It turns out that in Crete, the Middle of Nowhere has a name, and the name is Thronos. It is a wonderful Middle of Nowhere, part of a Crete from a different age. I have been coming to this island since the 1970's, and have watched the inevitable development and “touristification” of the coastal towns, but here in the Amari Valley nothing much has changed in decades - or longer. Thronos sits high above the valley, serene in its splendid isolation. The population is - depending on who you listen to - anywhere from 18 to 35 people. There is a school, but there are no children; it may be a dying place. There is a sadness that permeates the village, even in the bright Greek sunlight. Yet for the intelligent traveler, it is a haven of culture and peace.
Our only regret about Aravanes was that we did not discover it, and Thronos, earlier in our stay, or we would have remained here for longer... and we may return for two or three weeks next year.
First, a warning: Do not come to this village and this hotel if you are one of those people who finds unacceptable any accommodation that does not resemble a Marriott or a Best Western motel. Also do not come here if you need to be constantly entertained by “things to do”, or if you regard a room without a large flat-screen TV as unthinkable. On the other hand, if you want a unique experience that is authentically Cretan, this IS the place.
The hotel and taverna are run by Lampros, a charming man who has lived in the valley his entire life. The hotel has four rooms containing a total of 15 beds, arranged in suites. We rented number 2, the corner room whose main bedroom has a balcony that provides breathtaking views across the valley. The suite contains a shared bathroom and kitchen area, and a second bedroom behind it (the suite has one double and two twin beds). It is all comfortable, basic and clean. No TV, no fancy additions... just a nice place to sleep with a great view on one side. The hotel is fronted by a wide terrace with great views, including to Psiloritis, the highest mountain in Crete; it is worth noting that Lampros leads walking tours there by day and by moonlight (sadly, we didn't have time for this).
In the evening, if you choose to have dinner at Aravanes (and you should), all the guests are invited to sit at a single long table, with Lampros at its head. Zavroula, the delightfully vivacious cook from the village, produces a cornucopia of food, almost all of it made from local ingredients - many from Lampros’ farm/garden. The night we stayed there, this included a delicious meal of braised meat from one of Lampros’ goats (Zavroula: “Yes, you’re eating the brother of the one out there now.”) As Lampros notes, the goats eat what they want, including local herbs, and this is reflected in the taste of the meat; that was hard to argue with - I’ve never had better-tasting goat. Also served with the meal was red and white wine made by Lampros, not to mention the inevitable raki (ubiquitous on Crete, but flavored here by Lampros with honey and herbs). The food - varied in type and abundant in quantity - was fabulous, the wine good and unlimited; and all of this cost the princely sum of 20 Euros.
Dinner here is very much a communal, social experience. We shared the table with visitors from Norway, Belgium, Italy, France and Germany, and it was a convivial affair. Towards the end, lubricated by a fair amount of wine (Lampros: “Don’t forget to drink!”), we were invited to sing something from our homelands, and almost everyone did; it didn’t matter that the quality of the voices varied considerably - the songs were all delivered with heart, and all were greeted with appreciation. Lampros himself took up a traditional Cretan stringed instrument and sang a couple of local songs. We all finally went to bed around midnight, all of us understanding that we had just shared a special experience that was authentic and unique. Definitely not something you’ll get at your next Best Western.
Thronos itself is lovely, and everyone you see as you walk through its narrow main street will greet you warmly. There is a spectacularly frescoed small Byzantine church in its center; as soon as you approach it, someone will come out of a local shop with the key and show you around. Afterwards, they will invite you to visit the shop, and you should do so, not only from a sense of courtesy but also because the store sells a wide variety of excellent locally made products that are ridiculously cheap. These include a bewildering array of cordials, each one more delicious than the last (they sample generously), and all for three or four Euros a bottle. They are made by Antonias (husband of the above-mentioned Zavroula), a kind, gentle man who a few years back abandoned city living in Athens for a simpler life in this tiny village in the heart of Crete.
In short, Thronos and Aravanes together make a wonderful place, one of the most memorable stays I have experienced in a lifetime of wandering around the world. I recommend it highly to anyone who is a traveler rather than a tourist, and whose appreciation of local culture goes beyond a superficial zooming through the Top Ten sights in the guidebook.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Traditional rent rooms and taverna in Amari Rethymno Crete. Just 9 kilometers from Arkadi Monastery, near ancient Eleutherna. The place is built at a picturesque village Thronos at the ruins of Ancient Sivritos. It has panoramic view on Amari valley and on Psiloritis ( mountain Ida), the highest mountain of Crete. Most of the rooms are recently renovated and offer relaxing moments to our guests. Visitors can taste genuine Cretan dishes at our taverna. Guests can participate in a wide range of activities such as hiking, collecting herbs and flowers, making bread in the wood oven,wash their clothes in a traditional way using ash,painting lessons,knitting Cretan patterns lessons. A Aravanes is a family business and everyone who seeks a genuine Cretan experience is welcome to share unique moments together!! ... more less
- Also Known As:
- Aravanes Thronos, Crete