ROOMS TO FOOD – NO PIZZA

May 30, 2011 in GREECE | Comments (1)

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Wandering along Elounda Mare's private waterfront

Above – a small gallery of images of Elounda Mare. This hotel presents one of the early examples of luxury on Crete. And one of the best. Its hard to beat your own pool when it gazes over that view. Not to mention marble galore, jacuzzi, rain showers…and plenty of loving detail. It’s old established luxury in wholesome style. This is your hideaway – if you can find it. Indeed hidden in a maze of stone pathways.

The rooms in the main building were nice. On the top floor the suite had amazing view, looking over the intricate puzzle of the flat bungalow rooftops and beyond over the sea.  Rooms were decorated much like the bungalow rooms. But they are just not the same thing. If you have the money dont consider anything but a bungalow at Elounda Mare…

The images also give a glimpse of what we ate under the ancient carob tree. No pizza…

More info about Elounda Mare in my earlier posts.

Images (c) Aleah / Binah Creative Arts, except for the swimming and walking snapshots


MORE OF THAT MAGIC PLACE

May 29, 2011 in GREECE | Comments (1)

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Welcome to our superior bungalow no. 2

Elounda Mare seen through the delicate eye of a lens .

The gallery above takes us into the delightful superior bungalow no 2, with heated pool and view of the sea. We explore among natural stone walls and maze of stone paths in gardens full of flowers and other surprises. Find a private beach within the walls of Elounda Mare overlooked by its Yacht Club restaurant. Then comes night and moonlight on our terrace. Breakfast…a la carte and buffet picturequely placed, all with style and quality.

– pix by Aleah / Binah Creative Arts


ELOUNDA MARE – SECRETS & CLASS

in GREECE | Comments (0)

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Yacht on the blue - seen from our terrace

On the breakfast terrace. The mood is leisurely and serene – with quiet guests and attentive service.

They have rolled back the roof to bring in the sun. Birds twitter. We gaze over gardens and misty sea to hazy mountains on the other side of Mirabello Bay. 

Breakfast is perfect – my style. You order a la carte and they listen carefully to get your café latte  and omelet just right (all items included in the price). There is also a buffet covering cold items. Not vast. But everything you (or I) need – quality ingredients, laid out in style. Müsli and cereals  in ceramic containers engraved with type of food. A huge container of natural yoghurt …

Like the hotel itself this is Select, quality.

It’s an old elegance you feel…before the explosion of “five star” hotels. Before restless people had so much (new) money and expected hotels to refurbish every year just for them.

Elounda Mare has the feel of a classy home, away from home. It’s a hideaway of bungalows with private pools, lost in beautiful gardens with a labyrinth of paths and stone walls. Greenery, rocks and flowers create a hidden world along a turquoise sea. The main building of this Relais & Châteaux boutique hotel lies behind with bar, restaurant and further tasteful and distinctive accommodation.

Two more restaurants lie in the gardens, along with church, fashion shops and big pool. There is also a private beach on the property.

On top of that you get a free ride to the restaurants and facilities at two nearby sister hotels, including an extensive Six Senses spa, 9-hole golf course and kid’s club. Altogether there are 7 restaurants apart from the plethora of restaurants in Elounda town.

Elounda Mare is much loved by couples (40% repeaters), and a favourite destination for wedding anniversaries. The mood in the main building at Elounda Mare is smart and dress codes prevail.  We had to pass by the main restaurant with its elegantly dressed clientele as we left for a meal sortie in Plaka. I saw a look of friendly relief on the maitre d’s face when I asked him the way to the lobby and he realized he didn’t have to tell us to get our dress coding in order.

I should add that the people who work there are generally kind and friendly. Hotel Manager Harry Maranghides even went so far as to take off his jacket and tie when he lead us to lunch at the Yacht Club, to make a younger member of our party feel at ease in his Katatonia T shirt.

It was May and we didn’t see any children. Of course, children are welcome, declared Harry.  “We like well behaved children ,” he added. It somehow works when children are used to five star hotels. Of course families can make good use of the Porto Elounda facilities – as Porto Elounda is a family hotel (more at the four star level).

But one sure way to enjoy children at Elounda Mare is to command your own private pool and garden terrace in a roomy 2-bedroom bungalow, hidden away amid the gardens. Children would love those gardens and exciting labyrinth of stone walls, arches and pathways. I felt like a child myself discovering them. There are magic spots for staring into pastel turquoise water. All along the rocky shoreline they have built little stone platforms where you can lie on sunbeds close to the water. 

“I got lost”, is something guests often say after turning up at reception.

