When in the early 1980s Nikos Psaltakis built his hotel “Villa Ippocampi”, people told him the hillside location at the edge of the village of Koutouloufari, about one kilometer from the sea and the beach, was not a good choice for holiday accommodation. “Too far from the water”, people warned him. But it turned out to be the perfect spot. While the coastline developed into a bit of a madhouse, Villa Ippocampi became an oasis of peace and calm. Nikos and his Dutch wife Lydia are keen to keep it that way. They are wonderful, gentle hosts, always making time to talk with their guests, and treating them to welcome drinks and the occasional meze. The two-storey whitewashed building is set in a beautiful flower-filled garden with in its centre a sparkling chlorine-free pool. Good-sized suites have built-in sofas and beds (some have more romantic iron beds) and island-style wooden furniture, tiled floors, handy kitchenettes and space to sit out. Set under high, whitewashed eaves, the open-plan Honeymoon Suite and Penthouse Suite are perhaps the most stylish and romantic, but the other suites are done in an equally attractive island style. The highlight of the hotel is its little café. With simple wooden furniture painted in white and light blue, vases with olive branches and bougainvillea, little lanterns, shelves with jars of homemade jams and baskets filled with dried herbs and bottles with olive oil, it looks (and is!) impossibly perfect.
The sincere friendliness of the hosts and the adorable little café made me love Villa Ippocampi. There is something absolutely mesmerizing about this hotel.
You may remember Villa Ippocampi as a hotel with lots of kids staying. Nikos and Lydia have changed course, and prefer they hotel to offer a calm environment to their guests. So from now on, grown-ups only... And while the hotel indeed is a little heaven of peace and quiet, keep in mind that the area around it is quite touristy. If you like to be quiet, but also have some entertainment nearby, you get the best of both worlds.
9 suites for up to 3 persons (1 bedroom, living room, terrace or balcony)
2 suites for up to 4 persons (2 bedrooms, living room, terrace)
1 penthouse suite for up to 2 persons (open plan, large terrace)
1 honeymoon suite for 2 persons (open plan, large terrace)
En-suite bathroom (shower)
Outdoor swimming pool (pool towels provided)
Café (with WiFi)
Did I say the little café of Villa Ippocampi looks perfect? That’s how the food tastes too. Breakfast is served from 9 am, and later in the day until early evening you can order snacks and light meals, all prepared with fresh local produce. Have freshly squeezed orange juice, local brioche and creamy Greek yoghurt with honey for breakfast, and salads, Cretan dakos or sandwiches later in the day.
Suites are also equipped to prepare breakfast and simple meals, and of course there are plenty of restaurants in Koutouloufari and the area around. Anything from the traditional Greek taverna and souvlaki joint, to, well, Chinese and pizza. Best to ask your hosts for recommendations. One of their favourites is a little place called David Vegera, a cute, unpretentious little restaurant serving excellent mezedes (Greek style tapas).
As much as Nikos and Lydia love kids, they prefer the hotel to offer a very quiet environment for the guests, and they no longer accommodate families with young children (under the age of 16). Sorry kiddos, do come back when your grown-ups!
As long as you are not looking for that blissfully deserted beach, you are spoiled for choice. It takes barely 15 minutes to walk to the sea, with some small beaches right there, and larger sandy beaches only a short drive away. All are organised with sun beds and umbrellas, and some come with a few more sun bathing bodies than I can handle. Head for the southern coast (a 1,5 hour scenic drive) for wild and much quieter beaches. The beaches of Trafoulas, Agios Nikitas, Maridaki, Krassas, Armenopetra and Kaminaki are top choices.
Get active! There’s a great water sports centre at Anissaras Beach, 5 km north from the hotel. Sports include water-skiing, catamaran sailing, windsurfing and SUP paddle board, with lessons for beginners, refreshment courses and rental of equipment. Parasailing, jet-ski and sailing cruises are also on offer. There’s a scuba diving centre at the Nana Beach Hotel.
Ride ponies at the Arion Stables or the Amarillis Stable, both nearby. For more serious lessons (beginners and advanced dressage and jumping), therapeutic riding, and treks on horseback go to the Riding Academy of Crete in Karteras on the way to Heraklion. Another really good place for horseback riding is Odysseia (Velani) near the village of Avdou, where Dutch-born Sabine organises treks, anything from a short horseriding tours for beginners to multi-day treks for advanced riders.
Play golf at the nearby Crete Golf Club. The challenging 18-hole course is among the best in Greece. Rent bikes or sign up for a mountain biking tour with Creta Cycling, Lyttos Beach or the Hub in Malia.
Walking and hiking
Explore the hills and local villages on foot, or drive to nearby forests, gorges and mountains for beautiful walks and hikes. Head south from Malia to the area around the villages of Krasi and Kera, for walks along the trails of the forest of Chamoprina, the Roza Gorge or, for experienced hikers only, the Embasa Gorge. Ask Lydia for more suggestions.
The Minoan Palace of Knossos
Don’t miss the archaeological site of the Minoan Palace of Knossos (half an hour by car). Try to be there when it opens (normally 8 am) before the crowds arrive and the sun burns. Or go late in the afternoon; the site usually stays open until sunset. Combine your trip to Knossos with a visit to the impressive archaeological museum in Heraklion.
Villa Ippocampi is situated on the hillside at the outskirts of the village of Koutouloufari about 30 km from Heraklion. It is one km from the sea, between the busy tourist resorts of Chersonissos and Malia, but the spot itself is quiet. It’s a really good location if you want a calm home base with plenty of entertainment nearby. You are definitely not removed from traditional Greece: at walking distance you will find three ‘authentic’ villages – Koutouloufari, Piscopiano and old-Chersonissos – that have barely been touched by tourism. But sports and pleasures like scuba diving and all sorts of water sports, golf, go-kart, horseback riding, excursions to the countryside, showing off on the beach, dancing through the night are also all possible in this part of Crete.
There are several ways to get to Crete. There are international airports near Heraklion and Hania, and ferries from Piraeus arrive at Hania, Rethymno, Heraklion and Agios Nikolaos. To get to Villa Ippocampi it is best to fly or take a ferry to Iraklion. The drive from the airport (or port) of Iraklion takes less than half an hour. You should head east on the national road and turn off after roughly 24 km at the sign for Hersonissos and Stalida. After 2 km, at the Stop sign, you turn left. After 1 km you will see a supermarket (Spar). Turn left immediately on to the little road that leads uphill, turn left again after 1 km and you will see Villa Ippocampi on your right.