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Liz Gill visits the Anazoe Spa at the new Costa Navarino resort in Greece, where the ancient principles of Hippocrates are combined with 21st century treatments to deliver a truly revitalising spa experience.

The Hippocratic Influence

The spa looks state of the art: all smooth contemporary lines, subtle lighting and shimmering mosaics. But what I’m going to have here goes back a long way, about two and a half thousand years in fact. For that’s when Hippocrates, the ancient Greek ‘father of Western medicine’ was freeing health care from superstition and using reason and observation instead. One of those observations was the beneficial effect of olive oil so, fast forwarding a couple of dozen centuries, I am now going to try an oleotherapy treatment: the Healing Massage Remedy by Hippocrates.

Appropriately, I’m trying it in the Anazoe Spa at the Costa Navarino resort in the Messinia region of Greece’s southwest Peloponnese, where the experts have combined modern know-how with the old doctor’s principles and, even more intriguingly, a few pointers from the clay tablets uncovered at the nearby Palace of King Nestor.

My treatment has ceremonial aspects as well as simply physical ones, explains my therapist Sylvain, a qualified osteopath from Paris, as he pours tea and takes notes about which season I feel I have most energy in (Spring is the answer), which herbal scent I prefer from the selection he offers and whether I want a revitalising or a harmonising massage. I opt for the latter – I want to unwind rather than perk up – but he suggests the odd element of revitalisation. This I am to discover over the next hour will involve quite a bit of pulling and pushing of my limbs and bending out my hip joints at what feel to be quite dramatic angles.

It is all rather wonderful though. I like being slathered in olive oil and I especially like the hard reflexology sticks rolling across my palms and the soles of my feet. I like the moment when he rolls me from side to side in the sheet on which I’m lying and then lifts my head in a similar fashion: it feels as if it has suddenly grown light enough to float.

There’s no chitchat during the massage, which suits me. I’m always up for pleasantries before and after but I like my treatments without conversation. Instead there’s some evocative music specially composed for the spa based on traditional stringed instruments and melodies.

Afterwards I relax even more by strolling around the herb garden and breathing in the wonderful scents. Each plant has a helpful label describing its benefits: many are incorporated into the spa’s therapies and special products. One facial, for example, features lime blossom and sage; a signature body scrub uses Messinian salt and honey.

The next day I return to try out some of the other attractions at the 4,000 square metre sanctuary – the word Anazoe is derived from the Greek for rejuvenation – which include thalassotherapy, kinisiotherapy and floating pools, sauna, steam rooms, mist showers and an ice grotto. At one stage I find myself leaping in and out of pools and dashing in and out of saunas and showers in order to pack as much in as I can before we head off on a cycle ride to a nearby lagoon.

For Costa Navarino wants its guests to be as active or as indolent as they please. So you can just laze in the spa or on the kilometre long sandy beach. You can idle away hours in your villa, many of which have their own infinity pools, or on the balcony of your room gazing out across the olive groves to the Ionian Sea: the resort has two five star hotels, the chic Romanos and the family orientated Westin. Both are built to blend into the landscape and to be sustainable. There are cafes and bars and restaurants ranging from ethnic to international fine dining.

For those wanting some action there are two signature golf courses plus tennis, squash, basketball and badminton courts. You can swim, dive, sail, surf, kayak, fish, cycle, hike and climb. Those who want something less sporty can study nature at a special educational centre before taking a boat trip to try to spot loggerhead turtles, pilot whales and dolphins.

Beyond the resort, Messinia has 4,500 years of history, which unfolds through Neolithic settlements, Mycenaean palaces, Classical temples, Byzantine churches and mediaeval castles. The Bay of Navarino itself was the scene of the scene of the famous naval battle in 1827 in which an allied British, French and Russian fleet defeated a combined Egyptian-Ottoman armada, marking a decisive turning point in the Greek War of Independence.

The resort wants to promote the old maxim of a ‘healthy mind in a healthy body’ so there are educational activities as well as indulgent ones. We had an olive oil tasting session where we learned to recognise rancid oil and how to prevent ours going that way at home (keep it cool and dark) as well as sampling the best extra virgin. We spent an hour star gazing with a local astronomer who taught us how to recognise various constellations and how to find our way by the pole star.

We had an evening at a local family home where the women taught us how to make pasta which we then ate along with delicious dishes of slow cooked lamb and dried pork and rooster (so much tastier than our bland chicken) before we all held hands and danced in their courtyard, emboldened by home made lemon liquor.

Perhaps most unusual was the ‘philosophy walk’ where as the sun went down we strolled through olive groves and heard the distinguished classicist Eleni Volonaki of the University of the Peloponnese expound on Plato’s and Aristotle’s views on fitness and physical education. The idea of the walks is to discover how Ancient Greek philosophical thinking might illuminate modern issues so other topics include politics, justice, government, corruption, revenge, love and madness. Such food for thought was in fact just the thing to take back into the spa and ponder while you’re being pummelled.

The Costa Navarino Resort
24001 Messinia
Tel: +30 272 309 5000A deluxe garden view room at the Westin starts from £160 a night. Further information including details on classes and other activities and spa treatments from www.costanavarino.comAegean Airlines fly from London Heathrow to Athens, which is around a three and a half hour drive from the resort. The airline also has flights between Athens and Kalamata, about a 45-minute drive from the resort.www.aegeanair.comEasyjet fly directly from London Gatwick to Kalamata between April to November.

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