Achlada Mourtzanakis Residence

Pelagia, Crete, Greece Book from

Reviewed by Jane Foster
A sociable eco-retreat of 4 villas and 3 apartments with a communal dining room and pool, set in the mountains near Achlada, but only 10 minutes from the beach
Just 7km from Crete’s north coast, this welcoming retreat still feels wonderfully remote, surrounded as it is by rugged rocky slopes and overlooking a 500-year-old olive grove. Set just outside the tiny village of Achlada, now under a preservation order, its 4 simple Villas and 3 Studio Apartments centre on a communal living-and-dining space, plus a stone patio with 2 small pools, and the sea provides a glorious blue backdrop to it all.

Achlada is run by Marcos and Smaro Mourtzanakis, both of Cretan origin but born in Lebanon and Belgium respectively. Since both are Greeks from abroad, they speak several languages and very much enjoy interacting with their foreign visitors. Similarly, those who like cultural exchanges will love this place (the vistors' book lists accolades from French, German, American, Russian, British and Israeli guests).

But the main appeal of Achlada-Mourtzanakis is its rustic setting. As you reconnect with the beauty and tranquility of nature, it is easy to detox from urban stress. And you don’t need to worry about being too isolated - Agia Pelagia beach is a 10-minute drive away, while Crete’s capital Heraklion lies 18km up the coast, making Achlada a good base for attractions such as Knossos.


  • Welcoming multi-cultural atmosphere where people form lasting friendships - many guests are return visitors
  • Total peace and relaxation: the set-up is simple but comfortable, with a 'less is more' approach. There are regular yoga retreats, too
  • The surrounding unspoilt countryside is ideal for hiking, and the panoramic views are fantastic
  • The easygoing ambiance makes it ideal for families: Villas sleeps 2-5 and Studio Apartments sleep 2-4, plus one of the pools is just for kids
  • Very flexible, rates are self-catering but breakfast and dinner are on offer


  • The remote location means you'll need a car to explore/go to the supermarket
  • We're yet to see the Studio Apartments, added in early-2014, but they look as though they keep the same classic Greek design of the Villas
  • The nearest beach is a 10-minute drive away
  • If you prefer to keep yourself to yourself on holiday, this won't really suit you

Best time to go

During high season Crete’s north coast is overrun with visitors, but Achlada remains off the beaten path, so even in July and August it is relatively peaceful. For hiking, try to visit in shoulder season (May-June or Sept-Oct), when the days are sunny but not too hot, the sea still warm enough to swim, and popular attractions such as Knossos not unduly busy. The hotel is open all year.

Our top tips

Pack decent hiking boots and a copy of The High Mountains of Crete (by Loraine Wilson), and set out to explore the region’s rugged heights and trekking paths.

Great for...

Cheap & Chic
Great Outdoors
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Villas
  • 4 villas + 3 apartments
  • Self-catering (+ meals on request)
  • All ages welcome
  • Closed: 2 Nov 2016 - 31 Dec 2016
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Daily Maid Service
  • Towels & Bedlinen
  • Concierge Service
  • Bicycles Available
  • Mountain climbing
  • Horse riding
Room: Studio Apartment


The residence’s simple but comfortable cubic Villas and Studio Apartments (which we’re yet to see) each provide accommodation for 2-4 people (Villas can fit 6 at a push with the use of 2 rollaway beds). Although they're quite close together, they have been built to maximise privacy, so you're not overlooking one another. The furniture is wooden, whitewashed and locally made, and splashes of colour are added by the curtains and bed-covers, either mauve or beige, depending which Villa or Apartment you’re in.

The split-level Villas (named Alpha, Vita, Gamma and Delta) have an open-plan living room with a tile floor and fireplace (logs are provided for chilly nights), plus 2 sofas which can be made up as extra beds. Wooden stairs lead up to a mezzanine with a double bed, plus a terrace with 2 sunbeds and a table, from which you'll see fine sunset views across the olive groves towards the sea.

Studio Apartments are spread over a single floor; they have a double bedroom and spacious living area with a sofa that can be made up as an extra bed.

All Villas and Apartments have a kitchen (with a small oven, a fridge and a table seating 4) that leads off the living room. This opens onto a stone patio with another table so you can sit out with drinks and snacks. There's also a tile-floor bathroom with a tub and handheld shower.

With mountain air and total peace and quiet, you’re guaranteed a good night’s sleep. We like the idea of returning in autumn or spring, to light the log fire and see the landscape take on russet hues, or come to life with wild flowers.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Coffee tea making
  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Fridge
  • Full kitchen
  • Hob stove
  • Internet access
  • Oven
  • Phone
  • Safe box
  • Satellite tv
  • Sunloungers
  • Terrace
  • Terrace
  • WiFi
  • Wifi internet


Each Villa and Apartment has a kitchen with a cooker (small oven and 2 hot plates) and fridge, plus plates, cutlery and pots and pans. Basic ingredients are supplied (salt, pepper, flour, oil, washing up liquid etc). The best place to shop for provisions is the Carrefour supermarket, a 10-minute drive away.

