News & Reviews Europe Greece Review: Mandarin Oriental Costa Navarino, Greece

People often say to me: “Aren’t you that horrible guy with that awful blog?” And I say, “Yes, Mother, we went through this yesterday”. Then they tell me how my experience would differ from theirs because of owning said blog and a luxury travel agency.  I’ll dispute it, but before I know it, once again, I find myself in an abandoned car park pulsating with unchecked testosterone and the smell of urine, ready for another fight (a perfect analogy of Twitter).  Boys will be boys.  With Mandarin Oriental Costa Navarino, allow me to hold my hands up.  This is a review based on an entirely unrealistic viewpoint.  There is no chance your experience will match mine.

When a new luxury hotel of this scale launches, it generates considerable buzz, which usually draws significant crowds.  Mandarin Oriental’s first property in Greece was never going to open with a whimper.  Having only opened six weeks ago, it should inevitably be packed, were it not for one minor detail – the nearest airport, Kalamata, situated 45 minutes away, has barely a single flight a day, and the alternative is a four-hour drive to Athens.  It meant the occupancy here was as low as the average IQ at a Trump rally.

There is no chance this ghost town vibe and guest drought will continue.

Getting to Mandarin Oriental Costa Navarino is easy.  Assuming you can get a flight.  Kalamata Airport is another Greek architectural masterpiece with two gates, two broken toilets, and a stench that reminded me of my underwear draw as a teenager.  With British Airways not flying to Kalamata come the end of September, the only realistic option is the budget airlines, which isn’t exactly the intended audience for a place with entry rooms costing over €1,200/n.  Say what you want about us Brits, but one thing we’re good at is going on holiday to southern Europe, so we are their target market.

When you do manage to arrive at Mandarin Oriental Costa Navarino, you are presented with a scenery so lush, beautiful and serene it’s like stepping into a Windows XP desktop wallpaper. The property feels so established but manages to look extremely modern – like a spaceship perched gracefully on a hilltop being embraced by the terrain.  To say it’s photogenic is a grave under-exaggeration; this property is going to spam your Instagram feed for the next few years.

Yet Costa Navarino feels like a contradiction – it’s so recent and heavily developed (a W is photobombing you next door) but manages to dart your focus on the old, earthy, beautiful scenery.  You can tell you’re in a new resort, but the surroundings give little indication.  A golfers paradise, with a course built into the resort, further enhances the landscape.  There is a lot taking place, but somehow, they’ve managed to hide it, to divert your gaze away from the sprawling metropolis and stare out across the ocean, not at the hideous road you enter from.  With 99 rooms, it’s big enough to offer an impressive amount of facilities but small enough to provide the intimacy of luxury.  The property isn’t exactly sprawling, but the staff were all too eager to chauffeur us around in golf buggies as if we were royalty with an allergy to walking.

Room

Rooms selection is straightforward: choose from identical Junior Suites or Villas, differing only in location. Two-bedroom options are simply connecting rooms or villas.  We stayed in a Bay View Pool Villa.  The room setup was fantastic.  Mandarin Oriental branded teepee for the children, kids’ toys everywhere, and even cute little slippers.  For us adults, some fantastic chocolate, juices and wine.  How very un-Mandarin to be that generous.

My initial impression was surprise.  Surprise at the rooms feeling a bit cramped.  Given its newness and seemingly infinite space, the living room’s snugness felt a few metres too short of whelming and spacious.  A bit more room in the living area, an extra toilet, and hey presto – it would feel more like a villa.  It will be interesting how it stands the test of time.  What I’m sure will stand up is the design – elegant, earthy, natural colours and light.  The space might have bothered me, but the design certainly did not.  As with every other part of this property, money has been spent.  Lots and lots of it.

Though 139 sqm sounds roomy, the outdoor area eats up much of that space.  The bedroom is fine; I’ve come to realise there’s little point having a huge bedroom anyway, whilst the bathroom is gorgeous and undoubtedly the area with the most spent on it. Between the living area and bedroom is a sliding door that strangely only goes about 95% of the way.  The bath and shower are in the same open-planned room, which I wasn’t keen on.  Then there’s the outdoor shower, which I never see the point of.  Basically, I’m anti-showering.

Step outside, and you’ll find a patio, complete with sun loungers and a heated pool that’s more for bellyflops than laps. My family spent a comfortable amount of time there, enjoying the substantial terrace equipped with a privacy curtain. Whilst it wasn’t a concern due to our lack of neighbours, the fact that we could stare right into their pool area whilst standing at the end of ours was not great.  It didn’t make sense, as a lot of the rooms had privacy screens, so either it’s not installed yet or, well, that’s it, I can’t think of anything else.

On the tech front, they’ve nailed it. USB-C sockets are sprinkled generously everywhere, the light controls are idiot-proof, and managing the blinds is a breeze. You can stream content directly to the TVs and, my favourite, electronic toilets.  They label it ‘Japanese’, but it’s German-made  – either way, it’s a throne fit for an arsehole.  Your arsehole.