“Good”, says Harry. “That means you are learning our secrets.”

We were enjoying a perfect vegetarian meal with him at the Yacht Club restaurant overlooking the private beach –  under an ancient Carob tree. Behind is the real Greek Orthodox church built by CEO Mrs Eliana Kokotos and a small chic designer shopping centre.

“Mrs Kokotos always  builds a chapel in each hotel,” says Harry.  These authentic Orthodox chapels are used for weddings and christenings – “small weddings” with “only 100-150 guests”. (Average Greek wedding is 500 people.) It is popular with British guests to have a civil marriage on Crete, dress up, take photos, have cocktails and dinner.

The Yacht Club restaurant is open lunchtimes only usually but has theme evenings in the summer – sophisticated, but with the simple charm of a beach taverna. The Old Mill gourmet restaurant hidden in the gardens opens twice a week. Cuisine has many Greek dishes adapted to international clientele.

ROOMS

Our favourite was our very own Superior Bungalow – with pool and perfect sea view.

Lounge and two bedrooms en suite all with views of the pool and the sea. Master bedroom with Jacuzzi bath, rain shower with all sorts of adventurous water surprises, 2 separate toilets adjoining the main bathroom (toilet also in the second bathroom).

Best part was the pool and patio. Everything felt so intimate and so perfect. Our own olive tree, green grass, glistening water, a round wooden table….and not two but six wooden sunbeds. On top of that a view of the sea, glistening, dancing and skittering blue.  A yacht was anchored just in front. Beyond lay the mountains bathed in the orange light of the setting sun, rugged and alluring. In the mornings soft and misty.

Our pool was heated making possible early morning refreshers and moonlight swims. The moon made pathways on the water.

Deluxe bungalows have pools too and the same facilities as superior bungalows. The only difference is that the superior have better views of the sea and better position generally. We (number 2) were one minute from of the breakfast room.

Minoan royal suites are the top category – with pools of course – but even closer to the sea, and more space and features. The one we looked over had its own stairs down to the sea, and fireplaces dating back to the days Elounda Mare stayed open in the winter.  

Décor in all rooms has a similar classic charm.

With rippled white walls (typical Cretan cottage style), and desks, nooks and crannies built onto the walls to hold videos TVs etc. Décor has an ethnic slant that could be dated if it wasn’t so Cretan, authentic and perfectly coordinated. Definitely more like a good wine than grape juice. Touches of maroon in woven mats, cloths and tapestries. Black and white etchings elegantly framed and placed. All uplifted by woodwork that is perfectly finished, with curved edges and artistic flair. 

Aircon visible as a box on the wall, the only real sign that this hotel has been around some 30 years.

Harry showed us two lower category accommodations too – a suite and a double room – located in the main building (four to six storeys) – all similarly decorated and finished. But (to my way of thinking) missing the garden setting and the pools. The suite made up for it with a view far and wide over the entire gardens of Elounda Mare and beyond.

It occurred to me that all rooms felt warm, homely and welcoming.  Maybe because a bit older in design they escape the modern clichés of newly refurbished five star hotels. There is a huge insecurity hovering behind all image steered activities (from shopping to hotel décor)  – i.e. when it’s done just because you dare not be different from all the others. Individual things are somehow so much more comfortable.

At Elounda Mare rooms have their own original feel. Improvements, not changes are in process, Harry explains.

Owners of Elounda Mare are Eliana Kokotos and her husband Spyros – the architect and designer of some 40 hotels in Greece.

Elounda, which locals call the St Tropez of Crete, was a poor fishing village in the 1960s. “But in the late 1960s Minos Palace was created,” explains Harry.  Then Mr Kokotos designed Minos Beach – completed in 1971.

“Minos Beach was the most luxurious Hotel in Greece,” continues Harry. It created a demand for luxury on the east coast just north of Agios Nikolaos. With demand on the rise for super luxurious hotels on this coast, next project for Mr & Mrs Kokotos was Elounda Bay completed 1977, sold a year later.

Then a new dream was realized – Elounda Mare, completed 1982. This concept of a small exclusive hideaway with bungalows and private pools was a huge success and a trendsetter.

10 years later – 1992 – Porto Elounda was opened as a discreetly distanced neighbor. This  larger hotel complemented the hideaway Elounda Mare, offering extensive activities, 9-hole golf course, children’s club. It was a place for mixing and meeting people round the pool, on the beach at the beach bar.

Then  Mrs Kokotos decided to aim at a new generation of high profile people with a smaller, more contemporary resort – Elounda Peninsula All-Suite hotel. Different feeling, less gardens, concentrated on the suites and backing services. Expensive, very stylish. People come for privacy and hardly ever mix with other guests. There is a lot of private dining.

