ONE REASON I travel is to envision lives other than my own or to picture my own life in new, irresistible settings. Rarely has that thrill of trying out someone else’s existence felt as intense as it did during my stay at the Patrick & Joan Leigh Fermor House. This sun-kissed stone refuge sits above a turquoise cove near the Greek village of Kardamyli. It’s located in the Mani: one of the three ‘fingers’ of the Peloponnese, the hand-shaped peninsula that hangs off the mainland.
For decades, this idyllic place was the home of Patrick Leigh Fermor, one of Britain’s best-known travel writers, and his dynamic wife, Joan. “Paddy,” as the late author was called, is perhaps best remembered for A Time of Gifts, an account of his youthful trek across Europe in the 1930s. After becoming a World War II hero (he orchestrated the kidnapping of a Nazi general on Crete), Leigh Fermor spent the postwar years walking, sailing, and hitchhiking around Greece, journeys that would become the basis of his later books Mani and Roumeli. Joan often accompanied him; a former debutante, she was happy to trade her British high-society life for this sunlit coast.
Paddy had long dreamed of a Greek retreat where he could read, write, and host visiting friends like British poet laureate John Betjeman and modernist painter Nikos Ghika. Joan’s only requirement was that she be able to watch the sunset. Hiking the Taygetos mountains in 1962, they spied Kardamyli and decided to build a house—which Joan funded by selling jewelry she’d inherited from her aristocratic parents—just outside the village. Later, in a Greek television interview, Paddy recalled, “All these wild mountains, and the olives and the water and the islands; here would be an ideal place to live.”
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