By Betty Gordon
© 2019 text and photos. All rights reserved.
This is the sixth in a series about my October 2018 trip to Athens, Greece; and Crete. See my October 21 post about a fast-paced Greek cooking class in Athens; October 30 about the destruction of the Jewish community on Crete during World War II; February 7, 2019, about the Minoans’ Palace of Knossos on Crete; February 19, about a thick soup and appetizer called fava puree; and February 28, about the Minoan treasures, and more, at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum.
When you make a reservation at a newly opened or about-to-debut hotel, you take a risk that staff, service and culinary glitches might not yet be ironed out.
The trade-off is usually an introductory special on the cost of staying at the property — often a big discount off what will be the standard fees — enticing would-be guests to take a chance.
Such was the case when I booked online, months in advance of my four-night stay, at the Legacy Gastro Suites in Heraklion on the island of Crete. After studying the website of the company’s existing locations and reading words of praise, I decided that trying this newbie was worth whatever unpredictability might lie ahead.
I was not disappointed. With comfy accommodations, overly generous breakfasts (included in the tariff) and attentive, detail-oriented staff, Legacy seemed to have hit the ground running.
Situated immediately to the south of Eleftherias (Liberty) Square, it’s an easy walk to all the main tourist attractions, be it the museums, churches, shopping streets, restaurants or harbor.
Some of the more-distant sights, such as the sturdy Venetian walls and seven bastions (13th to 17th century) that enclose central Heraklion — especially if you follow the roughly star-shaped perimeter from its west point to its east — can take hours. But the weather was close to perfect, when I visited in October, so even this lengthy walk was enjoyable.
The No. 1 priority for my stay in Heraklion was to spend a good part of a day at Knossos, partially restored site of an ancient Minoan civilization, and at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, where many of the artifacts are on display (see headnote for date of those blog posts).
The No. 2 bus that makes the trip to Knossos about every 15 minutes stopped near the hotel, and the ticket kiosk was diagonally across the square. And just across the street from the kiosk was the archaeological museum.
The 12-suite boutique hotel had been open about a month when I arrived. The building, the exterior of which is a subtle pink, was formerly the offices of Olympic Air, Greece’s national carrier.
I stayed in Room 203, one of four EL Suites Sea View, named after Doménikos Theotokópoulos, better known as the artist El Greco. He was born in Heraklion on October 1, 1541 and died on April 7, 1614 in Toledo, Spain.
(Other suites are named for Nobel Prize-nominated writer Nikos Kazantzakis, born in Heraklion in 1883, and Cretan poet Vincenzo Kornaros, who died in Heraklion in 1613. A bust of the former is just outside the hotel.)
Outside the sliding glass doors was a compact balcony, with a table and two chairs, overlooking the square. In the distance, I could see the blue Mediterranean and the massive ferries in port.
I thought traffic and crowd noise during nightly gatherings in the bustling square might be an issue, but people seemed to disperse before midnight and the din lessened.
The entrance hallway was flanked on the right by an open space to store luggage and to hang clothing, across from the separate enclosed toilet, and tiled, walk-in rainfall shower with a glass door. On solid hooks inside were two heavy white terrycloth robes and equally substantial fluffy white towels.
A king-size bed dominated the main space, beside which was a white porcelain sink, towel rack, wooden shelving with extra towels, bath amenities, large mirror and round extendable magnifying mirror.
The rest of the hardwood-floored room was occupied by a round table set for two, adorned with a vase of flowers; a desk and chair against the wall below the flat-screen TV; a light green plush sofa long enough to lie down on, over which hung a copy of an El Greco painting; and a well-stocked credenza, with tea- and coffee-making supplies, a mini-refrigerator, and an ample sampling of local food and beverages (wine and spirits) meant to be consumed in your room (at extra cost) or purchased as souvenirs.
The “food station” choices ranged from a jar of smoked portobello mushrooms in Greek olive oil (14 euros) to white truffle butter (26 euros) to filet of escargot in extra-virgin olive oil with vinegar, rosemary and sultanas (9.50 euros) to air-dried salami (6.50 euros) to Kavourmas beef (7.50 euros) to nuts, raisins and four types of cheese and more.
Breakfast was served at a time of my choosing every morning in my room. Faced with so many choices, I consulted with desk staff about portion size and specialties while filling out the card for my order. My goal was to vary my options daily.
One morning I had “kagianas,” a flat, plate-size omelet with tomato, flecks of green onions and creamy feta cheese. Accompaniments were a basket of bread, a grilled rectangle of somewhat chewy cheese and “double-sweet” Greek coffee (I was advised not to drink to the bottom of the cup because of the grounds) and four petite, round orange cookies.
After this super-filling meal, I headed to the bus for Knossos, and I didn’t even think about food until almost dinnertime.
Another morning I had “peinirli,” a boat-shaped bread sort of like pizza, filled with dried beef and melted cheese. (This was similar to pizza I ordered in Turkey.) I also had two small “lalagites” (pancakes) with honey and cinnamon, “freddo” coffee (iced, where the layers of milk and coffee are obvious), juice and four chewy-on-the-inside “loukoumades” (Greek doughnuts). No need for lunch after this feast either.
My C Gastro Bar, the hotel’s dining area, also features locally sourced ingredients and authentic Greek and Cretan dishes. I didn’t eat there because there were so many tempting restaurants and bakeries near the hotel.
A bakery just around the corner became a daily stop. Every type of glistening, honey-soaked Greek pastry you’ve ever heard of was here, plus freshly baked loaves of bread, ready-made sandwiches, elaborate cakes and pies, and a whole section of just ice cream. I had to put the brakes on, limiting myself to just three diminutive portions of patisserie yumminess a day.
About those glitches: The air-conditioning in my room was wonky. Upon arrival, it worked fine. But the thermostat turned itself off every day of my stay except one, at different times of the day. Repeated calls to the desk staff were answered promptly, and it seemed a computer at check-in could be used to reset the AC. In the overall scheme of things, not a big deal, though whatever the issue was should have been taken care of after the first day, and if not then, certainly after the second.
The representation of my room on the website also looked more luxurious and colorful than it was. Perhaps that photo was of one of the other El Greco suites.
A check of the website indicates some introductory prices may still be available.
Quick reference: Legacy Gastro Suites, 43 Eleftherias Square, Heraklion, Crete. http://www.legacygastrosuites.com