Just come back with the clan (all 15 of us) from a special week at High Groves Estate.
What a wonderful place, in a beautiful setting. We had three generations of the family – from 6 years to nearly 70. We all had a wonderful, relaxing time and were spoilt rotten.
Directions are provided from Athens airport (but USE SATNAV WITH THE COORDINATES!!!). It takes about 2 hours. Most of the journey involves travelling on two major toll roads (have your euros at the ready). As you approach, the directions provided will tell you to turn right at a sign for "Old Epidavros". This is wrong! It should tell you to turn right at the sign for "New Epidavros." Mum and dad were lost for over an hour!
Towards the end of the journey, you need to turn right at the Sun sign. Tip 1 – add the sign as a "Favourite" into your Satnav – saves a lot of aggravation later. Tip 2 – first time around, do this trip during day-light hours. Ironically, it's virtually impossible to find the sun sign in the dark.
The gravel path is about 2 miles long. It's pretty horrendous to drive on – it will take at least 10 – 15 minutes to navigate your way through the pot holes. Our party of 4 cars got one tyre puncture – we felt we'd got away with it.
The villa, Monica and her team – and food
On arriving, the brilliant Monica and her team showed us around. High Groves is a very large Tuscan villa. All bedrooms have goodish aircon and are comfortably furnished and clean. Mosquito screens stop most of the scratching. Each room also has an ensuite bathroom. The hot water runs out occasionally, although it was so hot outside, this was not a problem.
The cinema room and modest gym are really good facilities to have on site.
The pool is magnificent, well heated, largely wasp free, in beautiful surroundings.
There are two lounge areas, including one with satellite TV. The dining area fitted all 15 of us in comfort. There is also a beautiful eating area outdoors with tables and chairs for 15+.
Monica and her team cooked us delicious traditional Greek food (no shortage of Greek olive oil!), poured the local rosé, and showed us the local sites. When we could tempt ourselves away from Monica's cooking we regularly ate at Ippokampos (210 59 Epidavros). This seafront restaurant fed us the freshest red mullet, cod, anchovies, sardines, and also serves excellent meat dishes and pizza.
Moura (The Mulberry Tree) was also a standout restaurant, with a spectacular view. Details are in the welcome information.
We also took a drive to the Amphitheatre in Epidavros. Well worth the 30 minute drive.
Finally, the team took 10 of us on a jeep ride through acres of farmland, stopping to show us the wild horses, to pick figs from the tree, to point out the pomegranates and olives, and generally to drive us through the beautiful countryside.
Prices and the economy
We took cash with us and found the prices on the cheap side for food and drink (even with 23% VAT having recently been added). Certainly much cheaper than Tuscany.
Whilst not doubting the difficult situation the Greeks are in, it wasn't apparent to us as tourists. People were universally incredibly nice. Banks, cash machines and shops were open. People were getting on with their lives.
All in all a fabulous holiday. I'd have scored it 5 had the villa been slightly more accessible, perhaps within walking distance of one or two restaurants and bars.
Let me just say, I had my doubts.
I've lived in Greece and have traveled the country extensively. So I know to be wary of "high end" properties, especially hotels. We've rented luxury villas in Greece as well (Kea, Santorini, Marathon) which were fairly fine to varying degrees.
We've also rented villas throughout the Caribbean (Mustique, St. Lucia, Mexico, Statia, Guanaja,etc.), so we have a pretty good idea of what a luxury villa is supposed to offer.
High Groves exceeded these expectations.
The photos do not do it justice. Really.
First, the delightful staff, who kept the house spotless, the ginormous fire roaring and the dining room filled with a lot of happy people. Par for the course you say? Well, we had an ever changing roster of 18 people. We made a spread sheet to keep track of it all. At one point we had 7 (SEVEN!) children ranging from morose teen to barely crawling. I wouldn't have lasted 20 minutes under those working conditions. Thank goodness they liked kids. And kid toys -- everywhere and I mean everywhere. So they definitely get the long suffering award of 2014/15. They are also connected, so if you want fresh fish or a need a doctor to come and check out a feverish child, all can be arranged.
Quick note, the cook (the most Excellent Monika) is an add on. Add on, I suggest, if for her pies alone. There is also a super nice babysitter that can be called in, as well as a much enjoyed massage therapist.
The estate really is an estate (this is unusual for Greece; most farms are quite small), with 3 tamed (is that the term?) horses and 14 "wild" horses roaming about, a bunch of pure bred dogs (I know I am supposed to know what sort of fancy breed they are, but, sorry, you are out of luck. You can visit them, but they won't come up to the house), a encyclopedia of fowl, etc. We were there over olive picking time -- interesting to watch -- which can only be done by hand in Greece (which is why Greece produces 70% of the world's extra virgin oil -- and then sells it to Italy for excessive mark up). Their vineyards produce a most decent rose -- cases of which were taken home by guests for later consumption.
The views are Spectacular, with nothing to mar the vista (no coal burning plant in the valley throwing up plumes of smoke, for example, as is the case in Arkadia and Amorgos; no hideous housing complexes,; no "accidentally" burned forests). Just 360 degrees of lovely mountainous nature. Divine. Peaceful.
The first days were quite warm, so we were able to eat and hang outside. The outside area is much more extensive than how it appears in the photos. In any case, I can see how it would be a lovely place to stay in the summer as well. Big pool, too.
So, the layout. The entrance leads to a long hall. On one side is the master suite (2 baths, dressing area, bedroom). On the other the hall leads to one huge and one medium living room, the kitchen (hardcore) and the dining room. At the entrance is the staircase which leads upstairs to four large, airy, beautifully furnished bedrooms with ensuite baths, some with balconies. Next to the staircase is a door which opens to reveal another staircase leading down, where there are two more nice bedrooms with baths, the movie room, the laundry room, the garage and two more smaller but fine bedrooms (one has no windows; we stuck kids there).
The furniture is solid, sort of of-the-manor born. What I appreciated was the utter lack of knick-knacks. Clean and uncluttered, but with everything you could want. Maybe this is because I warned the owner (a dream to deal with) of the impending invasion of children.
A few cons (depending on your point of view). This place is Brigadoon hard to find, GPS coordinates would be helpful -- I meant to do it but forgot. On the other hand, this place is hard to find! If you want to be in the thick of it, this ain't for you. It is centrally located for convenient visits to various important archaeological sites, about 1/2 hour to the sea and 45 minutes to Napflion, AKA the Tryst capital of Greece. Worth a visit for the beauty of the town and the excellent gelato (the town has Venetian influences). The road leading to the estate is dirt, so I don't think I'd attempt it at 2AM after a night at the bars. But then, I don't want to attempt bars at 2AM. The floors are tile, so sounds reverberate, especially the sounds of wailing children. I'd hang a thick curtain in the bedroom entrance of the master suite to cut noise -- or move upstairs where it is quiet. Our only mishap was running out of gas for the stove on New Year's Eve. A chef friend wanted to cook and this entailed using every available burner on a professional Gartner-like stove. It ran out at 10PM and the poor staff was called in (not my idea, I was overruled) to fix it.
In short, this is a spectacular villa, in an amazing setting with a dedicated and competent staff. We had a wonderful time and hope to return again soon.
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