Bristol Business News Travel: Joining in with single-minded guests on a solo holiday in Crete

August 15, 2019

Keen to get away but your friends haven’t got any holiday left? Solo trips are one of the travel industry’s fastest-growing trends. Bristol Business News travel editor Anne Gorringe headed off to Crete and a hotel specialising in individual travellers to find out what all the fuss is about… 

Stripping off my walking boots, I make for the water’s edge. A quick paddle proves the perfect way to cool down after a stunning coastal walk overlooking beautiful Kissamos Bay in north west Crete.

Heading back over the pebbles, I join my group for a leisurely late lunch at a beautiful beachside taverna. My mouth waters as I sit down, spotting the waiter, already laden down with a tray of fresh bread, salad and tzatziki heading towards us.

He quickly follows with some fried courgette flowers in batter, sweetened pumpkin, slow-cooked mutton and a carafe of local wine.

Left: Walking into Ravdoucha for lunch at Waves On The Rock

The wonderful thing about someone else organising your walking trip is that everything is, quite simply, taken care of.

From the minibus that dropped off my group at the start point for our 8km cliff-top hike, to a well-earned meal, ready and waiting.

Then, as plates are cleared, our driver springs into action to return us to our base at the boutique Mistral Hotel at Maleme, near Chania, in western Crete.

Solo holidays are booming, with more companies than ever increasing their offering – thankfully, this also means an end to the outdated stigma around them.

But the Mistral, which has specialised in what they prefer to call ‘social holidays for independent travellers’ for more than 26 years, is way ahead of the current trend. 

Right: Exploring the beach near Maleme

Its high number of repeat bookings is a testament to a successful formula. It has done away with single supplements and the sociable, communal dinners it stages are popular. Guests sit next to different guests each night and so meet new people in a relaxed setting. Plus, the food is impressive, offering speciality local dishes and a taste of ‘authentic Crete’, paired with local wine. 

I’m drawn by the opportunity of a holiday where I get to choose exactly how I want to spend my days – whether that’s jumping on the local bus to Chania or joining a walking group.

The benefit to me, as a singleton, is knowing that I’ll be back in the hotel in the evening to join in with the sociable meals.

The hotel arranges a great variety of trips – most to spectacular ‘out-of-the-way’ locations, difficult to reach by public transport.

My favourite is a day to Loutro, a village on Crete’s south coast and which is only accessible by boat.

Left: A road sign riven by bullet holes

It begins with a minibus ride through the White Mountains, heading to the harbour in Sfakia where we catch our private boat.

Crucially, my hosts’ in-depth local knowledge adds to the enjoyment. Day trips are a key part of any Mistral stay and either hotel owners – in this case the Gialamarakis family – or their friends and relatives, lead the tours.

It’s while driving on the mountain pass that I suddenly notice that all the roadside signs have holes in them.

My driver gives me a potted history of the area, likening the south of Crete to ‘a bit like the Wild West’. Not, he stresses, that it’s a dangerous place but in as much as the locals in this remote area see themselves as true survivors and the ‘real Cretans’.

Their reasoning is that this part of the island has never been conquered. Guns and hunting are still part very much part of daily life here and so locals use the road signs for target practice – though not, I’m assured, when cars are on the road!

Right: The landing point café at Sweet Water Bay on Crete’s south coast

Sfakia itself is famous as a key site in the evacuation of Allied troops in 1941 during the Battle of Crete. Our boat is ready and waiting and our skipper, complete with big bushy beard, bares more than a passing resemblance to Captain Birdseye and quickly gets us moving to our first mid-morning stop – coffee and a swim at secluded Sweet Water Bay.

Back on board, it’s a short journey along the coastline to Loutro, where we are greeted by the sight of a pretty harbour full of white tavernas and pensions. Walking past fishermen mending their nets, we follow our host, heading for a waterside restaurant overlooking the bay. Stunning.

If spectacular sandy beaches are more your thing, don’t miss the trip to Elafonisi Bay. Uniquely, the sand here has a pink hue due to minute shell and coral fragments broken down over time by the sea.

