Ask kids what they’d like from their summer holiday: a swimming pool? Natch. A sandy beach? Obvs. How about an ice cream parlour? Yum. Watersports? Yeah, maybe. A waterpark? Now you’re talking. Climbing wall? Sounds fun! Ten-pin bowling? Are you kidding me? Nightly shows so you can go to bed late? Awesome!! Go-karting track? Stop it!!
Now ask their parents. Good food and drink? Mandatory. Plentiful, comfy loungers (that you don’t have to reserve at 5am)? Absolutely. An incredible spa? Heaven. Golf club and two 18-hole courses? Essential. A biking centre? Love it! Outstanding kids’ clubs? Tell me more… A location in one of the most unspoilt locations in the Med? Take me there!
The problem is that, so often, the kids’ wishlist is incompatible with the parents’. Resorts that try and deliver on both end up compromising on one or the other – more often than not the adults’, who have tried to subscribe to the theory that ‘if the kids are happy, we’re happy’, but quickly realise they hate the buffet dinners and the noisy pool and the fact that this all feels a bit like Butlins.
For parents who have been – or fear being – compromised, there is good news. A resort does exist which manages to provide pretty much everything a child, or adult, could ever want from an indulgent summer holiday. Enter Costa Navarino, in the Greek Peloponnese.
I was lucky to spend two weeks here with my wife, Kirsty, and our children (Leo, 8, Genevieve, 5, and Rufus, 2) in early August. Having enjoyed my fair share of beach resorts around the world, I have to say, for the sheer diversity and scale of the facilities and the utter tastefulness in which they are all delivered, Costa Navarino is right up there – in fact, I’d say there’s very little else like it, in the Med at least.
Let’s be clear up front: you don’t get this extent of facilities at a boutique hotel and if you don’t like big resorts, Costa Navarino isn’t necessarily going to be your cup of tea. The resort is massive. There are over 700 rooms split across two separate hotels: the Romanos, part of Starwood’s Luxury Collection, and the Westin. We stayed in the Romanos and were pleased with our choice; the Westin is aimed at the family market and has a busier, slightly less exclusive feel – although the standard of accommodation is equally as high. The resorts share most facilities and meet at the ‘Agora’, a kind-of village square with restaurants, shops and entertainment that sounds like it could be naff but actually works really well, particularly in the evenings when it’s buzzing.
Despite its vastness, what impressed me about Costa Navarino was how it still managed to feel quite personal. This was, primarily, down to the wonderful staff. Always smiling, they would generally go out their way to help – picking up dropped toys, distracting screaming toddlers – meaning you never felt ignored or like ‘just another guest’. Logistically too, they make it easy for you to navigate the place. Golf buggies are available on demand to shepherd you around which my kids loved. Most ingeniously, there’s a ‘Whatsapp’ service which my wife and I absolutely loved and used addictively. To do anything – arrange a taxi, book a restaurant and even ask how long the pool was (seriously, Kirsty did this!), you simply Whatsapp’d the concierge team who would respond immediately and sort it out seemlessly. With free wi-fi across the entire resort, it’s an ingenious solution. Other resorts of the world take note!
One thing I was personally apprehensive about when booking Costa Navarino was not having a kitchen or living area: we generally go for residence-style accommodation as we like to be able to fix a snack or simple meal for the kids and appreciate the space of a living area. This is the set-up we’d enjoyed at previous summer holidays at Pine Cliffs and Sun Gardens. As residences are not on offer at Costa Navarino, we opted for interconnecting rooms and – to our relief – these worked absolutely fine. We didn’t actually miss the kitchen at all. The breakfast buffet was excellent and dining out in the evening never got boring thanks to the ‘dine around’ scheme. Dinner at the buffet restaurant is included on half board but this didn’t really work for us, jumping up and down all night to fetch food for our kids and then ourselves. So we opted instead to use our ‘credit’ at the other restaurants, which were generally excellent.
All resorts have them, so what are the downsides? Well, this sort of quality doesn’t come cheap, particularly if you are restricted to travel in the school summer holiday. Wine is about 8 euros a glass and ice creams 4 euros – it all adds up. However, you can get off property to enjoy the ‘real’ Greece at non-resort prices. We headed into the nearby village of Gialova a couple of times and enjoyed amazing lunches at a waterside taverna, Elia – about 60 euros for the 5 of us. What’s more, if you’re an active family, you could consider coming to Costa Navarino at Easter or October half term; it won’t necessarily be sunbathing weather but it’s the perfect time to play golf, go climbing and mountain biking and enjoy all the sports on offer (there are 2 indoor pools as well as the spa) – Michael at Navarino Outdoors, the onsite hiking and biking centre, will sort you a bespoke programme. Plus you’ll enjoy tasty off-season rates.
