The hotel in Maleme in Crete is called The Mistral, and its strapline is Sociable holidays for the independent traveller. What it says on the tin is what you get, sociability, a mix of independent solo travellers, shared evening meals, breakfasting in groups or singly (not all people want to be sociable in the mornings) and chilling out around the two pools during the day. And with free WiFi throughout the hotel it’s easy to keep in touch with family and friends.
The Mistral is a hotel for solo travellers only but all rooms are actually double room size. It is run by a family and it treats its guests as family, many of whom return year after year. Vassilis and Adonis Gialamarakis run the hotel as hosts rather than owners, on hand to help a guest when needed whether it’s to explain a point of ancient Greek history or to give a recipe for a dish enjoyed. Donna, the hotel’s English hostess, is there to ease one’s stay in any way she can whether it’s a problem with a mobile phone or finding a softer pillow.
I spoke to one person who was on his ninth trip and another told me she had just chalked up her thirteenth visit! When I was there the age range ran from 35 to 83 and the mix was approximately 60% women and 40% men. Some come because they value a little time away from family, some want to spend quality time with friends from other parts of the UK but don’t want to share a room, some are widowed, some are divorced and others just desire not to feel uncomfortable in a hotel where it’s mostly couples and families.
Located on the north-west coast of Crete, the largest island in Greece, Maleme is as yet undeveloped, but just a few minutes walk away is the beach with bars and restaurants, other hotels, and facilities.
Just outside the Mistral is a mini-market selling foodstuffs, clothes, sunglasses, shoes etc. plus a selection of gifts made from local products: about a 10 minute walk away is a row of shops and bars. Chania, with its magnificent Venetian harbour, is only a 25-minute bus ride away.
Crete has always been my favourite Greek island. I’ve visited it in every season and still can’t make up my mind which is my favourite. Winter for bracing walks, olive wood fires and the pink tinge of the setting sun on the snow-capped White Mountains: spring for the wild flowers that bloom across the island and the orange and lemon blossom that scents the air: summer for the glorious warmth, the sandy beaches, and the ice-cold drinks round the pool: and autumn – again for the wild flowers and walking in the hills and mountains.
Excursions organised by the hotel are very popular, well priced and with interesting itineraries. From Easter Week processions to monasteries and mountain villages, beaches to historic towns, there is something for everyone. Mostly these are led by Vassilis, an enthusiastic conveyor of information whether it be military history, Cretan food, or the Minoans. The hotel calendar also has weeks dedicated to crafts and activities like photography, walking, Tai-Chi, and water-colouring.
The food at The Mistral is superb. I never heard a complaint during the two weeks I spent there. Four courses every night, with an emphasis on seasonal dishes, everything where possible sourced locally. So local in fact, that the salads and most vegetables come from the hotel kitchen garden and the olive oil from their olive groves. Cretan specialities are a regular feature on the menu, Bureki (a soft goat’s cheese and potato pie), artichokes in lemon and dill sauce, stuffed peppers and huge stuffed tomatoes, courgette flowers deep fried, sweet cheese pastries with wild thyme honey drizzled over … Then there is the meat and fish, lamb, beef, or goat. I could go on.
The outdoor bar is where everyone meets for pre-dinner drinks and is open from about 10.30 a.m. until the wee small hours.
Returned guests make a point of welcoming newbies and introducing them to others –how unusual is that? But what keeps people returning year after year to The Mistral is more than just the food and the comfortable accommodation in the hotel’s 34 rooms. It’s a warmth generated by the staff that envelopes everyone from the oldest to the youngest making a ‘family’ from a diverse bunch of people. Many become firm friends and return together in future years and all seem to think of this as their second home.
I’ve already booked my next holiday to The Mistral – it’s calling me home.