BLUE & INTO THE HILLS

June 17, 2011 in GREECE | Comments (0)

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Spinalonga view

A few more images from Crete – see previous blog


CRETE – NEW LUXURY & PAST

June 15, 2011 in GREECE | Comments (0)

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PLAKA

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Plaka restaurants - pretty waterfront

Past Knossos and the Minoan Palaces of the past – one hour beyond Heraklion – you come to what is marketed as the St Tropez of Crete.

This luxury mile  or two is centred on Elounda – once a poor fishing village on the site where an ancient city sank into the sea. Here luxury hotels have upped the ante on luxury in Greece ever since the 1980s. Here you have Minoan Royalty suites and Palace suites and Royal villas to attract old style Royalty and pop queens and kings. Here you have private pools galore…and Lady Gaga herself might see the horizon of her pool run into the sea and sky.

So (nudge nudge) what is it like? Times have been hard for Greece and prices have been forced to drop a little with 10-30% early booking discounts and other ploys in this once uncompromisingly expensive area. But luxury lingers on, albeit with free half board and buffets that keep guests in the hotels – so there is less of the dining out among waterfront tavernas type of thing.

We enjoyed a week staying at three hotels in and near Elounda and Agios Nikolaos (Elounda Mare, Blue Palace and Daios Cove). No time to get back to Knossos, but we did linger in Plaka, the small fishing village facing Spinalonga island (“The Island”). Invited to enjoy raki, guitars and grilled vegetables. And we did enjoy the ambience of Agios Nikolaos with its long waterfront and authentic Greek feel – modern Greek with wifi and sofas by the sea. It was in Agios Nikolaos that we found what we had been looking for.

We were seeking vegetarian moussaka. First we tried Elounda.  We shopped till we dropped from hunger – instead finding 6 euro sunglasses with distinctly borrowed design  – thanks so much …

The unusual moussaka was a long time finding. “Moussaka is a meat dish,” they would say patiently. But we had eaten it before on Crete several times. This time we almost got eaten ourselves as we searched, or so it felt, by the men lurking in front of restaurants with the job of catching clientele from passers-by. Used a guilt trip style to get you in…(you dont trust me – you dont think I got good vegetarian food?) whereupon I was presented with halloumi from lunchtime totally drenched – I mean inky with balsamic vinegar – surrounded by chips that seem to froth from old age. But later we found a really nice couple of restaurants via our hotels. Diaos Cove had even prepared for our visit by ordering vegetarian moussaka for us from the chef .  And returning to Pacifae in Agios Nikolaos  – the very restaurant where we ate the world’s best veggie moussaka at the full moon 6 years ago – we managed to order an equally lucious dish for the next night.   Actually Crete has a long tradition of mainly  vegetable diet with a little fish – meat was a rare treat and only tourism has made it a necessity, or so we were told.

Meanwhile behind Elounda and the “riviera” the mountains brooded with rich colours and mystery.  Couldn’t resist driving up into mountains behind the tourist crush, where you need a lot of cold nerve not to mind the drops and the cars that head át you rather than put their wheels too close. I still remembered the black arm bands.

My first visit to Crete was a long time ago. We caught local buses – and lived on a pound a day. It was rich experience though a little hazardous, especially the buses that did some kind of slalom down mountain slopes. In those days many men were wearing black arm bands. If you asked them what they were for, it was a relative that died in a traffic accident.

Now we had an Avis hire car to roam in. Both at the well advertised traditional village of Kritsi (where I so wished I wanted to buy a beautiful lace tablecloth to support the women) and behind touristy Elounda we saw signs that the passed live on still. Very old ladies were herding goats along the mountain roads. In 20 years they will all be gone…

That is the Greece I most remember.


ALL ROOMS WITH PRIVATE POOL

June 12, 2011 in GREECE | Comments (9)

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Beach at Porto Elounda

ELOUNDA PENINSULA ALL-SUITE HOTEL

Pride and Joy of the Kokotos family – but very different from Elounda Mare  described in previous blogs. 