At Elounda Mare, with 40% of guests as repeaters, they suffered less from the latest recession than Peninsula, who thrived on guests with new money. 2008 was a good year for Elounda Mare. Last year was not so good, but the tide is turning. This year Elounda Mare hopes to come back with better statistics than 2009. Prices have been held down to compensate for the recession, so it will take a while for the revenue to come back to 2008 level.

Meanwhile – I wish them EVERY SUCCESS. Elounda Mare with its magical gardens and generous pool bungalows is one of the Mediterranean’s “paradise” spots and deserves to stay on top.


DAIOS COVE – STONE MAGIC

May 27, 2011 in GREECE | Comments (4)

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View from the path on the wild side

A place of beauty – aeons of stone and water.

Strange – but as the saying goes “it is a very ill wind that blows no good”, meaning most ill winds also blow good. So the metaphorical “ill wind” at Diaos Cove was an archaelogical find.

The Daios family own all this beautiful land around the once hidden cove. The original plan was to build the resort all round the cove. But when work began  with blasting and digging, they uncovered an ancient archaelogical site.

By law no one can build on a classical site. What is more they have to provide access to the public.

This hitch in the Diaos family project brought much despair and disappointment. The plans for the resort had to be redone with buildings only on one one side. Delays of course.

But in the end it was like a blessing. Because of this, the resort not only views a crystalline turquoise cove – but over it to a tall unspoilt hill, in the burnished colours and olive greens of Crete.

Down the hill is a zig zag paved path providing access to the archaelogical site.

It is a feature, not a problem any longer. The public can hardly be said to be streaming down that path. And it provides a challenging (nature) walk to guests who want a new angle on their little city.

At night it is lit, tracing a magical  wavy line in the dark. Joining a myriad of other little lights all over the place, in magic making.


HIDDEN CRETE – DIAOS COVE

May 23, 2011 in GREECE | Comments (12)

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Bathing in crystal water

Brand new resort, with luxury accommodation and cutting edge design, yet close to nature. Diaos Cove gives stunning views and truly Mediterranean feel. Like a medieval Cretan city it is crafted out of natural stone on a steep hillside. You look down to the brilliant turquoise cove and over to a wild rocky hill beyond.

 This fantastic architectural creation took 3 years to finish. With 300 units including 39 villas and 169 pools, Diaos Cove is cleverly built with spaces between units to ensure that most rooms have great water views.

 Way below lies sensational turquoise water, sandy beach packed with sunbeds, a watersports station and a Greek taverna. Two funiculars with glass cabins offer great views as you slide up and down between restaurants, terraces, bars, spa and reception and various levels of accommodation.

At night the resort is very romantic with lights everywhere. There are 3 restaurants and 3 bars –  an oyster and champagne bar soon to be added.  The most magical dining is out of doors, while the indoor dining space is intended for cold or rainy weather. We were there in mid May – so warm shawls and jackets were essential in the evening on the terrace. We didn’t try the buffet (except at breakfast) but ate at the Greek taverna and Ocean Club – delicious fusion Italian cuisine. The breakfast buffet was extensive with fresh orange juice, plenty of hot dishes and an omelet station. Café latte was included if you wished – though the croissant baker needs a visit to Paris and a lesson on sugar.

 Only about 30%-40% of guests are families; it feels peaceful – not like a summer camp. The resort features kids club and kids menus, and a children’s pool by the main infinity pool. All pools are seawater, except for the pool in the spa which is freshwater, with the added attraction of underwater windows through which you can look out and see the view.

Apart from that the spa by Germaine de Cappucini offers hydromassage, Technogym, great massage and Mediterranean wraps and peeling. They encourage couples to use the couple’s treatment rooms with attached hammam or aromatherapy adventure shower and apply one of these Mediterranean treatments to one another. That sounded like too much work and we chose an expert massage. Followed by adventurous shower and then blow dry at the hair salon.

 Harmonious, private, not flashy or glam, Diaos Cove is not a place to show off parade around just to be seen. But a low key, relaxed, and enjoyable resort that offers toned down décor and pampering and privacy in the villas and suites (red-level service). This service also implies free drinks most of the day and free cocktails in the evening.

 One of the best things is that in all accommodation you get free wifi. In a few rooms it is a little blocked by the mountains but ours was perfect.

And the best accommodation?

Pool accommodation of course – what else. Especially if you are in hideaway mood.

