I’ve just returned from a wonderful week in the Peloponnese, a region of Greece that had previously escaped my attentions, despite having taken my hols in various parts of Greece for the last ten years. I stayed at the Kinsterna Hotel and Spa, which is just a few miles from the famous medieval town-in-a-rock, Monemvasia, and gloriously situated high up in the hills within its own vineyards and olive groves. What started off as a two-day review trip ended up being a seven night full-on holiday; the initial plan was to visit a few hotels around the region, but after extensive research, I liked the look of the Kinsterna so much that I decided to just plant myself there for the entire week. There’s something great about staying in lots of different hotels in one trip; there’s also something very tiring and unrelaxing about it. You never quite put your feet up and switch off, you never fully unpack your case or set out your toiletries in the bathroom. A multi-hotel stay is great for writing about (I did that in Santorini a few years back, staying at the Sun Rocks and then the Avaton Resort followed by Aenaon Villas) but it does tend to leave you feeling as though you need another holiday to recover!
And so a whole, blissful week at the Kinsterna it was. I found an excellent offer on Mr & Mrs Smith and ended up plumping for one of the more expensive Residence rooms with an outside patio as it was a) reduced and b) one of the only rooms left. This place seems to be full to capacity most of the time; when I tried to find prices for this review, every single room was taken! Not surprising, though, because this hotel is a bit of a gem. A 17th Century mansion, complete with tiny doorways, underground caves and narrow, winding staircases, it was found in a state of complete disrepair and painstakingly brought back to life over a number of years. The setting is truly beautiful; olive groves, vineyards and fruit trees surround the site and there’s a stupendous view over to the sea and Monemvasia, the Byzantine fortress town. The renovations have been so carefully done that it’s often difficult to tell which parts are original and which new; there’s a real sense of history and the modern touches don’t detract whatsoever from the feeling that this old mansion has seen centuries of activity.
The “kinsterna” is actually the central cistern filled with clear, cool spring water that sits at the heart of the mansion. The water that runs down through the walls and into gurgling troughs and deep wells is one of the most magical things about the hotel; in places, the floors are cut away and panelled with glass so that you can see the tiny streams that lie beneath, and the fresh water also fills the swimming pools. The sound of the water is so peaceful and relaxing – I particularly liked the way that the steps down to the swimming pools were set alongside the stream that filled them – it was like walking down a little waterfall.
There were two swimming pools – the “family” pool, just below the bar and breakfast room, and the “grown-up” pool, pictured above. There were only a few children at the hotel when we visited and two of those were babies, so we did have the pick of the pools, really, but I have to say that the top pool, with its double bed sunloungers and secluded little nooks was far more swish and sexy than the other. (What do we all think about adults-only hotels? I don’t know whether I might be tempted to make the Kinsterna just for the grown-ups – or at least make the top pool a no-kids-zone. It’s so chic and sophisticated up there, and it’s lovely to be able to cat-nap in the afternoon sun without any excitable background noises going on!)
A word on food and wine: the restaurant was excellent. We ate there four times and had dinner in our room once; faultless every time. The ingredients were all locally sourced – most of the fruit and veg and herbs from the Kinsterna’s very own grounds. On the last night of our stay we attended the annual wine-tasting event and that was brilliant; rare, unusual Greek wines that I would never have picked out otherwise. We were encouraged to try the local wine on our first night and it was excellent – we stuck with it for the rest of the stay!
I loved staying at the hotel for dinner because the setting was so magical with the lit-up columns and the tables floating over the water; every time we went it felt like a special night out, but we hadn’t even needed to leave the grounds. I found myself really making an effort to dress up and look nice, whereas usually on holiday I just stick on anything and go to the local taverna with a sweaty, makeup-free face! It was a nice change to feel as though each night was a bit of an event, though we did have a couple of trips down to the local tavernas at Monemvasia…
What with the amazing pool, the great restaurant and our lovely room with a big veranda, we found it quite difficult to tear ourselves away from the Kinsterna. We did visit Monemvasia a few times and went down to the idyllic island of Elafonisos twice and I shall write about those visits briefly later on in the week, but the majority of our time was spent lolling about reading our Kindles and eating club sandwiches! I found the price of “staying in” to be very reasonable; a Greek salad to share with bread on the side and unlimited amounts of drinking water cost around eight euros, and most lunchtimes we couldn’t manage very much more than this. Breakfasts were good – a massive selection of fresh fruits and pastries and eggs and then crepes or eggs to order, too – and so we didn’t really feel the need to gorge ourselves in the mid-afternoon! Some hotels seem to drive you out when it comes to mealtimes by overpricing their menus, but the Kinsterna’s was very fair, I thought. A big lunch for two with a couple of drinks came to just over twenty euros, a pasta dish was under ten. You could also drink the tap water, which meant that mini-bar bills were low. Huge bottles of mineral water in the mini-bar cost 2€ – again, not unfairly priced.
And I think that the room rates are good, too, considering the luxuriousness of the surroundings and the meticulous attention to customer service. For a hotel with such character, and with a great restaurant and well-equipped spa (I had an excellent massage there) the prices are quite a pleasant surprise; when I visited, a standard double was about £140 per night (midweek) and a deluxe double, much bigger and with a sitting area, was about £170. Larger suites and residences with verandas were much more – I paid around £250 – but if you’re a sucker for having your own personal outside space (looking at Mr AMR here) then it’s well worth the extra investment. And if you compare that rate to a Santorini rate… Well. You’d be looking at about twice the price in most places.
But the Peloponnese region isn’t Santorini; and I’m not quite sure how I can sugar this particular pill, so I won’t. You need to be up for a bit of a drive: the journey time from Athens to the Kinsterna in the car is around four hours. For some people, this is simply too much travelling when they just want to get off the plane and start their holiday – they want instant gratification, and I can totally understand that. However, what I will say is that for the extra effort, you do get a quieter, calmer holiday with almost-empty beaches and unspoilt, charming little villages. There aren’t a thousand sunburnt people trying to cram themselves into the local tavernas, there are very few gaudy bars or neon-lit fast-food places – it just feels like Greece. Greece when the holidaymakers have buggered off home. There’s not a whole lot to do other than lie about, read, eat, drink and lie about some more. And to me, listening to the sound of waves or gurgling streams is far more desirable than having to listen to chart music blaring out and hundreds of kids dive-bombing the swimming pool.
Maybe I’m just an old stick-in-the-mud; I love my peace and quiet. I think that Santorini is incredible, but I think that I’ve had more relaxing holidays in the less well-known places. Greece has loads of amazing pockets of remote, undeveloped havens and it’s well worth doing some research and hunting them out. And if you want to relax and do nothing, but do it in luxury and style, then I would absolutely recommend the Kinsterna; kick back, drink some wine and look at the stars. I’ll definitely be going back – perhaps for the next annual wine-tasting event! You can find out more about the hotel on Mr & Mrs Smith here – make sure you sign up to become a “Blacksmith” member, you get free perks with every booking and it doesn’t cost anything to sign up. We got a free bottle of wine on arrival, which was a lovely treat!
I did a little video, whizzing about the hotel and taking in some of the sights – if you’re thinking of booking a trip then it gives you some idea of the size difference between a standard room and a larger residence. I would definitely book a deluxe room over a standard, if possible, and if you can stretch to it, the suites all have amazing original features and quirky little touches. The suites seem to be more appealing inside, but if it’s sunbathing space that you want then opt for a residence, like the one I had. Big terrace, sun all day – the only thing missing were a couple of sunloungers! One cannot effectively snooze and bronze whilst sitting in a chair…