The pool of turquoise water is so vivid it looks like someone’s stirred holi powder into it. Individual waterfalls cascade down craggy rockfaces into the impossible blue. Beautiful. Utterly, utterly beautiful. At least that’s what the Polyliminio Waterfalls and lakes look like from the photos I’ve seen. Hidden in the woods of Messenia in the Peloponnese region of Greece, they are frequently referred to as Greece’s best kept secret. For me, sadly, they remain that way – I fail to make it to the falls. And while I’m sorry about it in many ways, in many ways I’m not. For I’m staying at the nearby Costa Navarino.
Like all savvy resorts, Costa Navarino has enough facilities to ensure its guests need never cross its threshold into Greece proper: 12 restaurants, a two-storey kids’ club, sumptuous spa and many swimming pools, its own private beach, golf course, tennis courts, an indoor climbing wall, squash court, cycle centre and even travelling museum exhibitions (during last summer’s Olympics the esteemed Athens institution the Benaki Museum put on a temporary exhibition at the resort showcasing cleverly-animated photos from the 1896 games).
As a somewhat conflicted holiday-goer – I pride myself on seeking out the *authentic* and *real* feel of a place (usually via my stomach) while also having a minor addiction to swimming pools, which frequently curtails cultural activities – this trip was going to be interesting. It would be so easy to stay within Costa Navarino’s perfectly landscaped stone walls – but I know I would regret not exploring Messenia further if I did.
While some parts of Navarino are unmistakably resort-y: golf buggies cart guests around, the takeaway Souvlaki joint looks just a shade too shiny, and there’s a buffet breakfast so heaving you put a stone on just looking at it – other parts are decidedly less so.
I’m staying in the Westin hotel, and the rooms and toiletries are clean and unflashy. From beautiful African Chameleons to aromatic Lavender, Camomile and Rosemary, the surrounding plants and trees feel like they’ve been there all of their growing lives – because they have. About 16000 trees and 8000 plants were uprooted during the building of the resort and then re-planted back in the resort once building had finished. One particular olive tree, which stands in front of the Dunes golf club, weighs close to 25 tonnes, and is estimated to be 1200 years old.
All of the restaurants use produce grown on the resort or by locals. The dining highlight of my stay is the beachside restaurant Barbouni. Anyone who testifies to not liking octopus needs to try it here first; it is the freshest and tastiest I’ve ever had. To eat there’s also crispy calamari, grilled tiger prawns and hearty monkfish. If the setting wasn’t evocative enough of the sea, a canopy of gauzy material hangs in looped strips above diners to create a soft ceiling that billows in the breeze like the sails of a ship. Well, they do say dining is a multi-sensory experience.
Confession. I don’t eat outside of the resort once. The furthest I get is an iced coffee at a cafe in Pylos. Driving through hilly roads, the town is mostly populated by tavernas and ice cream and tourist shops. The feel is quintessentially Greek, with bright white buildings studded with sky blue windows alongside older buildings peeling paint and host to faded driftwood shutters. But this is a different Greece in many ways, steeped in history on account of its strategic position, where evidence of invasion and rebuttal abound in name, edifice and tradition. The Three Admirals square in the centre of Pylos, for example, is host to a parade and celebrations on 20 October every year in commemoration of those who lost their lives in battle.
The Palaiokastron fortress and castle was built in 1573 by the Turks before being handed over to the Venetians then back to the Turks again. During the Second World War it was used first by the Italians and then the Germans, as a base. You can still visit the well-restored fort, which includes a Byzantine church, that used to be a mosque. Pine perfumes the air, the needles crunching under my feet testament to this.
More breathtaking, however, is the 12th-century built Methoni castle; known as the ‘eyes of Venice’ it was built by the Venetians as a lookout point to spy encroaching Ottomans. Built on the rocks that lead to the Ionian sea, although popular with tourists the lack of fanfare and any restrictions makes the unveiling all the more spectacular.
From one man-made beauty to a natural one, the beach of Voidokilia looks like it was formed by a giant compass outlining a semi-circle on its sandy shores. Resembling the Greek letter Omega, the calm Mediterranean sea is cocooned by the sand dunes that enclose it, keeping the sea temperature cool. A lone swimmer dives off his boat and swims to shore, Voidokilia seemingly his own private natural swimming pool. I would happily spend a day here picnicking, reading and sunbathing.
Confession. I don’t. I head back to the resort: splashing from one swimming pool to another, lounging on the day beds in between. For a break from the vigour I head to the Anazoe spa. Disclosure: don’t shave your legs before entering the high-density salt pool. In the words of Gollum ‘It burnssss!’ On the upside floating is pretty easy. After a blast under the thalassotherapy jets I finish off my stay at Costa Navarino with something I cannot recommend enough; their signature heat and honey massage.
Needless to say, for all I’ve seen and done, any guilt I feel at not making it to the waterfalls vanishes. Their secret remains…until next time.
Costa Navarino: Rates at the two hotels at Navarino Dunes, start from: The Westin Resort Costa Navarino: from €220, and The Romanos, a Luxury Collection Resort: from €390. To book, and for further information, visit www.costanavarino.com. Prices are for a deluxe garden view room on a bed and breakfast basis, based on availability.
Aegean Airlines: Aegean Airlines offers daily flights from London Heathrow to Athens. Aegean Airlines favours air travel for all golfers by offering free of charge carriage of golf bag and equipment for every golfer. For more information, please visit www.aegeanair.com.