Friday, 14 September 2012

Perfect peace in the Peloponnese: Wine, wonder and tranquility in glorious Greece

By Anna Pasternak Mail Online

When we see the unusual double beach of Simos, we let out a yelp of disbelief.
Not just because it forms a dramatic shape — the two bays merge to create a wide white beach — but because it is almost completely deserted.
A few locals are sunbathing, their dogs splashing around, and an anchored sailing boat bobs in the distance. It takes a moment to acclimatise to no seaside paraphernalia; no sun loungers, no cafes, no screeching jet-skis and nothing ugly like cheek-by-jowl developments polluting the coastline.

Simply divine: The Peloponnese offers a steep-sided version of Greece at its most splendid
In fact, the whole region of Laconia, in the Southern Peloponnese of Greece, reminds me of the Highlands — it's like stepping back in time but with better weather.
You'll find hot sun here until the end of October, that same sense of freedom, vast untouched landscapes and generous skies.

There are acres of wildflowers, Eucalyptus trees and the odd crumbling stone settlement. We drive up vertiginous roads, through mountain villages to Viglafia, where we board a tiny car ferry for a ten-minute passage to the small island of Elafonisos.
With its 16 miles of coast, it boasts the best sandy beach in the Mediterranean - Simos.
The sea is invigorating. The nearby port of Elafonisos, where we go in search of lunch, reminds me of Greece in the Seventies. A few seaside tavernas, a supermarket and a craft shop with only locals and hostel-dwelling backpackers wandering around.
There are no tourists, no boutique hotels and few restaurants. We find a tiny taverna, which serves us and a wizened regular, lunch. For £16 we wolf down a huge platter of fried fish and a Greek salad. No one speaks English, so we communicate with pigeon Greek and more effective hand gestures.
That afternoon, feeling like gap year students - sandy, sunburned (Simos has no shade), carefree - we wind our way back across the mountain to our hotel, near the medieval walled town of Monemvasia.
To find Kinsterna, we follow discreet signs, up a track with only the pine-filled countryside ahead.
The recently opened Kinsterna Hotel and Spa, with 27 rooms, is an architectural ace. A renovated Byzantine mansion, it offers monastic peace with comfortable chic.
Utterly idyllic: Monemvasia - where the tiny square of Platia Dsami stands in the centre - is hugely picturesque
The beds are as cushy as clouds. The building curves around an inner courtyard with an original cistern, flanked by columns. Water runs beneath slate and glass floors and the outdoor restaurant, overlooks terraces to the pool below. There is nothing to do except stare at the view.
And the fact that it isn't particularly child friendly is, for us, as newly marrieds, a bonus.
There is no children's club, nor plastic glasses by the pool. The sunloungers are double beds calling out for undisturbed romance.
No wonder smart Athenian couples drop in for the weekend — it's a three-and-a-half hour drive from Athens - while mid-week, it is dotted with unpretentious elegantly dressed French and Swiss couples.
Dinner is spot on.
The chef visits Monemvasia port every morning for the fresh catch. And with their own vineyards, the Kinsterna Red (£12 a bottle), a blend of Agiorgitico - the famous red grape of the Peloponnese and the local Mavroudi grape - is delicious. I still regret not bringing a case of 2006 Kinsterna red home.
But that is just one more reason to return to this heavenly place.

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