Literary Greece: a novel approach to the Peloponnese

Following in the footsteps of Ancient heroes at a Greek reading retreat


The traveller often has paradoxical desires, seeking out both the luxuriously modern and the ancient and undiscovered. Costa Navarino, on the Peloponnese peninsula, fulfils both requirements.

Even getting there is a delightfully Greek experience. The three-hour drive from Athens snakes around mountains, coasts through idyllic, lazy villages and then sweeps past vineyards and fields of olive trees.

The scenery makes you thirst for retsina wine and long for a bouzouki to strum - or a collection of classical verse.

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Books were to be the theme of the trip: I had come to Costa Navarino for a reading retreat, hosted by the best-selling American novelist Madeline Miller. The six-day break included group readings, workshops, discussions and excursions.

Miller, who drew inspiration for her historical novels Circe and the Song of Achilles from the writings of Homer, was a marvellous host - a cool, clever and kind big sister to the besotted fans who had flown in for the programme.

On one excursion she guided us round Ancient Messene, a city built in 369 BC. Its vast fortifications are among the best preserved in Greece. The ancient stadium, Agora, and huge open-air theatre have also been wonderfully maintained. Thanks to the region’s underdog status, relatively few tourists visit the sites, making the experience all the more authentic and evocative.

Miller arranged a host of other gatherings, including a group discussion under a 600-year-old olive tree. We talked of gods and myths as the sun set in the distance. If you want to set a scene, ask a best-selling novelist.

And if you want to be well fed and watered, visit one of Costa Navarino’s four bars or 13 restaurants, offering food from around the Med. All the restaurants offer plant-based options for the vegan visitor, and I savoured gorgeous pizzas slathered with vegan cheese, chowed down on quinoa burgers complete with vegan mayo, and practically inhaled a plant-based souvlaki, in which aubergine and other veggies conjured a convincing imitation of the king of kebabs.

If you can prise yourself from the food, the spa and the private plunge pool, there are beaches here too. Beautiful Voidokilia, a 15-minute drive away, is omega-shaped, with a lagoon on one side and the gorgeous Ionian Sea on the other.

Near the ruins of Nestor’s Palace, the beach is thought to be the “sandy Pylos” referred to in Homer’s epic, The Odyssey. To walk on its golden sands, gazing out at the wine-dark sea, is to tread in the footsteps of heroes.

Rooms at the Westin Resort, Costa Navarino, are available from £205 per night, and the reading retreat was organised by Niki Smirni of TravelGems. Aegean flies to Athens from London, Manchester and Edinburgh from £69

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