Crete opened up her heart, I opened up my stomach
Having never visited the Greek Island of Crete before I’ll be completely honest and disregarded it as ‘just another Greek Island’, mainly associating it with the lad’s and girl’s holiday destination of Malia located on the eastern side of the island (yes, I know how very narrow minded of me). Our place of stay for the week however was Villa Chloe set in the town of Armeni – consequently at the opposite end of Crete based in the region of Chania (pronounced han-ya).
Collecting our suitcases and walking through the ‘Arrivals’ gateway, Dan and I were greeted by a huge smile, a huge hug and a massive squeeze, all accompanied with an arms raised “Welcome to Chania!”. The lady behind all this? The one and the only Linda, our Greek Islands Club rep for the week. The word hilarious doesn’t quite cover it, reminding me of a character that I can’t quite put my finger on.
Being handed over the keys to our car and Villa, Linda also passed over the directions to our villa, ‘turn left after the large tree’, ‘after 800m you will pass a new house’. Now after meeting Linda I found these instructions pretty hilarious only adding to her charming humour, Dan being the worrier out of the two, not so much! But, they surprisingly never failed us.
Located in Armeni, a short 5-10 minute drive up the hill from the village centre we winded up a narrow road and ended up on a dirt track. But sitting on top of the hill, hidden and out of eye’s view, you stumble upon Villa Chloe and press the button on your keys to open up the electronic gates like unlocking a secret. Making our way up the private driveway the beauty slaps you on the face, my excitement had officially begun. Malia who?
Outside was a beautiful tarmacked and paved area, complete with fish pond, hammock, swimming pool, sun-loungers, various seating areas and gardens aplenty. How could the inside match up? Quite easily by Villa Chloe’s standards. Linda, the GIC rep had left us a welcome pack consisting of bread, butter, wine etc (you know all the essentials!) and I found the fully functioning kitchen a treat. The master bedroom is complete with en-suite and one of the bedrooms set on two floors with a masionette is ideal for any children (or big kids!).
Yes, the views from Villa Chloe actually need a title of their own! The climb up the hill is definitely worth the trek when you can stand on your balcony and witness a sea of beauty. Bravo! Is the only way I can describe it!
Visiting in the very early part of the season meant that myself and Dan were lucky enough to witness the Lefka Ori Mountains complete with snow on their tips, but below fell a surrey of luscious greens with the sea to our far right in the distance. With the odd church popping out in the distance, villages far and wide and the whole setting being balanced on top of a variety of levels it was a more than pleasant eyeful.
Who needs to leave the comfort of your villa when you have all sorts of vegetables, fruit and herbs growing on your kitchen doorstep. The owner Cefis clearly takes a hell of a lot of pride in his haven even placing freshly picked oranges in the fruit bowl outside most mornings before we’d even opened my eyes.
Conveniently located outside the kitchen door the herb garden was far too tempting, and surprising myself I cooked whilst on holiday for the first time! I just couldn’t resist with so much fresh produce to handpick myself. During the summer months the garden blooms with olives, plums, avocados, melons…oranges…onions… etc.
…AND SO TO THE CRETAN DELIGHTS
For those of you with a persistent sweet tooth, you’ll be forever thankful you’ve ditched the diet for your holiday after starving yourself for that bikini bod. So relish in the fact you can pig out on cake, after cake, after cake – you may as well chuck in some ice-cream in there for good measure too. The traditional Baclava of sheets of thin, crispy pastry with nuts and soaked in about 3 gallons of honey is a treat that just keeps on giving. I couldn’t help taking photos of the display stands; they looked as good as a Van Gogh painting in my eyes.
MY TOP TIP: Don’t try and take the Baclava home, I tried and failed miserably! The warmth melted the honey and let’s just say I ended up with ridiculously sticky fingers. I licked it all off of course though!
If you’re after the hub of local life during the daytime then you need to head down to one of the villages café’s, (Armeni’s is located just on the corner at the bottom of the hill, you can’t miss it). All the gents of the area seem to take refuge in these small old-fashioned cafes playing backgammon and probably talking politics. It’s quite the picture.
TAVERNAS & MEZEDHOPOLIO
Located in every village, the taverna’s are the equivalent of restaurants. The menu’s may come across a little confusing at first with appetizers, meze dishes and main courses. Meze is like a Greek tapas style of eating, well worth an order and don’t forget to try at least once the Kalitsounia pies – a mix of mint, dill and a cheese called mizithra which is very similar to feta, all wrapped in a puffed pastry. The Greek tend to eat rather late at night, whilst ordering the odd meze dish throughout the evening – myself and Dan found it hard to fit into this style of dining being the greedy pair we are and tending to over face ourselves most evenings.
