Monday, June 27, 2016

WE HAVE JUST BEEN TO COSTA NAVARINO

On a stunning stretch of coastline on the west coast of the Peloponnese lies Costa Navarino, with international flair and a truly Greek heart...

Its Greek heart began beating the day entrepeneur Vassilis Constantakopoulos decided to create a tourism project in his home tracts of Messinia, along a sensational beach among the olive groves. He wanted it to be in tune with the beautiful environment. Huge gnarled olive trees were rooted up and planted elsewhere for a year, then replanted on the property to keep the real Messinian feel.

Hundreds and hundreds of years old - nature on the resort

To preserve an unspoilt beach environment, the resort is set back a little along the dunes, which are clothed in aromatic natural vegetation, and full of tree frogs and cicadas that call in the evening with nature’s magic. Meanwhile the Ionian sea laps onto a kilometres long sandy beach where your jogging-crazy partner will turn into a tiny dot in the distance as you relax on a sunbed or float in the crystalline water.

It is a truly beautiful beach and on calm days the waters are a crystalline dream



Though this is indeed a huge complex with 321 rooms, suites and villas at the Romanos and 445 rooms & suites at the Westin Resort Costa Navarino, you can happily skip the buggy ride and ENJOY walking along a network of paved paths among Mediterranean gardens, full of rosemary and flowering shrubs that love the sun. 



Beautifully landscaped free-form pools and pebbled waterways are nestled among the flowers – and you can settle into a private spot on your sunbed watching the children swim, though most of the children are in fact elsewhere – at the waterpark. 

There children and the young at heart can be seen hurtling down three waterslides, while the smaller ones paddle among playful shapes in another pool, or trying watershooting games.

Of course you may well choose privacy beside your own sparkling pool and terrace with sunbed(s), table and chairs. One third of the rooms have their own pools, but the most sought after accommodations are along the seafront facing open space and natural dune vegetation (villas and Premium rooms and suites) with or without pools but all with terraces. 

View over the natural dune vegetation from a seafront villa - Royal Koroni Villa
The prices reflect the demand for the sight and sound of the sea and dunes – and premium (seafront) rooms without pools are more expensive than similar rooms with pools deeper into the resort.

Back to the Greek heart, and international dining…

A real Greek feel has been lovingly given to a village area placed between the Romanos and the Westin, with a little bow of respect to Italy. Here you find shops and restaurants, among which a genuine souvlaki take away (where you can sit at typical wooden tables with your meat or halloumi wrapped in pita bread), a taverna for quality Greek dining, an ice cream parlour, a champagne bar and a traditional Italian restaurant. Vines and flowers drape the area, which brings back memories of visits in far corners of Greece. Fun stuff happens like a silent movie playing in the square.

Traditional cafe for a cup of coffee - and inside fabulous Messinian delcacies on show



Dining round and about
Altogether there are 20 bars and restaurants at the two Costa Navarino resorts. Most have terraces that bring you the afternoon sun and sunsets over the Ionian sea.

  • Very Mediterranean, Armyra restaurant overlooking the Romanos pool has today’s catch lying on ice. 
  • For beach lovers, Barbouni is open to the turquoise and blue ocean lapping on kilometres of sand, serving fish and sandwiches. 
  • Morias has gigantic theme buffets that include a Greek evening once a week, but is otherwise international with mouth watering choice of desserts. 
  • Japanese fine dining Inbi perches high with sea and garden views near the spa. 
  • Flame restaurant looks at the greens of the golf course and the blue smudge of the ocean, and indulges in steaks and other mostly meaty delights. 
  • For an exotic touch – a  Lebanese restaurant. 
  • For lazy cocktails – three bars overlooking Costa Navarino’s attractive pools, islands, bridges, waterfalls, olive trees.
  • Finally – for a mood from over the Atlantic – The Diner. Retro decor, red furniture, hamburgers and food the kids usually miss when dining in hotels.

A little present you could take home (from the delicatessen)


Restaurant Flame for meat lovers and golfers

The traditional souvlakeri (it also has a halloumi version)

The champagne bar for cool fun on balmy evenings

The beach restaurant for fresh fish and Ionian sea breezes

The amphitheatre at the resort village

Armyra fish restaurant for today's catch
The romance of the beautiful resort in the evenings. A Westin pool.


Energy, sport and fun

The American Diner lies next to all sorts of activities to use up the energy overflow of even the most frenetic of children (or people) while others recline on sunbeds with a mojito. You get a bowling alley, basket ball court, climbing area and the already mentioned waterslides. More energy can be used up at the games arcade, the speed track, the indoor lap pool, the excellent tennis courts and the two golf courses, one running sublimely beside the sea. This is indeed a full resort for those who love to be active! 

