Until recently, Chania, in Crete, was still relatively unknown as a tourist destination outside Greece, but thanks partly to Ryanair's introduction last year of direct flights from Stansted, together with the Greek economy beginning to bounce back, that looks set to change – at least for British visitors.
It was with this in mind that a former businessman has taken the risk of converting the derelict Venetian house he bought as a holiday home into a luxury boutique-hotel-cum-B&B instead. La Maison Ottomane is tucked away in a backstreet of old Chania with glimpses of the sea just visible from the upper balcony and windows.
The building dates back to the 17th century and is one of many that the Venetians built during their centuries-long occupation of Crete. Indeed, walking around the historic parts of the town looking at the ornate, often crumbling façades, you might at times think you were in the backstreets of Venice itself, were it not for the absence of canals and waterways.
Painted a lovely dusty pink on the outside and set around its own little courtyard, La Maison Ottomane has just three rooms: the Constantinople suite, spread across two floors and two further bedrooms, the Roxelane and the Aisha, which has its own balcony. With its wealth of period furnishings, oil paintings of stately pashas and sultry women, and lovely touches such as the antique Persian brass beaker for a toothbrush mug, you feel as if you're staying in a luxurious home. And in a sense you are: although it isn't strictly speaking a guesthouse – staff don't live on the premises – everything you see is either a family heirloom or comes as a result of the owner's passion for buying antiques and art. This is balanced by an abundance of mod cons such as flat-screen TVs, free use of tablets and laptops, Nespresso machines and fully equipped minibars. Beds are super-comfy and the cotton thread count of the sheets is ridiculously high.
In the tranquil courtyard, with its palm tree and potted bougainvillea, breakfast starts with freshly squeezed orange juice, followed by fresh pomegranate, eggs cooked any which way, cheeses and cured meats on fine bone china.
Pastries come on brass platters and you help yourself to home-made preserves with dainty antique enamelled silver spoons. Even the silver milk jug depicts a scene of nomads in the desert.
Andreas Romanos grew up in the UK and has worked all over the world including Greece and Russia. He is keen to offer his guests a memorable stay and his passionate attention to detail more than compensates for any lack of previous hotel experience. While there were some early teething problems when I was there in April, keeping the hotel to just three bedrooms means that he and his co-manager, Alexandra, can give their guests their undivided attention, including the dispensing good advice on what to see and do.
There's plenty to occupy you for a couple of days in Chania. Get your bearings by rambling through the deserted, slightly tatty backstreets, with eyes trained firmly upwards, and admire the Venetian houses, palaces and churches, some of which have had ornate balconies – or in the case of the churches, minarets – added by the Ottoman Turks (they took over from the Venetians in the mid-17th century and ruled until the end of the 19th century).
Don't miss the Naval Museum (00 30 2821 091875; www.mar-mus-crete.gr) which explains the island's turbulent past and successive foreign occupations through its maritime history; or the charming Etz Hayyim Synagogue in the Jewish quarter. And nothing beats a drink on the harbour front, opposite the mosque, which is thick with cafés, bars and restaurants – the perfect spot to sit and people-watch.
If you fancy lunch in an old Turkish bath house, check out the atmospheric Tamam Taverna (49 Zambeliou Street; 00 30 2810 96080), which serves simple kebabs and salads. For austere luxe, start the evening with cocktails at the Monastery of Karolos (22 Hatzimichali Daliani Street; karolos.gr), a former monastery converted into an outdoor bar.
If you have a car, venture out to Argentina Tavern at Kolymbari (00 30 28 240 22243; argentina-kolimbari.gr) – 20 minutes' drive – for fresh clams followed by the legendary lobster spaghetti, which comes in a rich tomato and slightly creamy sauce.
La Maison Ottomane, Parodos Kanevarou 32, Chania, Crete, Greece (00 30 28210 08796 / 00 30 6975 713973; lamaisonottomane.com). Doubles start at €140 (£113), including breakfast.
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