“An intimate guesthouse-hotel, with antique-filled bedrooms and blissful pool, in an unspoilt village with beaches”
The interiors feel more like a Venetian palazzo than a Greek island villa. The 3 first-floor rooms are the most lavish, with shiny wooden floors, beamed or panelled ceilings, wrought-iron four-poster beds, faded Persian rugs and beautiful antique dressers or washstands.
Pride of place goes to Artemis, a truly charming room with 4 shuttered windows overlooking the pool and courtyard. A folding Chinese screen separates the white canopied bed from the sitting area, whose red-brocade sofas open out into 2 comfy single beds. The same arrangement applies in Odyssey, which has a modern ceiling frieze depicting Circe, the Sirens et al, in place of more characterful rafters. There’s a long narrow balcony overlooking the street and hills - searing hot until shade hits at noon - and enough floorspace inside to practise your syrtaki. The bathroom is a good size.
Pandora and Nefeli are smaller – as befits mere mortals alongside a pair of gods – but Pandora is still pretty roomy, and could easily hold a couple and a young child. Split-level Nefeli sits sweetly under the rafters, with its shower room down the windy stair and just outside the door. Lovely Pandora has the further gift of a large private terrace with a view to the hills – a perfect place for a quiet aperitif. These rooms would combine well as private family quarters.
The fifth room is Rea, a delightful apartment sleeping 2-4 in a white light-filled bedroom (its window overlooking a tiny street) and a low mezzanine twin/sitting area; ideal for a couple or a family. It comes with a kitchenette, dining table and direct access to the courtyard garden through a wide arched door.
All rooms have heating, air-con, TV and mini fridge; most have ceiling fans. Do bear in mind that the old iron bedframes are not as wide as modern hotel doubles. Three of the bathrooms have baths as well as showers. Mattresses are super-comfy, linen is snowy white.
A buffet breakfast is laid out on the downstairs table, and you can help yourself to cakes, cereals, biscuits, fresh orange juice, yoghurt, honey, cheese, ham and homemade jams, and sit outside in the dappled shade of the pine tree. As if that's not enough, Korina will sometimes whip up a deliciously crumbly tiropita (cheese pie), or proffer some of her latest glyka tou koutaliou (preserved fruit). It’s a great start to the day, and slips quite easily into the middle of the day with a few refills from the coffee machine.
For lunch and dinner, there are many tavernas - 18 at the last count - their tables spilling onto pedestrian streets and glittering quayside. One of them, the Steki tou Sifaki, can deliver dishes – cheese pies, baked aubergines, oil-drenched rusks with tomato and crumbled feta – to the hotel’s courtyard tables. Our favourite was Maki's, whose chef (Maki's wife) turns out a small number of wonderful Cretan dishes each night; no need for a menu. Another gem is George and Georgia, just around the corner: their baked lamb was as soft and juicy as can be. Family-run Geronymos also comes recommended, for its deep-fried courgettes and delectable lamb chops, and The Anchor, for its calamares and sea views.
Wine (their own organic red included) and ouzo may be served in the courtyard, or you can join locals for a raki at streetside tables in the square. Guests in the Rea apartment can prepare simple meals in the diminutive kitchenette; there are a handful of mini marts in the village, open all hours.
Panormos has a lot going on for a village of its size. You’ll find a small harbour, a couple of Byzantine chapels, a post office, a sprinkling of mini marts and tourist shops and an old carob-bean mill that has been restored by Kynthia's owners as a cultural centre. In summer, occasional music recitals and chamber concerts – from classical to Cretan, Spanish to Argentine – are arranged by the Epimenides Cultural Society, as well as street theatre performances. Best of all, the sand beach is a 3-minute stroll away, with loungers and parasols to hire, and a slightly larger beach a little further, with a good beach cafe. The sea is shallow and crystal clear.
This is also a great base for exploring central and western Crete, with the main north-coast road just a few km away, easily reachable by bus.
The university town of Rethymnon is perhaps the prettiest of Crete’s Venetian cities, with a massive walled fortezza full of crumbling storehouses and later Ottoman mosques. Its characterful tight-packed streets, lined with Turkish balconied houses and tourist paraphernalia, lead to a historic inner harbour, now disfigured by garish eateries. However, there are some delightful little restaurants and bars in the Old Quarter.
Chania, its main rival for Italianate prettiness, is an hour to the west, and well worth a day trip for its sea walls, archaeological museum, covered food market and romantic restaurants.
Heraklion, Crete’s vibrant capital and home of its finest archaeological collection, and the Minoan palace at Knossos, imaginatively excavated by Sir Arthur Evans, are both 45 mins drive east; don’t miss them.
The White Mountains are Crete’s most dramatic range (over 8000 feet high), popular with hikers, birdwatchers and botanists; join them on a trek through the 14km-long Samaria gorge, or escape the crowds in the quieter ravines of Ayia Irini or Imbros (you’ll need to start early for any of these).
Arkadi monastery, where a group of monastic rebels famously blew themselves up in the face of a Turkish siege, lies just inland, under a cliff in the foothills of Mt. Psiloritis (or Ida). You can hike here using a sketch map provided by the owner. Further afield on the south coast, you can explore Preveli monastery and go for a swim at its idyllic, palm-shaded beach.
Other beaches worth driving to are burgeoning Plakias, gorgeous Damnoni, nudist Amoudi and hippy Matala, all on the south coast; and the endless open sands east of Georgioupolis on the north (a windsurfer’s dream).
Children of all ages are welcome, and will be very well looked after by the extremely accommodating owners and staff. The walled garden and pool make a safe, shady play area (you will, of course, need to supervise your kids poolside), and there are beaches a short walk away.
The village is partly traffic free. With only 5 rooms, the mood will depend largely on whether the other guests are families or couples, so it's worth asking at the time of enquiry. When our editor visited in May 2011, the other 2 occupied rooms were both families, who rapidly befriended each other.
Toddlers (1-4 years), Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)
Book either a double with 2 single sofa beds (Odyssey, Artemis and Rea) or connecting rooms. Rea has a kitchenette and Pandora also has a sofabed.
Babysitting can be arranged, given advance notice.
Remember baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking
Only breakfast is served; there are plenty of tavernas and takeaways nearby serving child-pleasing food. Rea has a basic kitchenette.
The pool isn't fenced and there are some steps and terraces that toddlers could tumble around. Weever fish are fairly common in the sea here - jelly shoes are a good idea for little kids.