On Crete, the choice of accommodations is as diverse as anywhere in Europe. One thing that differentiates Greece’s biggest island is the amazing choice of best stays here for the asking. With alternative touristic delight in mind, here’s a selection of five of the most interesting properties we’ve found so far. These are accommodations you may not find in the cluttered search and marketing puzzle that tourism has become.
Best Cretan Luxury Experience
Our editors met VanGos Tsourlakis back in 2015 while searching for an authentic Cretan experience during their first visit to the island. Tsourlakis, a noted architect, and entrepreneur on the island had just completed rebuilding a fabulous old olive mill into an amazing countryside villa. His Grotto Homes Venetian Mill Villa, which is billed as an alternative luxury on Crete, is all that and much more. Situated in the out of the way village of Goulediana, the Venetian Mill emits the joy of its creator through traditional Cretan antique furnishings down to the complimentary raki the host greets each guest with.
The villa is transformative in many respects, not the least of which is a kind of reverence the place exudes. Here, in a fabulous place where luxury meets nature, the Airbnb super-host VanGos has fashioned a kind of time portal into the beautiful culture beneath Crete’s rugged exterior. Our founders tried to convey the essence of this place in a series of articles from 2014, but the fact Tsourlakis’ holiday rental is booked solid says it all. The villa can accommodate up to 11 people (7 in beds and 4 in sofabeds) in an opulent but relaxed atmosphere. The indoor grotto pool is a special feature, but the outdoor pool and tailored grounds capitalize one of Crete’s most amazing vacation homes. Readers can book the Venetian Mill via Airbnb here or at the villa website here.
For a View of the Cretan Sea
Crete accommodations with a view or commonplace on Crete. This is true largely because of the vertical nature of the island. Vistas are common where the mountains meet the sea, to be sure. However, finding the right combination of value and view combined with solitude and traditional Cretan experiences is not as common. Villa Omikron overlooking Heraklion and the Sea beyond is that rare combination. This four bedroom, three and a half bath luxury villa boasts of a magnificent pool with an unbelievable overlook, as well as numerous other 5-star features. We suggest you check out the villa’s photo gallery to really get a preview.
Owner Dimitris Markakis’ fabulous home is located in the historic and picturesque village of Rodia just 18 kilometers from Crete’s capital. Surrounded by pristine countryside and nature, the villa cohabitates with the village charming cafes and taverns, as well as the old church of Panagia of Rogdia. The list of surrounding attractions and points of interest is too extensive for telling here, but guests are always impressed by the multitude of local treasures like nearby Spiliotissa Gorge, Agia Pelagia Bay, the Savvathiana Monastery, the beach at Pantanassa, and many more. Readers can find out more and book Villa Omikron via Airbnb here, or via Markakis’ SeaScape Luxury Residences site here.
Secrets of the South
Okay, the magnificent seaside at the village Kokkinos Pyrgos is no huge secret, at least not for Cretans. The once famous resort town has suffered from a kind of forced anonymity these last years though. A recent visit there by me and some of our visitors ended as a pleasant surprise. And a wonderful beach house overlooking the Bay of Mesara is one of the many discoveries we made. Boasting a gigantic garden and numerous seaside relaxation enclaves, Beach House Kokkinos Pyrgos has direct beach access and absolute seclusion for couples, families, and small groups. The house has a barbeque area featuring a stone oven, and a unique atmosphere you can only sense by being there. Right down the single lane road that runs along the seaside, you’ll find shopping, bars, taverns and the marina in the village only half a kilometer away. The best value of this secluded beach house is best described with the text from the owner’s website:
“You will discover that solutions to most problems can be found by sitting on the beach and staring out over the water. Similarly, if you’re in need of some inspiration, you will find it by digging your toes in the sand.”
I’ve begun cataloging Kokkinos Pyrgos and the other seaside treasures of the south coast, but take my word – the quote above is abundantly true staring out at this unbelievable gulf. This place is really a “best stay” for melting away stress. For those unfamiliar, Kokkinos Pyrgos is a small beach resort in the south of Crete, situated in between Matala (15 kilometers further south) and Agia Galini (10 kilometers west). The town is right after the big village of Timbaki, on the road toward the famous Minoan palace at Phaistos toward Heraklion. For more information about rates and staying at the house please visit the website or phone +30 697 332 4510.
An Unsung Luxury Holiday Hero
I love Fodele Beach. We go there in the offseason a lot just to breathe in the calm solitude and peace of the place. The little rundown 60s beachfront spots on the east end of the beach create a kind of retro character to the place. Then up high on the hill overlooking one of the island’s most underrated all-inclusive resorts stands watch over this perfect little bay. Known officially as the Fodele Beach & Water Park Holiday Resort, this hillside resort is an airy and majestic hotel with all the usual exclusive suspects to please. Flat screen TVs to private balconies and terraces overlooking the Cretan Sea, the hotel features 3 restaurants, 3 snack bars, and a lounge. By the pool, there’s another class bar, and on the perfect sandy beach, there’s another chic watering hole.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the super fun water park, the watersports, the gym, and the wellness center. One thing that really differentiates this resort from the dozens of others is the little town the hotel is situated in. Fodele is a unique little place for several reasons. Not the least of these is the fact the town was home to one of the great artists of history, El Greco. The museum dedicated to the painter sits overlooking the most amazing citrus grove you ever saw, and right up the road, a river runs past unbelievable Cretan taverns. For a trip into traditional Crete life, without venturing too far out of Heraklion, Fodele and its biggest hotel are ideal. The resort is rated a Top 10 among TripAdvisor’s best of Crete. For more information please visit the official website or call +30 2810 522 000
When Only a Genuine Experience Will Do
After living here almost a year now, and having written as much about Crete as anybody, the scope of this island is finally sinking in. Tourism-wise I don’t think there is any place with the same mix of sightseeing and activity diversity and value for visitors. That said, it’s logical that there are more great accommodations here than you can shake a stick at. Five-star all-inclusive wonders, themed stays, magnificent villas or houses, I guess I’ll never reach the end of Crete hospitality. That’s why I was not surprised to find Koutsounari Traditional Cottages in southeast Crete in between Ierapetra and Agia Fotia Beach. Situated on a hill overlooking the Libyan Sea, this best stay experience is surrounded by Cretan nature. A plush garden and olives groves hold the picturesque cottages in their grasp, and wild bougainvilleas and innumerable herbs provide a magical fragrant and visual perspective. The traditional architecture adds to the overall feeling of belonging here. It’s a certainty you’ll find Koutsounari, near Ierapetra and idyllic experience.
Using the concepts of the now famous Eleni Nakou, Koutsounari Traditional Cottages is a transportive experience that links the magic of Crete back in the 1960s to today’s modernity. For those unfamiliar, it was her efforts that elevated Koutsounari Traditional Settlement to became part of the cultural heritage of both Greece and Europe. Back in 1978, the village received a Europa Nostra cultural heritage award in the restoration category “for the fine restoration of abandoned buildings and their conversion into a tourist resort.” Koutsounari Traditional Cottages opened their doors for business two years before, and afterward, the development of the project was entrusted to Manolis and Dora Mantalas. The couple’s daughter, Ioanna, having grown up here and having completed her studies at the Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne, added her own touches and continual updated and augments the property’s amenities. The spirit of this magnificent property is best conveyed by the family’s website narrative:
“In an era of exaggerated overstatement meant to impress, you can enjoy the authentic simplicity of Nakou Village and Koutsounari Traditional Cottages.”