Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Eleonas Country Village, Zaros Heraklion, Crete

With about 20 self-contained cottages perched on a steep hillside, Eleonas is in a fine location for exploring Crete's mountainous interior. Built sensitively in amongst an elderly olive grove, the village is fairly new, but blends well into its craggy surroundings.  If you are given one of the cottages at the top, you'll face a leg-busting climb up to your accommodation, but the views from the patio and the terrace are pretty special. The cottages themselves are modestly furnished, but are comfortable and well-equipped, each with WiFi, a wood-burning stove, a safe and a kitchenette. Some of the cottages can accommodate a family of five, but you may have to queue for the single bathroom.

The rock gardens that surround the cottages are well tended, while the communal areas of Eleonas, including the pool, the games room, the outdoor gym, the dining areas and the children's playpen, are spacious and mostly well-equipped. You can also hire reasonable mountain bikes at very reasonable rates or try your hand at archery. Eleonas even has an astroturf football pitch, but it is small and there are weeds growing through the base, while the well worn footballs kept at reception may have punctures.

Breakfasts are a mixed bag - the freshly baked bread and white soft cheeses are delicious, but the "hot" food is tepid and some of the offerings can be greasy (fried eggs) or stodgy (scrambled eggs or moussaka). There is a processor which will turn the fresh fruit and vegetables into drinks, which can be pretty good and the orange juice is pleasant enough. However, the filter coffee is the kind of stuff you get at low budget conferences, and there is no fruit salad option. But Eleonas can be an excellent choice for lunch - the crepes, sandwiches and salads are all generous and fresh, with the latter two options particularly good value.

If you stay half board, each night you'll be given the same choice of starters, including country sausages, creamy fava, crispy fried courgette, fried goats cheese and a mushroom trilogy. Most of them hit the mark. They are followed by three or four options for the main course. The kleftiko is succulent and delicious, while the lamb stew can also be pretty good. But the goat dishes can be tough and bony.  Although there tends to be a lot of meat on the menu, there is always a vegetarian option and grilled trout from the local lake might make an appearance. Avoid the seafood risotto, which can be very disappointing with very little seafood and even less flavour. The warm and friendly staff are generous with bread and water, and will often bring you free deserts, such as cakes or yoghurt topped with honey, accompanied by a shot of the local firewater. The wine list is quite short, but you'll probably find something you like, and even the house carafes are quite drinkable.  One evening a week, an enthusiastic local dance group in national costume performs while you dine. They try and get the diners to join in, which can be awkward when you are half way through a dish. Still, Eleonas is a well-run and very welcoming place to stay. 8/10