Kapsaliana Village Hotel’s history-steeped settlement, set in the island’s largest olive grove, has an 18th-century olive press and its own museum. The original press and pitharia (clay storage vessels) can still be admired and there’s a homely restaurant and a flower-flanked outdoor pool. Rooms are soothingly simple: stone interiors and arches.
Get this when you book through us:
A bottle of wine; stays of three nights or more will also get one free dinner
Noon (flexible subject to availability). Earliest check-in, noon.
Double rooms from £146.38 (€160), including tax at 13 per cent.
Rates include traditional breakfast. A three-night minimum stay applies for this hotel.
The rather important-sounding Ministry of Planning and Public Works has pronounced the hotel a site of ‘significant cultural importance’, and no wonder: the lounge is built around the original olive press and there’s even a little museum, stocked with artifacts.
At the hotel
Gardens, CD/DVD library and free WiFi in reception, the restaurant, the lounge area and by the pool. In-rooms: flatscreen TV, CD/DVD player, minibar and free bottled water.
Our favourite rooms
All rooms share the same distinctive decor: stone walls, floors and arches, wooden beamed ceilings, chunky wooden furniture including carved benches beside the beds; with private terraces and bathrooms boasting turquoise and jade tiled showers. What distinguishes the living quarters are the views; Orion has seductive seascapes, as does Pegasus. If you’re a fan of the characteristic stone arches that separate the bedrooms and living areas, book Perseus or Lyra.
The rectangular pool is set amid the olive groves, on a pretty white stone patio. Vivid flowering shrubs, sunloungers and parasols are dotted around the turquoise water.
Cool cotton, bikinis and beach shorts, a paperback copy of Homer’s Odyssey.
Give the owners advance warning, and pets can come too for free. Smoking is allowed in all communal areas apart from the restaurant.
Little Smiths are welcome, with free cots and beds for 14 year olds and under (€20 a day, high season; €15, low season).
Food is locally sourced and organic; everything that can be is recycled and the village’s restoration relied on natural, local materials.
Sit out on the terrace and feel the sun on your skin.
Relaxed rustic: loose linen, soft shirts and heel-free shoes for the uneven floors.
The restaurant is styled around a typical Cretan kitchen, with wooden tables and chairs, white arched walls and bright tapestries. Chef and olive oil expert Vassilis Leonidou whips up local cuisine using organic, locally sourced ingredients. The simply delicious (literally) dishes include lamb with artichokes, chicken with lemon and olives, meat pie with wild herbs and delicate sugared pastries. A relaxed breakfast is served here daily.
During the restaurant’s opening hours, drinks are served in the lounge area. The zingy home-made lemonade is worth being teetotal for. There's an honesty bar of sorts by the pool, stocked with drinks and ice-creams. You can also use the pool bar's telephone to have food brought to you.
Breakfast from 8.30am–11am; lunch between 1pm–3.30pm; dine between 7pm and 10pm.
Drinks can be ordered from 9am and 7pm. There are no in-room snacks but you can stock up on nibbles from the pool bar.
Heraklion airport is 79km from the hotel, and Chania airport is 86km away.
Rethymnon is a half-hour drive away.
Worth getting out of bed for
Begin by making the most of the hotel; have a dip in the secluded pool, dry off on one of the loungers and ramble through the olive groves. Visit the hotel’s museum and eye up the artifacts. Make an appearance at one of the regular olive-oil tastings, and ask the concierge to book you on some guided excursions. The 14th-century Eastern Orthodox monastery of Arkadi is 4km from the hotel and is rich in history – used as a headquarters in the 19th century by Cretan rebels evading the Turks. The surrounding villages have a stash of Byzantine relics. Sandy beaches are just 10 minutes away by car – choose from Stavromenos and Geropotamos. Both come with sun beds, parasols and a taverna or two. Visit Rethymnon and its Venetian fortress, 18km away. The gardens, mosques, castle and loggia are all impressive. Chania, on Crete’s north shore (an hour’s drive from Rethymnon) is worth a visit for its glorious Venetian architecture, backdrop of the White Mountains and seductive sandy beaches. At least one Bounty advert was filmed at Preveli beach, in Agios Nikolaos – stake out a spot on the stretch of sand and make your own movie.
Because of the hotel’s secluded setting, local hotspots are a drive away (but not a long one). It’s worth visiting the taverns at Amnatos (1km away), Kyrianna, Loutra (3–4km) or Stavromenos (8km). Try the creative cuisine at Avli at 22 Xanthoudidou and Radamanthios in Rethymnon’s old town. The gourmet restaurant and wine bar serves up enticing nibbles and mains, including fresh mushrooms with smoked pork and creamy butter, lamb with traditional rice and fig pie with vanilla ice cream. Castelvecchio is a popular family-run taverna next to a Venetian fortress at 29 Himaras. Try the kleftico cooked with love by the owner’s father. Chania is an hour and a half away, but it has some great options, including Tamam is housed in an old Turkish bath house at 49 Zambeliou, by the old harbour. Culinary offerings are a fusion of Middle Eastern and Greek food. Close by at 8 Platia Katehaki is Karnagio, a traditional restaurant with a scenic harbour-side location. Work up an appetite for the grilled meat platters, boureki (zucchini and sheep’s cheese pie) and generous peasant-style salads, heaped with feta.
