Go in search of the Greece of old at Kinsterna Hotel, an ancient Byzantine estate, overlooking the fairytale rock city of Monemvasia. Located in the eastern Peloponnese, it stands surrounded by olive groves, vineyards and citrus trees. Rooms whisper of history, with stone fireplaces and atmospheric balconies, where residents of the age-old village once crushed grapes into wine. Today, this timeless tale continues with tastings in the private cellar and bread-making classes with the local baker. Outside, a snaking infinity pool adds the final splash of luxury. Did we mention the Aegean views?
Get this when you book through us:
A bottle of wine and 20 per cent off spa treatments; SilverSmiths get 45-minute spa ritual and minibar refill, GoldSmiths a boat ride (if available)
11am, but flexible for 30 per cent of a night’s rate. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £158.57 (€177), including tax at 13 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional government tax of €4.00 per room per night on check-out.
Rates include breakfast.
At the hotel
Spa, hammam, gardens, library and free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, DVD player, minibar, Coco-Mat beds and Korres bath products.
Our favourite rooms
We liked the original Ottoman fireplace and lace feature wall in Room 33, and the cosy colours of Room 34. The scent of mint reaches Room 15 from its private garden and terrace, and the view out to the citrus groves and the Aegean is impressive, too.
Out among the citrus groves, there's an L-shaped infinity pool lined by sunloungers.
The hotel’s spa has a traditional Ottoman hammam, with water cabins, treatment rooms and Jacuzzis indoors and out. Treatments use time-tested local ingredients, such as olive oil, honey and grape extracts. In-room massages can also be arranged.
Binoculars for checking out Monemvasia, the fairytale Greek town, that sits just across the Aegean, on a small island.
Small pets are accommodated on request. Two Kinsterna Suites are adapted for wheelchair users.
Cots for babies are free, as are beds for children under six when sharing a room with parents. Otherwise, rates vary between €50 and €80 a night, depending on the season. Babysitting with hotel staff costs €20 an hour (three hours’ notice required).
The estate produces its own crop of wine and olive oil, and the restaurant uses herbs and vegetables plucked straight from the garden.
Suspended over the lilies and pebbles by the ancient cistern, flanked by columns and lit up at night.
Make like the cast of Mamma Mia! with cool, cream linens.
In restaurant Sterna you'll discover the rock-facing cistern (well) that gives the hotel its name. Tables overlook the water feature and the food is thoroughly Mediterranean: fish fresh from the sea, organic chicken from a nearby farm, the creamiest local feta – all served with herbs, vegetables, olive oil and wines from the surrounding Kinsterna estate. Look out for handmade ravioli stuffed with pumpkins and mint-crusted lamb with couscous. Aegean-view restaurant Mouries (Mulberries) dishes out traditional Greek delicacies – herb-encrusted grilled meats, pasta with mizythra cheese, fresh salads and platters piled high with local cheeses and meats. Taverna Linos is next to the old stone olive press and has a wood-fired oven. It’s open twice a week during the summer months; don’t skip the freshly baked bread.
Sip daiquiris – made with hand-picked fruit from the grounds – at the pool bar between 10am and 7pm from May to October. Seats at the Belvedere bar look out over the pool and the surrounding olive groves to the Aegean sea; settle in for an evening aperitif with a view anytime from mid-June to mid-September. Cosy Kinsterna Bar has an extensive cocktail menu, a sprawling terrace and, in cooler months, a crackling open fireplace.
You won’t go hungry here: breakfast is served from 8am to 11am, lunch is on offer all afternoon (from noon to 7pm) and dinner is served between 7pm and 11pm. Mouries is open daily from 8am to 11pm.
Sandwiches, salads and burgers are available 24 hours a day, but there's a limited menu between 1am and 7am.
Kinsterna Hotel is in the East Peloponnese, in the hills near Monemvasia, overlooking the Aegean and the mediaeval castle town…
The closest airport is Kalamata, a three-hour drive from the hotel, where Easyjet flights from London Gatwick arrive; Athens is also close by, but it’s a good 200 miles away. EasyJet flies from London Gatwick, Berlin, Paris and Rome (www.easyjet.com); BA (www.ba.com) and Aegean Airlines (www.aegeanairlines.com) fly from London Heathrow.
From Athens, the drive will take around five hours: follow the national highways to Corinth, Tripoli and then Sparta, after which Monemvasia is clearly signposted.
The main seafaring gateways to Laconia are Githio in the south, Patra in the north-west and Piraeus in Athens.
Worth getting out of bed for
At the hotel, you can help out with grape crushing, personalise the label and name wine in your honour (the hotel will have it shipped to you once it’s ready). Bread is made in the outdoor stone oven every Saturday – take part with a local baker, and you’ll get to try some. The olive press is in action from late November until March, so guests can watch the estate's oil being made. But don't miss the chance to explore Monemvasia... nothing quite prepares you for the time-worn beauty of this storied town, whose old heart sits on a small island, linked to the mainland by a causeway and visible from Kinsterna across the Aegean. The tree-shaded main square and vine-draped bars, boutiques and restaurants, make for an unmissable day trip. Craving time on the beach? Nearby swathes include Gefiras, Pori and Ampelakia.
Within Monemvasia’s walls, Matoula serves traditional Greek fare with a view of the shore and the rock, or sit out on the veranda at To Kanoni and enjoy their souvlaki (skewer-based kebabs) with a view of the sea (+30 27320 61387). Trata in Gefyra is an old fishermen’s hut that still serve's the daily catch by the kilo; dine by the water, watching the boats come in (+30 27320 62084).