The Dunes golf course  - some Links features and views all the way. Par 71, 6108 m.
Thrilling moments. Mummy can shoot down the parallel slide beside you while
daddy takes the long winding slide or enjoys a drink on the sunbed way below (or vice versa) 

    
Managing the differences

The two resorts are managed by Starwood. All food & beverage outlets, except the Romanos breakfast restaurant, and all sporting facilities, are open to all guests. The Westin is designed to delight families though there are lovely rooms there that would suit honeymooners. The Romanos is part of Starwood’s Luxury Collection and is priced up, giving a feeling of exclusivity and that little something extra – for example Westin guests stand at checkin, Romanos guests sit. It also has all the villa accommodations. Families are very welcome but overall Romanos is a more adult resort with fewer children.

Part of Romanos’ more adult and traditional mood is a preponderance of dark hardwood furniture, some dark hardwood floors, and teeny pleasing touches of vivid colour. By contrast Westin has a younger, lighter feel with creams and cool lime green. Pale wood and pale tiled floors.

Westin accommodations

Vast variety
There are so many room types that it’s hard to get a grip: but these are the “leggo” alternatives: a 39 sqm room, a 49 sqm room, a suite (70 sqm), a pool (or not), and a seafront position (or not). Suites are further expandable with interleading doors adding rooms. The décor is similar throughout, contemporary with lights woods, sand coloured floor tiles, and refreshing tones.

Beautiful basic
Even the most basic room at Westin has floor-to-ceiling glass doors and private open-air balcony. It will sleep a maximum of 3 adults or 2 adults and 2 children (Based on one child under the age of 4 years sharing parents bed), with one single sofa bed as standard. Children under the age of 12 years stay free in existing bedding.

You can feel the difference between Deluxe rooms (39 sqm), and Superior rooms (49 sqm) – the Superior room immediately feels more spacious. A Suite is from 70 sqm, starting with a Family Suite, and again you can certainly sense the difference. Suites sleep 4 adults or 2 adults and 4 children.
If you add a pool the accommodation is described as an Infinity room or suite. If you have a seafront position you have a Premium room or suite. As described below…

A Premium Room
Favourites
A gorgeous experience: the Premium Infinity Suite at the Westin.

View from the sofa bed over the terrace, pool and natural dune vegetation to the aquamarine sea; a Premium Infinity Suite

The view was out over the pool and gentle dunes with wild flowers blooming and an aromatic rosemary bush within reach of the pool. Beyond was the blue and turquoise Ionian Sea, with the sound of gentle waves. In the evening the sunset sky was mild and iridescently pink over the sea, and the frogs were waking up to sing a chorus of Greece and warm countries. The tiled deck felt wide and open, housing two sunbeds, table and chairs.

In the master bedroom you have a king bed, arm chairs, large TV, and a freestanding bath (which you can hide if you wish), and doors to your WC, shower and walk in wardrobe. In the living room there is another TV and the sofa can be converted to a bed for two children. There is also a dining table indoors with chairs clothed in white, and yet another shower and loo.

A view from the bath of a Premium Infinity Suite. You can bring down a curtain for privacy.


The advantage of Westin suites is the extra bathroom (not always found in Romanos).

Romanos accommodations

The exclusive Romanos has rooms with, to my way of thinking, a more traditional decor, more mature, less young and beachy – somehow reflecting quality with a more demure aspect. Though the basic room type (Deluxe Room) is larger (43 sqm) just one child is free in a baby cot.

Romanos deluxe king infinity room



The “basic” suites (Ionian Exclusive Grand Suites) are also roomier than at the Westin – 82 sqm. You can have a room or suite with a pool or with seafront position or with both finesses – then called a premium infinity room or infinity seaview suite. 

Premium Grand Infinity Suite

Upgrade from that to a 142 sqm Master Infinity Villa for a family of 4 with a 48 sqm pool in sublime position facing the sea (add on a connecting room for an extended family), or a 192 sqm Ambassador Villa with two bedrooms and a generous 73 sqm infinity pool with its own private beach sand area, plus its own access to the Dunes beach. 


An Ambassador Villa
In addition, at the Luxury Collection’s Romanos you have two uberluxurious three-bedroom villas that flow over with 630 sqm of indoor space. The Methoni and Koroni royal villas also invite languorous private outdoor living with vast pool terraces enfolded by sky, beach and sea views, equipped with generous lounging, outdoor dining and barbecue facilities. Indoors too you can lounge or dine with your family or entertain friends in spacious lounges and dining rooms, get to work in a spacious study or simply invest in your well-being in your own spa and gym area. Methoni is very homely despite its size. Koroni, with soaring ceilings and minimalistic elegance, has a fourth bedroom for the butler, or whoever – plus an elevator, indoor water features and dining for 18 guests. 

One small corner of the vast pool area with sprawling decks, outdoor dining and lounging  - Koroni Villa. 

