoe harbour huddles under the mountains as if for protection. Fishing boats chug out from here but most of the food in its tavernas comes from the mountains like stifado (rabbit stew) and horta (greens soaked in olive oil).

Wine is served from the barrel, and it's not unusual for visitors to be offered a jug on the house. In this part of Greece the word for 'stranger' is the same as guest.

DON'T MISS: Cape Tenaro; the caves at Pyrgos Dhirou.

GETTING THERE: Filoxenia (01653 617755; filoxenia.co.uk) has four nights at the boutique Hotel Yerolimenas and three nights at the hotel Porto Vitylo for [pounds sterling]387 pp, including flights via Kalamata and car hire.

THE PELION

DRIVING up from Volos in central Greece, the road to Pelion rises up through a rolling landscape thick with beech and oak trees, so lush and thick it could almost be Wales.

The similarity soon fades though as the road climbs ever higher, passing villages of stone mansions with slate roofs and overhanging balconies.

The countryside seems almost Alpine. …