Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

When Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor settled at Kalamitsi in the Peloponnese, their home became a creative magnet as writers and artists made the journey along dusty roads to spend time with the Leigh Fermors. Duncan JD Smith reports on a recent visit to the one-time home of the couple.

article summary —

Patrick Leigh Fermor rarely stayed long in one place. The fêted travel writer had no fixed abode until he turned fifty. By then an avowed philhellene, he settled with his photographer wife Joan on the edge of the Mani, the rugged middle finger of the Greek Peloponnese. There at a place called Kalamitsi they designed and built a home. Lauded as being among the most beautiful in all Greece, it serves today as a scholarly retreat and summer holiday residence.

History of adventure

By the time the Leigh Fermors moved to Kalamitsi, Patrick (known to all as Paddy) had a long history of adventure. Born in London in 1915, he was wayward during his school years in Canterbury, but showed a penchant for classical literature. At the age of 18, already sure he wanted to be a writer, he packed a rucksack and set off from London to walk to Istanbul. His experiences along the way eventually furnished the material for a trilogy of books on which his literary reputation rests.

After Istanbul, Paddy pressed on into Greece, where his affection for the country blossomed. Later, during the Second World War, his command of Greek saw him parachuted into Crete to help with the resistance. The Cretans’ love for Paddy after he helped kidnap German General Heinrich Kreipe made him a local celebrity. Thereafter he continued his peripatetic existence, accompanied this time by new love Joan Rayner (née Eyres Monsell) whom he met in Cairo.

It was only now that Paddy got down to some serious writing. Beginning in 1950 with The Traveller’s Tree, a book detailing a journey through the Caribbean, he penned a handful of eclectic titles for publisher John Murray, including a novel, a short work on monasticism, and two books on Greece. Of these, Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese (1958), with photographs by Joan, clearly excited him the most. Its elaborately constructed expositions on tower houses, blood feuds, Maniot myths and funeral dirges are magical.

Olives and asphodels

By the early 1960s, and having decided to put down roots in Greece, the Leigh Fermors opted for Paddy’s beloved Mani.

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Having worked for many years in the publishing industry selling other travel writers’ books, Duncan J. D. Smith decided in 2003 to start writing and illustrating his own. As a self-styled ‘Urban Explorer’, travel writer, historian and photographer he has embarked on a lifetime’s adventure, travelling off the beaten track in search of the world’s unique, hidden and unusual locations. He has so far traversed four continents in search of curious places and people, from the wartime bunkers of Berlin and the baroque gardens of Prague to the souks of Damascus and the rock-cut churches of Ethiopia. His European findings are being published in a ground breaking series of guidebooks – the Only In Guides – which have been designed specifically for the purpose. Volumes on Berlin, Boston, Budapest, Cologne, Edinburgh, Hamburg, London, Munich, Paris, Prague, Vienna and Zurich have been published, with Krakow in preparation.

Duncan divides his time between England and Central Europe, and is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. Find out more about Duncan and his work at www.duncanjdsmith.com and www.onlyinguides.com.

This article was published in hidden europe 68.