About fifty years ago, the Elounda region on Crete’s northeast coast with its calm bay and crystal clear waters became the place for upscale tourism on this sun-blessed island. And so it remains, although the original Elounda Hotel has spawned some offspring and rivals over the years.
One such property, dating from the 1980s, is the Elounda Mare Hotel. This spacious ‘grand dame’ with her glorious gardens and bungalows spread out over the lawns, is one of the world’s great hotels: a contender for the hall of fame. It has a lot that’s right with it. Add a few missing ingredients, a few tweaks, maybe some fresh eyes, and it could be faultless. This is a place with real character, something many modern constructions cannot compete with.
Almost next door are two additional properties built in different decades by the same owner. Each serves a different clientele and provides a range of facilities that are missing from the sedate grounds of Elounda Mare, including a golf course, an enormous spa and a children’s centre. In the case of the Mare, this works quite well; you get the facilities (and on-call transfers from reception) without the by-product of noise and activity.
This transferability also applies to restaurants, adding variety, the perennial challenge for a resort.
- Daily breakfast for two
- Room upgrade upon arrival
- Subject to availability
- Early check-in / Late check-out
- Subject to availability
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
Exclusive benefits may vary by hotel or hotel group. Exclusive benefits apply when booking the Best Available Rate and are not combinable with any hotel offers or special packages unless stated.
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We passed several hotel complexes before arriving at the discreet entrance to the Elounda Mare. Our taxi pulled up outside, and we were met by a cheery porter who took our bags away and ushered us into the serene courtyard where there’s a well, antique architectural artefacts, pithois and beautiful collectables. It was like arriving at the home of a sophisticated friend: beautiful, welcoming and, in this case, somewhat idiosyncratic in style.
Inside the large reception area, the quirky theme continues. Walls are whitewashed, and there’s lots of stone and an abundance of wood and lattice balustrades. There are large panoramic windows and antique Greek textiles and pots. It is ‘of an era’ and yet strangely not dated. It still works and looks not grand, but quietly sophisticated. This feeling is carried throughout the property.
Check-in also felt like arriving at a friend’s house. ‘Of course’ we were expected and ‘would we like a drink?’ We sat at the outside bar terrace while we waited for our room to be prepared. After fifteen minutes or so, we were led through the gardens to our bungalow.
Rooms and suites
Our room was a Superior Bungalow. The door opened into a small sitting room, decorated in a kind of rustic Cretan style: whitewashed walls, stone tile and rough woven fabric. Another door led into the garden with a patio, grass lawn, and a saltwater swimming pool. Stone walls separated neighbouring bungalows. It was very private. At the end of the pool, a wooden balcony looked out over the sea.
Inside, the small sitting room led to a rather narrow storage area, a huge bathroom and a good sized bedroom, also designed in rustic style with a fireplace. Another set of doors from the bedroom led to the garden with its loungers and parasol. It was simple and charming, more like a home than a hotel room, and full of character.
The bungalows are scattered throughout the extensive grounds. The single main building houses the fifty or so ‘regular’ rooms and suites. All of these are a good size, well proportioned and comfortably fitted. All have a large balcony or terrace with sea views. Top of the range suites accommodate up to five adults in 140 m² (1507 ft²) of space with a private gym and sauna.
WiFi was excellent throughout the estate, including in the grounds and on the beaches. One sign-in sufficed for the entire stay.
There were two TVs and a DVD player in the room.
The bathroom was huge and done up in white marble. In the centre were ‘his and hers’ separate basins, sunk into a long marble plinth with plenty of storage space. There was a large jacuzzi bath and a separate shower room. Within that was a rather interesting shower head, something out of Doctor Who’s Tardis. Depending on which buttons you pushed, water would come out from different directions, at different intensities, temperatures, and for different lengths of time. We never quite mastered the combinations but managed to get clean.
There were several heated towel rails with good quality, monogrammed towels. Amenities were Apivita, seen in most of Greece’s better hotels, and a piece of sea sponge, locally sourced.
