Eleonas: a stunning mountain retreat with glorious home-cooked Cretan cuisine
In the mountains of southern Crete, just off the sleepy village of Zaros…amidst olive groves, grape vines and wild mountain herbs lies Eleonas – a stunning agro-tourism settlement of traditional mountain cottages. Before this trip, I had never been to one of these eco-tourism retreats before, hence I was a little curious if the remote isolation of such a place would be tedious or liberating. But after just a single breath of the rosemary and sage scented mountain air and that first glimpse of the dramatic rocky peaks of Mount Psiloritis in the backdrop against the open blue skies, I felt a million miles away from the usual chaos and realities of urban life.
The brainchild of owner Manolis Saridakis, Eleonas’ traditional stone cottages centre around their superb taverna and tranquil resort pool. They run their own farm on-site… growing their own fruits, herbs and veges… producing their own extra virgin olive oil… even keeping lambs, goats and chickens in feed. Guests are welcome to partake in a range of agro-activities from the feeding of animals to hands-on cooking lessons. For adventurists, there are a number of hikes and biking routes of varying difficulty in the surrounding area which feature towering gorges and serene lakes. And if you have your own wheels (a pre-requisite if you want to properly explore and take in the raw beauty of the island), some of the Crete’s most magnificent beaches on it’s South Coast are just an hours drive away. All in all, it’s the perfect escape from your usual over-crowded, commercialised break.
What blew me away most of all though was the authentic, home-cooked Cretan cuisine cooked up by resident nonna Mrs Koula. Throughout the day, be it when we were lying idly on a beach deck-chair or conquering the 12 km Rouvas gorge route, all I could think about was getting back to Eleonas for dinner where I knew a stonkingly great meal was awaiting… all using the freshest herbs and produce collected from Eleonas’ fertile, mountainous doorstep. It was like being served dish, after dish, after dish of Crete’s greatest hits… everything from rustic Oven-baked Lamb Kleftikos with Oregano and Rosemary to Slow-cooked Rabbit Stifado with Onions, peppercorns and cloves… stuffed Vine-leaves to deep-fried Courgette fritters. All dee-licious and made with tender loving care.
The food was so incredibly reliable, we ended up eating dinner there for 4 nights on the trot without the need or want to venture elsewhere. And at under €15 Euros a head (including wine / beer, fruits and a complimentary bottle of the local ‘fire-water’ raki), it was amazing value for money.
Many thanks to Manolis and team who welcomed us like members of their own family and catered for our every need with a warmth and professionalism like no other. Our 4 nights here truly and easily felt like 4 weeks away from it all.
Eleonas, Zaros, Crete | www.eleonas.gr | Sep 3rd – Sep 7th 2011