For cocktails, head to Emvasis (+30 27320 61139) or Enetiko (+30 27320 61352) in Monemvasia.
Natural-rubber Pop, number four, or goosedown Morpheus, number nine? The pillow menu that we are sent in advance of our stay at Kinsterna Hotel rather sets the scene. And takes the edge of the hours required in the car for these Athenians. To get to this boutique hotel in eastern Laconia, there are few alternatives to driving: but the 200-mile journey through the Peloponnese from the Parthenon proves scenically astonishing. Nemean vineyards, unexpected alpine and deciduous forests, snow-covered Taygetos mountains and lush plains of olive and citrus groves surround Sparta giving way to a springtime scent of lemon blossom, which is intoxicating. Mrs Smith helps herself to a quantity of windfall oranges.
Monemvasia, often referred to as ‘the Gibraltar of the East’ (mone and emvasia together means ‘single entrance’), is a huge rock, resembling a floating trilby, connected by a short causeway to the mainland town of Gefyra, with its attractive fishing harbour and restaurant-bars. The hotel is seven kilometres past it and encouragingly, as we head inland the locals all know exactly where the Kinsterna is. The last few hundred metres find us bumping along a dirt track in a swirl of safari dust, reflecting that a 4x4 might have been a sensible option, but a smart electronic gate soon ushers us into another dimension. Passing an eclectic mix of cabbage patches, jasmine and vines, we spot a bright pink wrought-iron chair suspended low from a giant eucalyptus tree. The rope looks as if it might have served a more sinister purpose during Venetian, Papal and Turkish times, when the Kinsterna was a fortified manor house.
Immaculately restored, the hotel reminds me of the cult 60s’ series The Prisoner, set in Portmeirion: 27 suites – each with distinctive front door, terrace and style (one complete with oubliette), polite service staff in crisp crimson uniform, quaint direction plates, even a covered electric buggy for getting about – all reinforce my fantasy.
A welcome glass of cold water to settle the dust appears on a tray as we sign in. Escorted to ‘Number 37’ through low stone arches and stairwells, I realise that the human race has increased in stature since the Middle Ages. A shorter Mrs Smith glides blissfully on. Our suite has expertly carved wooden beams underpinning traditional bamboo roof-tile supports, floral pargeting to the walls and polished pebble infills; the slightly safari look is but a fleeting notion. Every feature has been restored to period, and then a modern touch of inspiration added. The view is across vineyards towards Monemvasia and the breathtaking Aegean Sea.
The sitting room, with original fireplace, was an upstairs kitchen in former times. One corner has a void in the floor covered by a glass panel incorporating a cat – not a real one, of course, but a formaldehyde impression detracting from the catacomb space beneath.
The bedroom provides a consummately comfortable bed, with Pop pillows and a sachet of lavender within. Mrs Smith prefers something firmer, but she comes from more Spartan stock. The bathroom has a huge shower and the surfaces are a wonderful mix of polished slate, exposed stone wall and pink-brown marble. Individually framed windows, some tiny, cover slits from which arrows were once fired.
Kinsterna is about relaxation, serenity and birdsong. A spring emanating from a small church runs through the estate, visible through glass conduits, first feeding a water-lily-filled central ‘cistern’ (hence the name), then flowing through small waterfalls to the swimming pool. (Alas, gents of a certain age, that tinkling sound might be a problem.) Wherever we sit, someone appears in the most unobtrusive and timely way to ensure we need for nothing.
Mrs Smith is particularly taken with the spa with two Jacuzzis, a sauna and a full menu of treatments and products. It is me though who plumps for the de-stressing back rub in preference to a 50-minute Indian massage, even if it does allegedly activate your chakras. The masseuse is a local girl who hides politely behind a towel while I strip off and expertly administers what it said on the tin. The pool is divine, with double loungers set in private recesses and never a need to bag a space at dawn with a national-flag towel.
Kinsterna makes its own wine and olive oil using traditional methods and equipment, including a one-horsepower olive press and a still, brewing tsipouro. We meet the horse when trying to visit the little church – it’s very bored and has no intention of letting us pass. Visit in September and you can throw off your shoes and help trample grapes. A sample bottle of their rosé is provided in each suite.
After a healthy breakfast of crêpes, homemade cakes, mini-croissants, freshly-squeezed orange juice and fruit salad, and a visit to castle-touting Monemvasia is a must. The narrow cobbled streets of this ancient walled town mean no cars and a journey back in time; lots of café-bars with friendly cats overlooking Venetian battlements and great traditional fare to be found at Marianthi’s Taverna, especially the wonderful leek patties. A small, sandy beach called Ambelakia, nearer the hotel, provides alternative bathing – but if something akin to Hawaii is desired, the hotel can organise an excursion to Elafonissos Island, an hour away. The most famous beach of all is the twin Simos-Saracenico on the south-eastern tip.
Kinsterna Hotel may be off the beaten track, which for us is the appeal, but it’s absolutely worth the trek. With healthy, beautifully presented cuisine, including a tasty bar menu and fresh fish caught locally, it engages the soul. After a delicious meal of kokoras (coq au vin) and sargos (sea bream), Mrs Smith and I watch a full moon ascend into a goldfish-bowl sky and start dreaming about Morpheus.