Architect Spyros Kokotos & CEO Eliana Kokotos helped to launch Elounda area as Crete’s luxury mile with Elounda Mare and its romantic pool bungalows. Next to be built was nearby Porto Elounda with large shared pools, more activities and easier prices  – appealing to families. Then in the mid 1990s Elounda SA Resorts launched their most luxurious resort – Elounda Peninsula All-Suite.

It is all suite accommodation, all with pools. It was far more urban in feel and attracted lots of newly moneyed people who felt comfortable with everything brand new and contemporary. The intention was to draw people who wanted to be seen. But it ended up being even more of a hideaway than Elounda Mare – albeit without the maze of paths in flowery gardens.  A really attractive breakfast room with view over the water is hardly used. People like to dine in suite. Guests seem to have a habit of moving in to this home from home and can stay months. Husband jet-sets on business and wife and kids bury themselves in the Peninsula and its luxuries.

The property has only 66 suites. The Club area includes a wine cellar, a home movie theatre where, for example, the British Royal wedding was watched by guests.

WHERE TO STAY

The presidential suites along the waterfront appeal. All with sizable waterfront pools and private sea access, albeit rather adventurous  access as far as I could see. From stone platforms with sunbeds above the waves a ladder drops onto the turbulence of waves slapping on rocks. Some do offer access to the beach and no doubt a less adventurous descent.

Décor is attractive with blue and green giving a fresh spring and water feel. Built on different levels – dining area looking down on lounge and its huge windows, light and views.

But surprisingly the gardens on the terraces seemed a bit austere, unlike the perfect gardens at Elounda Mare. No doubt a signal that this hotel is more for citytypes.

Unfortunately I didn’t see the spacious junior suites with pools on the beach front. Not did I see the Peninsula Palace suite …. a “Royal Grand Suite” and the “Peninsula Residence” can be combined into this vast waterfront hotel suite.

The top accommodation I saw was the Royal Grande Suite (costing a sum afforded by celebrities). This is vast, with contemporary modern simplicity of uncomplicated space and hi tech features: lift (elevator), hammam, sauna, indoor pool with tropical garden – as well as the large outdoor pool and terrace. The living room brings church like awe with its very high roof and tall windows – and tall chimney. The dining room with long table is on a higher level and looks dizzingly down on the lounge. The nice surprise was the indoor pool with tropical banana palms – the worst surprise was the body’s guard’s room with separate entrance – Why did it have to be so small – to stop him getting uppity?

The lead-in type – “Collection” suites (1, 2 and 3 bedrooms) – also have blue and green décor. Built on two levels – all have distant sea view looking down and over the presidential and other suites. They all have pools in front but tall walls to give privacy makes them feel very compact compared with the Presidential.

PORTO ELOUNDA

A resort for people who want to meet other people, be active and enjoy children’s facilities. Spa is vast and impressive. There is also a super high tech conference facility for 5000 people. Beach is a sandy crescent around the inner edge of the yacht harbour backed by grassy area with sunbeds. Pools.

Facilities shared by all three Elounda SA Resorts include: Kid’s area, dive club, tennis courts, two yachts for charter, 9-hole golf course, and yet another Greek Orthodox chapel and shopping centre. 

Altogether there are 7 restaurants between 3 resorts, and 5 bars.

The lobby at Port Elounda is kind of empty and echoing, as if one doesn’t want anything in the way of the children.  Actually very relaxing for parents – less public property for them to destroy. 42 deluxe rooms have been newly renovated and were clean and bright with wide sea views – balconies have been given glass walls to improve the view. The Executive suites are most livable, with plenty space and big decks and big pools. The tall khaki coloured walls create privacy cutting you off from other pools. I was also shown a junior suite interconnecting with a suite, and sharing the same pool.

I can see that Porto Elounda is great for families on a budget. Elounda Mare is still my favourite – and I am not alone. Elounda Mare was fondly voted in again in 2010 onto Conde Nast Gold List, among the top 20 in Europe according to Conde Nast USA.

See my previous blogs and pix by myself and Aleah.