Methoni Villa    
Romanos suites and villas get use of the helipad with VIP pick-up, exclusive check-in area at Romanos lobby or in-room check-in, 24/7 Butler service on call, play station (on request), priority tee times at any of the two signature golf courses and a lot more.

Keeping busy

The resort has so much to do you need at least a week. But even so you can’t miss the charms of the surroundings.

We had our own hire car so spontaneous adventures were easy. But of course all these outings can be organized at the resort.

A must do excursion is to the iconic beach of Voidokilia. It’s just 10 mins drive from the resort. 

Aerial view of the protected bay of Voidokilia - a World Heritage site
On its beautiful curved sands - protected as a nature reserve

Fortunately preserved as a nature reserve, this is a beautiful natural beach with no facilities so we took a watermelon from a farm stall. The protected bay is guarded by two headlands. The water glints peacock blue and turquoise, and the beach almost encircles it like a bracelet.

It’s a fun idea to pop out for lunch to nearby villages. Our favourite was seaside Gialova. There was a choice of restaurants along a paved road facing the beach and wide bay and somewhat weather bitten palm trees. Some of them are known to party late into the night. We enjoyed the Greek atmosphere, well cooked traditional food and interaction with the restauranteurs. I was thrilled to rediscover Aubergine Immam (which was topped with tomato but can be topped with béchamel sauce to liken moussaka). The latter was enjoyed at rather hip chairs and tables on the sand. Drank Illy cappuccinos at the cool local gathering place. This did beat resort coffee.

Seaside Gialova - a choice or traditional restaurants with some cool modern touches here and there.

Another must do excursion is to the Polilimnio waterfalls. It could be more relaxing to do this as a resort excursion rather than driving yourself there as the road down from the nearest village is quite a deterrent. In any case a 20-30 minute walk is involved down a steep path from the parking lot. Once at the first waterfall you need good shoes as it is steep and rocky. You can visit 7 falls altogether if feeling energetic. The pools are often crystal turquoise and inviting to swim, but after heavy rains are full of waterborne soil.



At the top of the bumpy road is an attractive simple restaurant with a view, where you can reward yourself with fresh orange juice after your exercise. They didn’t have coffee.






 Methoni is a fascinating Venetian castle some 30 mins drive from Costa Navarino.

Then of course there are antiquities to be explored. A guided tour arranged by the resort is probably the best way to do it if you aren't a classical scholar....

In a nutshell

Resorts for those who love sporty activity, a big choice of onsite F&B, an endless beach, and beautiful garden pools. Costa Navarino is a great spot for families and golfers. For nature lovers upgrade to seafront (premium) rooms or suites...and don't miss a pool if you have swim-crazy kids who want to splash around on hot evenings. The resort has a beautiful setting in vast gardens, with friendly staff and open feel. The size gives some anonymity which can also add to the feeling of freedom and possibility.

  


Friday, June 3, 2016

WEEKEND IN THE MALDIVES

A weekend in paradise. Or a long short journey from Stockholm to Male. Max Albrechtsson writes about three nights and three days at One&Only Reethi Rah in the Maldives, plus two nights asleep in the sky…


A weekend here? Clothed in jungle and lined by white sandy beaches: the incredible One&Only Reethi Rah

Why not do something different, something that will amaze your partner and perhaps your future wife or husband …

The Maldives for a weekend - just three nights in paradise. This might not be the ordinary weekend getaway if you live up north, but it’s not as “difficult” as it sounds. When traveling with Qatar Airways in Business Class you will arrive at your destination well rested and ready for a few days in the sun. Qatar Airways departs twice a day from Stockholm almost every day of the week but we chose to take the night flight to sleep on-board and arrive in the beginning of a new day in Male.

There is only a short stop in Doha where you have time to stretch your legs and enjoy the lounge for a midnight snack. If you have a longer connection check in to the Airport hotel and enjoy a spacious room with shower, room service and a king size bed to relax in your privacy.

Total flight time is about ten and a half hours in a fully flat bed with excellent food, beverage, great service and an impressive entertainment system filled with the latest movies, TV shows and other “time killers” if you’re a night owl.

There are more than 1900 island in the Maldives, about 200 are inhabited, but only one island and its resort were the destination for our weekend stay! An island to blow the mind.

We are going to the one and only One&Only Reethi Rah, perhaps the most famous resort in the Maldives. One&Only have been up for business for 11 years and without doubt fulfilled my expectations.

Sweeping sands, beach villas and water villas - all magnificent

Straight into luxury

It is Friday when we arrive in Male. Greeted by the One&Only team, we are taken instantly to the luxury speedboat transfer. No waiting for other guests or seaplane departures, this transfer is private and extravagant. If you get tired of the island life or just want an excursion you can hire the yacht for private use; it has two bedrooms that can accommodate up to four adults plus staff.

