It's always a good time to visit Greece. Most people head for the islands of Santorini or Crete after exploring Athens but believe it or not, there are other places to visit in this diverse and beautiful country. Our latest travels took us to Costa Navarino located in a remote corner of Peloponnese. Sitting on the Ionian Sea in the South of Greece, Costa Navarino has everything you could want in a vacation to Greece. With beautiful white sand beaches, thousand year old ruins and a strong local culture, a trip to Peloponnese is something you won't soon forget.
Costa Navarino - Ancient History & Natural Beauty
The culture of Costa Navarino dates back 4500 years to the Bronze Age and Mycenean civilization. Over the ages it changed hands back and forth from Byzantine, Ottoman and Venetian rule. It was in 1827 during the Battle of Navarino that the Greeks regained control of their region defeating Turks and Egyptian fleet with the help of he British, French and Russian fleet.
While the area played a large role in the Greek independence, it ended up falling into decline after the Second World War and many people left the area including a man named Captain Vassilis Constantakopoulos. He built his fortune abroad establishing one of the largest shipping businesses in the world. It was his dream to bring new life to his home region of Messenia and the idea of Costa Navarino was born.
See our video: The Best of Costa Navarino
He started work on creating a high-end resort focusing on sustainability and promotion of local culture and traditions of Messinia. Today, Costa Navarino is the first luxury eco-friendly destination on the Mediterranean and is now a leading example of sustainable tourism and environmental protection. The resort is hoping more companies around Greece will follow their lead to create jobs for the local community and follow a sustainable tourism model.
We stayed at the Westin Costa Navarino Resort and it was pure luxury. With our own private infinity pool directly located on our suite's patio, we had privacy and luxury all in one.
The resort is located directly on a long sandy stretch of beach overlooking the Ionian Sea. It is connected to the ultra luxurious Romanos Resort that has seen movie stars, kings and queens, and even Sheiks stay at their private villas.
Visitors are free to roam the resorts choosing from a large selection of fine dining restaurants, a round on one of their two award-winning golf courses, use of the healing waters in the Anazoe Spa and a wide variety of activities to take with Navarino outdoors.
During our stay, we saw as much of the area as we could fit in exploring ancient cities, castles, and villages. Spending five days in Costa Navarino only gave us time to scratch the surface of all there is to do, but we did manage to see and do enough to know that we will one day soon be back.
Outdoor Fun and Food
Our introduction to Messinia started at the resort where we met our guide Simon for a cycling trip through the villages to a high cliff overlooking the area. It was a wonderful introduction and perfect way to get our bearings. The bikes at Navarino outdoors are superb and regardless of your ability, this trip is a must.
It starts off meandering through nearby villages and olive groves until we reached one of Greece's most beautiful beaches, Voidokilia Beach. Shaped like the Greek letter Omega, Voidokilia Beach is the place of legends. It was believed to be used by King Nestor, the ancient king of Pylos and Homer referenced this beach in the Odyssey.
Directly beside the beach is the Gialova Lagoon. This protected area was designated at Natura 2000 protected site due to the migratory birds that frequent this wildlife habitat. If you go at the right time of year, you will see flamingos!
After taking in the beauty of the wildlife preserve and beach, we made our way up to a high lookout. If you aren't an avid biker, you can easily walk this path, but Dave and I decided to get our workout on and rode up. It reminded us of our mountain biking days and it was a tough but fun 500 metre steep climb. We couldn't have done it without Simon who pulled a cart behind with all our camera equipment so we could capture photos and videos (including drone footage) from this view!
Luckily we brought our appetites with us because in usual Greek fashion, a feast was awaiting our arrival. Part of the tours to this area with Navarino Outdoors include local dishes provided by K Food Stories. We ate a huge spread of Greek food with delicious white wine.
Speaking of food, one of the most authentic and enjoyable experiences we've ever had during our four visits to Greece took place right here in Messinia. Staying true to supporting the local community, Costa Navarino bought a traditional seaside house where they run cooking classes. We met with Loola and Anna, the granddaughters of the man who owned this house for an afternoon of fun and learning about Greek cuisine.
Donning an apron and scarf, I certainly looked the part, but could I cook Greek food? You bet I can!
Following the guidance of Loola and Anna, we made fresh home made pasta, Greek salad, and kolokithopita (it's like spanakopita only with zucchini). It was a wonderful afternoon learning from the ladies communicating through broken English as we kneaded the dough, chopped vegetables and stuffed the pasta.
The treat was being able to enjoy the fruits of our labours with a Greek homestyle meal sharing dishes around the table.