However, we were impressed with an attractive deluxe room without pool. The balcony of this deluxe room was nicely furnished with sofa, table and chairs, and had delicious views of the crystalline cove below. The room (42 sqm) had a sitting area and proper marble bathroom with separate bath tub and shower, like the suites.

This deluxe room could be connected to a one-bedroom suite with private pool (65sqm) creating ample accommodation for a family of 6.

On the waterfront there are a number of villas with staggering views of that wonderful water. We saw a one-bedroom villa on the waterfront built on two levels with bedroom downstairs. It was 100 sqm with a mini infinity pool  (above) carrying its brilliant turquoise over to the water of the cove, and a pretty little garden. A charming feature was that it had access not just at lounge level but below to a path along the rocky seafront.  Though a villa it felt very compact. Also on the waterfront we looked over a 2-bedroom waterfront villa (125 sqm) that was very generous with its terraces and pool area – ideal for sociable people who would like to invite in people from other rooms.

 The waterfront views at Daios Cove are certainly entrancing. Still we preferred the hillside villas. Spread far and high they are reached by a healthy walk or golf carts that whizz around the paved roads. We were shown a roomy 3-bedroom villa high up, but our favourite was our very own hillside wellness villa number 543.

 From here the views took in not only the aquamarine cove but beyond to the ocean and the white cubes of Agios Nikolaos. Around us we could see the wild mountains and enjoy a longer day of sunshine around our pool. We were surrounded by thickets of oregano, mint and basil, which perfumed the air.

 Highlight was to order lunch at the villa. It arrived very quickly and was presented on a white cloth by our pool, in bowls with silver lids, by a pleasant and efficient team. Enjoyed in sun with perfect views.

Inside our villa included lounge with view, a Technogym treadmill, sauna, jacuzzi style bath, two bedrooms with marble bathrooms including showers and bath, plus an outdoor shower with view.

From bed the morning dawned soft over the sea. On rising the pool glistened and the sea grew brighter and brighter till it sung with colour and the glorious feel of Crete.

The charm is you are far from anywhere, which adds intimacy to the resort. The natural stone melds into the surroundings with its rich brown and copper tones, and creates a harmonious simplicity uplifted by the views, the greenery around the villas and the brilliant crimson bougainvillea that has begun growing.


Agios Nikolaos is worth a visit (7km) – a pleasant and authentic Greek town with shopping and a long and looping waterfront where chic locals sit on sofas, sip coffee and use wifi.  It also boasts “The Lake” – mythically deep and connected with underwater caves and tunnels. Here are the main tourist restaurants – we ate very well at Pacificae facing the mysterious lake and at more traditional but chic Kristoferr on the harbor front

 Another attraction near Daios Cove (turnoff just before Agios Nikolaos) is the traditional mountain village of Kritsi and its nearby Byzantine church and archaeological site. The church was unfortunately closed when we were there.


BLUE WORLD – BLUE PALACE

May 22, 2011 in GREECE | Comments (16)

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Turquoise water clear as crystal washes white stones on Blue Palace beach

By the iconized arches, the pool is as blue as all the pictures. So is the sky.  Even without Photoshop and all the image makers of Starwood, this is a blue and dazzling world. No point in taking a picture of the arches – they are on every tourist website.

The  terraces of Blue Palace are magnificent with or without pictures. Distinguishing, memorable. The  international set chill out here in serenity induced by views – endless sunbeds and infinity pool. Communing with laptops via wifi – free, like the air.

Down below is the turquoise sea. A very rich and startling turquoise. Beyond is the hump of Spinalonga island. Brown and coppery –  traced with old walls – the colour of the land.

Mountains are a perfect backdrop. A burnished richness in the tones echoes the natural stone that distinguishes the hotel and its famous architect.

Hard to tear yourself away from the terraces. But there is so much to do…

Firstly you must enjoy your own pool. More than half of the rooms have pools. Here you feel ownership, blissful privacy …. gentle sun and cold May water…

Or you could take the funicular down to the sea. Startlingly beautiful sea because the water laps onto white stones that create the crystalline turquoise dappled effect you dream of. Wooden walkways on the beach keep your feet comfortably off the stones and there are plenty of sunbeds with towel service.

Mesmerizing to hear the water lapping, and stare across at Spinalonga  with its castle that once protected a city at nearby Elounda (4km). Later the island became a leper colony and even later won fame in Hislop’s bestseller. Wind swoops down out of a blue sky and lifts the hair…

Nearby is the spa, Blue Palace’s beach restaurant, and its Greek taverna. The main restaurant is way up to the top on the funicular, above the lobby. The gourmet restaurant is half way up the slope…

Restaurants at Blue Palace are not cheap – but we did try the  beach restaurant. Sadly service was quite surly. We came at 3pm (it closes at 4pm).

