With its desert-like landscapes, crumbling castles and rocky coves, the Peloponnese in southern mainland Greece is all too often shunned for the sandy beaches on the islands. We sent Rachael Lindsay to one of the most luxurious hotels in the region, the Kinsterna Hotel, to see if this remote area of the country is really worth a visit.
A Byzantine mansion, horse rides, Ottoman fireplaces, red grape body wraps and ruins…
I suppose this isn’t what you imagine when you think of travel to Greece. But I have lived in Greece for almost a year now and am perhaps too familiar with the stereotype of cutesy tavernas, sweeping sandy beaches and azure blue seas. Don’t get me wrong, all of this is lovely stuff! But the Peloponnese is one of my favourite spots in Greece precisely because it eludes such cliches.
I like to think of the Peloponnese as Greece’s wilder alter ego and I haven’t heard of many luxury hotels in this barren, untamed landscape. So I jumped at the chance to experience the five-star Kinsterna Hotel.
The hotel is built on the site of a restored Byzantine mansion near the almost-island of Monemvasia, and tumbles down the hillside with cobbled lanes lined by fir trees. Olive groves and vineyards reach to left and right, and you can smell jasmine at every turn.
The design of the hotel preserves original features and compliments them with modernity. The interiors feature wide stone arches and vaulted ceilings with embroidered rugs and cushions in the traditional Byzantine style. The junior suite boasts an Ottoman fireplace with fur throws, lovely on a cooler night if you visit in autumn or spring.
The sun sparkles on the sea in the distance, brightly coloured wildflowers bloom between cracks in the rock, and a natural cave in the dilapidated mansion is left exposed for us to explore. Somehow the hotel seems to balance luxury with a celebration of the unique Peloponnese landscape.
Even the activities that the Kinsterna Hotel offer to guests are all designed to make the most of this magical space. You can help out with their local production of velvety olive oil and fruity house wine, or grab a bike and cycle round the grounds, or even to the sea for those feeling sporty. One of the highlights of my stay was a horse ride, guided by a half-Australian half-Greek lady who was warm and friendly, telling stories of her horses in this barren but beautiful place.
And let’s not forget about the opulent luxury. There are two large infinity pools, one for families and one reserved for adults…this is where you lounge, contemplate the view and take a few hotdog leg pics. After unwinding by the pool, it will be time to relax in your flawless suite. Each residence boasts huge stone walk-in showers, pretty private courtyards, enormous beds with your choice of pillow and complimentary bottles of home-made liquor.
If you aren’t truly relaxed by that point then head straight for the cooling greys of the Kinsterna Spa. It features indoor and outdoor jacuzzis, a Turkish hammam, rhassoul cabins with heated mosaic surfaces and a tempting relaxation area bathed in sunlight. I opted for the Grape Expectations treatment which involves a vigorous body scrub followed by an anti-aging body mask and a relaxing scalp massage. Unlike those treatments that leave you feeling sleepy and dazed, I feel seriously energised on leaving the Spa, and more than ready to try out the Kinsterna Hotel’s restaurant, Mouries, for a moonlit dinner.
The candles lit at nightfall are oh so atmospheric. The storm that rages around the hotel one night even heightens the feeling that I am in a fabulously romantic Gothic novel. And then the food arrives and it is all I can focus on…the mushroom ravioli made with wild Laconian mushrooms is earthy and creamy, the orzotto with shrimps and home-made tsipouro liquor manages to be both meaty and light and the meat mains of lamb, veal and rooster are tender and cooked to perfection.
The menu changes regularly based on what is available from local producers, all of whom are personally named at the beginning of the menu, from Dimitris who contributes greens and bulbs from the mountainside to Thodoris the baker. Breakfast is also served in the sea-facing Mouries Restaurant at the Kinsterna with a buffet featuring spinach and cheese pies, Greek honey, local cheeses, fresh fruit and hot drinks served in attractive black clay teapots.
Dragging myself away from the hotel (and the food) is a struggle but worth it for an afternoon in nearby Monemvasia. It is a tiny castle town that was carved into the sea rock in medieval times with a paved pathway linking the castle entrance to the mainland. This is where its name came from, meaning ’single passage’.
Wander around the tiny streets of the lower town with its shops and tavernas, and climb up to the upper town for breathtaking views and spectacular ruins. If that leaves you a little sweaty then take a swim off the rocks at Portelo – if you swim out a little then you have an equally wonderful view of the island from the sea. There is nowhere else quite like it, and it really is a world away from touristy Greek package holidays.
So the answer is yes, this remote area of Greece really is worth a visit. If you think you know Greece and have only visited the islands, then try the Peloponnese and the Kinsterna Hotel, and let us know what you think.
As I drive away down a narrow dirt back leading eventually back to Athens, I get the strange feeling that I am leaving a fairy tale behind…
So I make a small promise to myself: I will be back.
Address: Monemvasia, Laconia, Peloponnese 230 70 / 2732 066300