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.


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


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.


PAPHOS & AKAMAS AREAS

April 18, 2011 in CYPRUS | Comments (0)

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Paphos castle

On the west coast facing the sunset lies Paphos. Paphos is gathered behind a fishing harbor, castle and world heritage archaelogical site dating back to ancient Greece and the Roman empire. A narrow beach and rocky areas fringe a promenade walk lined with shops, cafes and hotels sporting their own pools and spas.

There are more serene and exclusive spots in Cyprus  – like  Anassa (see my earlier posts). And there are certainly less exclusive and more touristy spots than Paphos (around and beyond Larnaca), with so many northern Europeans that you wonder if you stumbled on a suburb of Stockholm, if it were not for the dry sun.

In Paphos you are definitely in Cyprus with a decent sized town full of Cypriots going about their lives behind the tourist front line along the seaside. In Paphos the shops cannot resist billboard size signs. That is very Cypriotic. Shoe shops abound of course – Cypriots love shoes. Café upon café of course, and a street known as bar street. Its not quiet and elegant – its busy in a relaxed Mediterranean way –  and commercial for sure in its own unpretentious way.

For me the real charm of Paphos is that you are sitting on top of an outpost of ancient Greece and Rome. That means real ruins to look at and mythology attaching itself everywhere. Aphrodite goddess of love and beauty is said to have come out of the waters off Paphos – various spots on the coast claim her birth just there. But more concrete and worth at least a whole day or two is the Unesco site House of Mosaics, with the villas of various noblemen surviving in the form of the odd wall with very beautiful mosaics, albeit damanged by time. In addition there are three museums in Paphos telling ancient stories.

The other thing I like about Paphos is our hotel staring out over the sea.  

Just one teeny little modest sign marks this hotel – “almyra” at the entrance to Poseidenos Avenue.  And already you know it is different, modest, tasteful.

A design hotel, it is an unpretentious place, yet stylish, with those little features that show a designer was here, making all this simplicity. It is a family hotel with endless connecting rooms, kid’s menus, kid’s clubs and so on. Next door lies sister hotel Annabelle. Both lie in gardens that stretch down to the beach walkway with their own beach restaurants and views over the blue Mediterranean.

Almyra was the first of the Thanos family hotels built in what was then avant garde style. Next Thanos hotel was Annabelle, which moved out of minimalism. It is still not elaborate, but it has round balconies, rusty marble and more colour, harking back to a more classical hotel style.

Almyra’s pools are square – Anabelle’s lagoon shape. Quite a few rooms also have plunge pools, and the luxury of outdoor showers. Annabelle was an immediate  success. In fact to date 80% of its guests are repeaters. So Thanos then went a step further in the classical direction. They built Anassa – on its own beach a 40 minutes to one-hour drive over the mountains, beside the Akamas peninsula nature reserve. Not just classical but UBERclassical and luxurious. See my earlier blog.

Anassa is not just a place to lie on the beach or by the pools. It’s great for sporty people – with sailing, windsurfing, squash, tennis, mountain biking and hiking on the wild and rocky peninsula.

Here you are again in the world of Aphrodite. If you had not heard of Greek mythology you would think she is a woman of flesh and blood, judging by the signs. Aphrodite swam in some baths nearby – see the image.

My choice would be to spend the first 2 or 3 nights of a Cyprus week at Almyra in a Kyma suite. And spend a whole day in the ruins again. The surviving mosaics are so fluid in their lines, it’s as if an artist did strokes of colour in minutes, rather than years or decades…exquisite. Then I would head off over the mountains to Anassa for more luxury, physical exercise and exquisite nature, chilling out totally…

This suggestion needs a sound budget.


ALMYRA – DESIGN HOTEL PAFOS

April 16, 2011 in CYPRUS | Comments (4)

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Almyra main pool

Almyra is a Design Hotel. Simplicity is the keynote, in a style based on straight lines and Mediterranean flat roofs – but there are little touches that spell Designer and Balance. Throughout it offers comfort, oodles of light and blue sea views…

A walking promenade lies between Almyra and the Beach, leading round the bay to the port and castle.

