Hotel Review: The Kinsterna, Laconia, East Peloponnese in Greece
Travel to Greece is synonymous with many things. Rich creamy feta cheese, pungent black olives, sweeping sandy beaches, azure blue seas…
The Peloponnese is one of my favourite spots in Greece precisely because it eludes such cliches. It exposes Greece’s wilder side, a land of tall trees, desert-like landscapes and crumbling castles. If you are ready to experience Greece beyond its tourist-ready islands, then head to the Peloponnese and a restored Byzantine mansion near the almost-island of Monemvasia. It is called the Kinsterna.
The Kinsterna tumbles down the hillside with cobbled lanes lined by fir trees whilst olive groves and vineyards reach to left and right, and you can smell jasmine at every turn. The sun sparkles on the sea in the distance, brightly coloured wildflowers bloom between cracks in the rock, and a natural cave in the dilapidated mansion is left exposed for guests to explore.
Those fascinated by the history of this place can visit the library, complete with piano and a plethora of books, where images of the old Byzantine mansion in its former ruinous state are hung. Where possible, the design of the hotel preserves these original features and compliments them with modernity. The interiors feature wide stone arches and vaulted ceilings with embroidered rugs and cushions in the traditional Byzantine style. Upward lighting highlights original flourishes while dark wood tables and chairs contrast with the pale natural stone of the walls and ceiling. The junior suite boasts an Ottoman fireplace with fur throws, lovely on a cooler night if you visit in autumn or spring.
In keeping with its design ideology, the activities that the Kinsterna offer to guests are all designed to make the most of this magical space. You can witness and help with their local production of velvety olive oil and fruity house wine. You can gaze out on the sweeping views from a chair swing or grab a bike and cycle around the grounds, even all the way to the sea for a quick dip. One of the highlights of my stay was a horse ride, guided by a half-Australian half-Greek lady who was warm and friendly, telling stories of her horses in this barren but beautiful place.
Tradition and history are balanced with luxury and top facilities at the Kinsterna. There are two large infinity pools, one for families and one reserved for adults, and they are perfect for lounging and contemplating the view. Every residence and suite is flawless, with huge stone walk-in showers, pretty private courtyards, enormous beds with your choice of pillow and a complimentary bottle of home-made liquor. Deluxe residences also come with jacuzzis and the Kinsterna Villa has its own private pool.
For a spot of true indulgence, the Kinsterna Spa is a haven of cooling greys and soothing treatments when the Greek heat gets too much. It features indoor and outdoor jacuzzis, a Turkish hammam, rhassoul cabins with heated mosaic surfaces and a tempting relaxation area bathed in sunlight. Being in Greece, I opted for the Grape Expectations treatment which is designed to rejuvenate the body and regenerate the skin using anti-oxidative red grapes. It involves a vigorous body scrub followed by an anti-aging body mask and a relaxing scalp massage. Unlike those treatments that leave you feeling sleepy and dazed, I feel seriously energised on leaving the Spa, and more than ready to try out the Kinsterna’s restaurant, Mouries, for a moonlit dinner.
The candles lit at nightfall make for atmospheric evenings. The storm that rages around the hotel one night even heightens the feeling that we are in a fabulously romantic Gothic novel. As the hotel is in quite a remote location and focuses so much on locally produced Greek dishes, most guests choose to dine in each evening. They choose wisely.
The mushroom ravioli made with wild Laconian mushrooms is earthy and creamy, the orzotto with shrimps and home-made tsipouro liquor manages to be both meaty and light and the meat mains of lamb, veal and rooster are tender and cooked to perfection. The menu changes regularly based on what is available from local producers, all of whom are personally named at the beginning of the menu, from Dimitris who contributes greens and bulbs from the mountainside to Thodoris the baker. The menu is designed in collaboration with award-winning Athenian restaurant, Spondi, which explains its creative flourishes as well as its devotion to honestly-produced delicious food. Breakfast is also served in the sea-facing Mouries Restaurant at the Kinsterna with a buffet featuring spinach and cheese pies, Greek honey, local cheeses, fresh fruit and hot drinks served in black clay teapots.
If you can drag yourself away from the food then I would highly recommend a morning or afternoon spent in Monemvasia. It is only a short drive away, and reminded me of Mont Saint Michel in France, soaring above the sea. It is a tiny castle town that was carved into the sea rock in medieval times with a paved pathway linking the castle entrance to the mainland. This is where its name came from, meaning ’single passage’. Wander around the tiny streets of the lower town with its shops and tavernas, and climb up to the upper town for breathtaking views and spectacular ruins. If that leaves you a little sweaty then take a swim off the rocks at Portelo – if you swim out a little then you have an equally wonderful view of the island from the sea.
If you think you know Greece and have only visited the islands, then try the Peloponnese and Monemvasia. And for a uniquely luxurious base in this otherwise untamed landscape, stay at the Kinsterna. It is a lovely choice for families with its small farm, family pool and kid-friendly outdoor activities, but equally suitable for couples as there is enough space on the estate to steer clear of children if you so wish.
As I drive away from the Kinsterna down a narrow dirt back leading eventually back to Athens, I feel like I am leaving the setting for some sort of unusual fairy tale. Perhaps its the wholesome nature of the place, or its dramatic location built into the hillside, or the fact that the building itself hides secrets of former residents that we will never know…
Address: Monemvasia, Laconia, Peloponnese 230 70 / 2732 066300