Villa Levanda

Gavalohori, Crete, Greece Book from

A cool white sanctuary in the green hills of northern Crete, with blue pool, open-plan living and 3 cosseting bedrooms (sleeps 4-6)
How refreshing in rustic-mad Crete to find a bright, contemporary villa with pristine white interiors, great lighting, funky artwork and huge windows sliding open onto wide patios. Underfloor cooling keeps you as chilled as the bottles in the temperature-controlled wine fridge, while Swedish Dux beds and drench showers make sure you sleep and wash in style. The inverted layout, with an open-plan living space and pool terrace at the top, means that you get the best views by day - stretching out over olive groves to a strip of blue sea and a pimple of rocky mountain - and the quietest of sleeps at night in the 3 bedrooms. We could have moved in on the spot.

The project is the vision of Penelope, a Cretan by birth, and her Dutch husband Danny, who live in Sweden but pop back when they they can. They bought the 2-acre estate in 2010, and rebuilt Levanda just in time to hold their wedding reception here; a lovely painting above the hearth shows them leaping hand-in-hand into the unknown. A 2nd villa on the grounds is newly refurbed, and a 3rd may follow - there’s plenty of space. With sandy beaches 10 minutes by car, and the charming Venetian town (and airport) of Chania half an hour away, it makes a stylish summer escape for a family with older children, or for 4-6 friends.

Highs

  • The pool is a godsend in Crete’s fierce summer: 13m long, with loungers and sofas under the carob tree, and a dining terrace at one end
  • We liked the personal touches, which stop it feeling too clinical: cheeky paintings, ceramic starfish, patches of pebbles, fresh-picked lavender (hence the villa’s name)
  • Caretakers Peter and Anne, a helpful British couple living nearby, will point you to the best tavernas, shops and boat trips, or cook for you if you like (they are both chefs)
  • Top-spec facilities include Bosch dishwasher, juicer, laundry room, a walk-in wardrobe in the master bedroom, free WiFi - and a useful folder of instructions!
  • The pretty-but-sleepy village of Gavalohori, 10 minutes’ walk away, has a couple of great tavernas

Lows

  • The third bedroom - a smaller twin with no real views - is definitely the short straw; best for younger kids (or, at this price, you could afford not to use it at all)
  • The beaches in the immediate vicinity are not Crete’s best, but there are nicer ones 30-60 minutes’ drive away
  • For any shopping beyond staples, you’ll need to drive to Kalyves or Chania
  • There’s no landline, and mobile signal is patchy - but you do get free WiFi
  • You share the estate with a second villa 50m away, but this has its own pool and parking spot

Best time to go

We think Crete is best visited in May-June or September: days are hot but not uncomfortably so, the sea and pool are warm enough for swimming, and the Apokoronas landscape is still lush until mid June. If you are coming in July or August, Levanda's underfloor cooling system will keep you chilled, and there's usually a breeze on the pool terrace. April is a good option if you're more interested in sightseeing and wild flowers than in swimming and sunbathing; October is great for end-of-season swims and cosy evenings beside the fire. In winter, the underfloor heating makes this villa an option, though the area pretty much closes down from late October to early April, and flights are limited (you may well have to come via Athens).

Our top tips

Two things to bear in mind: there are no mosquito nets (bring repellent, or keep the windows shut and use A/C), and in the absence of a telephone and reliable mobile signal, you might want to bring a laptop with skype.

For a secret gorge and naughty swim, you can't beat the 1-hour path from Gouvernetou monastery (or Agios Ioannis, near Chania airport) down past a cliffside katholiko, through a mini-gorge, to end at an azure sea-fjord hidden among sun-bleached rocks. You'll need sandals to get into the water - or the courage to dive from the rocks. Tie this in with a visit to the earthy-red Venetian-era monastery of Giagarolou (or Agia Triada, restricted opening hours) on the way home.

Great for...

Beach
Family
Great Outdoors
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Villa for 4-6
  • 3 double/twin bedrooms
  • Self-catering (restaurants within walking distance)
  • 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
  • Laundry Service
  • Maid service and linen change 3 times/week
Room:

Rooms

The house is built against the hillside, on 3 levels. You enter at the top, from the gravelled carpark or terraced pool, and find yourself in a huge open-plan living-dining area, with pristine white walls and amazing open eaves, painted warm grey. It all feels rather Scandinavian-zen. An L-shaped sofa faces a low TV unit and a pastel of Penelope and Danny leaping into the unknown; picture windows slide open to a further outdoor living space, with wicker chaises longues under a khaki wooden pergola. Views flow out past lush orchards and a scattering of red-white houses, over the blue strip of Souda bay, to the rocky hills of Akrotiri (near Chania's airport).

Back inside, there's a superbly equipped kitchen and indoor dining table (see Eating), and a laundry room which will come in handy if you're here with kids. Steps - lit by recessed ankle-level lights - lead down to the kingsize master bedroom on the middle storey. More clean white lines and dove-grey ceiling beams, offset by a vibrant triptych of rainbow mountainscapes, an oversized candle from the owners' wedding, and a single patch of exposed stone wall. There are blackout blinds and 2 balconies: one Juliet, the other with loungers. Past the vast walk-in dressing room (more space than you'd need for a month) is the ensuite bathroom, with tub and separate rain shower, positively gleaming twin basins, and a corner of sun-bleached, sea-smoothed pebbles.