Speaking of arseholes, my two-year-old daughter.  I joke; I love her dearly.  Anyway, she walked straight into the glass door, and then I almost did the same – clearly as a sign of unity.  Surprisingly, neither of us were aware of the presence of doors, as they rattle so much.

Alright, granted, the place had just opened its doors, but having the electricity play hide and seek with us wasn’t exactly the welcome we anticipated – unless it’s some local tradition we’re unaware of. This wasn’t our first Greek blackout rodeo, having had a similar experience at another resort earlier this year. We kept maintenance on their toes with our calls, first for the elusive electricity, then for a stubborn blackout blind that refused to stay up. Kudos to the staff, they were quick on the draw each time. At moments, it felt like we were unwitting beta testers for the resort – the price to pay for being among the first to visit, I suppose.  Still, better than being evacuated on opening night.

Facilities

Walking around, it felt like they created this property just for us.  At least there are ghosts in a ghost town.  This was more like The Leftovers, but if 200% of the world’s population disappeared.  Seeing that I frequently moan about the lack of exclusive feeling that resorts give, where they all feel the same and blend into each other, I can comfortably say that is not the case in a new property of this calibre, especially when you are the only person using any of the facilities.

Every detail of this Mandarin Oriental – the facilities, restaurants, landscapes, and furnishings – all exude luxury.  It’s all things to all people: family-friendly, which offers lots for children and even more for adults.

The entrance acts as reception, lounge, bar and viewing point.  It has a bit of a La Reserve Ramatuelle feel, although not quite as dramatic, even though the views are equally so.  Down the corridor, you’ll find the spa and gym.  Both are exquisitely designed.  The gym is filled with the latest TechnoGym equipment inside, complimented by a Watt bike and boxing bag outside.  The views onto the W Hotel or a mundane road will not feature in National Geographic magazine anytime soon.

While the gym isn’t sprawling, it’s adequately sized; during busy times, should they one day ever occur, it might be a problem, but it certainly wasn’t during this stay.  They also provide free daily classes, mostly yoga or pilates. Our daily strolls would often reveal a lone instructor, patiently waiting, begging for someone to join or the release of sweet death to overcome this lonely existence. There was always an attendant on standby in the gym, likely cherishing any human contact, even if it meant dealing with my sweat-drenched self.

Next to the gym is the spa pool, a 25m indoor/outdoor pool and probably the best-looking thing in the hotel (excluding my family, who might read this).  Next is their ‘Heat Area’ – a plunge pool, sauna, two steam rooms, experience shower, two-foot tubs (one with warm water, the other broken) and a soon-to-be-built Hamman.  Going from the gym to the pool to the heat area was a delight.  Well planned, architects, well planned.

Downstairs is Oliveria restaurant, where breakfast is served.  Next to it is the “Tranquility pool”, which is a fancy way of saying adults only.  It was so tranquil I never saw a single person there.

Whilst some may see the selling point as having a golf course within the resort, with it being so close you can walk from your villa to the driving range within a few minutes, I would rather focus on the beach.  Look, don’t go and cancel your trip to the Maldives, but by European standards, it was pretty good.  There are two huge swimming pools designed in a way that made me think a bit of Las Vantanas.  In fact, the entire beach area is stunning.  The architectural design, interiors, and space are breathtaking.

There are three boutiques, each pretty classy; one sells sunglasses, another sells swimwear like Orlebar Brown, and the other sells items like Missoni dresses.  The toilets are in between two of the stores – sneaky bastards.  They know my bowel movements and desire to purchase are intrinsically linked.

With it being so empty, there was a 4:1 ratio of guests to lifeguards, making the beach pool the safest in the world.  Fair to say that staff shortages are not an issue here.

Food

The food could be described as “pastry chef a genius; everyone else needs training”.  My favourite dish was a chicken sandwich, which is not the compliment you KFC lovers might think it is.

There are many dining options, but some are only open for lunch, and some close on Sunday and Monday.  Tahir only opens for dinner and offers local cuisine, but we never had a chance to try it. Brasserie de la Bay is their French brasserie on the golf course, where we had our most disappointing meal – I sent back my tasteless main course, which took over an hour to arrive.  They described the chicken as ideal for two people, but zero would have been fairer.  The setting is beautiful, with it slightly off-property, but it only opens for lunch.  Perhaps best so we’re not subjected to it any more than necessary.

Down by the beach is Ormos Beach Club, which also has a pizza oven.  They also offer ‘Pizza Sapienza by Daniele Cason’, a fine dining pizza-tasting menu option.  You have a different slice over eight courses, resulting in having eaten an entire pizza at the end.  I know I come across as having endless style, taste and money, but I just could not bring myself to spend €120 on a pizza.

Breakfast was the highlight.  They do not have a buffet; instead, they bring you a selection of cakes, pastries, cheeses, fruits, meats and yoghurts that change daily.  We stayed for five nights, and at one point, I was convinced they would run out of recipes, but no, they stayed true to themselves and changed daily.   The breakfast quality was among the best I’ve ever had, plus they offered over 20 a la carte options.