It’s a sizzling day in Crete. We’re hot, we’re sweating and Mr Smith is muttering obscenities in my ear. If I’m conjuring scenes from a Greek-themed skin flick, the reality is far from Debbie Does Delphi – we’re not even at Kapsaliana Village Hotel yet, let alone in a romantic clinch. We’re down a dead end, stuck in our hire car. On a bend, facing a wall, next to an old lady’s house. Said old lady is toothlessly shouting and clapping sarcastically. Through the window I can make out her moustache but not her words. She looks older than time, but from her incredulous rage, it’s clear that in her 1,000-odd years she’s never encountered anything as ridiculous as us.
I confess this is not the first time my navigating has got us in trouble on foreign turf. As Mr Smith winds down the window and begs for mercy, I wince at recollections of that veering lorry on a motorway near Cannes; a miserable midnight rain-lashed drive through Copenhagen; that looping, lawless search for a châteaux in the Dordogne. We’re no stranger to the scenic route when seeking out a boutique hotel, and it was inevitable that in rural Arkadi, on our way to Kapsaliana Village Hotel, we’d have an ‘adventure’. Some couples have a third party endanger their relationships. We just need a road.
I’m stirred from my reverie by an unexpected sight: the crone smiling. She mimes knocking back a drink, and stabs a finger to the right. Mr Smith translates: we must summon help from over there, where the men-folk are drinking. We arrive at the taverna, gate-crashing the village lunch date. Throwing dignity to the wind, we stand before the locals, grinning idiotically, reeking of tourism and re-enacting our predicament.
In the interests of us getting to Kapsaliana, I’ll speed things up. Two hours pass thus: Costas, the taverna owner, calls the man with the tractor (he’s out on his tractor); Mr Smith talks to Avis on his phone; Mr Smith shouts at Avis on Costas’ phone; the villagers (children included) volunteer to lift the car; Mr Smith, mindful of insurance, nervously declines; a local Adonis is dispatched by Avis; Adonis rides the car like a bucking bronco, and reverses it – with a few terrifying false starts – to safety. I drink raki with Costas and toast the Adonis. Mr Smith ages rapidly. We bid the locals goodbye and drive off with a grinding of gears.
‘I thought the hotel was up this road,’ I tell Mr Smith cheerily as we pull up outside Kapsaliana Village Hotel. (It was the raki talking.) If it wasn’t for the trailing flowers, sea views and sense of calm working its magic on a gibbering Mr Smith, I might be writing this from the grave. Luckily, I see him visibly soften as he takes in our hillside surroundings: lemon and lime trees, fragrant herb bushes and verdant olive groves. The smell of grilled meat wafts across the courtyard, and we hear the clink of cutlery and the gentle murmur of guests lingering over their food. Our Crete hideaway all feels very un-hotel like, until a young girl walks towards us, smiles, and utters the magic words: ‘Welcome to Kapsaliana.’
Moments later, we’re walking with our guide, Agnes, to our room. We dip under a stone arch and into a lantern-lit village – for Kapsaliana Village Hotel is exactly that: a boutique hotel fleshed out around the bones of a village, with an 18th-century olive press at its heart. Traditional Cretan houses hewn from nougat-coloured stone are clustered around the former press, adorned with little courtyards, Venetian vaults and stone staircases. The layout is far from the hotel norm: more sprawling, more independent, more private, and infinitely more relaxing. We’re staying in the first house, Izar – each room is named after a star or planet. Soon we’re throwing open a heavy wooden door and admiring the seductive simplicity that greets us: whitewashed walls, farmhouse furniture, a bed graced with sprigs of lavender and rosemary, a wood-burning fire, and a cosy bathroom, stocked with olive-oil unguents.
The best bit of our Crete retreat is outside: a private terrace. There we scuttle with some in-room spoils: dates and loukoumi (a Greek take on Turkish delight), and a vial of raki. A few tots of liquor later (well, the entire bottle to be exact – Mr Smith has residual driving tension), and we’re convinced that a dip in the pool is a good idea. (Please don’t try this at home.) Clad in bikini and beach shorts respectively, we tipsily wend our way to the peaceful pool, set amid the verdant olive groves. Thankfully, we’re the only ones indulging in a nocturnal splash, so there’s nobody to witness our boozy bathing. The cold water soon sobers us up, as does the realisation that there’s food close by and we’re yet to taste it.
Back on dry land and dressed for dinner, we head to the restaurant which is celebrated for its simple, organic cuisine; set apart from the rooms, it's in a stone building that also houses the reception and lounge. We eye up the crackling fire in the latter, but opt for a table beneath the pergola on the restaurant’s flower-graced, lantern-lit terrace. Meals here are taverna-style, free from fuss and formality, and it’s clear that this luxe-for-less lodging’s relaxed magnificence continues in the kitchen; memorable dishes include meltingly soft courgette patties with minty yoghurt, olive cakes with a salty, treacly filling, a zingy salad with sour apple and crispy onions, kebabs with all the trimmings, and ice-cream splintered with shards of chocolate.
Meandering back to our room later, we encounter our hire car. Through the wine haze I stiffen, and dart my eyes nervously at Mr Smith. He reaches forward and pats the bonnet affectionately. He glows; he has forgotten. In that moment, the success of our Greek holiday is sealed.