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.
Anonymously reviewed by Sarah Jappy (Wordsmith wondergirl, Mr & Mrs Smith)
Reviews of Kapsaliana Village Hotel from Smith members
Whenever you book a stay through us, we’ll invite you to comment when you get back. Read the Guestbook entries below to see what real-life Mr & Mrs Smiths have said about this hotel…
I stayed at Kapsalina for one week in July. I loved the hotel! The staff were very helpful and friendly, the food was excellent and the hotel was beautifully laid out. The rooms were spacious and clean and the pool area was very chilled and I loved the honesty bar. It is very quiet and secluded and a great place to chill. You definitely need a car and I would advise you to bring a GPS!
Nothing could be better.
Emma, BlackSmith stayed on 6 Jul 2013
I liked the super friendly staff, to whom nothing was too much trouble, as well as the peace and quiet when relaxing around the pool. The recommendations of what to do from the reception team were great, and Bali Beach is a winner if you've got young children.
The lunch and dinner menu is a bit limited for younger family member.
Steve, BlackSmith stayed on 22 Jun 2013
Fantastic hotel, wonderfully quiet location, great staff and generously sized rooms. The gardens and pool area are excellent. Perfect for a relaxing few days in the sun. Exceptional value for money.
Nick, BlackSmith stayed on 29 May 2013
Impeccable staff and service, individual rooms, peace and flowers.
The sense of privacy in our room (Hydra) and terrace: there was an adjoining door through which we could hear people next door, and we were also sometimes aware of them upstairs. They also had a small window that overlooked our terrace. We also had two gates off our own terrace; one was used as our route to the public area via two other terraces. These were the new rooms, and for that reason I would suggest the older rooms might offer more privacy, although I don't know that for sure!
Philippa, BlackSmith stayed on 26 May 2013
The peace and quiet, the wonderful food and the location. It was a truly relaxing, delicious, sunny and therapeutic place to go for a two-week getaway. Great place to regain some perspective and readjust your priorities. Weather was amazing; the flowers were all in full bloom and so the hotel looked so pretty and smelt gorgeous. The staff were brilliant, especially at the restaurant. Even the cats were charming. I want to be back there as soon as I possibly can.
Nothing really, but I would have liked a full-length mirror in our suite. Minor quibble.
Kelly, SilverSmith stayed on 4 Oct 2012
Beautiful hotel in a beautiful location. Friendly, helpful staff and lovely food in the restaurant. The food is quite simple but delicious and very reasonably priced. Lovely pool. Perfect for relaxing.
Nothing could be better. The location is remote so unless you plan to stay by the pool or hike locally, you'll need a car.
Hannah, BlackSmith stayed on 17 Sep 2012
Beautiful views; quiet; lazing by the pool; food was simple but delicious, and good value.
Louise, BlackSmith stayed on 22 Aug 2012
The setting and architecture are fantastic. Rooms are beautiful with lovely toiletries and décor; suites had great terraces outside. The staff were charm itself and incredibly helpful with information about walks, outings etc and gave us a room for late check-out without any fuss. But despite the luxury it doesn't feel like an international hotel – instead it feels like you are staying in the peace and quiet of a lovely village.
I would say the only thing that let the hotel down at all was the food. The dining room outside is gorgeous but the dinner food was very unexceptional and the kitchen seemed to find it hard to deal with large parties. We were eight and both nights we ate there it took ages for our food to come.
Cecily, BlackSmith stayed on 19 Aug 2012 We had four teenage children aged between 16 and 19 with us.
We spent 6 nights at the Kapsaliana Hotel and we will definitely be coming back. We have been coming to Greece for many years now but we have never before stayed in such a beautiful place or been so well looked after by solicitous staff. We arrived at 1am; we were charmingly welcomed and also given supper to take to our room as the restaurant was unsurprisingly closed. Subsequently we ate each night in the restaurant and despite having a captive audience, prices were very reasonable and, where possible, produce was locally sourced from the hotel's garden. The room was spotless and tastefully decorated with complimentary goodies supplied, even a small decanter of raki. The owner and his staff were knowledgeable about the local area and, of course the hotel's history and conception, nothing was too much trouble. We had to leave very early to catch the ferry but breakfast was packed and given to us so that we would not go hungry at 5am. A really lovely hotel.
Sally, SilverSmith stayed on 7 Jul 2012
This hotel is absolutely first rate. Its tranquil location makes it a fantastic ‘get away from it all’ destination but may not be ideal for a two-week stay. The food served in the restaurant is of a high standard and competitively priced compared to similar restaurants in Rethymnon and Chania. Staff are friendly and helpful but the thing that sets this place out is the whole concept of the village atmosphere. I can thoroughly recommend it.
Alistair, BlackSmith stayed on 5 Jul 2012