The second part of our cultural trip took a completely different turn in the eastern tip of Lakonia. Possibly appealing to more families seeking a cultural adventure, there is much to do and see here including visiting the famous Monemvasia Castle, Elafonisos Island, as well as exploring even more miles of rugged coastline.
We stayed two nights at the well respected Kinsterna Hotel and Spa located just 7km from Monemvasia new town, with its 5-star offering and possibly one of the finest historical restoration stories in the area. This ancient mansion, built around the source of a natural spring, was first established by the Byzantines and then captured by the Ottoman Empire only to be passed back to the Greeks.
More recently the property was occupied by ‘The Lady of Monemvasia’, Lina Kapitsini who lived there from the 1970’s, when it sat uninhabited until 2006 and after this time the Kapitsini family decided to renovate it. They still own it to this day!
The hotel itself took an incredible four years to restore to its former glory and care has clearly been taken to retain some of the distinguishing features from its fascinating past. As of New Year 2016 the hotel will have finished it’s expansion and boast an overall 50 impressive bedrooms and suites as well as a new reception area, conference facilities, restaurant with dining facilities and small stylish boutique.
There are many celebrated local rural traditions associated to the mansion that the hotel pride itself on promoting and remembering today. These include the production of olive oil, wine making and tsipouro (a Greek spirit). Guests have the opportunity to learn more about these, as well as soak up a variety of chic experiences relating to its history, culture and local sporting pursuits. Guests can design their own itinerary or leave this to the hotel to make recommendations – we would add that a tour of the mansion is well worth some time out of your holiday schedule to take a sneaky peek into some of the finest rooms and get the low down on some historic highlights.
The local hotel surrounds gives guests the opportunity to explore when you hire the hotel’s complimentary bikes (available for all the family) and of course you can choose to hike, or perhaps for fitter guests why not run through unmade tracks and along the coastal road to Monemvasia. We chose to do this on day two of our stay and found it was also a great way of seeing a little more of the area’s natural beauty. The vineyards are especially impressive along with the ancient church ruins nestled at the top of the hill, up above and directly behind the hotel – one morning before breakfast we fancied a short trek and found the church and it really does have spectacular views of Monemvasia Castle and the old town.
Our spacious Kinsterna suite (Room 31) offered impressive triple aspect views of Monemvasia as well as the coastline to the South. Whilst many may scoff at the €640 per night (off season) price tag, the accommodation is next to none and you’ll be hard pushed to find luxury accommodation as good in the area. Other fine luxuries include two flat screen televisions (one in the bedroom, the other in the living room), DVD player, a fabulous two-person shower along with luxury Korres toiletries to indulge in, double sofa bed as well as a chargeable minibar and tea and coffee making facilities. There is also an additional charge for breakfast but there is ample choice including traditional Greek breakfast items (sweet and savoury), as well as a cooked breakfast and locally sourced continental items. We would recommend splashing out on breakfast as it will keep you satisfied for most of the day and the lattes are to die for!
With dining in mind guests can choose to dine inside enjoying the cosiness of the original mansion or outside with delightful views from the terrace. The hotel prides itself on its homemade and home grown produce, which includes its own bottled olive oil, organic fruit and vegetables as well as their own impressive Kinsterna white, rose and red wines, which are exclusively available to guests.
During our stay we were able to experience the all day lunch menu, it’s not huge on choice but it offers a good range of lunch favourites and traditional dishes. The portions are fairly small so it’s advisable to perhaps place orders for additional starters and a desert to really feel fulfilled.
We thoroughly enjoyed the hotel’s a la carte evening menu, which is crammed full of delicious traditional Greek dishes with something for everyone – it’s a hard task to make a choice! After much deliberation, we opted for the octopus and grilled aubergine dishes to start – the octopus won hands down, followed by a traditional beef orzo dish and lamb shank, both of which were of fine dining quality and felt like good value for money. The freshness of ingredients has to be noted here; obviously the hotel has some great suppliers as well as a very keen gardener!
To accompany your food, make sure you try the Kinsterna wines for the quality of taste they offer and we felt they were a steal at €15 per bottle (white and rose) and €20 for red (slightly cheaper in the boutique). The estate produces just 20,000 bottles per year and is regularly bought by the caseload by adoring guests. Our absolute favourite was the Kinsterna rose – it’s sweeter than we would usually go for but it’s utterly divine to drink.
Another aspect of the hotel that deserves a mention is the in house spa. With an extensive menu it’s hard to choose from so many traditional methods and treatments, all of which sound fabulous. The spa boasts a hydrotherapy space inclusive of traditional Ottoman Hammam and indoor heated Jacuzzi but unfortunately these are only available if you pay for a 30-minute session. The spa treatments include facials, massages, body treatments and signature therapies. We opted for the candle massage; ‘an ultimate spa massage with soothing effects of the warm candles providing well-being and total relaxation, while the essential oils penetrates and nourishes the skin’, which comes highly recommended. However, the Oligomer foam body treatment wasn’t quite what I was expecting but promotes itself as a ‘unique experience of relaxation for your body; a treatment that relieves, relaxes and invigorates the skin removing every tension and giving an incomparable sense of relaxation and rejuvenation’. The hot foamy massage was pleasant with natural sea sponges but the wrap and mask was a little uncomfortable for 20 minutes and was not necessarily relaxing.
If you want to venture outside of the hotel, we would recommend taking a trip to Elafonisos Island, situated on the west coast and around a one-hour drive from the hotel across the peninsula. In peak seasons you may be best to get there early and allow enough time to negotiate the winding roads, but lucky for us it was quiet and although we got lost we just about made the ferry! In fact, dare we say it, this island is one of the most beautiful that we’ve seen in Europe with its crystal blue waters and white sands – we literally had this beach to ourselves. However, in low seasons there is very little open in the way of restaurants and cafes, parasol and sunbed hire. Whilst we felt it was a great time to visit the island, make sure you take a picnic with you if you want to enjoy the beach and take some shelter to safeguard from high winds and the odd minor sand storm.
To sum up, the hotel is relaxed chic in unique and amazing surrounds. If we were to pick up one negative it would be service and attention to detail. We found a small number of staff non-receptive as well as unrefined, not warm. There didn’t seem to be a consistency of high service, which we’ve come to expect from 5* hotels around Europe and after reading some of the TripAdvisor reviews it appears that this has been an annoyance for a few guests in the past. But, a thoroughly enjoyable stay in a fantastic historical location.
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