The other niggle, for us, was the resort beach. Despite being long and sandy with room for everyone, it shelves steeply and is gritty – denying my wife and I our favourite pleasure of hand-in-hand walks in the surf, and our toddler the chance to build a decent sandcastle. The constant breeze that keeps temperatures delicious, even in August, also churns up the water, meaning little kids need to be actively supervised at all time. That said, nearby beaches are stunning – particularly Voidokilia, a perfect omega of white sand with fun little waves for kids to splash about it. If you are prepared to get out, you will find beaches that are up there with the best of them.
Nowhere’s perfect but Costa Navarino comes close. It works on so many levels – particularly, I think, for families with kids of quite different ages. Young kids can be looked after in the kids clubs and will enjoy the pools and play areas; older kids can get involved in all the on-site sports; and for teens there is wi-fi everywhere and some organised activities for them to meet others like them (consider Scott Dunn’s Crew programme). And whilst the temptation will be to stay in-resort – as everything is provided for you so successfully – do get out and explore this beautiful part of Greece. Undeveloped, authentic and wonderfully hospitable, this is the Med at its very best.
Ten things you must do at Costa Navarino
- Have waterslide races at the waterpark.
Unmissable fun – there’s a long and curly flume for warming up but the real action happens on the twin fast slides. Trust me, your kids will always claim they won.
- Go wave-jumping at Voidokilia Beach
About a 10 minute taxi ride (or 20 minute cycle) from the resort, a visit to this picture perfect beach is a must; be warned there are absolutely no facilities and no shade here, so take drinks, snacks and go in the evening when the sun is still warm but you won’t get burnt.
- Cycle to Gialova for lunch
A lovely morning out of resort. Hire bikes from Navarino Outdoors and then set out on the traffic-free ride around Gialova lagoon. You’ll be afforded stunning views and peace and quiet and then be rewarded by lunch by the beach at Gialova. Elia’s is the best choice – a cut-above your normal taverna fare. For dessert, head to nearby Mr Yogi’s. Frozen Nutella with chocolate sauce will keep everyone happy.
- Have dinner at the Lebanese restaurant
Our favourite in the resort. Incredibly friendly staff and a nightly belly dancing show that captivated the kids. The food is fabulous and surprisingly kid-friendly: pitta and hummous; succulent chicken shish; meatballs. And amazing chocolate puddings!
- Go for a sunset picnic
This is a real treat. Michael at Navarino Outdoors drives you to Voidokilia for an evening swim before taking you on a short hike up a hill (seriously, no great effort even for young children) to where a delicious ‘picnic’, prepared lovingly by two local Greek ladies, is waiting for you. It’s all rather magical, drinking rose as the sun sets with incredible views over the coast. Just take your mossie spray.
- Take the kids to the Bubble Show
It’s on once a week and provides electrifying entertainment for little ones – plus the chance to be inside a real bubble!
- Visit Methoni
The best way to approach the coastal town of Methoni is by bike. Navarino Outdoors organise a day trip which involves a 20km cycle, ending up on the beach by Methoni’s magnificent fortress. It’s an exhilarating ride and you’ve thoroughly earned the cold beer, calamari and swim at the end of it.
- Have some hydrotherapy at the spa.
The spa is seriously impressive, and you’re likely to have the place to yourself. The high-density pool is amazing – I floated about like I was on the Dead Sea. My wife and I also thoroughly enjoyed dousing each other with the freezing bucket shower. Cue squeals and laughter!
- Relax whilst the kids are in kids club.
We used Scott Dunn, whose club is based in the Cocoon in the Romanos, and our 3 kids loved it. They were kept busy with golf and tennis lessons, baking, t-shirt making and copious trips to the waterslides. My older son went on a boat expedition to nearby Proti island and snorkelled over a shipwreck – I was envious of him! The hotel also has its own kids club.
- Lunch at Barbouni
The beach restaurant at Costa Navarino is pretty special and was our favourite place to have lunch. It has an amazing design with a ceiling of ‘sails’ that blow constantly in the wind, to mesmerising effect. The food is delicious too – we particularly rated the octopus, calamari and courgette balls, all washed down with some chilled rosé. Perfect.