What is this place? A hotel? A resort? A region? A country? Well, yeah, probably. All we know is that whenever you mention Costa Navarino to a Greek person – even a Greek person who works in a five-star hotel – they gasp and ooh and aah and talk about how Christiano Ronaldo goes there and presidents and princesses and flamingos and turtles…
What it most definitely is is a dream come true for an ordinary local lad who made his vast fortune the traditional Greek way – in shipping – and gradually set about buying up parcels of land in his native Peloponnese, around three hours by car from Athens (though it now has its own airport, named after that ordinary local lad) in an area that seems like the Greek version of Tuscany with its rolling countryside with valleys full of ancient olive trees with mountains and sea as backdrops.
Captain Vassilis C. Constantakopoulos (try saying that with a mouthful of retsina!) was the dreamer and his dream was to pump money into the area of Messenia that he grew up in, share the beauty of it with the rest of the world but without adversely impacting the environment that he loved so much. That’s why you’re asked to leave the beautiful beach by 6pm so that the turtles can go about their business and why the lights are low and the planting high on that side of the resort, so as not to distract the new baby turtles from getting to the water.
Ancient olive trees were removed then replanted, giving the whole place a been-here-for-ages feel, even though it only opened in 2010, vegetation was planted to encourage biodiversity (and to provide fragrance and herbs for the kitchens) and a conscious effort was made to reduce the impact of a place this size: glass bottles never plastic, for instance, all vehicles electric and all food from the immediate area.
Not that the place feels in any way hippyish for all that eco-consciousness. As you come through the gates, the first thing that hits you is the size. Acres of it, there are. And the scale of the buildings. The reception for Romanos – at present there is Romanos and The Westin but more superstar resorts are are joining the gang, including a W Escape and a Mandarin Oriental (names, names, names!) – is a huge palatial space with chandeliers up so high you wonder how they ever clean them. And the journey to your room is down lifts, up stairs, round pathways, along walkways, through vegetation… so much space they literally give you a map to follow.
And even though the place has been designed to bring to mind a traditional Greek village with an Agora (a sort of amphitheatre where people traditionally met), a town square, a bookshop, a pharmacy, an opticians, seven restaurants all serving up different things from a cool Japanese sushi stop to a Souvlaki stand, it can’t help but feel a bit American. It’s the size. Not that that’s a bad thing. If you wanted the weather and the atmosphere and the nature but you wanted it to be easy and safe and clean, this would be your spot.
But it’s not just the weather and the atmosphere and the nature that brings people to Costa Navarino – you can cycle to what the National Geographic called one of the ten most beautiful beaches in the world in twenty minutes and take in the lagoon, which is the most important wetland in all Greece while you’re there. It’s also the fact that it’s turning itself into a major European sports centre.
There are already four world-class golf courses and what were a few tennis courts have morphed into a major European tennis, Mouratoglou, with 16, including Greece’s only grass court. Then there’s the full-size basketball court and yoga and Pilates and HIIT and squash, even ten pin bowling. Oh and an aquatic centre for scuba and snorkelling. And a climbing wall. Kids’ club, a diner for teenagers to hang out in, outdoor cinema, that amphitheatre for performance… All this before they open the two new resorts, one of which, The Waterfront, they say will have a Mykonos atmosphere: more upbeat, more party, more fun. This is where the W Escape we mentioned is.
But, despite the size, they somehow manage to keep the quality way up there. Down at the beach restaurant, Barbouni, with its mesmerising fabric sculpture that undulates in the wind, we spring vegan on them even though they’re all about lobster linguini and griddled shrimp and along come the most delicious salads and dips and padron peppers and de-lobstered linguini complete with olive oil made right here on the resort.
Costa Navarino is a world unto itself, a world for active people (though there is a – of course! – massive spa for lazy arses), where you could even buy a villa to live in full-time if you had the inclination and the money. Don’t be surprised if they apply for independent status sometime soon.