The vision of a remarkable man more than 30 years in the making, Greece’s Costa Navarino proudly proclaims itself to be Europe’s newest golf destination – underlined by February’s opening of two new designer-label courses to double its golf offering.
Coupled with the imminent debut of a third hotel and a fourth to follow next spring, the new developments take the total spend to date on the project to €850 million, making it one of the largest tourism investments in the Mediterranean.
Costa Navarino’s very existence, set on Messinia’s Ionian Sea coast in the south-western corner of the mainland Peloponnese region, is down to container shipping magnate and environmentalist Captain Vassilis Constantakopoulos.
A keen golfer in later life, his grand plan was for a huge, sustainable project that would put his home area on the global tourism map as a leisure and golf haven besides providing employment for the local population.
Greece has few golf resorts compared with other countries because it largely comprises family-owned smallholdings traditionally farmed for crops such as olives. So Captain Vassilis set about buying up plots in an unspoilt area of Messinia in the mid-1980s to achieve his dream.
The first area, Navarino Dunes, opened in mid-2010 and offers two luxury hotels – The Romanos, a Luxury Collection Resort, and the Westin Costa Navarino – a spa featuring treatments based on the teachings of classical Greek physician Hippocrates, shops and restaurants as well as the Dunes Course, designed by Bernhard Langer. It was followed in late 2011 by the Robert Trent Jones Jr-designed Bay Course in the nearby Navarino Bay area, although the captain died before seeing it open. The Bay Clubhouse, built into the hillside, opened in summer 2019 and serves up grandstand views over parts of the course and the turquoise waters beyond.
Long on my wish list, I finally visit Costa Navarino this spring, just a few weeks after the two new signature courses – the Hills Course and International Olympic Academy Golf Course, both by Spanish Ryder Cup star Jose Maria Olazabal – open in Navarino Hills, a new area of coastal cliffs a 30-minute shuttle ride from my homely base, the Westin. The two courses span 370 acres of former olive groves that encompass several holes with glorious clifftop views, which can also be savoured over a post-round meal or drink on the Hills Clubhouse terrace.
The Olympic Academy Course – created in association with the International Olympic Academy and the Hellenic Olympic Committee – is the sterner test of the two new siblings, and it will host any championship events held at Costa Navarino in the future.
The two original courses each provide a different but no less enjoyable challenge. All of them are a joy to play and not too penal for high handicappers like me (I struggle playing off 24), while single-figure handicap players in the group also sing the praises of the quartet, and especially the two new additions.
Although the hotels are on a hilly site, golf buggies can be summoned to take guests anywhere on property and make the going much easier.
Costa Navarino has already won major honours for its golf. It was named European Golf Resort of the Year for 2017 by global golf tourism industry organisation IAGTO, while Navarino Hills was named the World’s Best Golf Development in the 2020 World Golf Awards.
Other facilities include tennis, padel, indoor climbing, basketball, an aqua park, outdoor pools, an activity hub for younger guests and a long beach of soft, golden sands. The destination has its own organic vineyards, producing award-winning red and white vintages that are bottled and stored in the Costa Navarino cellars. Olive groves planted with centuries-old trees are organically farmed and harvested in the traditional way by hand to produce low-acid extra virgin olive oil.
Guests have a total of 21 restaurants to choose from. We dine in several, in the Westin, at the golf clubhouses, in the Agora shopping and dining square and eating fresh seafood just paces from Navarino Bay’s sands and lapping waves at the Barbouni beach restaurant. The food is accompanied by some of Costa Navarino’s own wines, and they go down a treat.
There are many historic sites to discover nearby, such as the medieval castle of Niokastro, close to the town of Pylos with its quaint harbour and café-lined square. We visit both. There’s also nature galore from the mountains to the coast, including some of Greece’s best beaches, among them crescent-shaped Voidokilia, also near Pylos, ranked number two in the country by Lonely Planet.
The opening of the W Escape hotel in Costa Navarino’s newest resort area, Navarino Waterfront, in July and the nearby Mandarin Oriental next year will mean the four hotels will offer a total of 1,100 rooms.
There are also plans to add a fifth resort area, Navarino Blue, near Messinia’s vibrant capital, Kalamata, with three themed resort hotels offering leisure, sport and entertainment facilities. When that is finished, the five Costa Navarino sites will extend across almost 2,500 acres, taking the total investment to €1.2 billion.
As I board my easyJet flight home at Kalamata airport I see that it bears the name of Captain Vassilis Constantakopoulos on the terminal. I’m sure the captain would be delighted with the legacy he has left.
COSTA NAVARINO FACTS
Costa Navarino comprises two hotels currently: The Westin Resort, Costa Navarino and The Romanos, A Luxury Collection Resort
Green fees are the same for all four courses, ranging from €148 to €188 for hotel guests That includes shared buggy rental and the use of driving ranges.
Getting there: This summer will see 12 weekly direct flights from Manchester, Birmingham and London’s Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports to Messinia’s gateway, Kalamata, just 40 minutes from the resort. Alternatively, fly to Athens and get a 3.5-hour taxi transfer.