Singletons Mingle At The Mistral Hotel In Crete
One regular at Crete's Mistral Hotel has visited 17 times - another travels from Australia to stay there!
Quite a recommendation for the family-run Greek hotel, which boasts a 70 per cent return business rate.
Single/solo travellers are welcomed with warmth and making new friends is easy at the property, located in Maleme, near Chania on the north west coast of the largest island in the Mediterranean, dubbed 'the diamond of Greece'.
Brothers Adonis and Vasillis, who inherited the plot from their grandfather, love their business and do everything to make guests feel welcome.
There's no upper or lower age limit but, on average, guests are 50 to 70 plus.
I chat to Bea, 67, who lives in Exeter
and has been staying at the Mistral for 17 years. "I'm usually here for six weeks a year split across two holidays," she says.
"I've worked out I've spent two and a half years of my life at the Mistral!"
Regular visitor, London primary school head, Bridget, 50, likes the 'friendly family business and genuine Greek experience', whilst 80 year-old former professional jockey, Buck Jones, from Guildford – a former stable mate of Lester Piggott in the 1950s - enjoys 'the peace and quiet'.
You're at home as soon as you walk in. The ever-smiling, Mistral team are amazing. Anja, Adonis' right-hand woman, is there to help with any queries and nothing is too much trouble, which is the way Adonis likes it. It's relaxed and informal, but upscale. First timers often book in with a friend, but each of the 35 beautiful, spacious bedrooms, all with balcony or terrace, is for single occupancy.
There's a pool at the front of the hotel
and a quieter one at the back, plus a jacuzzi. The gardens are landscaped and well-kept. Breakfast is buffet style and on my first morning I receive a friendly greeting as I join others at table.
Guests meet at the circular bar for pre-dinner drinks then gather at long tables outside to enjoy several courses of delicious, home-cooked, Cretan cuisine served 'meze style' on sharing platters.
These just keep coming as do the carafes of red and white house wine! Guests sit with different people in a great atmosphere, socialising and chatting. There's music in the evening - you can get up and dance - and regular plate-smashing, Zorba-leaping Greek nights.
Vegetables are organically home-grown and dishes are based on a healthy Cretan diet, using the family's olive oil. At a cookery demonstration, Mistral chef Kiki stuffs huge, sweet tomatoes and prepares the Chanian boureki, a courgette, feta cheese and potato gratin.
This unique-concept hotel is located on a busy, coastal road in the small resort of Maleme, just 25-minutes by bus to the stunning Venetian town of Chania, the western Crete capital. Ten minutes the other way takes you to Platanias, a tourist sport with lots of shops and sea front cafes. A pebble beach is a five-minute walk from the hotel.
The Mistral arranges its own tours. The most popular is the Thursday beach and fish lunch trip. No wonder Falasarna was awarded the 'Best Beach in Crete' accolade, with its one kilometre of near-white sand and tropical blue waters. After a couple of hours lazing on sunbeds, swimming or splashing about, we're at the famous family Sunset Fish Restaurant in Sfinari.
Daughter, Marilena, shows us that day's catch, brought in by brother, Nicos, reputedly the best speargun fisher in Greece. We sit at a long, tree-shaded table overlooking a picturesque, sandy cove, lapped by crystal clear waters.
Fried cuttlefish, crayfish, crisp salads, tzatziki, plump juicy olives, and home-grown vegetables precede the main dish of the day - grouper, a fearsome-looking specimen. Don't expect all the usual tailless, headless, finless fillet we get at home, which looks nothing like a fish. Unboned and roughly chopped, the grouper is unboned and roughly chopped with a mild, sweet flavour.
Other excursions include a one-day cruise to the idyllic island of Santorini, a visit to the incredible archaeological remains of Knossos Palace and Museum and a picnic beside the shallow waters of the glorious, pink-hued Elafonissi beach.
Hikers can take up the challenge of the famous, rugged 16km Samaria Gorge.
A delightful evening in golden-toned Chania
starts with a walk around the cobbled, up-and-down back streets, dotted with colourful, artisan shops and stylish little cafes. The views around the Venetian harbour are breathtaking. At a table outside the Michalis Tavern and as the apricot sun sets, I look across to the lighthouse and harbour.
The Mistral fulfils its promise of an authentic, Greek experience for single independent travellers.
My own promise, like that many others, is a pledge to return.
7 days half board from £822 (inc wine at dinner)
Flights from Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, London Heathrow and other UK airports
*October 11-18 2022: Flavours of Crete gastronomy/cooking experience - 7 days from £1,062