Almyra doesn’t have the long sandy beach and knock-dead natural setting of its sister hotel Anassa. It fronts a small sandy beach, nestled between rocks. Nor is Almyra five star deluxe like Anassa. Though it has a spa, hairdresser, kid’s club, all the pools you need (four), fabulous food at a choice of restaurants and friendly service, it is somehow not firmly five star, but excellent value and very lovable, especially for families.

Between Almyra and its other sister hotel Annabelle, there are plenty of restaurants for dine around – making half board a good option. But close by are many more restaurants in the town and on the beachfront, as well as cafes and bars. Plus shops of course, with rather low prices. And then others with not such low prices.

On the beachfront lies the pool area. The main pool has a dark floor so it retains solar energy. There is also a kid’s pool shaded in summer and warmed in winter. If you want to get away from kids on the other hand, the spa has an outdoor pool for adult’s only. A serene place, small but with a view over the bay. The spa also has an indoor heated pool.

The top suites at Anassa are Kyma. Perfect spots for listening to the sound of the waves or staring out to sea. Mesmerizing. The Kyma suite has a sofa placed just inside the wide glass frontage, perfect place for sea gazing, and opens onto a small verandah with more seating and a grass terrace with your own two sunbeds and parasols. The verandah is more private than the sunbeds, as your neighbor’s sunbeds are close by. Though you can’t see the path just below, you can sometimes hear voices above the sound of the waves.

The other special thing about a Kyma suite is the flat rooftop patio. You have your own patio for each suite, lying side by side with other private sitting areas on the rooftop. From there the view goes across the bay to the castle.

Kyma suites can interconnect to suit families.

If you don’t want kids as neighbours, you might enjoy an Atheon room – in a block of adults only rooms (see image in the gallery above).  Or if you have kids and don’t want them to fall off the balcony – a Superior Seaview room – no balcony. Instead the balcony space is incorporated into the room (a total of 28 sqm) (see image). Then again, if you do want private outdoor space you have a choice of a terrace room or a verandah room (28 sqm including the balcony). To delight families there are loads of connecting rooms for family intimacy. You might connect a terrace room with a junior suite for example. The junior suite has a sofa bed and can accommodate a child in the extra bed and also a baby cot – in a total of 35 sqm. One-bedroom suites are 55 sqm including a separate lounge. The two-bedroom suite has most space – 73 sqm.

 Wi-fi is complimentary at Almyra – good news for those who find it difficult to pay for something that these days seems as natural as air.

But don’t get stuck.  I do recommend you go out and see the mosaics and ruins of the Unesco site. Even if just to see the flowers popping up between the ancient stones…


MORE ANASSA MAGNIFICENCE

in CYPRUS | Comments (0)

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Blue world and the terrace


ANASSA’S GOD & GODDESS SUITES

April 2, 2011 in CYPRUS | Comments (0)

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Welcome to my Adonis suite - wihisky?

A hotel inspection – 30 travel agents or more in tow on the Thanos family’s spring party weekend.

Thanos owns three hotels on Cyprus. All delightful – but Anassa is a dream, haunted by myths and antiquity in all its pristine gleaming glamour. What might seem boring – looking at hotel rooms – is a privilege when it comes to Anassa.

In the above gallery of images we see the two most popular suites; Adonis and Aphrodite (another image below).

We also see the celebrity villa Alexandros – a very private haven with its own entrance, a decent sized pool and two bedrooms upstairs. Some celeberities might choose to hide away there in solitary splendour, but a certain top celebrity at Anassa recently was out with his children at the heated pool. Heard that on the grapevine. Anassa does give that kind of serene security.

High up on the same level as Adonis and Aphrodite we also saw the presidential Anax suite – with a long more formal dining table – and two bedrooms with balconies with perfect views. Then still high up, but one level down, we saw a panoramic junior suite and a two-bedroom suite that you can occupy as a one bedroom suite or  extend to a three bedroom suite. Connecting doors on the balcony are much appreciated by families who take adjoining suites – as the kids find it easy to play together.