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Hottest Travel Destinations of 2012

Courtesy of Starwood Hotels & Resorts

Costa Navarino, Greece

Greece’s economy may have seen better days, but that hasn’t stopped the tourism industry from moving forward. Take the region of Messenia, the westernmost finger of the hand-shaped Peloponnese peninsula, filled with sun-drenched valleys, Byzantine churches, and sandy dunes that border the crystal-blue Ionian Sea. The area has remained virtually unknown to travelers, who have traditionally preferred the white-sand beaches of the Greek islands. But Costa Navarino, a new resort complex set on 2,500 acres, is aiming to change that, turning this low-profile stretch of coastline into Europe’s newest Riviera.

Costa Navarino is ambitious and international, with several hotel partners. Starwood opened a Westin resort and the Romanos, a Luxury Collection hotel, last year; a Banyan Tree is slated to debut in 2013. But it’s also intensely local. At the Starwood properties, more than 75 percent of the staff is from surrounding villages and guests are encouraged to spend an evening at the house of a Messenian family. The low-slung villas are made from native stone and have Greek art from the 17th century, and treatments at the 43,000-square-foot spa are based on 4,500-year-old recipes found at King Nestor’s palace nearby. With rates much lower than at similar hotels in Mykonos and Santorini, this quiet slice of the Peloponnese might just experience a Greek revival. Westin doubles from $276; Romanos doubles from $193. —Eleni N. Gage

The Breakdown

Who It’s For: Anyone who wants the next European beach escape.

When to Go: April–Oct.

How to Do It: Hop a 30-minute flight from Athens to nearby Kalamata airport.

Exotic Factor: Foreign

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