Thursday, 29 May 2014

Crete - April 2014 week one, The Mistral Hotel, Maleme

Week one

After my long trip last year travelling down the west coast of America, I wanted to be closer to home for this year’s holiday.  I settled for two weeks somewhere around the Mediterranean, and eventually chose the island of Crete, where several walking holidays are available at the western end of the island.

Crete. I flew into Chania (Khania) and stayed at Maleme

I stayed in the Mistral hotel, at Maleme, about 18km west of Chania (Khania) to where there are frequent flights from around Europe. The hotel is small, taking just 30 guests, and bills itself as providing  Sociable holidays for the independent single traveler. 

The Mistral Hotel, Maleme, Crete
 The Mistral caters exclusively for independent and single travelers who enjoy great food, good company and a warm, natural environment. If you want to travel alone but not be alone, join us to experience authentic Greece and Crete and we promise to make your singles holidays stay a memorable one. We welcome single travelers and small groups looking for a singles resort from all over the world. We offer a vast range of excursions and activities and you can take part in as much or as little as you wish. There are also Special Interest Weeks at the Mistral Hotel throughout the season. A 45% repeat guest rate is the best reassurance and guarantee of the quality of our service.

I can’t praise enough the hotel’s beautiful design, facilities, and wonderful management and small staff.  It delivers on its promises, and exceeded my expectations in every regard.  My first week was at the end of April, the quiet season, and with only twelve guests it felt very much like we were having a house party.  The hotel is owned by the Gialamarakis family, brothers Vassillis and Adonis.

The photographs which follow show just a small selection of the activities I undertook: they don’t really show that there was also plenty of time for lounging and lazing, sunbathing by the hotel’s two pools, wining and dining, chatting with others, but also being left alone to read in quiet if that’s what you wanted.

The beach at Maleme, opposite the Mistral hotel

On the hill just behind the hotel is the German war cemetery.  Six thousand Germans died in the brief battle to secure control of the island of Crete.  It is a quiet place of calm, respect, reflection, and commemorative stones. ‘Zwei Unbekannte Deutsche Soldaten’ appears on quite a few of the stones.  

Two Mistral guests observe the cemetery

West from the hotel, just a mile along the road, is the RAF memorial: a simple stone and brick arch, with two panels carrying the names and ranks of the fifty men killed in May 1941.

A cycle hire shop has just opened in Maleme (Chania Cycles) and I’m one of the first customers.   Rather ambitiously, I decide to ride to Chania, 18kms away, trying to hug the old coast road and avoid the fast main road. It’s quiet and enjoyable, with plenty of opportunities for photos and coffee stops, until I get to the outskirts of the city and three hills. After the third, I decide it is time to return home.  Not quite so enjoyable: I face a strong headwind all the way back.  I rode about 40 kms today.

It is only 12euros to hire this brand new bike for a day.

We all took a trip to Falasarni, on the west coast, to see some ruins, enjoy the beach, and have a fish lunch.  
The archeological site was an ancient Greek harbour town, the visible remains of which were built around 333 BC, and include several imposing sandstone towers and bastions, with hundreds of meters of fortification walls protecting the town, and a closed harbor, meaning it is protected on all sides by city walls. The harbor is ringed by stone quays with mooring stones, and connected to the sea through two artificial channels. Notable finds in the harbor area include public roads, wells, warehouses, an altar, and baths. Most of these structures were revealed by excavations that began in 1986. 

Two of our group take the opportunity to swim, the rest sit it out at the cafe

It is only a short drive south to the tiny town of Sfinari where right on the beach another taverna, the Sunset Fish Restaurant, is the location of the Mistral’s renowned fish lunch. Adonis takes us into the kitchen to meet the husband and wife owners, the Baladakis family, and show us what is to be cooked for our feast.  We sit, chat, drink, enjoy the shade, and taste dish after dish for well over three hours, finally saying our farewells, clambering back in the minibuses and heading home.  

Proprietors of the restaurant, the Baladakis family

I took a cycle ride south, away from the coast, exploring some of the countryside, rich with olive groves and orange orchards.  I made it as far as Nderes, about 15kms from the hotel. 

The late Minoan Tholos tomb can be found just a few hundred metres from the hotel, completely overgrown in the corner of an orchard. More details here.

I made two visits to Chania, on successive sundays, travelling by the very efficient public bus service from outside my hotel.
Chania, an elegant city of eucalyptus-lined avenues, miles of waterfront promenades, and shady, cobbled alleyways lined with Venetian and Ottoman houses is close to the heart of all Cretans. It was here that the Greek flag was raised in 1913 to mark Crete's unification with Greece, and the place is one of the most beautiful of all Greek cities. Its beautiful Venetian quarter is a web of atmospheric streets that tumble onto a magnificent harbour. Restored Venetian townhouses have been converted into chic restaurants and boutique hotels, while ruins house stunning tavernas. The prominent former mosque on the harbour and other remnants of the city’s Turkish rulers add to Chania’s exotic charm.

Four of us took the ferry, a one-hour sail north, along the eastern edge of the peninsula, and round the top to the uninhabited island of Imeri Grambousa.  We  disembarked and then walked, climbed and scrambled up the path and steps to the ruined Venetian fort at the top (1579).  Other details here.

Ruined Venetian fort

At the top of Imeri Grambousa.

Back on the ferry we sailed for about 15 minutes across to the Balos lagoon where we had the afternoon to laze and swim. The water was beautifully warm, being very shallow and heated quickly by the sun.  It’s a lovely place, really quite special, perhaps the most striking feature being the incredible shades of the water;  my photos don’t do justice to the variations of colour.

Balos Lagoon
Balos Lagoon

West of the Mistral is the little town of Kolymbari, an ideal place for two of us to have lunch at Tripadvisor’s top-rated restaurant, Palio Arhontiko, at a table in the shade, right on the water’s edge.  

Stuffed calamari


Back at the Mistral it's the end of week one, and some guests depart for home.

For week two of my holiday, the walking week, click here

1 comment:

  1. A fantastic account of your photography workshop and travels. Thank you for sharing!