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16 Jul

Zeus, Hera and Costa Navarino

After a Costa Navarino promotion event in Munich, we decided to discover Greece, Athens, the Peloponnese and Costa Navarino this summer. What we knew is that with every step we will make in Greece we will stand on historic soil and on the roots of democracy.

Booking the flight with Aegean from Munich to Athens contained the first surprise. 23 kg each and golf bag at no extra charge gave us the first “Wow” and gave us no worries about what to take and what to leave home as usual. The Novus Hotel with a roof top pool and a stunning view over the city, to the Acropolis and its Parthenon plus the very warm welcome at check in made us feel on holiday from the first minute on. Well – after the brash taxi driver who did not know which way he will make a better deal with a fixed price or a taxa meter price. So he changed his mind for a few times and at the end we paid the fixed maximum of € 35,00 as written on signs at the airport.

The hotel recommended to discover the city on a hop on hop of bus tour, which was a good decision – when you are aware that the written times on the bus schedule are not dead centre. Short sleeve trousers and flip-flops – Athens here we are. With headphones on the bus in 16 languages we got introduced to the buildings we passed and got some knowledge of the city and its history. It was depressing and at the same time eye opening to see that due to the crises there are still at least 50% of the shops closed. You could imagine the TV pictures of the demonstrations in front of the parliament the last few years. But when we asked the people everybody agreed that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

We first jumped of the bus at the New Acropolis Museum. I liked the architecture from the outside and the inside and the well restored statues and archaeological pieces. After this history hour we walked to Plaka where are most of the shops and restaurants. A bit touristic but still with nice atmosphere and the kids even got to traditionally smash plates on the floor. Back with the underground and a good feeling about the sightseeing we will experience the next day. Acropolis, Parthenon, Panathenaic Stadium, National Garden, Fish and Meat Market, some frozen yoghurt, and more old stones, statues, Arch of Hadrian and in the late afternoon with the city bus back to the hotel pool.

On the third day of to Peloponnese with a rental car and as the book recommended we got of the highway at Loutraki and reached the souvenir shops next to the Canal of Corinth and what can I say it is a must see. Only standing on one of the high bridges you are able to imagine how much work that must have been to build this waterway a hundred years ago. Drive to the south end and have lunch direct next to one of the bridges that do not lift, but rather drown to give way to the boats to pass the canal.

The old kings palace of Mykene, an UNESCO world heritage site was also impressive to see and walk through. But watch the map and the often spoilt street signs otherwise you will do a bit of driving through wine and olive groves to get there. Thanks to Apple and its integrated flashlight my son and I could walk down the cistern. Of course he thought we would now raise the treasure and even two weeks later he still feels sorrow that we did not have a shovel to dig for gold and jewelry that day.

Well after about six hours and a few Euros lighter (toll) we arrived at the Westin Costa Navarino. After check in and an annoying information that Wifi is not included except at the lobby (well Starwood strategy – Americans haven’t heard so far that in the meantime free Wifi is an absolute standard in European hotels – even every small bar around the hotel offered free Wifi), we where driven with a golf cart to the room because the hotel is a very spacious terrain. In the suite with the infinity pool (one of 445 rooms) we saw at the left the old Costa Navarino Castle and a few meters of the 12th hole of the Dunes Course as well as the huge kids water fun park. To the right we saw a bit of one of the pools and could catch the ocean. At night we even could hear the waves. For those who want to avoid kids and the breakfast-table-war (specially at weekends when the hotel is full) I recommend the Costa Navarino Romanos which is “A Luxury Collection Resort” (321 rooms) and is located North of the Westin. But apart from the breakfast we did never feel like on a massive hotel compound. Every restaurant was short-term bookable, there were always more than enough sun lounges at the beach as well as at the water park and the pools and we never had to wait for any service.

