intoHistory, geschiedenis beleven in authentieke logies
Many abandoned villages in Europe have been given a new lease of life thanks to the determination and perseverance of a few dedicated heritage enthusiasts. Much to the delight of many lovers of rural history, some of these traditional habitations have been carefully restored and transformed into tourist accommodation. Kapsaliana, near Arkadi in Crete, is one of the oldest projects of this type—a ravishing trailblazer that within its humble, yet harmonious structures, offers exceptional comfort, and encapsulates the charm of Crete with its natural treasures, its refined cuisine, and its warm hospitality.
When luxury tourism breathes new life into national heritage. © Kapsaliana Village Hotel
It all began in the 18th century when an olive mill was established in the middle of several hectares of olive groves belonging to the Arkadi monastery. The traditional installation comprised a large stone wheel to crush and ‘knead’ the olives to a paste, a screw press to extract the liquid and a settling tank for separating the oil from the water.
The old oil mill at Kapsaliana has now been transformed into a museum-sittingroom.
Next to the mill was a storeroom of very large pithoi (large earthenware amphorae) in which the precious harvest was stored. This was sold at a good price to foreign merchants, notably the French, who used lots of olive oil for making soap.
The pithoi were placed round a large, shallow pit, which was a fail-safe to catch the oil in case of a strong earthquake.
From October through to the end of November, beginning of December, a monk lived on the premises to oversee operations. Opposite the mill, another building housed seasonal workers and their wives.
The monk prepared meals for the entire community in this little cell.
Little by little workers built small dwellings around the mill. A few decades later, a second (privately owned) press was set up abutting the first. The owner hired out his services to the monastery. And then, just a step away, a third mill made its appearance. Although Ottoman dominated, the monks were mostly left to their own devices and they even took on Turkish seasonal workers with whom they lived quite peacefully.
The second mill is now a sitting room for the village hotel’s guests.
Ioannis Mamalakis: one of the many rebel chiefs in the Cretan uprisings. © Arkadi monastery
The Greek war of independence in the 1820s lit the fuse to the powder keg: the Cretans also wanted to rid themselves of the Ottoman yoke. Insurrections broke out and were followed by bloody repression. In the decades that followed, relations between the islanders and Turkish authorities were extremely tense. The treaties signed and endorsed by the European powers, did not meet the expectations of the Cretans. In 1866, negotiations broke down and the partisans revolted but were quelled by 16,000 soldiers of the Turkish army. Hunted down, rebels and their families fled to the mountains, and many hundreds took shelter at the Arkadi monastery (three kilometres from the Kapsaliana village). The monastery was stormed; but it was such an unequal struggle that as a last resort, the hegumen (or abbot) Gabriel Marinakis set off the monastery’s supply of gunpowder. The resulting carnage shocked all Europe into pleading Crete’s cause.
The Arkadi monastery is one of the most symbolic monuments on the island. Its moving, contemplative beauty is an enduring reminder of suffering and martyrdom.
In 1955, the monks abandoned the old press for more modern equipment and the village gradually declined. Myron Toupoyannis, an architect from Heraklion, fell in love with the site in 1980, and bought the old mill and the building opposite. Slowly but surely, he restored the entire village, which was later listed as a heritage site by the Greek Ministry of Culture.
The old abandoned mill as it was in the 1980s. © Kapsaliana Village Hotel
The reconstruction of the hotel-village gained momentum and became an all-consuming project for the architect (who still lives there). Each house has been converted into a guest dwelling and is subtly balanced between the old architecture of the period and all the modern comforts. The restoration work has respected the spaces, styles, building materials, and techniques of former times. The abundance of traditional furniture is offset by modern, fastidiously chosen, decorative touches. The village was truly the precursor of other similar heritage projects.
Proportions and materials are compatibly combined in a harmonious blend of old and new. © Kapsaliana Village Hotel
The old restored mill and its press has been transformed into a museum. It displays many articles that pertain to rural life in Crete: agricultural implements, oil extraction tools, and everyday items—bright with the patina of age. The guest sitting room is set up in one part of the building, and is a particularly welcoming area.
The subtle pleasure of taking time out . . . into the past!
The complex is completed by a modern reception area, a swimming pool with a view of the sea horizon, and a restaurant whose menu has gourmet renown. The chef is a leading specialist in olive cuisine, and gives tasting sessions of a variety of genuinely original olive oils.
Mediterranean olive oil tastings are held in the restaurant dining room. © Kapsaliana Village Hotel
The smell and then the taste of the oils are the main appreciation criteria. Tasting goblets are blue so that one is not influenced by the colour, which does not have a place in the tasting process.
The village complex is host to many visitors throughout the year. People come from all over the world in the summer seasons, and in winter, it is particularly frequented by the islanders. It is also a popular venue for weddings and business conferences. As Kapsaliana is only eight kilometres from the sea, it is not as cold in winter as are the island’s mountain villages. However, in summer, at 260 metres above sea level, it offers a refreshing respite from the stifling heat of summer.
© Kapsaliana Village Hotel
There are beautiful walks and drives through deep valleys planted with cypress, tamarisk and wild herbs. Herds of sheep, ancient springs, orange and lemon groves all contribute to the allure of this idyllic landscape; there are so many olive trees that it is easy to see the importance of the Kapsaliana mill.
The Arkadi monastery, at the top of a mount, must be visited; not only for its close connections with the village, but also, for the tragic event that took place there. It is a spot of great poignancy.
Although the monastery church was spared the explosion of 1866, its bullet-pocked walls still bear witness to that battle.
The archaeological site of Eleftherna some twelve kilometres away from the village, is also well worth visiting. This ancient Dorian settlement was founded in the 9th century BC, and although it was besieged many times over, it flourished in Roman and Byzantine times before being abandoned in the 8th century BC, after suffering many earthquakes and a devastating Arab attack. Excavated remains of the Iron Age necropolis show substantial evidence of human sacrifice.
As with many archaeological sites in Crete, their turbulent history has given way to silent ruins in a bucolic setting. © Steve Slep
The harbour town of Rethymnon is rich in historic relics—mostly from its heyday during the Venetian period in the 16th century, when many scholars, writers and artists sojourned there. It was even known as the ‘New Athens’. Its fortress is proof of its resistance to many Ottoman attacks during the 17th century.
The Rimondi fountain is a fine example of Renaissance architecture during the Venetian period. © Romtomtom
To fully appreciate the period atmosphere of Kapsaliana Village Hotel, do not hesitate to enhance your stay by reading a few books (nothing beats a good historical novel to bring old stones back to life). Listening to some period music may also be a good way to transport you back in time… A few suggestions:
Learn and understand
Books to savor during your stay
The perfect setting for a little music
Kapsaliana Village Hotel has long been a must see on my historical accommodation bucket list. I've been so charmed to discover it with my own eyes under the warm Mediterranean sun! This unique traditional Cretan village, lost in the middle of acres of old olive trees, has a real soul you can feel. My family and I have been deeply moved by the beautiful and peaceful atmosphere of all the small houses, converted into lovely bedrooms. The paved paths leading to the vegetable garden, the terraces or the swimming pool are particularly delightful as well. Not to talk about the exquisite local dishes of the restaurant. One of the only hotels I know with a real museum you can appreciate as a sitting room! The olive oil tasting is a must (on demand). Very interesting conversation with the architect who saved the village from falling to pieces, always keen to talk to visitors about his "project of a lifetime".
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Village Hotel Kapsaliana ****
741 00 RETHYMNON
+30 283 10 83 400
+30 283 10 83 062 (fax)
Hotel’s own website
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