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Perfect home for single travellers in Crete
It’s a spur-of-the-moment weekend break but our talk is of somewhere far warmer; the Greek island of Crete and a highly unusual holiday hotel where we originally met last summer.
For while the three of us have busy lives, careers, families and friends, thanks to a variety of reasons including widowhood, divorce and a homebound partner, until that turning-point trip, individually, we’d generally ended up taking breaks alone.
We’re part of a fast-growing sector in the travel market. A recent survey by Which? Travel found that one in ten Britons who holidayed between June 2010 and June 2011 were single travellers, largely women.
But holidaying as a solo can be a challenging experience, leaving you feeling like the proverbial wallflower at the school dance.
Also, it hardly adds to the holiday gaiety to have to pay a punitive supplement for a single room (these are rarely the best appointed in any hotel) to find yourself either the only unaccompanied person or part of a singles group, accompanied by a rep, in a hotel surrounded by entwined couples and happy families.
By contrast, The Mistral Hotel, exclusively for single travellers, offers a haven for those who are holidaying alone, but don’t necessarily want it to be that way.
It’s on the beautiful western side of the Greek island of Crete, in Maleme, around 20 kilometres from Chania, and owned and run by the Gialamarakis family. Vassilis and his brother Adonis are both passionate about making guests feel part of the family, rather than simply customers, and also about opening their eyes to the real Crete, with a host of trips and excursions that are often off the predictable, well-trodden tourist trail.
The hotel is charming with 33 double rooms with en suites, and twin-bedded rooms available for friends travelling together, and is set in landscaped gardens, with two large pools. A communal dinner is held every evening (half board is the normal arrangement) on a shaded terrace.
“We have people coming from all over the world, and returning year after year,” says Vassilis, 42, whose perfect English is testament to the fact that he took a master’s in hospitality in Scotland and has helped run the hotel for 18 years.
“That’s because they say there is nothing like this. Where, as a single person, they can feel special, rather than feeling they don’t quite fit in, or feel conspicuous sitting or eating alone.”
While its location, next to a petrol station and on a main road, might make Kirsty Allsopp blanch, neither the road nor the garage is busy. And anyway, initial reservations about that are banished by the friendly atmosphere where nothing appears to be too much trouble.
There’s a thoughtful stack of spare flip-flops, hats, towels and suncream, as well as maps, books and pampering pure olive oil toiletries in every room.
The hotel is also perfectly placed for the beach, a couple of minutes’ walk away, and within ten minutes of an array of beachfront bars and restaurants.
It’s impossible not to relax, and as you chat to other guests, friendships are made, so it’s not surprising that although it’s definitely not aimed at would-be Shirley Valentines, romantic attachments are formed there, and there have been some Mistral weddings.
Every evening starts with cocktails at the bar next to one of the pools, before three courses of fresh Cretan cuisine, including eggs and organic vegetables from the hotel’s plot tended by Adonis.
Frankly, it would have been all too easy to sit and sunbathe by the pool by day with new-found friends, but my fellow guests enthused about the excursions, particularly a fish lunch at Sfinari that follows an outing to an archaeological dig at Falasarna, about a 40-minute drive from the hotel.
A small group of us were taken there by Vassilis, who prides himself on his historical knowledge of the area, and he explained the city of Falasarna was founded in the sixth century BC.
As predicted, lunch at Sunset tavern more than fulfils expectations, not just because it is off the beaten track – around a half an hour drive from Kissamos – but also because we’re served a veritable fish banquet.
If you don’t want to take part in the variety of trips on offer, from the former leper island of Spinalonga through to a day cruise to the volcanic island of Santorini, there’s plenty to do at the hotel.
I had a useful class with photographer Harvey Smith, and a watercolour class with artist Anne Urquhart, both of which took place in the hotel gardens.
It’s never dull chatting with guests whose ages, when I was there, ranged from 29 to 80, and came from all walks of life including a diplomat, midwife, a car salesman and a teacher.
You know everyone’s in the same boat – you’re all single for whatever reason – so there’s a common experience which makes it easy for everyone to talk, mingle and make friends quickly and easily.
* Natasha Rush stayed at the Mistral Hotel, where seven nights’ half-board starts at £525. She flew to Crete with Monarch, which operates weekly flights during the summer season to Chania from Manchester, and to Heraklion from Manchester, from £149.50.
* Call Singles In Crete on 0871 9902070 and visit singlesincrete.com, and contact Monarch reservations on 0871 9405040 and at monarch.co.uk.