The pastry chef was my hero, and I’m drawing up adoption papers right now.  The Goat cheese cremeux was terrific, as was Metaxa 12 Tres Leches.  In fact, everything she did was brilliant. The French toast needed to come with a side of medical assistance – it was a beast.  I would vote for her, regardless of what he’s running for.

The chef would come to speak to diners, the Greek salad was beautifully made in front of us, and there was a big fuss over the olive oil and the different selections for the bread.  Sparkling water and slushies were handed out by the beach.  It felt like a lot of thought had gone into the F&B, but, excluding breakfast, I would have appreciated more talent than thought.

Service

They had been open for six weeks, so they were not going to excel in service.  The resort is the first luxury option in this part of Greece, so whilst quite a lot of management were expats, you have to rely on the locals.  The intention was clearly there.  They would bring over colouring books and toys for the children without being asked.  Those in the kids club were wonderful, with my daughter now looking at pictures and saying, “These are my friends”.

This is another hotel getting on board with using WhatsApp for communicating.  It’s much easier than phoning and explaining something when you can just put it in text.  They were highly responsive here.  That part of the tech worked; the other side, the room service menu via an online portal, naturally did not.

At the gym, someone was always present and offered me a towel without asking; at the beach club, we would immediately have towels and offered kids toys.

However, they should not need to ask for our room number all the time and allergies when occupancy is so low, especially when we were the only people with children for part of our stay.  “Any allergies?” “only the same as yesterday”.

You can see the rawness, like asking for a Greek yoghurt by the beach and not being able to get it as it’s not on the menu.  Some gardeners were smoking, just like in Lesante Cape.  One morning, they forgot to do room service, another housekeeping left food outside to be picked up, and no one did.  Some days, the fruit bowl would lay empty; other days, they would replace it, and every other day, the pastry chef once again created a masterpiece, and we would find it in our room in the form of some cake.  She even weaved his magic on the final day, when we had a goodbye from the breakfast team with a pastry saying, “Have a nice trip”. Lovely.

Coming soon

I loathe telling you what a property says is coming soon, as so rarely does it actually happen.  In this case, they were building everything whilst I was there, so I think I can give them the benefit of the doubt.  New properties have become like Cyberpunk, where they release it whilst fixing it.

The Hamman was also not even remotely close to being finished.  The Kids Club, whilst already quite wonderful, with five bedrooms converted into rooms for different aged kids, is being moved into a new building.  Seeing that their existing setup contains so much, I think it’s fair to say it will be awesome.  Currently, there’s two rooms for teenagers with air hockey, table tennis, a PS5, a pool table, and table football; another room for 8+, one more for ages 4-7, and a creche for babies.

Lastly, my biggest issue right now is the accommodation.  It’s okay, but it’s not spectacular.  That a two bedroom villa is only two connecting rooms is not great for our clients.  However, they are fixing this, as they are building a 1,000 sqm five-bedroom villa and five three-bedroom villas.

Family Friendly

Even the unfinished kids club was better than any other property we’ve stayed in this year.  The children’s amenities and room setup were fantastic.  There are also lots of free activities for families and children, accounting for all different types of ages, split between a 4-7 and 8+ program.

The Good

  • Beach club and pools
  • Area unspoiled by tourism
  • The little outdoor mall next door – strange to see but strangely stylish

The Bad

  • Food needs work
  • You probably want a three or five-bedroom villa if you go as a family

The Luxurious

  • Spa
  • Very kids friendly
  • Most generous of them to build a resort purely for me

Rating

Good

Conclusion

Mandarin Oriental Costa Navarino is part of the new wave of luxury in Greece.  Mainland Greece has been heavily restricted in the luxury department, with the only saving grace being the majestical Amanzoe.  Four Seasons opened near Athens a few years ago, which everyone seems to love.  Everyone except me.  One&Only were due to have two properties open this year, only for Kea to be delayed until April 2024 and Athens to open whenever they damn well please.  If you include them as luxury, even Six Senses is getting in on the action and opening a new resort in the coming years.  This is the new face of Greece.

I know in this social media age, everyone has to DESTROY someone else, but Mandarin Oriental is not some Amanzoe anti-weapon, nor is it as ultra-luxurious.  It does not need to be.  It offers something different – more activities, better suited for children, something that can legally be defined as a beach.  Then there’s the brilliant facilities, great setting, and a very different vibe.  Food will improve, and service, whilst already good, will get better.  Hopefully, the five and three-bedroom villas will resolve my issues with the villa –  they never felt cheap, just too small and limited for families.

In the strangest comparison I can give, the place that came to mind most was Laucala.   I’ve never been anywhere with a breakfast buffet selection presented in this way other than Laucala.  I’ve never been anywhere so dead before as Laucala.  I did not expect to include the word Laucala twice in a review of a Mandarin Oriental, but then I also didn’t expect my face to hit the “elephant man” look at only 36.  Life is full of surprises.

It’s worth a visit.  Just for the sake of keeping the staff sane.

Room type: Bay View Pool Villa When: September 2023 Rates: from €2,200/n

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 10th Oct '23

Dorsia Travel’s co-founder Tom Cahalan’s take on travel is reliably candid. Here’s his take on what’s good, bad, and luxurious.

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