A Greek Celebration
Afterwards the music was turned on and we all danced in a circle celebrating our new friendship. If you visit Costa Navarino, you must be sure to sign up for this unique cooking experience!
History Surrounding Costa Navarino
Dave and I love visiting ancient ruins. We've had the good fortune to explore Roman ruins, the Ancient cities of Bagan and Angkor Wat, Tikal and even the Forbidden City in Beijing China. I didn't know a lot about the ancient city of Messene in Peloponnese, when we found out it was only an hour's drive from Costa Navarino we had to go and see it.
Ancient City of Messene
Unlike visiting the heavily crowded Acropolis of Athens, we had Messene all to ourselves. Dating back to the 8th and 9th century BC, the region of Messenia is as ancient as it gets. Messene itself was founded in 369 BC and still stands proud at the base of Mt Ithome. While driving in, we noticed pieces of walls still standing and our driver told us that this wall is much older than the Great Wall of China with 9km of wall still intact.
The site itself houses ancient baths, several buildings and mosaics plus a theatre and a stadium.
The Agora Stadium is impressive with tiered seating surrounding the grounds and large white pillars lining the walkways. We visited the complex over a course of two and a half hours, but could have easily used another hour to explore further and delve into the scriptures and mosaics.
Be sure to stop for a coffee at the top of the hill on your way up for a birds eye view of Messene from the terrace. There is a village surrounding the ancient city where people have inhabited the area for thousands of years.
A shorter and very scenic drive from Costa Navarino is a visit to Methoni Castle. The coast of Messinia is stunning with picturesque villages lining the shores. The main town enroute was Pilos, a popular tourist town where I would definitely spend a couple of days enjoying the atmosphere of Southern Greece. But our goal was to see Methoni Castle's famous octagon tower known as the Bourtzi.
Located in the seaside town of Methoni, Methoni Castle is the star attraction of the area. It was built in the 13th century by the Venetians but the Bourtzi was rebuilt in the 15th century when the Turks overthrew the city. It's another spectacular ruin to explore the remains of a Turkish bath, the house of Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt and the Transfiguration of the Saviour church.
The stone walkway out to the Bourtzi is a gorgeous scene and once to get to the tower, you can walk up the circular walkway to a lookout back at the castle.
There are many places you can climb up for views and look out over the sea. It takes a couple of hours to explore properly, (especially if you are photo and video buffs like us) and just like Messene, the crowds are light and you feel as if you nearly have the place to yourself.
Luxury of Costa Navarino
If you remember near the beginning of this post, we mentioned that Costa Navarino is the first luxury eco-friendly destination on the Mediterranean and it lived up to expectations. Besides the beautiful suites typical of the high end Westin Resorts complete with our infinity pool and private terrace, it houses several scenic luxury pools, waterfalls and gardens.
But a day at the spa is a must.
If you book a massage, try for the traditional Greek massage - Melisseus ‘The spirit of honey’ I love trying the local traditional massages wherever I go and this massage was a mixture of deep tissue mixed with the softening and scrubbing agents of local honey.
Be sure to arrive at least a half hour early to enjoy the amazing pools ranging from a floating salt pool that has the same sodium content as the Dead Sea. You can then move on to the other two pools for a pounding water massage and relaxing jets of the waterbeds.
And if you are like us, you'll love going into the herbal steam baths and saunas. Oh there is nothing like an afternoon at the spa.
During our five days in Costa Navarino, we gained weight, there is no doubt about it. Even though we were active, we managed to indulge in the food of the Gods. Costa Navarino's Flame Restaurant has just been nominated for the World Luxury Restaurant Awards, and the array of Greek food we tasted at Armyra was to die for. Each morning was an overwhelming choice of healthy and delectable choices for breakfast and our traditional lunch at Kafeneio with Songs around the table was another moment we will never forget.
We were told that Costa Navarino hired local women to sing and preserve the tradition of making pasta while singing songs around the table. As patrons dine outside they are entertained by the customs and the culture of the local people.
And while there is a lot of customs and traditions, there is also a chic and modern side to the entire resort. Everything is elegant and well appointed. While we may have had traditional moments, we had very cool settings to enjoy signature cocktails in elegant bars in a stylish setting. What more could you ask for?
Our stay at Costa Navarino was an ideal mix of luxury and relaxation with adventure and cultural experiences. We learned of the history of the Peloponnese region and of the traditions of the people who inhabit area. Even the hotel itself is sure to maintain and promote the culture of the area showcasing traditional costumes and artwork depicting the history of Messenia. We learned a lot about this remote corner of Greece and we cannot wait to return one day soon.