CRETE – NEW LUXURY & PAST

June 15, 2011 in GREECE | Comments (0)

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Picture 14 of 14

Beach at Blue Palace near Plaka - crystal turquoise water on white stones

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.


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