MESSINIA, Greece -- Headlines in the U.S. about Greece these days usually have words like 'austerity' and 'default,' accompanying stories of disgruntled bondholders and helpless politicians.
But an ambitious new development is quietly unfolding about a three-hour drive southwest from Athens, Costa Navarino.
The mood here, along the sunny shores of the Mediterranean Sea, is upbeat. In the past year, the development has doubled up on the existing Westin hotel and Dunes golf course with the new The Romanos luxury hotel and new 18-hole Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed Bay Course that further solidifies Greece as a golf destination ripening on the Mediterranean vine.
Captain's orders at Costa Navarino
Like so many places in Greece, Navarino's legend dates back millenniums. It's most recently known by Greeks as the home of the battle of Navarino Bay in 1827, which took place in the midst of the Greek war of independence against the Ottoman Empire. The battle, eventually won by the allied powers, was waged in an unbelievably picturesque, crescent-shaped bay that is minutes from Costa Navarino. Today, you can visit the sandy beach or hike or drive up to a lookout point to gaze upon the setting from above, picturing 19th-century naval ships firing cannons at one another in the name of independence.
Costa Navarino's vision of the future stems from beloved local Vassilis Constantakopoulos. Known simply to most as 'The Captain,' he was raised in Messinia and established a successful Greek shipping company, Costamare, as well helped pioneer new environmental practices in his industry.
In the years before his passing in 2011, he had turned his full attention to revitalizing his home with a world-class, ecologically- sustainable resort. Over 90% of the property will remain indigenous, Many buildings are earth-sheltered and have 'living roofs' to assist with the natural cooling of buildings, while many restaurants and other public areas are predominantly open-air.
For food & beverage, as much produce will be grown here locally as possible to support every dining venue. Throughout the property, there are thousands of living olive trees. During construction of the golf courses and resort, about 6,000 were successfully transported and replaced - a tall order considering many of these fragile trees are centuries old.
Golf at Costa Navarino
The second hole on the Dunes Course at Costa Navarino.
While Navarino has been a top summer getaway in recent years, golf will help bring a cooler-season audience to Messinia, where the game can be enjoyed year round in temperate climes.
There are just a handful of golf courses in the country, but Troon Golf-managed Costa Navarino boasts two world-class courses that deserve a seat at the table among the best one-two punches of the Mediterranean's more-trafficked golf hotspots like the Costa Del Sol or Algarve regions.
Bernhard Langer designed the flagship Dunes Course in association with European Golf Design. The course presents a handful of holes tough enough to command attention from Europe's best players, though considering the majority of Greek residents and central Europe is in its golfing infancy, there are plenty of shorter, breather holes from forward tee sets. The second, for example, is a drivable par 4 that tumbles downhill to a green overlooking the Mediterranean -- and presents the confident, downhill kicks and beauty that will make any new golfer think this game may be worth playing awhile.
Jones had even more bayside property to work with on the Bay Course, which opened in the fall of 2011. The mission, in Jones' words, was to 'not design a Top 100 course, but a Top 100 'fun' course.' With more gentle shaping than the Dunes, landing zones are large and green complexes often come equipped with backstops or sidehills that may yield a friendly kick toward the pin.
On both courses, smells of fertile flowers and plants remind golfers not to lollygag too long on the course; dinner reservations await.
Starwood's Westin and The Ramanos at Costa Navarino
Guests can choose between two new Starwood-operated hotels located side by side at Costa Navarino, the Westin and The Romanos, a Luxury Collection property. Westin and The Romanos suites have the option of private patios, pools or even sandy walkways to the beach.
The two hotels share a common village area, where there are a handful of restaurants, pools, an outdoor dinner theatre and shops. Culinary options, as you'd expect in Greece, steal the show. Omega, for example, doubles as both a cooking school and dining room by night, teaching students the benefits and ways to have a rich diet in Omega-3s. Local ingredients are used in restaurants that offer Asian fusion, Italian or traditional Greek. Or, for breakfast or a post-lunch pick-me-up, guests can enjoy a thick, strong Greek coffee that boils beans strained through sand.
Olive oil is abundant no matter where you dine, as the Messinia region produces what the poet Homer once called 'liquid gold.' Costa Navarino produces its own extra virgin olive oil, plus vinegars, cheeses and wines that can be enjoyed at the table or packed in the suitcase for the flight home.
Getting to Costa Navarino
Costa Navarino is located near Pylos in Messinia on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. From Athens, it's a three-to-four-hour drive along a newly built modern highway. There is a closer airport within a 30-minute drive, Kalamata. It receives flights from a variety of destinations from European carriers, including Star Alliance partner Aegean Airlines.