Mourtzanakis Residence

Pelagia, Crete, Greece Book from Book from £35 per night

A tranquil retreat of self-catering villas and apartments with communal pools, set in the rugged hills above near Heraklion and beaches
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 simple villas and apartments centre on a stone patio with 2 small pools, the sea providing a glorious blue backdrop to it all.

The retreat was the brainchild of a Cretan-Lebanese-Belgian couple, Marcos and Smaro Mourtzanakis, who until 2017 ran the place with all their heart, soul and appetite for discovery. It's now leased to a Cretan hotel company, and sadly some of the buzz has gone; but self-sufficient types will love the tranquil simplicity, the (pre-bookable) Cretan breakfasts and dinners, perhaps hiking through olive groves or sea-kayaking along the nearby coast. In summer, expect laid-back entente cordiale around the pool (the visitors' book gushes with praise from French, German, American, Russian, British and Israeli guests); in spring or autumn, near-total silence. It is a good spot to relax and 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.

Highs

  • Total peace and relaxation: the set-up is simple but comfortable, with a 'less is more' approach
  • The surrounding unspoilt countryside is ideal for hiking, and the panoramic views are fantastic
  • The easygoing ambiance makes it ideal for families: villas and apartments are family-sized, plus one of the pools is just for kids
  • A great-value self-catering option for self-sufficient travellers

Lows

  • Since Marcos' departure, service is rather skeletal: outside summer, there's often no-one around (but you have the manageress' mobile number)
  • Dinner needs to be pre-booked, and if you decide to self-cater, be aware that in-room cooking equipment is minimal
  • The remote location means you'll need a car to explore and for shopping
  • The nearest beach is a 10-minute drive away

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
Eco
Family
Great Outdoors
  • Boutique Villas
  • 4 villas + 3 apartments
  • Self-catering + some meals by arrangement
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • 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:

Rooms

The residence’s simple but comfortable self-catering villas and apartments each provide accommodation for 2-4 people (villas can fit 6 at a push). 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.

The split-level Villas (Alpha, Vita, Gamma and Delta) each have an open-plan living room with a 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 (which we’re yet to see) 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 living room and a kitchen with a small oven, a fridge and a table seating 4. This opens onto a stone patio with another table so you can sit out for meals. The tile-floor bathroom has 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 or stove
  • Internet access
  • Oven
  • Phone
  • Safe box
  • Satellite TV
  • Sunloungers
  • Terrace
  • WiFi

Eating

Each Villa and Apartment has a kitchen with a cooker (small oven and 2 hot plates) and fridge, plus plates, cutlery and a few pots and pans - but don't expect the full Delia Smith. 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.

Breakfasts are available (pre-booking required), with a selection of breads, cheeses, pastries, cakes, jams, juices and tea/coffee on offer. Opt for a Cretan breakfast (olives, breads, cheeses, meats) if you're after a flavour of something more traditional.

Dinner can also be provided at the hotel with prior notice. Expect local ingredients cooked to traditional Cretan recipes: perhaps slow-cooked lamb stew, baked vegetables or moussaka, grilled whitebait or dakos rusks dripping with chopped tomato and crumbly Cretan cheese.

If you decide to eat out, there’s a kafeneio (coffee house) in Achlada serving light meals, plus a handful of tavernas in the villages of Rogdia and Fodele, both a 10-15 minute drive away and very popular with Greeks.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Breakfast
  • Children's meals
  • Coffee / tea making
  • Dinner by arrangement
  • Fridge
  • Full kitchen
  • Hob or stove
  • Lunch by arrangement
  • Organic produce
  • Oven
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity: Fodele Beach

Activities

  • Hike through olive groves to the village of Achlada, where you’ll find a small taverna (irregular opening hours). For something more strenuous, ask 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
  • The rugged landscape here offers great climbing and canyoning (for thrill seekers) or bike hire and horse riding for the rest of us
  • At Peza, a local farmers’ co-operative, you can see how olive oil and wine are produced, or see a Cretan cooking demonstration
  • Head to Linoperamata for windsurfing, Mononaftis for waterskiing, or Agia Pelagia for scuba diving (organised trips and beginners courses are available)

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

Kids

Although there are no special facilities for kids bar the pool, the friendly relaxed atmosphere makes it perfect for families. There are only a handful of villas and apartments, so 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. 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. Bathrooms have bathtubs and handheld showers.

Babysitting:

Available on request

Baby equipment:

  • Baby 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. 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

Distances:

  • Airport: 25 minutes
  • Hospital: 15 minutes
Kid Friendly:

Location

Achlada-Mourtzanakis Residence is in the mountains, 4km off the main E75 motorway, which runs the length of Crete’s north coast. It is 7km from the seaside resort of Agia Pelagia, and 18km from Heraklion city centre.

By Air:
Heraklion Airport, 23km away, is served by daily flights from Athens the year through, and by charter flights from most European capitals in summer. Chania (125km) is also an option. Click on the links below for a list of airlines serving these airports.

From the Airport
A taxi will cost approx €30 but we'd recommend hiring a car (see below).

By Boat:
Heraklion port lies 18km southeast of Achlada and is served by daily overnight ferries from Athens’ port, Piraeus, on the Greek mainland.

By Car:
To explore the region and have freedom while you're here, you really need to hire a car - see our car rental recommendations.

Detailed directions will be sent to you when you book through i-escape.com.

More on getting to Greece and getting around

Airports:

  • Heraklion Nikos Kazantzakis 23.0 km HER

Other:

  • Beach 7.0 km
  • Shops 20.0 km
  • Restaurant 7.0 km

Our guests' ratings...

Based on 4 independent reviews from i-escape guests

7/10
Room
4/10
Food
7/10
Service
7/10
Value
6/10
Overall

The Villa was spacious and comfortable with a patio area and a sun deck. It was a peaceful and quiet location with lovely views across to the bay in the far distance. The manager, Ilias and his wife Anna were both friendly and helpful.
The Villa, although spacious and comfortable, was in need of some refurbishment especially in the kitchen. For four /five people staying here the cooking facilities were inadequate a three ringed hob and a mini oven were not really up to the job. A microwave would have been useful. Hot water was not always available on demand especially at shower time in the morning.
We had breakfast and for a charge of 10Euros - it was pretty ordinary as, two types of bread, four mini croissants, three thin slices of cheese, two pats of butter, three sachets of marmalade and coffee. Not remotely good value.The same evening we ordered the set evening dinner which comprised of three courses at a total cost of 30 Euros.
Finding this accommodation on leaving the airport was an absolute nightmare as we don't use google maps.
With regard to restaurants there are more than enough in Agia Pelagia and the beachside bars and cafes are plentiful. The beaches themselves without being big are adequate.

7/10,

The dinner is very good (reservation after breakfast; extra cost). But the kitchen is very badly equipped. Our villa was not suitable for more than 2 because the beds are not separated by doors and walls.

4/10,

Fantastic place to stay for a real break from everything! Marcos and his family were wonderful hosts. We're looking to again for the Autumn half-term.

8/10,

Beautiful location and sunset views from terrace.

8/10,

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