Costa Navarino, a luxury hide-away in Greece – World Meanderings (n°37)
By Annick Dournes & Frédéric de Poligny
Far from busy Athens and from crowded beaches of Greek islands, find a peaceful and luxury resort hidden in Messinia, an unknown region of western Peloponnese coast. The Costa Navarino Westin and Romanos resorts are the gate to beautiful ancient history sites and seaside pleasures.
In 1948 when Vassilis Constantakopoulos reluctantly but hopefully left Messenia, his beloved homeland, he was eager to succeed in life. In those days Messenia was a poor Greek region where most people made a meagre living from their farms and Vassilis had no other choice but go to Athens to try his chance in the capital. He was only 13, but his strong will helped him to toil by day and study by night and he finally was able to start a maritime career at 18. Twenty years later he founded Costamare Shipping that is now one of the world’s biggest container shipping companies. But all through these years Messenia remained in his heart.
Visiting Messenia you will soon understand why Captain Vassilis was in love with this area. Located on the fourth western most peninsula of the Peloponnese, it really seems blessed by the gods. Paradoxically its poverty and its access being quite difficult until recently, Messenia has kept all its authenticity in spite of its magnificent landscapes and mild climate. Mass tourism never spoiled it and you can enjoy your holidays there without being trodden on the toes! Unlike many Greek regions, Messenia stays green all year round thanks to countless lakes, streams and waterfalls. Sunny autumns, mild winters, blossoming springs and summers cooled by a constant sea breeze make it even more attractive.
Captain Vassilis wanted to share his passion for Messenia, but to him simply building hotels along the beautiful Mediterranean coast was not an option. He had a more ambitious vision and developed a global tourism destination based on sustainability that elevates the entire country’s profile. This is how Costa Navarino was born. He bought hundreds of hectares of land and imagined a five-phase plan of which the first one is already completed. It is called Navarino Dunes and has two luxury hotels, two golf courses, several swimming pools, 18 restaurants, lush gardens, a vegetable garden, groves, vineyards… and of course a beautiful sandy beach with crystal clear water!
The low buildings of the two hotels are half hidden by the exuberant vegetation of the gardens and recreate a typical Greek village with its square, its bars and restaurants, its shops and even its museum. The Westin Resort welcomes couples as well as families in its big suites and a huge area is dedicated to children who find there their own swimming pool and an animation team that entertains them all day long with varied activities for kids aged 6 months to 14 years. The Romanos Resort offers relaxing holidays to couples in even more luxurious suites. The hotel gently slopes down toward the Mediterranean Sea and having a drink at the terrace of the Anax bar at sunset is one of these special memories to be cherished.
No less than 175 cooks managed by the executive chef Dimitris Melemenis work in the kitchens to concoct Messenian specialities made with local produce grown on the estate or by farmers of the nearby villages. Local people were not forgotten in Captain Vassilis’ plans: 80% of the employees of the complex are from the area that also took advantage of the momentum generated by Costa Navarino, allowing the local economy to boom during the last few years.
Organic vegetables and fruits are harvested at the peak of ripeness and reach your plate within just a few hours. Navarino pure honey is produced by a small apiary that uses traditional methods, without any preservatives or additives. Cow, goat or sheep’s milk is used to make rice pudding, custards, yoghurts and cheeses that are essential for a true Messenian breakfast. All sorts of breads and other baked products such as the sweet tsoureki brioche, the koulouri cookies, pies and sweets are made daily by a small army of master bakers. Hundred-year old olive trees produce the local Koroneiki variety that makes an extra virgin olive oil, the cold pressing preserving all the flavour and aroma of these tasty olives. Of course fishes and seafood are caught by the local fishermen: depending on the season you will have the opportunity to taste many different Mediterranean fishes such as gilt-head and saddled bream, dentex, red scorpion fish, grouper, seabream, red mullet… And last but not least the estate vineyards produce award wining organic red, white and rosé wines. A wide range of all these produces are on sale in one of the shops of the Costa Navarino in order to bring back home a little bit of your holidays.
Chefs from all over the world played a large part in the different menus of all the resorts’ restaurants. Andrea Fusco joined the team this year. Twice awarded by the Michelin Guide as Giuda Ballerino’ s chef in Rome, he is also now in charge of the brand new gourmet restaurant Perovino in Costa Navarino. Cooking classes are regularly organised and you will have no more excuses for not following the Mediterranean diet after having these appetizing lessons!
No need to say that you will have plenty to do to burn off those extra calories! Skilled sports instructors will accompany you on the two 18-hole golf courses, on designed treks, bicycle tours or climbing route, on diving expeditions and many other activities. If this program is too tiring for you, indulge your senses in the huge Anazoe Spa or have a detox cure at Eucrasia, the holistic wellness centre of the resort.
The Costa Navarino also is an ideal starting point for daytrips across beautiful Meesenia. Ancient Messene, the 2,500 years old Greek city is only a one-hour drive away from the hotel and its high walls and tall columns are still standing. It was once the largest city in Greece, even bigger than the Acropolis of Athens. Pylos is a fishing port of the Navarino Bay overlooked by two castles. Don’t miss to climb the hill where the Old Castle was built during the 13th century. From there you will get a wonderful view over the bay where, in 1827, the allied armada of UK, France and Russia defeated the Turkish-Egyptian fleet, thus ending the Ottoman expansion in Europe and initiating the Greek independence process.
Voidokilia beach is an amazing one. Naturally shaped as a Greek omega, with high jagged rocks in the background, its pristine waters look like the ideal swimming pool on a hot summer day. Further away from Costa Navarino, Kardamyli is an authentic Greek village where Patrick Leigh Fermor, the famous British war hero and writer, found his Eden. There are many other beautiful sites nearby but, in my opinion, if there was only one to go to it would undoubtedly be Methoni Castle. This 13th century fortress is the most emblematic fortified complex of the Peloponnese. It is a jewel of Venetian architecture and would be a perfect set for a “Game of Throne” episode! A stunning bridge will take you to an octagonal fortified islet and its high tower, where sentries kept watch over the sea.
If you are lucky enough to go to Costa Navarino this summer you will have the opportunity to see an unusual exhibition celebrating the 120 years of the first modern Olympic games in Athens in 1896. This initiative is a collaboration between the famous Benaki Museum in Athens and Costa Navarino. The visual artist Eva Nathena and her team used photos taken by Albert Meyer during the 1896 Olympic games. The video-art installations set in motion the different characters of the photos, bringing them back to life. Touching and fascinating! The exhibition ends on Nov. 30.
All this is only the beginning of Captain Vassilis’ vision. Four more complexes are planned with an ultra-deluxe hotel at Navarino Bay, a 5-star family resort with plenty of amusement and entertainment activities at Navarino Blue, an eco-destination set on a 500 hectares piece of land at Navarino Hills and a sports and leisure resort hotel with another 18-hole golf course at Navarino Beach.
For those who would enjoy a few days in Athens before or after their stay at Costa Navarino, Aegean offers direct flights from London and Manchester to Athens all year round and additional seasonal flights from Birmingham and Dublin.
More information: www.costanavarino.com
Text © Annick Dournes
Photos © Frederic de Poligny