There's also a communal dining room if you don't feel like cooking (as it's generally cooler indoors than out). Guests can stop by for breakfast - there are no set times - and we enjoyed local yoghurt and honey, fresh fruit, bread, hard-boiled eggs and coffee.

In the evening, there’s a a la carte dinner where everyone eats together (unless they specifically request otherwise). A long table is set in the dining room or on the poolside patio, and the meal lasts for several hours as people enjoy chatting and drinking. Conversation flows easily and amusingly from one language to another.

All the meals are prepared with local produce, organic when possible. We stayed for 2 nights. On the first night, we feasted on barbecued lamb and pork chops, salad, and baked potato and tzatziki. On the second night, we chose aubergine slices baked with tomato and feta cheese, followed by a tasty gouvetsi (lamb stewed in a rich tomato sauce and served with pasta). Light lunches are available on request.

If you decide to eat out, there’s a kafenio (coffee house) in Achlada serving light meals, plus a handful of tavernas in the villages of Rogdia and Fodele, both just a 10-minute drive away and very popular with Greeks.

Throughout the winter months, the dining room and terrace will operate as an evening café, serving drinks; there will be occasional live Greek bands playing, too.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Breakfast
  • Children meals
  • Coffee tea making
  • Cooking classes
  • Dinner by arrangement
  • Fridge
  • Full kitchen
  • Hob stove
  • Lunch by arrangement
  • Organic produce
  • Oven
  • Vegetarian menu


  • Hike through olive groves to the village of Achlada, where you’ll find a small taverna (irregular opening hours). For something more strenuous, ask Marcos about marked trails
  • Swim or sea kayak at the nearby north-coast beaches - Agia Pelagia, Ormos Fodele and Ligaria - or drive to the blissful unspoilt south-coast beaches, some of which are nudist-friendly
  • Drive east along the coast to Heraklion (18km). Explore the pedestrian-only Venetian old town, and visit the excellent Archaeological Museum and Crete Historical Museum
  • Visit the archaeological site of Knossos (5km southeast of Heraklion), to explore the 4,000-year-old Minoan Palace, a labyrinth of partially-frescoed rooms built around a vast central courtyard
  • Visit the El Greco Museum, housed in the tiny stone cottage where the 16th-century Mannerist painter was born, in the nearby village of Fodele
  • This is a beautiful area with much to discover; choose from mountain climbing and canyoning (for thrill seekers) or bike hire and horse riding to get a fresh perspective on the landscape
  • Visit the Peza Union, a local farmers’ co-operative, to see how olive oil and wine are produced. You can also attend a Cretan cooking demonstration - just ask Marcos
  • Head to Linoperamata to go windsurfing, Mononaftis for waterskiing, or Agia Pelagia for scuba diving (organised trips and beginners courses are available)
  • Ask about joining one of the yoga retreats held on-site

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Canyoning
  • Cooking classes
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Horse-riding
  • Kayaking
  • Massage
  • Mountain biking
  • Museums / galleries
  • Scuba diving
  • Shopping / markets
  • Swimming
  • Waterskiing
  • Windsurfing
  • Wine tasting


The Villas are designed to sleep 2-4 (5 at a push) and the Studio Apartments can also sleep up to 4, making them ideal for a couple with 2-3 kids. Although there are no special facilities for kids bar the pool, the friendly relaxed atmosphere makes it perfect for families. Though as there are only a handful of Villas and Apartments, a lot depends on who you're sharing the space with.

Best for:

All ages

Family friendly accommodation:

Each Villa has a double bed on a wooden mezzanine level, plus an open-plan living-room with 2 single sofabeds providing sleeping space for 2 on the ground floor; 2 extra beds can be added on request, too, but this makes things very cosy. On occasion, an extra bed can be added on request. Studio Apartments are set over a single floor; they have a double bedroom and the living area has a single sofabed, as well as space for an additional rollaway bed. Baby cots can be provided in all Villas and Apartments.

There's a small fee per night for making up the sofa beds and adding an extra bed. Bathrooms have bathtubs and showers.

Baby equipment:

  • Cots

Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

Children's meals:

The villas and studios have basic self-catering facilities, and an a la carte breakfast and dinner menu are available daily. Eating out isn't easy nearby - there's only a small coffee house in Achlada so you'll have to drive 10 minutes to find a taverna. The supermarket is 10 minutes away.

Kids Activities on site:

  • 2 pools: 1 for all, 1 for kids
  • Gardens to play in

Kids Activities nearby:

  • Beaches 10 minutes' drive away
  • Thalassocosmos aquarium at Gournes, 13km east of Heraklion. With 32 tanks, it displays underwater life ranging from sharks and jellyfish to sea urchins and octopi
  • Plenty of outdoorsy active stuff: hiking, mountain biking, caving, canyoning, horse riding, windsurfing, kayaking, waterskiing


  • Airport: 30 minutes
  • Hospital: 30 minutes
Kid Friendly:

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