There was a moment, earlier this year, that I realised I was so over-stressed, and so over London, that I felt I was one rush-hour journey on the Tube from going into full wild-eyed Marlon Brando meltdown: “The horror! The horror!” I needed to get away. I needed to be well looked after. I needed some good food, lots of quiet, and a burst of sunshine.
“The horror! The horror!” I needed to get away
With a little help from the lovely Juliet Kinsman of Mr & Mrs Smith – who I had recently shared a negroni or two with – I found my sanctuary-to-be: The Kinsterna. A lovingly restored Byzantine-era mansion house, built around a cistern (or Kinsterna) which would have gathered water from the mountain springs and been the source of life for the estate, The Kinsterna sits, surrounded by mountains, at the very southern tip of Greece, near the 6th century, fairytale-castle town of Monemvasia. It sounded perfect.
All I had to do was convince my partner in super-stress – who was to accompany, me – that the four-hour drive from Athens to the hotel would be an adventure rather than a chore.
Adventure seemed the right word when we discovered that the journey would take us through Sparta. Cue many Gerard Butler impersonations. According to Mr & Mrs Smith, said it was “bucolic” and that we could collect oranges right off the trees as we drove. In the end, the drive through Sparta was disappointingly ordinary, though short and soon forgotten. That’s not to say we didn’t get adventure; my tip to future travelers who want to avoid the hour-long, expletive- and death threat-filled detour we took up the wrong mountain is this: get the earlier flight!
As we arrived at the hotel, the most amazing scent of evening primrose and jasmine enveloped us. Calm descended. We were ushered into a reception area filled by the soothing sound of a mountain spring tumbling into the cistern.
The setting is stunning, the rooms are beautiful, and the food is delicious, but it was the staff that made our stay truly outstanding. We learned much about the hotel’s recent history from Theo, the manager: The Kinsterna’s previous owner, Lina Kapetsini, was once so wealthy that she would charter boats to take her whole family on perfume-buying trips to Provence and then famously filled the whole town with the scents on their return. Perhaps understandably, her fortune dwindled over the years, yet she remained in the Kinsterna, Miss Havisham style, as it crumbled around her. She finally passed away in the late 1970s and the property fell into complete disrepair.
A local eventually bought the ruins, restoring the buildings and producing olive oil and wine and growing fruit on the grounds. A few years later, he decided to open the property up as a hotel, helping the estate to provide for the region, championing local artisans, and promoting the ethos of “philoxenia” – “love of strangers”.
The Kinsterna is not a seven-star uber resort where you have your bottom wiped with silken cloth by invisible staff who melt into the shadows directly afterwards. But it doesn’t need to be. Our suite was luxurious and gorgeous. We were never without fresh iced water and fluffy towels by the pool, and our request for a bigger bathrobe was fulfilled within minutes.
The wine made on the estate tasted just like a fine Chateau Musar
Newly becalmed and rehumanised, we happened upon the rickety old pot where they make the local brandy tsipouro, as well as an olive press for making oil – we sampled both products alongside some delicious grilled meats cooked over fig and almond wood gathered from the grounds. The wine made on the estate tasted just like a fine Chateau Musar, and while we enjoyed it, Theo brought to life the history of our surroundings with stories of fortifications, prison cells, bread ovens and vineyards.
Kinsterna is the kind of place that people fall in love with, and want to return to. On our last day, a large party of Londoners arrived for a wedding. Like the happy couple about to embark on a new life together, my partner and I headed back to London feeling revitalised. C
Kinsterna Hotel & Spa, Monemvasia, Laconia, Peloponnese 230 70, Greece
+30 2732 066300; kinsternahotel.gr