Looking for the perfect coastal destination? Look no further than Costa Navarino
In mid-October, I spent a long weekend in the idyllic coastal region of Costa Navarino – a remote getaway on the deep southwestern side of the Pelopponese. The historic region is perhaps best known as the site of the Battle of Navarino, which was fought in October 1827, when the allies (Britain, France, Russia and Greece) successfully defeated Ottoman forces trying to prevent Greek independence.
In recent years, the area has undergone considerable development under the patronage of late shipping tycoon Vassilis Constantakopoulos, or “Captain Vassilis”, as he was known locally. Gradually, his dream of making Costa Navarino a world class destination has come to fruition with the establishment of several sustainable luxurious developments.
Our journey there was somewhat long and tiring, but totally worth it. As we were travelling at the tail end of the season, flights to the nearest airport at Kalamata were hard to come by, so we instead caught a ride courtesy of Aegean to Athens and travelled overland to our hotel, the Westin Resort at Costa Navarino. This meant that our three-hour flight from London was followed immediately by a three hour car journey cross-country. While this can be avoided by visiting the region during a more seasonal time, I found the destination really made up for the long preamble. I mean, how often do you get to enjoy 24-degree heat in October this side of the equator? Dropping by in low season also meant we had the place practically to ourselves for the duration of our stay.
For a resort that is so remote, the Westin really does have it all. Private beaches? Tick. Multiple bars, cafes and restaurants? Tick. Infinity rooms with your own personal infinity pool? Tick tick tick. The entire hotel layout is designed as a micro town, centred around the traditional “Agora”, or market square, which leads off to various dining spots, pools and boutiques. My favourite restaurant was Barbouni, right on the beach. It serves the freshest seafood, with delicious and unusual dishes like Octopus, all within a relaxing sea-view setting. The clever design of the canopy on the terrace makes use of the natural wind flow, creating a ripple effect through the overhanging textiles, giving the impression of waves. It’s little things like this that really show how much care has gone into designing the resort. Some of the design details are simply inspired.
Besides two sprawling pool regions, including a layered, landscaped pool complete with pool bar and waterfall, the Westin also boasts its very own aqua park and several kids’ programmes. This gives parents the perfect opportunity to take a break from keeping the young ‘uns entertained and really kick back and relax.
Just next door, you’ll find the Westin’s little sister, the Romanos. With a more upmarket positioning, the Romanos is a collection of luxury rooms, suites and villas with award winning architecture. The view from the main foyer is simply spell-binding, overlooking the entire resort as it stretches out towards the captivating Ionian sea. The private facilities, lack of family rooms and high quality service make the Romanos a better choice for couples and honeymooners. There are also many facilities shared between the twinned hotels, including a championship golf course (one of two golf courses offered by the destination) and several outdoor activities, from mountain biking to mountain climbing.
On the weekend we visited, we were lucky to enjoy a number of cultural festivities marking the 190th anniversary of the Battle of Navarino. This was commemorated on our second night by a live re-enactment of the navy battle in the quaint town of Pylos, where we watched the epic unfold to a climax as the enemy ship was set on fire. Yes, really.
You may like: Costa Navarino a classic Greek settingOther cultural offerings included a fashion exhibition in partnership with the Benaki Museum, an embroidery workshop and a fascinating discussion panel featuring local artists and fashion entrepreneurs, including Zeus and Dione co-founder Dimitra Kolotoura. We also enjoyed a colourful demonstration of bridal dressing in traditional Greek style. As a fashion fanatic, I was in my element the whole weekend.
We were certainly spoilt by all of the festivities during our time, but Costa Navarino has plenty to offer all the year round and lots to see beyond the hotel walls. You can cycle down to the Gialova (pronounced “yah-lo-va”) Lagoon at Voidokilia Beach, named one of the best in the world, for a bit of snorkelling. You might even spot a flamingo or two on the way. In fact over 250 species of birdlife inhabit the area, so it’s a birdwatcher’s paradise.
Of course, this is Greece, so you’re also in the perfect place for exploring the region’s ancient past. If you’re a history-lover, a photo trip to the ruined 13th century fortress of Paleokastro might appeal. Meanwhile, budding history buffs are invited to join the Young Archaeologists programme, run by trained specialists.
For foodies, there is the Messinian Authenticity programme, which offers immersive first hand experiences of local culture. I went along to a pasta-making class hosted by members of the Women’s Association in a tiny, ancient home where we ate the most delicious home cooking. This is just one of the many interactions visitors can have with local residents and forms part of Costa Navarino’s sustainability goals to support the local economy. You can also try your hand at olive harvesting – you certainly can’t get away with visiting Costa Navarino without sampling what are, IMHO, decidedly the best olives in the word!
Outdoorsy sorts and sports enthusiasts have no end of choice – wall climbing, go-karting, scuba-diving and no fewer than nine racquet sports. You name it, they have it. It’s almost possible to get the full Costa Navarino experience without ever leaving the resort, but what makes it the ultimate destination is its proximity to so many other attractions in the surrounding region of magical Messenia. A half-day yachting cruise will take you all around Navarino bay to see one of its many islets, Sfakteria. Several UNESCO world heritage sites, including Olympia, Mystras and the Temple of Apollo Epicurius, are all within driving distance. Guests are encouraged to go exploring.
Off the beaten track, Costa Navarino is a far cry from the over-run tourist traps of Athens and the Aegean islands. Instead you’ll find 4,500 years of history, pristine untouched landscapes and a wealth of local culture. Coupled with the endless activities offered by the Westin and the Romanos, and their collection of stunning accommodation options, which are the epitome of luxury and comfort, Costa Navarino is the perfect Mediterranean getaway.