Eco-Hotel in Crete is a Tranquil Haven for Relaxation
Eco-Hotel in Crete is a Tranquil Haven for Relaxation
By Inka Piegsa-Quischotte
Picture this: you have inherited a huge plot of land on the Greek island of Crete. The land has been in your family for many generations, but… it’s not much more that a vast expanse of rocky hillside with hundreds of olive trees and a few grazing sheep.
At first glance you are at a loss for what to do with it. It might seem more of a burden than an asset.
So you go and sit on the highest point and ponder the future of your bequest, when your eyes fall on the coastline just below and, as you chose the late evening for your ruminations, you watch the sun go down over the cliffs and the sea and you witness one of the most spectacular sunsets you have ever seen.
That’s the moment when you have a vision and know exactly what to do with your land: built an eco-resort and create a tranquil haven for stressed-out people to allow then to chill, recover, contemplate and experience nature and at the same time, protect the environment, the beauty and ecosystem of your beloved island.
You’ll focus on using only local materials and craftsmen, create a cuisine which is entirely based on traditional Cretan food, and devise trips, excursions and activities for your guests which will leave them restored body and soul.
This tale is not my fancy but the true story of Marcos Mourtzanakis, owner of Mourtzanakis Residence, a unique ecotourism hotel in Achlada, about 20 miles west of Heraklion, the capital of Crete.
Being not only a man of vision, but also a man of action, Marcos built the eco-hotel with support from his brother and his wife.
It took years of hard work and planning, not to mention the investment of a large amount of money, but what greets the visitor today are four separate villas which are the guest accommodations and a main building which features a library, a salon and a communal dining room where breakfast is served and other meals can be ordered upon request.
The road to Achlada
You will probably arrive at Heraklion airport and you need to rent a car, not only to get to your destination but also to help you get around once you get there.
Head west on the motorway towards Chania which is rather stress free, but the excitement starts at the turnoff to your left towards a town called Agia Pelagia or else Fogele, which are both near to Achlada and worth a day trip.
Be prepared, because the road is only two lanes, climbing up steeply into the mountains and the bends are lethal as documented by the many tiny shrines along the roadside, each one indicating the site of either a fatal accident or a lucky escape. That’s Greece for you!
If you are the driver don’t be tempted to look down as the spectacular view unfolds, keep your eyes glued to the road and be prepared for oncoming traffic driving on the wrong side of the road or buses and coaches which only make the turns with an inch to spare.
Just think that the Achlada resort, a glass of wine, or, to steady your nerves, local raki is awaiting as well as a welcoming family, including Romy the dog and very comfortable accommodation.
Achlada facilities and activities
When you arrive and get out of the car you immediately notice the scent of flowers and herbs. Gardens surround the property and the many herbs are put to good use in the meals prepared by Esmeralda, Marcos’ wife. Like him, she is of multinational origin, so she also goes by the name of Smerda and what is so admirable is the fact that, not being a cook at all, she took the trouble to engage the help of local women to learn how to prepare Cretan food. Her salads and rabbit stew are wonderful.
Hiking trips into the surrounding countryside and visits to coops where the exquisite Cretan olive oil is made are just two of the activities on offer.
The villas are furnished to the highest standard, minimalist but cozy with rain showers, a kitchen if you feel like experimenting yourself, TV and Wi-Fi to keep connected to the world.
There are only four so far which means the number of guests is limited, but as they all have the same taste and reasons why they came to this particular place, a multi national temporary family is quickly formed and conversations flow either at the communal breakfast table or near the fireplace in the salon.
You want to read and know more about Crete its culture and history? Go up the stairs to the library and indulge. Fancy a dip in the water? No problem, a pool and Jacuzzi awaits. Or you just want to sit, think, dream? Find a seat on the terrace overlooking the mountains and the sea and, yes, watch the sunset.
Agia Pelaia and Fogele
Apart from the small village of Achlada itself which you can explore on foot in the company of Marcos or his son and meet the locals as well as look at the remnants of its mighty Venetian past, you may want to take the car and venture down the mountain road towards Agia Pelaia which is a lovely small town with four beaches or else towards Fogele and visit the birthplace of El Greco.
It’s a popular Cretan pastime to hotly discuss if this is really the house he was born in or if it rather happened near Heraklion where he painted and learned the Byzantine style.
In any event, the house is a lovely stone structure surrounded by gardens and contains many exhibits and photographs of the painter’s works and family history.
On the way you come across a small Byzantine chapel which is not much to look at from the outside but surprises on the inside with frescos of such freshness they might have been painted only a century ago.
Stop for a coffee or meal in Fogele and admire century-old olive trees with their snarled trunks and a wrought iron well.
Achlada’s merit is to provide a resort or rather retreat where you can get in touch with nature and history, relax, contemplate and chill out and in addition helps to revive an area of Crete which was long abandoned but is springing back to life as well as promote and further local products such as the world famous extra virgin olive oil.
If you are looking for clubs, nightlife and a beach holiday, this is not the place to come.
Heraklion has an international airport.
Ferries also run to other islands such as Rhodes.
I arrived by plane from Kos using a nostalgic 30-seater run by Sky Express.
Inka Piegsa-Quischotte is a former attorney turned travel writer, photographer and novelist based in Miami and Istanbul who writes with verve and flair about destinations where it’s warm, particularly the Mediterranean World. Her work has appeared in The Expeditioner, Literary Traveler, Travel Thru History, Popular Hispanics, Traveln-on and Smithsonianmag. She blogs regularly for In The Know Traveler and Europe a la Carte and Turkish Airlines inflight magazine.