Far from the crowds on the Greek islands, the perfectly peaceful Peloponnese on the mainland is an overlooked, joyous bolthole. The wild peninsula is roughly the size of Wales but draws only a fraction of Greece’s tourists, who tend to head off from Athens to Corfu, Crete, Mykonos et al.
Try driving three hours south of Athens instead, to the serenity of the Peloponnese, where there’s no need to jostle anyone at the pool, the classical ruin or the breakfast buffet.
The map of the area is dotted with romantic, evocative names from Ancient Greek history – Olympia, Cornith, Pylos, Delphi, Sparta. However, for all the richness of its classical temples, Mycenaean palaces, Byzantine towns and Ottoman fortresses, it remains surprisingly sedate. You feel that at any moment a coach load of tourists is bound to appear – but they never do: you reach that holy grail sightseeing moment of wondering, ‘where is everyone?’.
For us, home over the week was the Costa Navarino, a stylish resort that hugs the Bay of Navarino. It was here in 1827 that Britain, France and Russia came to aid The Greek War of Independence at the Battle of Navarino. Now, other than paddle-boarding and a little light swimming, there is not much in the way of activity in the bay. The coastline is protected for resident sea turtles so not even speedboats or jet skis can disturb the peace. One cove along from the resort is a beach that’s regularly voted one of the best in the world, Voidokilia.
Costa Navarino itself is so expansive that you could happily get lost in here for a fortnight: golf buggies are on constant rotation to help you around the 320-acre resort as it’s quite a walk to just about anywhere. Between the resort’s two hotels there are thirteen restaurants, four bars, four indoor and outdoor pools, two golf courses, and a lively programme of activities including cooking classes, wine tasting, star gazing, philosophy and BMW driving experiences. The 4,000 sq ft spa, offering almost 100 treatments, would merit its own review.
Of the two hotels, The Westin is geared up for young families, wellness and sports, whereas The Romanos, where we stayed, is more for couples and older families. The Westin offers an incredible-looking children’s club with a full-size basketball court, racquet court, American diner with its own bowling alley, aqua park and indoor climbing wall.
Connecting the two is the Agora, an open area of shops with an outdoor cinema and a tiny Greek Orthodox church. This shopping area is about as rowdy as Costa Navarino gets as guests from both hotels converge there.
All of the rooms are quiet, but for a state of truly splendid isolation, you could book one of the villas, which sit in discreet compounds with separate access to the beach, or a more modest infinity room with its own pool and terrace.
Eating out is something to really look forward to, thanks to the fine dining options. Top of the list is the out-of-this-world steak at Flame, the restaurant overlooking the Westin golf course, and the dainty sushi at Onuki, which overlooks the sea. For lunch time there are several cafes in the Agora, or you can enjoy classic Greek food on the beach at Barbouni. There is one bar, Branco, with Mykonos-style open loungers and a DJ, but it’s still pretty low key.
Flights from Britain to Kalamata, the airport 40 minutes away, are being added all the time, and a new road will cut the drive time to Costa Navarino in half. It will make this remote, under-the-radar corner even more irresistible.
Rooms at Costa Navarino The Romanos cost from £247 per night, including breakfast, www.costanavarino.com
Aegean Airlines flies from London to Athens directly three times a day year-round