Travel: The Heart of Greece’s Deep South Beats at Kinsterna

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1922
Kinsterna, located off the southern tip of the Greek mainland in Monemvasia

Whenever you happen to find yourself wrapped up in the rhythms of a big city, no matter where it is, venturing anywhere south of it can feel like taking a plunge into the unknown—and Athens is no exception. The Greek capital’s swirl of monuments, culture and side streets are almost guaranteed to keep you busy for any length of time, but a trip into the Peloponnese will remind you of the way Greece, and maybe the world, used to be. 

In another time, it was the backdrop for the epic sparring between Sparta and Athens. There are many ways to discover this verdant region—the Greek version of the Deep South—and the best way is to make your way to a magical spot at the southernmost tip of continental Europe called Monemvasia, a rocky castle island that is the Mediterranean version of the Mont St-Michel and is in fact far more green and beautiful. It’s a Byzantine fortress built centuries ago to fend off Saracens and Slavs, and is maybe as close you can come to time travel. Castles and walls, old houses, narrow cobbled streets, churches, arches, coats of arms, imperial marble thrones and ethereal ramparts create an ensemble that puts all Game of Thrones settings to shame. But, good for you: While not exactly unknown, the castle island—separate from the mainland only by a narrow causeway—is very much off radar, meaning it is still enjoyable to visit. 

But I wouldn’t stay there overnight, even though you can. Instead, the place to prioritize accommodation-wise is Kinsterna, kinsternahotel.gr/en. What is it? A Byzantine mansion that’s been lovingly and luxuriously restored to its original splendor with complete respect for its historical and architectural heritage. The mansion site is 18 acres, comprising the main manor house, restored adjoining houses and extensive gardens. On the grounds are olive tree orchards containing trees that are up to 500 years old. There’s also an orange grove with sweet Monemvasia oranges as well as private vineyards. In fact, as in the days of the yore, the manor is largely self-sustaining; much of the food served in Kinsterna’s three restaurants (one for fine dining, one for delicious all-day dining and one a more casual taverna) is grown organically on the property, making for a gloriously Greek farm-to-table experience which they call (quite correctly) just farmbulous.

Kinsterna is much more than a luxury hotel. True, there are two gorgeous infinity pools with views of the Mediterranean. There’s a sleek spa that uses Phytomer products from France (which are, frankly, the world’s best spa products) and whose design works as contemporary counterpart to the ancient stones that elsewhere here set the sense of place. The rooms and suites, most of which have sea views, marry original architectural elements like stone vaults and arches with every modern convenience. But the welcome is uncommonly warm. You can take a ride on a horse-drawn 1900 carriage—or on the resident donkey. You can bake homemade village-style bread in the old wood-fired stone oven, and sink your teeth into the loaves that emerge from it, drizzled with artisanal olive oil and dusted with fresh thyme and oregano from the garden. Take a cooking class. Or sip a glass of organic wine poolside while drinking in the view of the castle island of Monemvasia, or just sleep late and do nothing at all. But you wouldn’t want to sleep too late—that would mean missing out on the lavish Greek breakfast buffet, which is truly something to write home about and is included in the room rate. So is the peace and quiet and fragrant air that come as pure Grecian balm in this enchanted place. 

A word about logistics: The drive from Athens, while not too challenging (as European drives go), is still rather circuitous with the highway turning into smaller roadways once you go deeper into the Peloponnese peninsula. The hotel can arrange a driver to take you from Athens International Airport, if you wish. Once I had arrived at Kinsterna, I used the excellent taxi services of Dimitris (email him at dimitris.psihogios@hotmail.com) to get around locally. For more Greek travel tips, visit my Instagram at athenianation. For more information about Kinsterna or for bookings, visit kinsterna.gr.