As I watch the dogs run around in the early morning sun I think how happy and healthy they seem. I’m at Costa Navarino, a luxury resort in Greece. When I learnt that they take in injured and very young stray dogs, care for them and try to find them new homes, I asked if I could see the dogs – and so the next morning I was taken to where they’re looked after, in a part of the resort which isn’t open to guests (unless they’re interested in offering a home to one of the dogs). The Costa Navarino ethos is all about sustainability, protecting the environment and supporting the local community, and I think that the way that they care for these dogs illustrates how they are actually doing this. They’ve been rescuing dogs since 2015 and so far 35 have been re-homed with hotel guests and staff – the dogs have a Facebook page, in case you’d like to see them.
Costa Navarino Resort was founded by Captain Vassilis Konstantakopoulos, who was born in the area. When he became a wealthy shipping owner, Captain Vassilis started buying up land on the coast of Messinia with the aim of transforming the region economically through tourism. Today the resort employs around 1,500 staff, the majority of whom are from the local area. Messinia is in the southwestern corner of the Peloponnese, on the Greek mainland and is home to gorgeous beaches, ancient ruins and miles and miles of olive groves.
The Westin Resort
The resort opened in 2010 with two beautiful hotels: the Romanos and the Westin. I spent a warm October weekend at the Westin, staying in a very swish suite (an Infinity Room) with its own plunge pool. The Westin has 445 rooms and suites and is geared up for families with children. Its style is inspired by local Messinian architecture, with low-level stone buildings spread out across the resort.
My room was in the Alpha East part of the hotel, on the ground floor. It was beautifully designed and felt very comfortable and relaxing. It had a walk-in wardrobe with a safe and plenty of hanging space, a bathroom with a bath tub and a walk-in shower and a sliding screen to the bedroom. The king-size bed was marvellously comfortable, and there was tea and coffee-making stuff next to the flatscreen TV. Steps from the sleeping area led down to a lounge area with tables, chairs and a sofa.
From there a sliding door opened out to a private terrace with a table, chairs and seating area with cushions, and a secluded private plunge pool.
The room had air-con, WiFi, towelling robes and slippers and lots of lamps and mirrors. There are also family suites and interconnecting rooms available at the hotel, as well as cots at no extra charge.
The Westin shares its impressive facilities with the adjoining Romanos hotel, which is designed more for adults than for families with children (although children can stay in either hotel). The resort offers various restaurants, bars, outdoor pools, a health club, a spa and an excellent range of sporting facilities, including several golf courses. Kids are very well catered for: the resort has its own water park, bowling alley, go-kart track, climbing wall, mini cinema and a childcare centre which caters for four month-olds to 12 year-olds. There’s an excellent nature museum where you can learn about the local flora, fauna and conservation. There are water sports at the beach (wide and sandy, lapped by the Ionian Sea), a diving centre, cycle hire and more.
I was impressed by the health club, which is open to all guests to use free of charge. I had the 20-metre indoor pool to myself one evening, and had a very enjoyable swim. The health club has separate steam rooms and saunas for men and women, and there’s a varied programme of fitness classes on offer. There’s an outside covered table tennis area next to the indoor pool. I was pleased to discover that kids can use the gym, as long as they’re supervised by their parents and are doing so safely. (It was really annoying when my fitness-obsessed 14 year-old son and his friend weren’t allowed in the gym when we stayed at Spain’s La Manga Club – you can see my review here).
I went to look around the spa, but didn’t have a chance to try it. It looks fantastic, definitely somewhere that I’d like to spend some time. There’s a 40 euro charge to use the spa facilities, with additional fees for individual treatments. They offer treatments for babies and children as well as adults.
If you’d like to learn about local culture during your stay at Costa Navarino, there’s a range of interesting activities on offer. I enjoyed a group Philosophy Walk, led by a professor of philosophy from a local university. We sat on wooden chairs under a 1,000 year-old olive tree and talked about fashion and beauty. At a cooking class in a house along the coast I learnt how to make tsatziki with some local Greek women – now I’ll never be able to buy it from a supermarket again. (You can read about my cooking experience and find the recipe in my post How to make traditional Greek tzatziki). As well as cultural experiences, there are some excellent outdoor activities to try. For example, during my stay, former Man Utd and England player Andy Cole was running a football coaching week for kids, there are regular guided hikes and cycle rides and in high season there’s a kids’ program which includes things such as gardening.
Despite the wide range of activities on offer, the atmosphere at the resort is peaceful and relaxed. I think this is because of the way that it’s laid out, with low level buildings which have lots of planting and landscaping around them. I ended up walking a lot to get to different places, and sometimes I lost my bearings and felt like I was in a beautiful, sweet-smelling maze. Walking around the hotel at night it’s quite dark because the lights are very low. I think this must be to save energy, which is a good thing, but it makes it even harder to find your way around at times!
I ate at Morias restaurant for breakfast every day and once for dinner. It has a self-service buffet with an excellent range of options, and everything that I had was very good. I also tried Flame restaurant for lunch and dinner, and the food there was also very good. I found that there were always tasty vegetarian options – a favourite for me was a wholesome and delicious dish of roasted eggplant with feta cheese. Barbouni is a great beach restaurant, but it’s not open in the evenings so as not to disturb any nesting turtles (for the same reason the resort has no buildings within 30 metres of the beach). The service at all of the restaurants (and throughout the resort) was excellent, with friendly, efficient, helpful staff who seem very happy in their work.
Beyond the resort there’s plenty to explore in the surrounding area. It all feels very rural and green and unspoilt. I enjoyed walking in nearby Gialova lagoon, a protected nature reserve where migrating birds such as flamingoes can be seen. Next to the lagoon, Voidokilia beach is in a beautiful curved bay and, according to ancient legend, is the place where King Nestor met Odysseus’s son. The sea felt warm enough to swim in, but I didn’t have time to try. The harbour town of Pylos has an attractive square lined with local cafes and shops.
Costa Navarino is around 180 miles from Athens airport, and 26 miles from Kalamata airport. I travelled from London to Athens with Aegean Airlines and was pleasantly surprised to be given a meal during the flight, especially as they found me a vegetarian option, even though I hadn’t thought to book one. The hotel arranged a car to collect me from the airport.
I enjoyed my brief stay at The Westin Costa Navarino very much, and would definitely recommend it for families and for those travelling without kids. The hotel, food, service and facilities are all of a very high standard, and the way that it supports the community and promotes Greek culture adds to its appeal.