Stylist contributor Caroline Warner heads to the south of Greece to experience the very best in luxurious relaxation at the Amanzo’e Retreat
It’s been a bleak old winter and while it’s a little ungrateful to turn your back on the British sun that has just begun to emerge, there’s no shame in locating your passport under that pile of unopened gas bills on the kitchen table and sending yourself overseas. And while there may be a current trend to visit the more unusual corners of the globe (we’re not ones to shun a touch of adventure), it’s also worthwhile heading to a holiday destination of old. I’m saying this because you might think you know what to expect from a holiday to Greece – quaint whitewashed homes, packed tavernas and overindulging on feta and olives (and perhaps a touch of Ouzo) – but the incredible Amanzo’e Retreat is an entirely different prospect.
ABOVE: The pool at the Amanzo’e Retreat : If you can’t relax here, you probably can’t relax anywhere
Why it’s hot
Situated on the herb-infused hilltop (183m above sea level) of Porto Heli, near the Peloponnese town of Kranidi, you might smell Amanzo’e before you see it. On arrival you’re hit with a cocktail of rosemary, thyme and lavender, along with jasmine and the scent of the 350 olive trees surrounding the newly built five-star spa resort.
Once I’m out of the car, staff hand me an ice-cold face cloth and a welcome cocktail. And, to be honest, I need it after the 150-minute car journey from Athens. But once refreshed, you can take in the scenery, which is nothing short of spectacular. There are virtually 360 degree views from the resort across the surrounding olive groves and a short stretch of azure sea to the islands of Hydra and Spetses. The buildings stand on no fewer than 552 marble columns (the resort is built in ancient Greek style) and the effect is both grand and luxurious.
Next, I’m shown to my own private pavilion (there are 38 on site, all served by five staff each). Now, I was excited when I got the keys to my first flat, but this is something else. With two bathrooms, a sunken bath overlooking the landscape, mood lighting and a wrap-around private terrace, it’s spectacular. And then I see it, there in all its glory; my own pool. Now I’m not talking Olympic-sized, but it’s mine and that’s quite enough for me. And every private pavilion has one.
The next day I head over to the spa; a serene, understated sanctuary. It’s very calming and the staff go out of their way to make you comfortable. I opt for the Amanzo’e Rejuvenation, an all-over body scrub massage with sea salt, olive oil and herbs. It lasts for 90 minutes and I emerge feeling (or not-quite-feeling with my soothed muscles) totally at ease and full of energy. I’m so relaxed I can barely stumble to the beautifully stocked library to find a book to keep me company by the pool.
I spend the rest of the day sipping on freshly pulped apple juice while reading on one of the wooden slatted, cushioned sunbeds. If you’re after more action, the resort can provide equipment for watersports, snorkelling and paddleboarding. You can take a complimentary hotel car to the beach, unless you fancy the 20-minute walk, of course.
ABOVE: Living room meets bedroom heaven
Eating and Drinking
When you imagine your perfect holiday, there are few elements more vital than food. Happily, Amanzo’e has thought long and hard about this. There are four places to eat; The Restaurant for fine dining, the Lounge Bar for informal meals, while the Pool Restaurant and Beach Club are there to feed you during your epic hours of relaxation. The Beach Club’s kilava red shrimps and the fresh juices made to order are a must.
All the eateries provide breakfasts. I ordered poached eggs on toast but I got so much more than that. The eggs had been cooked very slowly for 45 minutes in their shell and then cooked out of their shell for a further four minutes to create the most exceptional poached eggs I’ve ever tasted – the kind of rich yellow yolk of which dreams are made. In the evenings, the cocktail selection stays true to everyday favourites but also includes many sophisticated varieties that use herbs grown on site. I opted for the Lavender Margarita.
However, if you’re after a more rustic eatery, visit the Delfini Taverna in the local town of Porto Heli. We ate fresh grilled local seafood to the backdrop of crashing waves.
ABOVE: "I don't care if it won't start, I'm not going to push"
If you only do one thing
It’s wise to carve out some time to head over to Spetses Island (via a regular catamaran) and potter through the cobbled narrow streets; stalls sell fresh honey and spices, items of handmade clothing and one-off pieces of art. We stop off at Patralis Fish Tavern, just a short – but well worthwhile – walk away from the main thoroughfare. Their lobster spaghetti is simply incredible.
For something a little more dramatic, head to Didyma, a little town close to Amanzo’e, where the hills contain a huge fascinating crater. A steep staircase leads you down into the sunken rock that looks like a meteor made a decent impact a good few thousand years ago. Two tiny ancient churches have been built under the overhanging sides of the crater and are still used for worship. Then head up into the hills of Argolis and visit the 11th-century St Dimitrios Monastery, which visitors are welcome to enter. It’s been carved into the rock on the side of the hill and offers spectacular views – but beware: it’s not for the faint-hearted. It’s very high up and can reduce even the hardiest travellers to a crawl instead of a walk by the end of the climb.
Practical and Useful
If you like your own space and agenda, then you will probably need to hire a car to get around, especially for the drive from the airport (103 miles) as the resort is blissfully rural. We were also told to stay away from the local dogs as they tend to be strays who are not necessarily friendly. Still, nothing can tarnish this paradise.
A stay at Amanzo’e costs from 1,100 Euros (£938) per night in a valley-view pool pavilion. The price is valid from 26 March–31 October 2013 and is subject to 7% tax. For reservations visit amanresorts.com. British Airways offers a seven-night fly-drive to Athens from £189 per person. Price includes return British Airways flights from Heathrow and Avis car hire for the duration, based on two sharing; ba.com/athens