Left: Lunch at a waterside taverna in Loutro

The wide beach is surrounded by rocky outcrops and, after a spot of sunbathing, I couldn’t resist hiring a windsurfer to get out on the water.

Solo holidays offer both the chance to meet new people and the opportunity to pursue a favourite pastime – perhaps one that your friends don’t share – be it art or yoga.

The Mistral is open for from April to October and throughout the season has a daily programme of optional events, ranging from wine-tasting to history trips.

Additional, speciality ‘walking weeks’ are held in May and October – with hikes increasing in difficulty each day. One of the most famous treks in western Crete is the 17km Samaria Gorge walk, which is only possible in summer.

In winter and spring, rivers run through the gorge, carrying the melted snow from the White Mountains. But it’s dry and boulder-strewn in the summer months, providing the longest, and most stunning, gorge walk in Europe.

Right: Magical Elafonisi – look out for the pink sheen of the sand

If food is more your passion, hotel owner Vassilis Gialamarakis has this summer launched a special ‘taste of Crete’ week offering foraging sessions, plus a visit to Youphoria Villas to learn how to cook the famed Kakavia fish soup.

Great food and drink are a key part of any stay at the Mistral. Vassilis says: “We like our guests to experience Cretan life as it really is and eating all locally-sourced food is a big part of that.”

The Gialamarakis family own olive groves and their traditional Cretan meals are a highlight of any stay and perhaps one of the secrets behind the high number of their repeat bookings.

Popular dishes at the communal dinners include papoutsakia (aubergines stuffed with minced beef and vegetables with béchamel sauce) and Cretan boureki (layers of potato and courgette with Mizithra goat cheese and mint, topped with pastry).

Greek favourites are not forgotten with aubergine and minced beef moussaka and stifado (tomato-based casserole with chestnuts, shallots and chunks of beef/tuna/veal) included in the menu.

Left: Pomegranates growing near the Mistral Hotel 

The sociable nature of the Mistral’s dinners means each evening I met fellow guests from across the UK as well as a few Americans.

I admit I’d been apprehensive about the prospect of my first-ever solo holiday and had been pleasantly surprised when two of my single friends belatedly decided to come along and join me on my Cretan adventure.

Was that cheating? Actually, it worked well as we all have different interests and spent some days apart. We also made an effort to sit independently at dinner and get to know more of our fellow guests.

I went on more of the organised walks and they explored more of the local towns. It was great to share our individual adventures in the evening over communal drinks at the bar.

The verdict? The success of the week does, to an extent, depend on the other guests. The great thing to remember is that everyone has chosen to book a hotel where communal meals are part of the deal – so everyone is open to being sociable and friendly.

The majority of guests when I was there were female – although every week is different and percentages of men and women vary from week to week – and most tend to fall into 35-50 age range.

Right: One of the two hotel pools at the Mistral

Typically, while around two-thirds of the women who stayed at the Mistral during the week I visited were travelling with a companion, most of the men were genuine ‘solo travellers’.

Vasillis says that traditionally men easily sign up for all-male group holidays, like skiing, where the offer of a mixed and friendly environment is a big draw for them. However, they need more encouragement to try something new.

“Men take a lot more nurturing and persuading to come on a holiday of this type on their own,” he says.

His advice? “Come with an open mind and you will enjoy it. Our experience has been that guests often make long-term friends on holiday here and meet people who they go on to have other holidays with.”


The Mistral Hotel has 35 rooms with free wi-fi, a spa and two pools.

Walking weeks continue until October 1. The hotel has links with other companies to offer a range of events from scuba diving to yoga on a stand-up paddle board and wine-tasting sessions. Day trips are extra – my trip to Loutro cost €78 and it is €40 for a day in Elafonisi.

Prices start from £788 for a seven-night, half-board stay including breakfast and evening meal with wine and coffee (not including flights).

Chania Airport in Crete is the nearest to the Mistral. Ryanair flies direct from Bristol to Chania.

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