One of the best assets of Blue Palace is Plaka: just 5 or 10 minutes walk along the road. This is a really pleasant little fishing village, also built in natural stone, where in no time at all we met a man with a guitar once played by Jimmy Page; and were treated to raki, the pure and fiery cololourless liquid they make locally all over Crete. Come back and have a party, he urged. Play the guitar and the bazouki (?

The most magnificent thing about Blue Palace is its isolated position – with only delightful Plaka as a neighbour. Fresh fish and Greek traditional fare are nicely presented along the waterfront in simple but chic restaurants that have kept a traditional feel. Not too many tourist-hungry pizza signs in Plaka. Plenty of all that in Elounda…

Elounda is tourist town. Some call it the St Tropez of Crete. Lots of five star hotels. Designer shops. Lots of curio shops and even more restaurants competing to urge you in. Cheaper than Blue Palace. But not as relaxing.

Its a joy to return to our hotel. Now it is evening. We have new “designer” sunglasses. New hats. And we head for the wonderful terraces.

On a chillish night its best to retire to the Turkish nooks that line the bar area. They are intimate and magically lit with lanterns. Perfect spots for your wifi and evening mail.

But now it is time to retire, because morning in the superior bungalow with pool is simply wonderful, with sunlight streaming in and the terrace golden. We don’t want to sleep it away.

Our bungalow is actually a room in a long block. These traverse the slopes.  What is basically a long pool in front of a block is divided into private pools. Sunbeds on the floor of the terrace give privacy to your neighbours – but in some cases you see the pool rather than the sea from down there. Your own watery world.

The original hotel built in 2003 was added onto in 2006 with the south wing – among the flatroofed accomodations in terracotta or beige lies the Royal Blue Villa. Lady Gaga stayed there – or so I heard on the grape vine. Quite roomy, and quite stylishly simple with white furniture. Gone are the days when stars destroyed their hotels…

These days people destroy their hotels in Trip Advisor. Well, not pop stars – but ordinary people outraged by walls that block their views or not-so-honest marketing. We all mean well I think. We want to promote our products as we call hotels in the travel and hospitality business. We feel that pictures will CREATE reality. Perfect pictures. Perfect reality. Travel is all based on dreams…

That is the idea.

Managing expectations is quite another concept. If you dont promise too much they wont be disappointed.

That’s why I am grateful to Trip Advisor. So when I travel I will never expect too much…

I am only delighted, as I was with Blue Palace.

A magical place. Every moment perfect.


BLOSSOMS & WORKERS – MAYDAY

May 1, 2011 in SWEDEN | Comments (8)

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1 May 2011. Stockholm Kungsträdgården & Sköndal.

Bright day with chill breezes swooping up petals dropped from the trees. Cherry blossoms are still  pink in Kungsträdgården – once the Royal garden, now a place for all.  Quite full of concrete really, but the sweet spring comes to “Kungsan” notwithstanding. Today cameras are snapping in the modest avenue of cherry trees, transformed by frothy pink.  More cameras aim at a foam of pink petals on the pond. Kids play with cherry confetti, lying eveywhere. A Coffee Cow guy with his mobile coffee shop asks brightly: do you want latte? “I think you are good at your work,” I say, admiring his bright cheer, “but I have just had coffee…” (over there in one of the glass walled restaurants lining the park). “Oh I will make money soon,”  he says, “when the communists arrive. They will be marching (to or from) here.”

Just up the road is the chilly heart of Stockholm (Sergels Torg), an unfair blemish in a beautiful city – a sort of place or space that tried to be modern once and still looks like it got left behind. Mostly drifters meet here, and judging by police presence pushers and rogues.

But today is first of May. Its one of those days where people with a purpose actually meet in Sergels Torg. First I see women with flags and signs, showing that feminism did not die yet. Some are very young and beautiful. Feminist sluts (they announce on their streamer) for real freedom – against the alliance (the ruling alliance of centrist and conservative parties). The stirring sound of accoustic guitar and folkish ballads remind me of another Stockholm, another age, a time of idealistic youth dissent and Dylan.

Later its the communist party in the square. Even redder. Well very red – all their flags and signs. The performers now are doing the anti capitalist spiel in racy hip hop style.

Back home in the worker’s suburb of Sköndal, in a little park of sculptures, maple leaves keep bursting sappy green, forest flowers dot the ground, the lake gleams in the distance. Amazing that nature gives blessings still – despite the greater importance of economy and finance, markets and growth, and all the other stuff that those that lead us would feed us above all ..