The rooms are spacious and well maintained and it is really fun to jump into the pool before breakfast or even after dinner. And when the kids are about to find out the water slide champion you have a quiet space to back out. This also because of the very well trained and caring staff looks after the kids in a very hearty manner. Even at the beach as soon as there is one of the little ones in the water the lifeguards come and stand right at the water line to be there in case of any help would be needed. Lunch can be taken at the beach at the Barbouni. You will love it, even if I do not know why the Greek salad costs € 16 and in all the other restaurants only € 9 to € 11. To avoid this and to give the kids an even more relaxing lunch go to the Souvlakeri at the “Agora”. Opposite you find the Kafenio where staff fulfils every coffee wish you may have with a smile. Generally the price building is questionable: e.g. the bowling is cost per roll instead by the half hour or similar. Well as I mentioned before it is American Starwood style. But again I must underline that food was very good everywhere we ate, specially at the Flame (Golf Club House) or at the Nargile the Lebanese restaurant.

When you are ready to experience Greece, take a bike and ride (30 min) to one of the most beautiful beaches of the world – Voidokilia. On your way back do not miss to drive down to Ammothines restaurant and catch the atmosphere what tourism was like twenty years ago. Small, relaxing, easy going, sunset view and during the day two little beaches to lie in the sun and enjoy life.

Or go with the crew and do some snorkeling in a lagoon with green blue waters on an island, just fifteen minutes by car and another fifteen minutes by boat away from the hotel (very reasonable prices). Or you go by taxi or rental car to Pylos the small village nearby or even closer to Gialova where every restaurant is waiting for you with simple menus but traditional food and warm hospitality.

Day trips to Olympia are a must. Just 1,5 hrs by car you will be impressed by the historical site. First go to the museum and than to the huge compound and feel like a Greek God or Goddess or even like one of the first Olympians in the Stadium. Olympia it self is too much touristic so drive back and stop at one of the beaches to grab a bite and have a swim.

I have my clubs with me, so let’s go and play. To my surprise when ever I wanted I could play because there was hardly anybody playing. I guess most of the golfers were afraid of the heat, but that was clearly no issue. Only if there is no breeze from the Ionian Sea and only during the mid day hours. But apart from that – go there, play and have a lot of fun. After meeting Petros Tourgaidis, the Golf Operations Manager whom I know from many occasions I started with the Dunes Course right at the hotel and played the first nine in the evening hours. Stunning views and a good score made me curious about the second nine which I played a few days later also in the evening hours. Well even if you just need to use the driver with no worries and hit it straight, the course has its tricky corners, but even from white tees it is playable. It took me only 1,5 hrs each nine holes with my carry-on-bag and that made the kids happy that I returned so fast and I had a smile on my face cause of the fair result I shot.

Again a few days later I booked the Bay Course in the morning to avoid the heat, because on that day there was absolutely no wind at all. Also here I experienced a very warm welcome. But caution – the way to the Driving Range is very far, be sure you book a cart as well as to play the course, you will enjoy it much more and the distances from hole to hole won’t ruin your game. It is a rather short Course with only 5.614 m from the white tees, but the greens are incomparable more ondulated than on the Dunes. Again course conditions are perfect and the greenkeepers are trained very well and stop immediately their work, when you are any near by. Do not forget to stand still, overlook the bay and enjoy the birds singing.

Both Courses are in very good condition and it was a real pleasure to play, exactly what you are looking for, when you are on holiday with your family or on a boys or girls trip or to prepare for the season as well as to prolong the end of the season. Both Courses, specially the Bay Course, do allow great views to the Sea and you feel like in a natural habitat. If these are some of the best Courses in Europe or even in the world as some say – you decide. Petros mentioned to me that in the future there might be changes for the Driving Range fee, because some may not understand why you pay an ambitious green fee + a range fee, even if you get as many balls as you want. We enjoyed our stay very much, nearly everything was perfect and we already decided to come back.

After 14 days of Greek history, hospitality and sun we drove 45 min. to fly back to Munich from Kalamata airport. Well, airport is a bit to ambitious, because some cities have an even bigger bus station, but that made it again so easy to fly. With a last glimpse of the Peloponnese and the Ionian Sea and full of good memories we all fell asleep and dreamed of Zeus and his mates.

A special thanks goes to Christina and her taking care about us; this made our stay even more comfortable.