Imaret

Kavala, Macedonia, Greece Book from

Reviewed by Geoffrey Herdman
A 19th-century seminary revamped as an elegant 21st-century hotel, with fabulous views and an utterly serene ambiance
The Imaret was originally built by Muhammad Ali Pasha of Egypt in 1817, as a theological college for Imams. It then fell into disuse, and years later was bought by the Missirian family (tobacco traders from Kavala), who carried out the most perfect restoration. Many of the rooms (and their plumbing!) are original, but they have created a wonderful, modern hotel with the ambiance of an early 19th-century seminary. The mosque still exists - now as a recreation room - and in keeping with its tradition, no alcohol or smoking is allowed therein.

It is located up a steep road fronting onto the sea, and the views over the curved bay and twinkling lights of Kavala are reminiscent of Menton overlooking Monte Carlo. Fountains play and a small swimming pool graces an inner courtyard.

Why would one go to Kavala? Partly as a stopping off point en route to points further East (it is infinitely preferable to Thessaloniki). But more importantly as a starting point for visiting the site of Philippi or the mausoleum of Vergina, tomb of Alexander the Great's father and one of the best monuments in ancient Greece.

Highs

  • A unique restoration of a Muslim seminary, encompassing the charm of an early 19th-century building with the comfort of the 21st century
  • An oasis of peace and calm in a modern bustling city
  • The detail of the furnishings in the bedrooms; exquisite
  • Fabulous views, especially from the dining room terrace at night
  • We loved the traditional hammam with its excellent massages

Lows

  • The food is bland and waiting staff extremely slow
  • Could do with a really experienced, well-trained hotel manager (recent reports on the service are mixed)
  • In keeping with the character of the rooms, the lights are dim and it is not easy to read in bed
  • The plumbing seems early 19th-century in places and basins don't drain easily
  • Very expensive for Greece, but a unique experience and most agree it is well worth it

Best time to go

Spring (April-May) and autumn (October) are perhaps the best times, being moderately warm but not too hot, and much quieter than midsummer. But they are often busy with other like-minded travellers so book early, especially over Easter. The hotel is open all year round.

Our top tips

You'll find plenty of enticing eateries in Poulidou St. just along from the hotel: Antonia's Taverna is a good bet. And if you fancy something more moody (and don't mind a late night), ask about the best rembetiko joints - a kind of Greek fado.

Great for...

City Style
Spa
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Historic Hotel
  • 27
  • Restaurant + bar
  • Over 12s only
  • Open all year
  • Plunge Pool
  • Spa
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
Room:

Rooms

The hotel has 27 rooms; 16 doubles (Treasure or Domes), and 11 suites (Treasure, Water Garden or Imaret). Each room is different, and all have a wow factor. Furnishings are sumptuous - rich velvets and silks, handmade oriental carpets, French linens - and Bulgari toiletries and Molton Brown candles provide a luxurious touch. Comfy beds (doubles or queensize in the suites) are turned down at night, and as all rooms are surrounded by gardens and marble arcades, it is beautifully quiet. We stayed in a double room and a suite and slept like logs in both.

One feels generally very cosseted. Staying here may be an expensive treat, but the level of detail is extraordinary. Our only criticism would be that, while massive thought has gone into the choice of furnishings, less thought has gone into their practicality. Wonderful baths with tropical downpour showers lead to flooded floors; toothpaste doesn't drain away from the basins.

Features include:

  • Bathrobes
  • Cd player
  • Central heating
  • Hairdryer
  • Internet access
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Phone
  • Plunge pool
  • Radio
  • Safe box
  • Tv
  • WiFi

Eating

The best part of the dining experience was the view - and dinner was worth it for that alone. That said, we found the food very bland (though other guests have raved about the lamb and wild sea bass). Presentation was impeccable but we felt it was a shame that the emphasis was on European, rather than Greek specialities. On the upside, the wine list is extensive (though expensive). One bottle of wine was corked but we were told that it was we who were wrong and not the wine! There was also a quite astonishing choice of whiskies and liqueurs.

It is clear a good manager would be a real asset to the hotel. Breakfast took 90 minutes to arrive on our second day, but was a pleasant enough spread: freshly squeezed juice, fresh pastries, honey and marmalade, a boiled egg, a selection of local cheeses and coffee or tea.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Restaurant
  • Room service
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Kavala is one of Greece's prettiest harbour towns: stroll around the port, once very busy but quieter now that the Greek tobacco industry, of which it was the centre, has declined; wander the narrow lanes of the old Panagia quarter near the hotel; or admire the 25-metre high aqueduct built by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1530, and still largely intact

  • The Byzantine castle above the hotel is worth the climb and has spectacular views

  • Within easy driving distance is the site of Philippi, where Brutus was finally defeated by Mark Anthony, and St Paul was imprisoned. His tomb is still there

  • There are good sandy beaches around Kavala - Iraklitsa is very close, Nea Peramos has lovely dunes

  • Further west is the triple-pronged peninsula and beach-mecca of Halkidiki (or Chalkidiki): it's an hour's drive to Hrissi Akti - the first of the "golden sands" - and 2 to Ouranopolis, which is the gateway to the mountainous monastic enclave of Mount Athos (male visitors only)

  • Hop on a ferry across to the island of Thassos (90 mins' sail from Kavala, 30 mins from Keramoti) which still has some lovely swimming spots and clear waters, despite the forest fires of 2005

  • There's fantastic hiking, rafting and canoeing along the snaking Nestos River Gorge, 50km east of Kavala - ask the hotel about local guides and outfitters

  • It may be 2+ hours away but make sure you work Vergina into your itinerary, as the site of Philip II of Macedonia's tomb. His son Alexander laid on what was regarded as the greatest funeral in antiquity - and the tomb remained undiscovered until 1970. Just his gold wreath takes the breath away

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Historical sites
  • Kayaking
  • Museums / galleries
  • Rafting
  • Swimming
  • Tennis
  • Well being

Kids

This is really a hotel for adults. There are no family rooms or extra beds, and only children over 12 are accepted, and charged at the adult rate.

Best for:

Teens (over 12)

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

10/
Rooms
10/
Service
10/
Value
10/
Overall

{{ review.firstName }}{{ review.countryName ? ', '+ review.countryName : '' }},

Rates for Imaret