Crete’s Hotel Doma: Seafront Heritage Spot to Reopen for 2023
One of my favorite historic hotels, Chania’s beloved Doma, will welcome guests again next month
Great news, world travelers! Hotel sources tell me that on 12 April, Crete’s greatest historic hotel will reopen for its 50th season (my math considers some time lost due to closure during the pandemic).
If you’re visiting Greece for spring, summer or fall 2023 holidays, this unforgettable hilltop hotel just east of Chania’s Venetian old town is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, bringing you back to a bygone era. Cretan hospitality, an eccentric array of period furnishings, and delicious seasonal food and drink all make the Doma worth the splurge.
This is the sort of place where people reserve years in advance, and return to as if it was their own home, knowing that the same kindness and cheerful hospitality of its dedicated owners will be there to greet them.
My Love of the Hotel Doma
I first featured the Hotel Doma while researching the Lonely Planet Greece, Greek Islands and Crete guides in 2009. Although most general Crete tourists prefer to stay right down by the waterfront, beside all the tavernas and Venetian architecture of the port, long experience in the city had told me that hotels here can be both loud and full of bugs.
However, a five-minute ride up the hill east along the coast (on Venizelos St.) in the neighborhood of Halepa, I found the Hotel Doma standing out like a beacon: a grand white neoclassical structure, looking out to sea, over a facing cliff that guarded a small beach. The same road leads to the former (somewhat neglected) mansion of the Greek king and the (rather better preserved) house-museum of Eleftherios Venizelos, celebrated Cretan insurrectionist against the Turks and later prime minister of Greece.
I included the hotel in the guidebook not simply for its location, sumptuous accommodation, delectable seasonal food and cleanliness, but also for the astounding stories that came with it. The owners, sisters Rena and Ioanna Koutsoudaki, grew up in the house and remain remarkable founts of local knowledge on everything that has transpired during Crete’s turbulent 20th-century history. They are always kind and happy to speak with guests about this history, and how their family home played a part in historic events, particularly WWII and its aftermath.
A Brief History
Built in the late 19th century, the original mansion was used as a consulate for the late Austro-Hungarian Empire in Chania, when it featured a small vineyard in the back. Later, some years after WWI, when that empire was dissolved, the property was acquired by the Koutsoudaki family. In 1940, they were persuaded to lease it to the British government, to use as its consulate (there are still antiques attesting to that function inside).
Then, during the Nazi occupation of Greece, the Germans seized the building as their own consulate. After the war, the British briefly reopened it as a consulate, when the expansion of the nearby Souda Bay naval base was going on and Greece entered the new NATO. But as part of their general de-colonization and geographical retraction program, the British returned the property to the family. Still, even though it would not be until 1972 that the Doma was opened by the Koutsoudaki sisters as a hotel, it retained an aristocratic, diplomatic grace- in everything from the period furnishings to the sweeping sea views, to the perfect way it presents its breakfast, with fried eggs on hot toast accompanied by English tea.
Rooms and Furnishings
The Hotel Doma (see official website here) offers 20 rooms and suites, all individually furnished and unique. While not enormous or as modern as some of the luxury resorts in Elounda in Eastern Crete, the point of the place is quite different. It is all about the timeless atmosphere cultivated, in everything from the décor to the complementary lemonades served in the back garden, and the feeling of being transported singularly to a microcosm of another, somehow similar yet totally vanished world.
If you have luck, and the kind proprietors are free, it is well learning something about the history of the house and indeed, Crete. I have fond memories of Kyria Rena telling me of her own childhood ‘memories of Venizelos.’ That was one of my favorite boxed texts (special sections) I contributed to any Lonely Planet guide.
The sisters also contributed to a relatively recent book (in Greek) which featured unique reminisces of the Second World War from several Cretans who had survived it. Despite their age, the charming and kind sisters have remarkably keen memories and insights on the Crete of yesteryear, and today.
While the hotel was closed during the pandemic for an extended period and renovated, it reopened successfully afterward.
In early March 2023, I was informed that before this year’s seasonal opening on 20 April, the hotel has been undergoing some routine painting upkeep (but not any serious renovation). However, a couple weeks later, the hotel informed me they will open earlier, on 12 April instead.
I’ve chosen, with the hotel’s kind permission, to include in this article their own official photos, which are both more recent than my own and which show the exterior of the hotel, its sea view, and intriguing décor in the rooms and breakfast nook. By visiting the website, curious visitors to Crete can find out even more about trip-planning, prices, dates and availability.
When in West Crete…
If you stay in Chania, some of the top things to do in the west of Crete are:
-Visit the Old Venetian town and try out the local food, drink and live traditional music
-Take a boat trip along the northwestern Gramvousa Peninsula, to the sublime islet beach of Balos, where the Mediterranean and Sea of Crete mix and children can enjoy warm and shallow bathing on perfect sand
-Head southwest to the whimsical fishing town of Paleochora, passing through great traditional villages, enjoying spectacular nature
-Hike the Samaria Gorge, if you’re feeling limber, from Omalos down to the Libyan Sea, returning by boat to Sfakia and back up by bus (many local travel agencies arrange excursions though you can also do it yourself).
You make me want to book a one-way ticket! Deeply evocative piece
Dear readers, please note the update- since date of original publication, the Hotel Doma has chosen it will reopen 8 days earlier than originally planned, on 20 April 2023. So for anyone headed to Crete next month, you can keep it in mind!