After years of travelling to far-reaching and sometimes exotic places I had longed for a ‘typical week away’ in the Mediterranean doing nothing but drink local beer next to sandy beaches, reading a lot and eating a lot more. Don’t get me wrong, I love a thrilling zip-line, an interesting walking tour or a breath-taking (literally) mountain hike probably more than most , but sometimes what is needed is simply to do nothing. As it turns out, Koutouloufari is the ideal setting for this.
Koutouloufari is anything but a hidden gem, in fact my mother reliably informed me I had been before 20-something years ago. Its longevity and popularity as a tourist village make its present day appearance all the more surprising and impressive. A fifteen minute none too arduous walk up the hill from the neon lights of Hersonissos, the village possesses cobbled streets and whitewashed buildings normally more synonymous with the Instagram adored sensation of Santorini. Perhaps the biggest pull factor are the sheer volume of restaurants with inviting and attractive décor and all serving food of the quality normally only found through weeks of TripAdvisor hunting and a big fat wallet. I genuinely believe you couldn’t find a bad meal in Koutouloufari unless for some odd purpose, you tried.
Before travelling anywhere I now spend an age trawling through blog posts/TripAdvisor threads in order to make sure I don’t miss out on anything when I’m there. One of the many double-edged positive/negative swords of internet accessibility. Koutouloufari is perhaps one of the less blogged about places I have been which in part motivated this post (there are lots and lots and lots of restaurant reviews though!)
1)Beach access – Your first option here (unless you have a car)are the extremely small and narrow beaches around Hersonnisos marina. These all incur a charge from local bars to rent the sun loungers. I didn’t go to the beaches here as they didn’t really look or feel enough like a beach to me.
Korali/Stalis beach can be accessed via 45 minute walk which is downhill or flat the entire way. It is however next to the road and it isn’t a relaxing beach stroll by any means as quads frequently rev by. It is very easy though in terms of navigation and I would recommend it though for anyone who prefers walking to buses. As stated the other option are the frequent Minoan Line buses – a one-way trip costs €1.80 and the bus can be caught at a variety of locations along the Hersonissos strip.
When you get to the beach do not pay more than €5 for two beds with an umbrella and a bar with toilet access – if you access from the bars this is obvious but if you enter from the beach you will be unsure of the going rate. Most offer this as a minimum but a small few don’t. Some offer a free beer so shop around as you wish.
Consider both the proximity of your rented lounger to the sea and the location of the sun. On my first trip there I woke up almost in the sea when the tide came in which wasn’t particularly pleasurable and evoked memories of my mother almost letting me float to Turkey on a lilo when I was a child. The sun does set early behind the mountains so try and maximise your exposure in terms of sunbed choice if you like sunbathing. If you prefer a bigger beach or not paying for beds then the further east you go the better. Korali Beach is also quite narrow, Stalis less so. After swimming in the Atlantic fed beaches of Northern Spain for the last year the embrace of the turquoise blue Mediterranean was the warm welcome I had been longing for.
2) Hersonissos Old Town – Greek Dancing, Monday – This is a must-do if you are staying in Koutouloufari and whether you are a couple or a family with young children. Hersonissos Old Town is strangely far away from the marina but is easily accessible from Koutouloufari, either on foot (35 minutes) or by taxi (€9). The square was heaving with diners and a great atmosphere during my visit and I was lucky enough to get a well positioned table in order to see the dancing. It is mostly outdoor seating all focussed on the square and it is an incredible experience. If you want to guarantee a prime location or a recommended restaurant then you will need to book ahead or get lucky. Try and arrive at 7pm if you cannot book ahead and get your spot for the night.
3)Hersonissos Marina – Koutouloufari ticks almost every box on a romantic and relaxing trip away, but if like my girlfriend and I you occasionally have a strange desire for cocktails with Greek flags and translucent straws and a little bit more ‘craic’ then head down to the Hersonissos strip. It is more Protaras than Ayia Napa for anyone familiar with Cyprus and has lots of well positioned bars right along the marina. I can’t comment on restaurants as we ate takeaway pizza slices at 4am. One night was enough for us but for any young people more capable, eating in Koutouloufari and then heading to Hersonissos would be an option. A taxi back cost around €7.
4) Where to eat? – Just walk around and pick somewhere, they are all incredible. A number have upstairs seating with views over the sea – you can pop in and reserve the best seats as you please. My personal favourite was Esperas as the food was amazing and the setting exactly what you would imagine of a Greek Island restaurant. You get free shots/bottles of Raki in most restaurants which becomes less of a positive as the week goes on and you realise how bad it tastes! Rouga Tou Mpaoula give choices of free desserts and a very well presented (but still foul tasting) bottle of Raki on ice. The Atrium is highly recommended and is more Marbella in appearance than Crete, but if you like smoked cinnamon in your cocktails rather than umbrellas then it is a good spot…
5) Where to stay? – I stayed at the Petra Village Hotel a short and easy 5-10 minute walk east of the village. The hotel was relatively cheap and absolutely ideal for my intended purpose of doing nothing. The pool was perfect and location the same. Air conditioning cost extra (as I believe is usually the case throughout Crete) but there was no need for it as balcony doors were opened throughout as mosquitos were not an issue. The food at the pool bar also met my cravings from childhood memories – weird looking cheeseburgers that taste incredible, and chips. The prices represented the basic nature of the food and for anyone less satisfied by sandwiches and chips or a Greek salad for their daytime fare there are a number of cafes and tavernas open during the day in Koutouloufari.
There is a range of accommodation from basic and satisfactory, through to boutique and beautiful. I also noted a hostel in the centre of the village which looked very traditional and picturesque which would perhaps be more suited to short-term visits or those not wishing to have access to a swimming pool. Depending on your needs choose accordingly, but if you like a nice pool and good location then the Petra Village would suit.
6) Taxis and Quads – Taxis and quads in particular are a little bit of a nuisance and you need to keep an eye out on the winding cobbled streets. Unfortunately these do slightly take away from the idyllic surroundings and the feeling that you have been transported into the past to a secluded Cretan village. Only slightly.
7) Things to do (which I didn’t) – The waterpark, Aquaplus is only a short drive away and is family friendly. Day trips to traditional Cretan villages in the mountains can be booked through your accommodation as can boat trips to Santorini which we were tempted by but decided to leave for another time. I believe they cost around the €130 mark for adults for a 1 day return trip. Other trips include Spinalonga, also known as The Leper Island.
Overall my first Mediterranean jaunt since Inter-railing, living in Australia and Bilbao, travelling around South America and visiting China, Thailand and Miami among other locations was exactly what I wanted and also needed. There is nothing wrong with a package holiday to relax and recharge batteries and for anyone wishing to do that, look no further than Koutouloufari. Of course, the opportunities for fully fledged ‘travelling’ or cultural trips are also endless on the island of Crete but that is for another time.
If you have any questions about Koutouloufari or the surrounding region, feel free to comment below. Stay tuned for more frequent posts.