The Olympic torch is a powerful symbol in Greece at the moment, burning brightly, like the determination to show that the country is still very much in business as a top tourist destination.
The flame and the welcome feel brighter and warmer in the place where the Olympic Games began way back in the mists of history, in the very fertile, very green, and very beautiful, western Peloponnese.
It’s a part of Greece which doesn’t often have a high profile in the holiday brochures, compared to the familiar hotspots among the islands to the south and east, but here, you can throw off your stress and celebrate life – the mantra of leading tourism company Aldemar and their flagship destination the Royal Olympian Luxury Resort and Spa.
It’s part of a hugely-impressive complex adjoining the Aldemar Olympian Village on a lush stretch of coastline, and shares the will to make things work and make you feel like an Olympic gold medal winner every day of your stay.
There are 57 rooms and 44 suites with sharing or private pools in this select part of the secure resort area, and it also has access to a two-kilometer stretch of pristine private beach along with its neighbour, although you can make that even more special by relaxing on a reserved four-poster double sunbed with white linen drapes.
You can also take your pick of all the facilities in the family-friendly village, with its half-dozen restaurants, eight bars, tennis courts, water sports and all manner of holiday diversions, as detailed in Olympian Epic – Part 1.
What sets it apart, as well as the luxury accommodation, is the world-renowned Thalasso Spa Centre, a tranquil haven of peace and calm which looks and feels the part. It’s a stunning marble temple to wellness, relaxation and sheer indulgence.
It would take a big, strong shelf to hold all the awards the spa has been winning, with a qualified team of professionals on hand with a promise to help you have ‘one of the most soothing, purifying and rejuvenating experiences in your lifetime.’
Thalassotherapy (from the Greek thalassa ‘the sea’ and therapea ‘treat’) is based on the therapeutic use of seawater and marine products to restore the body’s natural chemical balance – and if it feels so sensational, who am I to argue?
Should you feel the urge, there’s also a fitness centre, with all the equipment you could want, plus a beauty centre, hammam and sauna, which is more in my line, although it would take a great effort of will to turn the temperature up during a Greek summer!
Tucked away from any hustle and bustle around the main pools and entertainment areas, this side of the complex offers privacy and a level of pampering that is rather more-ish, especially when it comes to food and drink.
The Peloponnese, or Ampeloessa (meaning ‘full of vine’ according to ancient poet Homer) is one of the most important winemaking regions of Greece, and I decided from day one that it would be churlish not to sample some of the local offerings.
There’s a lot, lot more to Greek wine than many people think, and the wine selection at Aldemar is an education, especially in their fine-dining restaurants. The Royal Olympian’s own gourmet Marina Club was not yet open during my pre-main season visit, but I was lucky enough to sample part of its menu in the spectacular Artemis restaurant, built over a pool and with an amazing sunset view over the sea.
Front-of-house star Costas Sitaridis, who had already impressed with his knowledge and enthusiasm, as well as his bar skills after picking fresh herbs from the garden for his cocktails, introduced some fresh, rather drinkable wines I had never even heard off; while rounding off the evening with a more familiar Mavrodaphne of Patras, produced a few kilometres to the north, and a smooth and flavourful rival in my book to any glass of port.
If the wine was a revelation, then the food was more than just special, thanks to chef Ioannis Rodokanakis, one of the stars of the Sympossio gourmet tour and the Olympian a la carte maestro.
Ioannis, at the forefront of showcasing Greek street food with the Sympossio masterclasses in Britain and around Europe, invited us to try some of the tastes which were going to feature on the Olympian gourmet menu, so there was no way we could turn down such a privileged preview!
We shared a table with jazz singer Lyn Fairbanks and guitarist partner Dennis, and they too, were just blown away by the range of flavours which flowed out of the kitchen, helping to give all of us a whole new perspective on Greek cuisine and a delightful, very long evening.
It helped to bring into focus the richness of the Peloponnese countryside, renowned as the Garden of Greece and very much living up to that with the fresh local offerings at every mealtime.
The sunshine helps, of course, and it’s the sunshine which kindles the Olympic flame every four years at the nearby site of Ancient Olympia, to mark the start of the Olympic Games.
It was doubly rewarding to take a trip there in the year of the Rio Olympics and walk back into history, seeing the temple of Hera where the flame is lit and marvelling at one of the world’s great archeological treasures.
It also drizzled with rain, another reminder of why the area is so fertile and a nudge to take home some of the other, timeless treasures which would have been shared by people who built the ancient stadium and lived around it, such as wine, aromatic herbs and delicious olive oil.
The main things to take home from a visit to this part of the world are memories and the Aldemar experience made sure that they would be very nice indeed, thank you!
Sadly, the Peloponnese coast is not the easiest place to get to from the UK if you’re not within easy reach of London airports. You can, like me, get a flight-only deal from Manchester with a holiday company; although another option if you have the time would be to fly to Kefalonia or nearby Zakynthos and take a ferry (about an hour) to the port of Kyllini, a few kilometres north of Pyrgos. That way, you get an island holiday, too!
David Graham travelled as a guest of Aldemar and flew from Manchester by finding a ‘flight only’ deal with a tour company airline — try online sites like Skyscanner or Netflights. Transfer was by hire car (46 euros a day), with Sixt having a dedicated desk in the Olympian Village lobby. Return coach transfer thanks to Fleetway Travel.