ELOUNDA MARE: SECRETS & CHARM

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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.


One Response to “ELOUNDA MARE: SECRETS & CHARM”

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