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, and together with Dutch Anneke 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 the most stylish and romantic, while the other suites are done in a more simple island style. They are all spacious and perfect for families. 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.
While definitely inviting, some of the suites are not as stylish as the café. Also, the coastline has developed into the kind of touristy area that I usually avoid.
9 suites for up to 4 persons (1 bedroom, living room, terrace or balcony)
2 suites for up to 5 persons (2 bedrooms, living room, terrace)
1 penthouse suite for up to 4 persons (1 bedroom, living room, large terrace)
1 honeymoon suite for 2 persons (large terrace)
En-suite bathroom (bath or shower)
Hairdryer (on request)
Some rooms have wheelchair access
Outdoor swimming pool
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 (handy especially if you travel with young children), 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 relative newcomer, a really cute (kind of artsy) taverna called Rouga tou Mpaoula, serving excellent traditional Cretan dishes.
Villa Ippocampi is a very child and family-friendly little hotel. The suites, first of all, are very comfortable for families with two or three children (most have one or two bedrooms), and cots/cribs are available, and you can also ask for a highchair. Babysitting is available on request.
The atmosphere at Ippocampi is very relaxed and easy going, and kids will love playing around the pool. (Needless to say, under their parents’ supervision!) A recent addition to the hotel is a small playhouse (the Surf Shack) for your little ones
The area offers lots of entertainment for children. Apart from the obvious, the beaches, think of donkey rides, boat excursions, water parks, a sea aquarium, and, let’s not forget, a bit of culture that your little ones will definitely appreciate (but try and go early in the morning, to avoid the heat and the crowds), Knossos!
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.
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 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. (Great for families with children of all ages.) 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 (Select). 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.