There is still, no matter what time of day or night, whatever season, a magic in getting off a plane somewhere new. And I hope that never goes. It is twenty five years since I’ve been to Crete and I’m keen to re-visit the island. We’re on a late week away, in October, so it will be quieter and cooler; both these suit us fine! The airport is small and efficient at Chania, Crete’s second city, although it was the capital until 1971, and within what seems like minutes, twenty five to be exact, we have our luggage and are all set to head off in the hire car. It is undoubtedly the most efficient and pleasant car hire experience I have ever undertaken. The sun is out, it’s warm and the Cretan high roads await us!
The first call is to be at Gouverneto Monastery where today is their saint’s day, so apparently much will be happening. It’s close to the airport on the Akrotiri peninsula. We find the place and wander down the path, suitably clad for this is still a requirement in Greece, no bare knees or shoulders in places of worship, to the enclosed compound. It’s perched high above a deep blue sea, above a fairly steep path down to hermits’ caves and an abandoned church. In gently comedic fashion, we find the monastery is under renovation and no major celebrations are taking place there this year. So much for internet research, all well and good up to a point! However the black clad, bearded monk on duty, selling a few religious artefacts, is an absolute delight and has a command of English not often heard on Oxford Street, never mind completely in out of the way Crete. He tells us there are six monks in residence and they are a devoted band of brothers, so much so that when one of them was ill a while ago, the entire group accompanied him to London for treatment, where they eventually stayed a month due to the Icelandic ash cloud! How marvellous, it was a disaster for the aviation industry but not the Greek Orthodox Church.
We wander down the path to the first cave and are treated to a most bizarre juxtaposition of old and new. Out of absolutely nowhere, screeching at breath taking speed, comes a fighter jet which, quite frankly, flirts with us for the next 10 minutes, performing faultless loops, spins and dives such as the Farnborough Air Show or the Red Arrows would be in awe of. After a moment or two, the questions of who, why and what are irrelevant, the brilliance of the pilot is remarkable. This is his playground, and we are invited to watch. Which we do! The contrast with the monastic cave, 500 metres down the cliff, complete with bear-shaped stalacmite, is immense. The tiny icon laden chapel at the cave’s entrance is a reminder of how very deeply religion and the church permeates much of Crete, past and present.
So first deviation over, we head for the village of Vamos where Simpson Travel have their Arosmari Village Hotel. It’s an easy enough drive, I am after all the passenger, and the directions provided are excellent. And unusually, all the landmarks are exactly as described! We turn into the little street the hotel is on and suddenly a chap in a pink polo shirt waves us into a small parking space, and yes, and he’s a member of the Simpson team. We park, leaving the keys in the car, so our bags can be unloaded and head into the cottage. It is divinely rustic, unashamedly village style, which actually I really like. There’s no artifice here, simple, pretty furnishings: a wooden chest, handkerchief hangings at the door, black and white photos on the walls. It works well, with brightly coloured fabrics to complement the simplicity. And practically Thyme cottage is two storeys, one up, one down. We need nothing more! The bedroom window opens to look over the hamman roof, with a stupendous view of the White Mountains beyond, which come and go with the cloud cover. It is just perfect! We will be exploring very soon.
The concept here at Arosmari is again a simple one, ten cottages, dotted about a well tended and thoughtfully laid out couple of acres. There’s a sense of an entire village in one, so to speak, a Venetian style arch and tunnel, a threshing circle, a tiny amphitheatre for high summer concerts and a pebble shepherd’s dwelling. A tiny chapel with icons completes the hotel, it is a really gorgeous place. Stone paths meander through it all, past the randomly placed cottages, which are by no means uniform in design or size. Astonishingly, we discover the whole place is around ten years old, although it has the look and feel of something much older! The sun is warm on the honey coloured brick, cats drape themselves lazily across a wall, muted blue front doors are ajar and we have arrived.
Arosmari is the preserve of Nikos, a smiley Greek owner and the fabulous married team of Trish and Mike Scott, who ensure your holiday happens just as Simpson Travel would want! We are given a quick tour of the hotel, the buildings stand on both sides of the street and really is integral to Vamos. I am enchanted with it all and find the hamman an exciting prospect for later, massages are available too, my back sighs in relief at the thought. So to the details, the cottages have good linen, comfortable beds, plenty of towels and what joy, dressing gowns. The integral kitchen could indeed allow you to prepare a meal and tea bags and coffee are provided on arrival. As I get older, the ease a kettle and fridge deliver for my unquenchable tea habit is a real bonus.
Breakfast is provided each morning in a pretty dining area, with a buffet, yoghurts, cheeses, cold meats and a cooked menu, should you wish for it. We certainly never left wanting more. And at this point the magic of the Arosmari Village Hotel kicks in, as ever it is the people who matter. Costas, our breakfast waiter and aspiring professional footballer, in his early twenties, is a real treasure. He is a true philosopher, having and sharing profound thoughts on the meaning of family, life and crimes against humanity. Both Socrates and Plato would have adored him! Trish, the concierge, is a veritable fount of knowledge, having lived in this region for ten years. Ask her for a restaurant, a walk, where to visit and she seriously has all the answers, as well as being quick to make excellent alternative suggestions. In many years of taking holidays, I have never been better equipped, with amusing detail, broad context and specific driving instructions. Which frankly make a huge difference, my dear driver being at times confused with left and right. Landmarks are so much easier! With Trish’s guidance, we not only managed to find the best car park in Chania, we also got back to Vamos in one piece.
So if what you are after is a pretty, tranquil village setting, with relatively traditional restaurants and a few shops within walking distance, the option of good beaches close by and plenty of interesting places to discover, this is it!
Read Jennie’s review of Simpson Travel’s GK Hotel on the beach at Kalives in Crete.