One of the fleet 

After a smooth 50 min transfer we arrive at the marina in between the mangroves and bright red hibiscus flowers. Docking in a remote paradise, greeted by management and villa hosts serving cold towels and welcome drinks. There is no need to check in at the reception; after the journey our private villa host takes us directly to our accommodation with a golf car. When staying in the larger villas you will get you own private buggy to easily get around on the island; all room categories have their own bikes and it’s so nice to feel the breeze when you are trundling along under the palm trees on your way to breakfast.

Beach villa with pool

This is no ordinary accommodation –  the beach villa with pool is so generously spaced indoors (79m2) and a has unstinting verandas (86m2), plus a private swimming pool! The beds are heaven and the outdoor shower is the only one I used for our entire stay.

It’s time for dinner and we will enjoy our first evening in Reethi Restaurant. Reethi is the main dining lodge of the resort and offers a great variation of food in spectacular settings right by and over the water. Contemporary cuisine from the Mediterranean, Indian and other far horizons. Next to Reethi there is live music in Rah Bar with bubbly champagne and elegant cocktails for an all night party.

After a peaceful rest I´m waking up to the sound of the waves, have a quick shower and feel the heat from the sun. We have breakfast by the ocean in Reethi Restaurant. A buffet where everything you can wish for is served; freshly cut fruits, pastries, international breakfast and your omelette just as you want it.

It’s time to discover the island. Reethi Rah is one of the largest islands in the North Malé Atoll which is great; there is never a crowded beach and the gardens of your villa are always spacious, compared to other resorts. Even the Water Villas are spread out and not stacked back to back.

Long beaches

The Grand Sunset Villa

A water villa with pool  - you and the sea

Beach villa

Great things to do this weekend

Reethi Rah have all kind of activities from their own football field, climbing wall, water sports, golf simulator or for the more relaxed personalities a wonderful spa, art classes or yoga.

Yoga pavilion with a fresh breeze off the lagoon
Climbing wall

A choice of watersports

Superb tennis courts
Even options for arty souls

There are also exiting adventures for the whole family with Dolphin Cruise or line fishing in the sunset.

Underwater

One of my favourite activities in the Maldives is snorkelling and diving, just a short boat ride from the island there is a turtle reef that is habitat for more  than 15 different turtles, all named and monitored by the Marine Biologist. The turtles are well protected and their home at the reef is secure from fishing. The snorkelling tours go twice daily from the resort and the skilled staff shows you all kind of interesting species under the surface, a whole new world to experience.


Max underwater with a big turtle

Astrid and Therese give the thumbs up

The varieties of dining options are remarkable; tonight we will enjoy one of the island favourites among repeating guests, the Japanese restaurant Tapasake provides modern Japanese cuisine with a sophisticated twist. The dishes are often shared tapas-style and shared with your loved ones at the table, a social and fun way to enjoy dinner. The wine list is impressive with well chosen beverages to match the unique flavours exciting collection of Rieslings and Pinot Noirs as well as traditional sakes.

Other interesting dining options are the Chefs Garden, with organic vegetables and herbs often served with fresh fish and seafood. Our evening is accompanied by a live jazz performance and the chef serves grilled langoustine with soup of the day as a starter. The local water is served from a water pitcher by the garden’s nurseryman, a fun way that gives us a laugh when the nozzle falls out and splashes over the table, no stiff dinner with white cloths, this is relaxed and the dress code for the evening is Resort Casual.

At Reethi Rah you can wear your Christian Louboutin shoes with elegant dress or go casual with chinos and a linen shirt - it’s all up to you.  Whatever  venue you choose for the evening has its own atmosphere and dress code.



At our last day we spent the morning on a long breakfast enjoying a cooling breeze in the sun. We try to taste all deliciousness that we missed and have a green health smoothie before we go to the spa for a relaxing massage.

During the treatment memories are flashing by from this short but wonderful weekend. We had an amazing stay and in my dreams I will travel back over and over again, One&Only Reethi Rah is a piece of heaven on earth.

I was back at work again on Tuesday morning, bursting with energy and inspiration.

LOCATION
Surrounded by the wonders of the Indian Ocean, One&Only Reethi Rah makes its home on one of the largest islands in North Malé Atoll. A jewel among a string of coral atolls, lagoons and white sands, it is about 700 km (430 mi) southwest of Sri Lanka.

QATAR AIRWAYS
Total flight time is about ten and a half hours in a fully flat bed with excellent food, beverage, great service and an impressive entertainment system filled with the latest movies, TV shows and other “time killers” if you’re a night owl.

WEATHER
The Maldives has a pleasant equatorial climate, with two main seasons. November to April is light and fairly dry. May to October occasionally brings brief rain showers followed by sunshine. Temperatures range from mid 20s to mid 30s C (77 to 95 F).