White River Cottages is a good example of how to turn authentic old run-down houses into a lovely, attractive and contemporary accommodation without doing harm to the original style and natural surroundings. In the 1980’s Vangelis Mavrakis bought a couple of old ruins, which used to serve as a shelter for the olive farmers. Many people called him crazy: which tourist wants to stay in the interior of the island? The coast is the place to be! But Vangelis persisted and personally created and constructed his own little paradise. Located at the foothill of the beautiful Pefki Gorge and in the middle of old olive groves.

He proved his friends wrong, because nowadays, if you are driving along the south-east coast towards the White River Cottages, you get mixed feelings: the coastal villages certainly have a charming atmosphere, as if the Greek 70’s never went by, but you also see a lot of unfinished buildings which spoil the landscape. But don’t let that scare you off! Through a narrow path, you wind your way through to the White River Cottages, 5 minutes from the coast of Makris Gialos, and you find yourself in another world.

The Dutch manager is Iris. She is very helpful and she can give you lot of good tips about trips, beaches and tavernas. When Vangelis is not in Heraklion, he moves around the property almost unnoticed. By accident, I almost took him as the gardener. He can passionately tell you about the area and his White River Cottages project.

The complex consists of 12 cottages and studio’s that blend into the natural surroundings. You can find a lot of old knotty olive trees, which have endured the ravages of time, almost growing against the walls of the cottages. It was very special to look at the ‘before and after’ renovation pictures Vangelis showed me. What a job it must have been to create this beautiful final result.

All the cottages and studios ooze with style and local atmosphere and they all have something unique. One has a larger terrace; another has a sea view; again another has a larger bathroom. They are all well-appointed and convenient. I stayed in one of the largest cottages. It had a separate bedroom, kitchen/living room with extra sofa beds for the kids and a spacious modern bathroom with lovely natural shower amenities from the Greek brands Korres and Apivita (my new personal favourite) and a sheltered terrace.

The heart of the complex is filled with a beautiful large pool. Vangelis also stuck to his own ideas with this pool, while others told him that it would do harm to the surroundings. He thought this was a great asset for such an accommodation – if done carefully. He was right. It’s a great place to read your book and take a refreshing dip once in a while. Also a perfect place for kids to meet up and play. White River Cottages is a good place to stay with your kids. I wouldn’t recommend it to parents with infants and toddlers because of the stony stairs at the complex.

There is a lot to explore in the area from beautiful hidden bays, with crystal clear water, to local tavernas and great hikes (ask Iris). The highlight was the Pefki Gorge walk, starting right next to the cottages. A hike of about 1.5 hours to the white village of Pefki. A perfect place to have lunch or dinner is taverna Piperia, where you can sit under a huge peppertree. They can call you a taxi for your return to the cottages if you don’t fancy the walk back.

White River Cottages brings a lovely tranquil and authentic atmosphere to your vacation. From here you can perfectly explore the south-east and even a part of the north of Crete!

Do you want more inside information about Crete? Read my blog ‘Crete Pure Nature!’.