Maybe slightly old-fashioned, but this was a comfortable and well-equipped bathroom.
In a separate room was a WC, a bidet and a separate hand basin.
Meals at Elounda Mare are served in three locations. There is the main restaurant, the Deck, which is open for buffet breakfasts and a la carte (and part buffet ) dinners. Seating up to 120 people (about ⅔ of the hotel’s capacity), it is located in the main building and has a charming terrace overlooking the gardens towards the sea.
Lunches are served at the Yacht Club, an open-air restaurant next to the beach. On certain nights (just once a week in June) there’s a fish extravaganza for which the location is well suited. Also operating sporadically, every second night during our stay, was the Old Mill, set in the gardens and serving Cretan Gourmet cuisine. We were not sure how Cretan it was, but the food was truly excellent, and many dishes had local elements. A table made crepe Suzette, befitting the slightly retro ambience, was on the dessert menu. We had to have one, and our table waiter expertly executed it. It was clear that many of our younger co-diners had never seen this show-stopper and there was a run of orders from surrounding tables as we finished ours and settled our bill.
Spa and wellness
On-site, there is table tennis, a tennis court and a super little outdoor gym which was well used. Various water sports and diving activities are hosted beachside and golf is available at the Porto Elounda Golf & Spa Resort next door.
While one might question the context or relevance of an Asian International Spa Brand to a Cretan garden setting, guests at Elounda Mare enjoy using the Six Senses Spa. The spa serves all three hotels in the complex: Elounda Mare, Elounda Peninsula and the Porto Elounda Golf & Spa Resort, where it’s located. It’s possible to hire a small, private spa area for a few hours, or the whole day, or to take some of the therapies in your room. Those include massages, facials, body treatments, wellness therapies, rituals, and beauty fitness including a mini boot camp with a personal trainer.
Pool and beach
The beautiful, large seawater swimming pool occupies a central position in the gardens. One of the greatest features of the Elounda Mare is that there are so many places to swim and so many places to sunbathe: the pool, a sandy beach, gardens, and flat rocks along the shoreline; we never saw more than one person at a time swimming in the pool. The beach with both its lawns and seaside lounging areas was the most popular spot and rarely had more than a score of guests at any one time. For those without a private garden or pool, the grounds of Elounda Mare provide a refined tranquillity that is increasingly hard to find.
Both the pool and the beach were well serviced, but on one day, there was some flotsam and jetsam in the sea which needed to be cleaned up and wasn’t.
There was a good range of watersports including jet-skis, water-skiing and snorkel hire available at the beach.
There were a few families with children staying at Elounda Mare while we were there; many young families probably prefer the Porto Elounda Golf & Spa Resort next door. Their facilities are, however, on offer to guests at Elounda Mare and include the Kid’s Ark activity centre and a crèche.
Apart from the water sports, there was tennis (with coaching if required) and table tennis. With the neighbouring activities, there was plenty to keep young minds and bodies engaged.
Staff and service
It was apparent that a proportion of the staff had been with the property a long time, some since it opened perhaps. They were lovely and knew their way around their service and the guests.
There were a few issues though. For instance, in the better restaurants, only certain waiters poured us wine from our own bottle, which was kept out of our reach. This resulted in too much time spent nursing an empty glass. The French Michelin standard that this practice was predicated on demands more attentive staff.
Slightly disconcerting also was that food and beverage staff were rostered around the properties, such that one’s fine dining waitress from one evening would appear in a different uniform at a different property serving breakfast coffee the next morning. This also detracted from the brand purity of the distinct dining experiences and was obviously determined by economics. Super deluxe properties should try to avoid any practice which indicates cost efficiency.
Other guests when we stayed were mostly European and mostly 45 plus, however, there were a few families with young children and a few young couples. The atmosphere among the guests was friendly and relaxed.
We were staying in one of the other properties in the Elounda complex after this which is probably not so typical. Departure involved a speedy and seamless transfer of our account and bags to the sister property.
How to get there
1 hour by road transfer from Heraklion Airport
82 Rooms & Suites