Down on the bottom level are the second and third bedrooms. The larger has double/twin beds, cool chrome bedside lamps by Terry Tynan, and a private sitting room with arched windows onto its own sunrise terrace. (As you're beginning to realise, each guest can sunbathe in total privacy if needs be!). The smaller bedroom is tucked away at the back, with twin beds, a shower room and just one window. We think it would be fine for 2 kids (or child + nanny), but not so great for a couple - definitely the shortest of the 3 straws.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Bathrobes
  • Central heating
  • Coffee maker
  • Cots Available
  • Dishwasher
  • Dvd player
  • Fireplace
  • Fridge
  • Full kitchen
  • Hob stove
  • Iron
  • Kitchenette
  • Microwave
  • Oven
  • Satellite tv
  • Swimming pool
  • Terrace
  • Toaster
  • Toiletries
  • Tumble dryer
  • Washing machine
  • WiFi

Eating

The open-plan, wraparound kitchen is a delight to use: plenty of surface area, brushed steel appliances galore, extra-wide drawers with shiny white crockery in every shape and size. Toaster, kettle, chest-level oven, separate microwave-grill, Bosch dishwasher, espresso machine, electric juicer for those fresh oranges - it's all there (except a food blender, we noticed). Book through i-escape and you'll find a hamper of breakfast ingredients when you arrive - bread & jams, tea & coffee, eggs & bacon. For further supplies, Gavalohori (1km) and Almirida (5km) will oblige. When you're done, 3 cleverly integrated recycling bins take the rubbish.

You'll eat outside most of the time, on a lovely decked dining terrace facing the pool and sunset. But if it does turn chilly, there's another table for 6 inside, with clinical white-leather directors chairs and a huge bottle-shaped standing lantern. Non-morning-people can grab breakfast and slope back to their private terrace; 2 of the 3 bedrooms have one.

The caretakers can arrange a private chef to whip up healthy Cretan dishes; or can prepare excellent international cuisine themselves (they used to run a pub business in the UK). Alternatively, stroll into Gavalohori (10 minutes there, a little more on the way back!) for fresh home cooking at Gavalianos, next to the war memorial. Down at Almirida, Aeraki serves the best fish, while both tavernas in Vamos (5km) will deliver a good no-frills Greek meal. For something snazzier, head to Chania (27km).

Features include:

  • Chef on request
  • Coffee maker
  • Fridge
  • Full kitchen
  • Hob stove
  • Kitchenette
  • Microwave
  • Oven
  • Restaurants nearby
  • Shopping service
  • Toaster
  • Welcome hamper
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Explore the Apokoronas region: its rolling olive- and cypress groves are backed by a rocky ridge which drops to Crete's north coast, and laced with wild flowers and views of snow-capped peaks in spring. One of the prettiest of its sleepy villages is Gavalohori (1km or 10 mins' walk), with kafeneia shaded by plane trees, narrow lanes flanked by whitewashed cottages, and a small folklore museum

  • There are decent beaches nearby, and better ones if you're prepared to drive 45 mins. Almirida (5km) has 2 sandy coves, watersports, boat trips and a strip of eateries, though it can get crowded in summer. Beyond Kalyves (10km) is an emptier stretch of coast, while the Akrotiri peninsula (40km) has 2 jewels: Marathi (bleached sands & excellent fish restaurants) and sickle-shaped Stavros (sheltered shallows & simpler tavernas). Ombrosgialos (30 mins the other way, if you don't mind a bumpy drive) has a dramatic rocky coast and seasonal taverna; while the endless sands of Georgioupolis are a windsufer's favourite

  • History buffs should visit the Minoan-Greek-Roman hilltown at Aptera (15km), with visible city walls, well preserved cisterns and a Turkish fort. You could drive to the dramatic and tragic Orthodox monastery of Arkadi (1hr) or, at a pinch, the Minoan capital at Knossos (2hrs)

  • Hike the diminutive gorge at Farangi near Stilos, or one of its bigger brothers on the south coast: Imbros (1hr's drive, 3-4 hrs' hike) is the most accessible, while Samaria is the toughest and longest day out, but also the most spectacular

  • Don't miss Chania's gorgeous old town (30 mins' drive): set around a Venetian harbour, its pedestrian alleys are lined with boutiques and bars (try and hear some live Cretan music, it's very soulful); the covered market is a cornucopia of health-giving herbs and cheeses, and its Archaeological Museum is the area's best

  • If you've been there and done that, Rethymno (45 mins) is similar, except that Greek students outnumber tourists, and the Ottoman and Venetian influences are stronger still: timbered houses, spiky minarets and a huge fort on the hill

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Boat trips
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Museums / galleries
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Sailing
  • Scuba diving
  • Shopping / markets
  • Snorkelling
  • Swimming
  • Windsurfing
  • Yoga

Kids

All ages are welcome, but in truth it's best for older children (6 and over) due to the many steps and the gleaming white surfaces. If you come with younger ones, the owners ask that you supervise them carefully - though of course the pool terrace and various balconies are balustraded.

Best for:

Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

Cots Available

Babysitting:

English-speaking baby-sitters can be arranged

Baby equipment:

There's a highchair and one baby cot. Anything else - pool toys, games, plastic crockery - you'll have to bring.

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

Kids Activities nearby:

There are several sandy beaches nearby (Almirida, Kalyves) and boat trips from Chania (27km). The nearest water park is at Limnoupolis near Chania (32km). The owners or caretakers can put you in touch with companies which arrange mountain biking, trekking and other activities for families - but don't underestimate the severity of Crete's White Mountains.

Distances:

  • Airport: 30 minutes
  • Hospital: 20 minutes
  • Nearest shop: 2 minutes' drive / 10 minutes' walk
Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

10/
Rooms
10/
Service
9/
Value
10/
Overall

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