Velani Country Hotel
In hidden valleys Crete just beside a protected forest lies an enchanting eco-friendly property called Country Hotel Velani, named after the acorn of the Kermes oak tree. Lying serenely next to the village of Avdou, this property and its surrounding nature will impress you.
As you arrive to this little country hotel of 12 large rooms, you'll likely be greeted by the friendly Greek-Dutch couple, Manolis and Sabine, who run this gorgeous place. It comes complete with the Odysseia horseback riding stables and a deliciously traditional Cretan restaurant, as well as spectacular views of nature from the terrace. A garden full of herbs, vegetable patches, fruit trees and flowers will delight visitors young and old, while the pool and equestrian center offer unparalleled recreation under the Mediterranean sun.
Nature-filled holidays and horseback adventures
Nestled on a hillside that overlooks the Langada Valley and the Dikti Mountains, this little 'Shangri-La' of a place is a kind of secret spot near the protected Kermes oak forest. The estate is spread over 4 hectares, representing a veritable botanical garden with many protected trees and flowers, including a number of orchids.
You'll also be amazed at the fruit trees, aromatic herbs (thyme, basil, oregano) and wild mushrooms, as well as the small animals onsite such as weasels, hedgehogs, badgers, hares, partridges and bats. Parts of the land also boast large Kermes oak trees (Prinos in Greek) that have grown to over 8 meters in size, representing majestic evergreen trees that are home to many small birds and animals.
One great way of discovering the nature is on horseback: Odysseia organizes quality horse riding holidays for all levels, as well as guided or self-guided trekking over a week through the Dikti mountains to the Libyan Sea. There are also 'homebased' day rides or 2-hour treks for experienced riders. If you haven't learned to mount a horse yet, try the beginners course. The 2-hour program for families during the hot summer season is also recommended.
A treasure chest of activities at your doorstep
Just walking around the gardens and discovering the scented herbs and plants such as jasmine is a pleasure in itself, so is lazing by the wall and admiring the different bird species as they fly overhead. If you really like birds, we suggest a professional birdwatching tour in the company of an experienced guide. Birds that visit the hotel include the hoopoe, wagtails, wood pigeons, crows, swallows and many more. You're likely to see the Griffon vulture among other birds of prey flying high around the area as well. Lastly, the scent from the jasmine in the evening will captivate you.
Of course the best way to admire this wonderful region's very rich biodiversity is by biking or hiking. Numerous mountain paths offer a great opportunity for a morning hike, so does the official E4 path that will take you from the property itself all the way to the Lassithi plateau. You'll come across historic churches, gorgeous villages, refreshing rivers, majestic gorges and sublime sea views that will dazzle every adventurer.
Paragliding is also a common sport in this part of Crete, ideal for experienced paragliders who have their own equipment. The valley below the hotel is an ideal spot for takeoff and landing, free to use by anybody.
Closer to home, owner Manolis who's also as a talented chef, can organize some mouthwatering cooking lessons and show you the best of Cretan cuisine. Before or after lunch you can walk up the hill to the small cave with the church of Agia Fotini some 20 meters deep inside. Lastly, a leisurely walk to the traditional village of Avdou is also recommended.
Unparalleled old-world gourmet treats
Remember the days when grandpa picked fresh fruit off the trees and grandma prepared a hot meal from free-range animals on the farm? These habits never went away on Crete. Headed by the talented Chef Manolis who organizes onsite cooking lessons, the Velani restaurant uses organically-grown produce from its own garden, as well as the best cheeses and meats you've tasted in a long time and that hail from the sheep and goat grazing in nearby fields. There are many vegetarian options as well, as Crete takes pride in its low-meat healthy Mediterranean diet.
A dose of Cretan extra virgin olive oil graces the dishes, which are best washed down with a couple of glasses of local wine made from ancient grape species that date from the Minoan era! An olive grove on the north side gives the estate enough olive oil to transform the restaurant's dishes into magnificent Mediterranean meals, enhanced by this golden elixir.
On the sweeter side, worth mentioning is the thick honey that comes straight from the local beekeeper. Carob trees are also abundant, with the latter producing rich carob molasses to sweeten cakes and other baked goodies. Sweet or savory, all the sun-kissed ingredients here will impress you with their bursting flavors, rich scents and authenticity.
As a final note it's important to mention that in all this nature and gastronomy, the hotel's rooms offer all modern comforts such as free Wi-Fi internet, air conditioning and small fridges. You won't be spending much time indoors though, just because there's so much to do in the open air! Welcome to one of the best eco adventures in Crete.