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Elounda Beach Hotel (Crete, Greece)

Elounda Beach Hotel

Caiques drift around the rockypromontory of the Gulf of Mirabello, past arid hills and cliffs that thrust suddenly from waters of purest royal blue. At a nearby dock, fishermen idle; behind their masts rise whitewashed buildings gleaming in the midday sun--a squat church, its barrel vault topped with orange tiles, and behind it a jumble of flat-roofed cubes adorned with an occasional shutter or wrought-iron balcony. Along the narrow alleys that separate the buildings might trudge a baskettoting widow in her traditionally shapeless black mourning garb, or perhaps an elderly gentleman in the Cretan national costume of tunic, jodhpurs, and knee-high leather boots.

A typical Aegean fishing village?Yes, but it's also an atypical resort --not just "self-contained,' but immersed in the very culture of the surrounding islands and villages. The Elounda Beach Hotel is a microcosm of Aegean village life--the quay, the shops nearby, a town square with Carib tree, a taverna for those who like dancing with their eating and drinking, and the ever-present Orthodox chapel, curiously plain and small-windowed outside, dazzling and resplendent within. The shops are filled with real local handiwork, just as shops were before the tourist invasions of the Aegean isles began a generation ago: rugs of brilliant hue, damask, hand-wrought jewelry, saintly icons. Hearkening back to the ancients, a poured-concrete amphitheater nestles in a hillside behind the village.

Not just shopping and entertainmentbut living at Elounda Beach approximate the simplicity and beauty of island life Patrons who rent ocean-side cottages can draw the curtain to their small sea windows each morning, just as generations of Greek sailors have done, to learn the weather of the day or to watch the spray wash over the sea walls. Within, harmony and simplicity abound: arched doorways; a hearth; well-polished, broad-beamed hardwood floors; a vase of flowers standing out against the white walls; sparse but comfortable furniture in riotous oranges and reds. (Nor is the luxury- and gadget-loving visitor ignored, for a more conventional hotel is tucked away on the premises.) Visitors of every persuasion can dine in the resort's main restaurant, adjoining a terrace ringed by gardens and a somewhat nontraditional amenity--the swimming pool. Here and at several eateries throughout the village, the outrageously succulent Greek fare can be had in abundance --seafood (especially squid), rack of lamb, dolmades, souvlakia, and all the rest.

At Elounda Beach, talk is often ofthe differences between European and American tourists. Europeans like to "summer' at a resort, they say, while Americans are on the go, eager to tramp through every church, castle, and shop that can be squeezed into a finite schedule. This insatiable American desire for self-improvement makes it tough on resorts: They can corral the free-spending Yank for only three or four nights, in contrast to his more tightfisted European cousin, who--jaded as he is by cultural opportunities back home--holes up in his bungalow for weeks at a stretch.

Regardless, culture vultures can gettheir fill using the Elounda Beach Hotel as their base. For sightseeing, not a half-hour away is Aghios Nikolaos, the "Little Venice' of Crete, an almost landlocked harbor surrounded by towering hills and connected to the sea by a narrow channel. For history and culture, one can hardly consider the possibilities: Minoan "digs' (including the renowned palace of Knossos) dot the island, every day yielding more information about the 4,000-year-old-plus civilization that developed there.

Crete is also a treasure house ofByzantine-Orthodox church architecture; indeed, motoring thorough the rugged Cretan countryside (the roads themselves are excellent) reveals a chapel in almost every stony, forlorn field or olive grove. Nearer the center of the island, as the road grows more tortuous, the snow-capped Mount Idhi (8,058 feet) looms above such tiny peasant villages as Anogia, clinging to the hillsides. Clean, whitewashed Anogia makes a special effort to welcome visitors ambitious enough to make the trek; the sale of sturdy ceramics and handwovens is an attractive supplement to the meager output of the barren fields. Even Iraklion, the somewhat prosaic capital and main seaport of the province, has a well-preserved Venetian castle plus some other brooding ruins, mostly from the days of the Turkish wars. And at Iraklion is found the museum with the most precious pieces of Minoan art.

So the typical Americanneed not fear boredom or ennui at Elounda Beach. Even within the compound, Greek holidays and customs are observed, notably ancient Greek drama at the open-air theater, as well as Greek Easter, the height of the social season (usually held later than our Easter because of the medieval calendar of the Orthodox church). Water sports, of course, are available in profusion, and beaches ring the island--starting at, of course, Elounda Beach itself.

Photo: The Aegean's vivid colors create a photographer'sparadise. (Right) The Gulf of Mirabello shimmers between Elounda Beach and the island of Poros.
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Roberts, Robin
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:Hotel Review
Date:Nov 1, 1986
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