When it comes to the end of your meal, just make sure you have left a little room as every restaurant serves a complimentary dessert whether you’re stuffed or not! You don’t get a choice but we had all sorts from fudge cake to honey soaked sponge to pancakes and something I can’t even describe!
But the compliments don’t stop here. Raki, a definite acquired taste may not be quite a compliment to everyone! And no matter how many you have, they simply don’t taste any better.
MY TOP TIP: If you see a dip translated into English as fish roe – don’t be put off, it’s the incredible Taramasulata to me and you.
MY TOP 3 TAVERNA’S
As you all know well, when dining out I’m all about the ‘whole experience’, so this is where Ivgoritis tick all the right boxes. The small restaurant, run by the Mathioudakis family has such a warm feel – nevermind the most stunning of views in the whole of the region. Our waiter for the evening was the son, Nik who had a great sense of humour whilst his mum Kitty was chef for the evening and his dad was sitting enjoying the atmosphere and filling his belly -with delicious food may I add!
STERNA TOU BLOUMOSFI, Vamos
Located in Vamos, a 19th-century stone village, this tavern is not easily missed being positioned on the highstreet. The food served al forne style from a wood burning oven is what attracts everyone to this taverna, being voted a top destination in many a tour guide. Sitting outside is a must under the trees
TA DOULIANA, Douliana
Yet again I am featuring a restaurant in the stunning Douliana (it probably comes as no surprise it was my favourite village from our whole stay). Being more discreet and sitting in what seems like someone’s back yard, you’ll be completely taken by this place when you taste the food. The meze dish of meat pies with garlic sauce are a must-try (even if they sound a little strange) and as for the greek salad, fresh doesnt come into it, it’s in a class of its own.
GREAT FOOD, GREAT COMPANY
What: Cooking Class
Where: The most idyllic 150 year old Olive Press in the quaint village of Vamos, complete with make-shift kitchen. A place as far away from your kitchen at home as you can imagine. Can I think of a more perfect setting? Simply no.
Who with: Our teacher for the afternoon was Mrs Koula, well known throughout the area for her skills and expertise. And it was to my delight she looked exactly as I was hoping (not to build a stereotype here) with slicked back black hair in a pony, rotund belly and warming smile. Having lived in Canada for a number of years, you’d have to forgive yourself for thinking English was her first language.
Class structure: We had a short lesson beforehand giving insight into the relationship between Cretan citizens and their food.
Ingredients: The freshest of the fresh! Herbs…and lots of them, vegetables that were handpicked for the class and all sorts of cuts of lamb collected from the local butcher.
What dishes did you make: Lamb with Stamnagathi (Cretan wild green and part of the chicory family) with an egg and lemon sauce, Artichoke Soup, Kalitsounia Pies (typical Cretan pies), Beet Salad with Walnuts and lemon-dressed lettuce leaves.
Did you get your hands dirty: Of course. Cooking is one of my favourite pastimes, none of this pre-packed malarkey for me thankyou very much. I love cooking and could quite easily spend an evening at home in front of the stove. Therefore I was in my pure element.
Lessons learned: How to prepare artichokes. Hearing so much about how difficult they are to prepare I’ve always naturally stayed well clear. As for now, I’m a pro! Also just how much olive oil they use in their cooking – blimey. Apparently that’s why they all live for so long though.
How did it all taste: After boiling the lamb on a constant high heat I was half expecting a chewy tasteless piece of meat, to my amazement the meat was quite the opposite whilst the lemon sauce complimented with a sweet taste with added tang.
Favourite dish: It has to be the Kalitsounia Pies. Despite being fried in a hell of a lot of oil, they were far from greasy (in fact not at all!). Being a staple dish in Crete, they were a clear favourite going down a storm. One of the girls even took a pie home for her dad!
Favourite part: Not sure if I can pin-point one element. The smells, the tastes and the colours as a collective made the experience. Although eating all of our hard work is a pretty fantastic ending.
Would you do it again: You know the answer. Before I had even sat down for the meal I was already thinking what a fab experience it is for every holiday in the future!
My non-existent opinions on Crete are now full of only positives and praise – as you can see from my experience. Since the visit I have realised you can make what you want of your holiday with Crete offering experience after experience; such as walks, family holidays, their famous gorges (and so I’ve been told they’re super romantic), etc. I chose the gourmet option (the only option I know how!), delving straight into their food and enjoying every mouthful of it too.
Stepping onto the plane I waved goodbye to Crete, pleasantly filled (stuffed!)…”see you again very soon!”
Seven nights’ self-catering at Villa Chloe (sleeps two to six) costs from £542 pp (six sharing) with the first child going free (total cost is £2,710). Price includes flights (Gatwick) and car hire. Call GIC The Villa Collection on 020 8232 9780 (www.gicthevillacollection.com).