Why Costa Navarino should be your next Greek destination

The stunning beaches of Costa Navarino
The stunning beaches of Costa Navarino | Hugo Kruip

You know about Athens, you know about Thessaloniki, you know about Corfu, Rhodes and Mykonos; you may have even visited one or two of them. But one Greek destination often overlooked is the coastal region of Costa Navarino.

In the Messenia, southwestern part of the Peloponnese – the very bottom left of the country – is an area where unspoilt natural beauty and ancient Greek tradition amalgamates with sustainable, luxury living.

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Thousand-year-old olive trees stand amongst sleek, stone hotels; the Old Navarino hilltop castle overlooks umbrellaed sun loungers; and where the battle ground for Greek independence against the Ottomans 200 years ago is now a quaint, coffee-cultured waterfront village.

Before even considering a Costa Navarino resort holiday, it’s worth knowing that the €3bn developments in the area were done with local people and environmental sustainability at the forefront: sun loungers were moved back from the waterfront so there is still space for turtles to breed; there’s no loud music; the colours of the buildings blend in seamlessly with the surrounding so you wouldn’t even know you were at a resort unless up close; 1200 workers from the surrounding area are employed across the Navarino resorts.

Sustainability – both in terms of local economy and the environment – is a claim that you often see on the front of brochures or on websites, but having the chance to visit myself gave me the opportunity to ask locals what they really thought. One told me: “It has put Costa Navarino on the map, we will be eternally grateful for that.” A woman simply said: “It’s a gift to the area.” Another added: “We were dubious when it was first proposed over 25 years ago, but the investment they have put into our lives, giving back to the community, has helped everyone. Although,” he added, with a laugh and haze of nostalgia in his eyes, “the one problem is I can’t run around the beach naked like I used to now there are more people here.”

My trip to Costa Navarino started with an Aegean flight from Heathrow to Athens. At a time when airline chaos ensued, I couldn’t have had an easier flight. Although there is also the option of flying to the closer Kalamata International Airport, these are less regular flights and it would mean missing out on the spectacular drive from the east to west coast, with roads carving through the perpetual Peloponnese mountains and biblical views across vast bodies of water coloured mauve in a lilac haze so lovely they look lavender scented.

Approaching the coast, the landscape transformed into a tropical green Elysium, dotted with archetypal Greek houses – white buildings with terracotta roofs. Roadside stalls selling watermelons the size of the taxi passed, as did tavernas with leather-coloured locals smoking cigarettes and drinking pints of Mythos. And of course, it wouldn’t be Greece without cats and dogs freely roaming the streets.

Out of nowhere, we pulled up to the castle-like 445-room Westin sound tracked by nearby waves chopping on the shore. It was only seeing the resort in person did I begin to appreciate the efforts made to ensure the 12-year-old development, which is the size of a small town, doesn’t interfere with the surrounding beauty. I got a welcome from staff that showed why Messians are renowned for their hospitality – just as Homer’s Odyssey told of King Nestor’s welcome to Telemachus when he arrived in Costa Navarino for the first time.

On the first morning, I pulled my curtains open to the delicious Greek sunshine and looked out at the view across the resort pool, with the postcard-worthy beach in the backdrop. The first holiday feeling came at breakfast in a pristine outdoor oasis with a buffet as far as the eye can see, serving exotic fruits, feta cheese puffs, smoked salmon and mackerel, halva gateau, Greek salad, and to top it off: a man walking around the boardwalk holding a flapping falcon – not something you see every morning.

As the relenting sun continued to rise in the clear blue sky, I headed down to the beach for a spot of kayaking. It was one of those surreal, pinch-yourself experiences. Crystal clear Ionian water underneath and miles of sandy beach to the left, with a dramatic mountainous skyline and a castle to top it all off. I paddled over to the area’s main attraction – the omega-shaped Voidokilia, which is quite easily the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen.

After lazing there for the afternoon, I used the cool evening breeze as an opportunity to cycle for a sunset view. Passing orthodox chapels and a bird sanctuary filled with flamingos, turtles and African chameleons – the only place they can be found in Europe – I made my way to the top of the hill where the resort had laid on a traditional Greek ‘picnic’ for a group of us. This was no normal picnic though. It was a banquet of tiropita pies with honey, ladenia (Greek pizza), dolmadakia, stuffed peppers, halloumi salads and ice cold homemade lemonade; a taste of, what the 5th century Greek playwright Euripides called: “the land of the good fruit”. The blood orange sunset stealing our attention away from the food is a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life.

There’s no better way to shake off a Greek wine hangover than getting a sweat on, and that’s exactly what I did the next morning at the state-of-the-art Mouratoglou Tennis Centre, where an extremely patient tennis coach gave me a lesson on how to improve my God-awful serve. After recharging my batteries – somewhat counter intuitively after my morning workout – with souvlaki, I hiked into a real life fairy tale – the Polymnio waterfall, where I swam in the cool plunge pool surrounded by dense forest and had a shower under the fall, like something you only see in Herbal Essences adverts. The trip was topped off with a 10-course fine dining experience, which I can only describe as an out-of-body culinary encounter, at KOOC Taverna Secrets by acclaimed chef Giannis Parikos.

I barely scraped the surface of what Costa Navarino has to offer. There’s a world-class golf course, award-winning spa, climbing facilities, scuba diving, boat trips…the list goes on, and on, and on. But I did get a full flavour for Costa Navarino and its beautiful people. Staying there is not only indulging in one of the finest holidays you’re likely to find in Greece, but also providing to a local economy in the knowledge that the stay is having minimal environmental impact – the cherry on the Galaktoboureko for what was a truly telios trip.

Where to Stay: The Westin Resort, Costa Navarino

The Westin Resort has been voted one of the best resorts in Greece… and you can see why. It features an amazing selection of deluxe rooms, family rooms and suites on a beachfront, verdant hillside location. The resort offers a heady mixture of actives from golf to tennis to cycling, as well as having 14 top class bars and restaurants.

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