An unexpected invitation, a weekday excursion, and the promise of bread and wine. It appeared someone had read my previous article about Heraklion and decided to take me up on my comment that I should return to Crete near-immediately. It was a treat to find the invitation in my inbox, and the words ‘food’, ‘drink’, and ‘Crete’ attached to it. This surprise summons was for the grand opening of the delectable restaurant Papi Osteria Caffeteria, part of Heraklion’s popular and much-discussed Legacy Gastro Suites.
Open for Business
This ‘grand opening’ was tinged with a relatable and a rather zeitgeist familiarity – the hotel and restaurant, like so many, had been affected by a certain world event that had shuttered businesses, stolen away tourists, and crippled the global economy – and our ability to travel.
It was a bittersweet note arriving for the grand reopening of the hotel that would have thrived if not for the pandemic. Seeing the hardworking and hopeful staff crossing their fingers for the place’s resurrection was certainly inspiring. The hotel and restaurant, after such a wait, didn’t disappoint. This feeling was shared among the other guests: an eclectic mix of local critics and reviewers, switched-on influencers, curious locals, and eager travellers. They’d all assembled for the 18th of May’s introductory celebrations, and the vibe was very much one of relaxation, consideration, and relief.
With stunning views of both the city and the Mediterranean from its sea view suites and a 1950s inspiration to the décor, there’s a classic sense of tranquillity at play here. Subtle escapism, and a real feeling of bygone disconnect from the hustle and bustle of the city around it. Arriving at the hotel was like arriving at a quiet library on a remote island: books line the walls, carpets and rugs adorn the floors, and cosy furniture will be your salvation after a long journey. This library-chic is stylish, unexpected, and exceptionally homely. The staff – our helpful librarians – come alive in the space. They feel proud of it, welcoming, and – importantly – enthused that their arrivals for the opening are poring over their surroundings like an engaging novel. This isn’t to say that the hotel doesn’t feel modern – it does, but with a period veneer over its contemporary functionality. You’ll find Wi-Fi everywhere, for example, but the atmosphere of timeless wonderment and post-War freedom has a much stronger connection.
Lighting the Way
The ground floor restaurant, our host for the evening, you can tell has been meticulously planned and prepared during its unprecedented sabbatical. Papi tailored its menu towards an Italian/Mediterranean scene with Greek influences and that Cretan hospitality one looks forward to. From inside a grand chandeliered and somewhat regal dining room or outside on a well-lit, romantic terrace, diners can experience a range of pizzas and pasta, seafood dishes, and fine wines. Some of the diners noted that this was some of the most enjoyable Italian food I’d sampled throughout Greece.
Of my dining options, I was recommended the Cotoletta alla Milanese by my talkative waiter. Her eagerness and enthusiasm for the space shone as bright as the table lanterns around me, certainly reflective of the good time transpiring at the opening. I, perhaps, would’ve opted for one of the seven pizza options offered on the menu (including truffle!) but I can never turn down a recommendation – partially out of social awkwardness, but why wouldn’t you take an expert’s advice? I’ll admit, I’m yet to be disappointed by a Cretan’s recommendation – the Cotoletta alla Milanese was inspirational. A tender veal schnitzel, crispy from the breadcrumbs, and served with Lyonnaise potatoes. Truly Italian food done right. This perfectly complemented the gnocchi with braised beef I’d chosen as my appetiser, washed down with a house red and a glass of vermouth, because why not? If you’re going to go Italian, try the vermouth.
By dessert, the outside dining area was electric with well-fed and well-watered guests; the critics satisfied; the influencers content with the photos they’d taken of their food; the locals pleased to have a fantastic new eatery in their city; and the travellers ready for a well-earned rest. As I over-indulged in my indulgent tiramisu and final glass of vermouth for the evening, the idea of bed was sneaking into my mind’s peripherals too.
Drawing to a Close
My cabin for the night is one of twelve beautiful boutique suites that make up the hotel. Each suite has its own character and stylings, themed after a famous Greek figure. 16th Century painter Doménikos Theotokópoulos – more famously known as El Greco – was the patron of my room, and you could tell from the rich command of colours, Byzantine stained-glass windows, chandelier, and all the gold trimmings. Like one of El Greco’s masterpieces where the attention’s in the detail, the suite also includes
all the modern fittings you’d expect from a luxury stay. A fancy walk-in rainfall shower, a Nespresso machine and mini-bar, complimentary Wi-Fi so you can Instagram your aesthetic abode, a copy of El Greco’s artwork ‘The Annunciation’, and TV – but the sight from the window is unequivocally more enjoyable viewing.
With a beautiful panoramic view of the Port and Mediterranean, and a convenient wine cooler in the room, El Greco’s suite certainly transported me to a place of peace. From the spacious balcony dining area, one could imagine a particularly romantic evening unfolding –
if you aren’t travelling alone like me. My date for the evening would be the complimentary Greek labels in the wine cooler, and the temptation of another vermouth if I ancied pulling myself out of the impossibly comfortable King-sized bed. One wonders if the Palace of Knossos just outside the city walls was ever so lavishly furnished. Legacy certainly tries its best to be a modern-day palace in its unique stylings, attention to detail, and spoiling splendour. However, my suite wasn’t the only example of this historic luxury…
Writing’s on the Wall
One of the influencer types who attached themselves to me at dinner and regaled me with photographs of their dinner allowed me to check out their suite – for inquisitive writing purposes, of course. The irony was not lost on me that their suite was dedicated to literature, learning, and world-revered author Nikos Kazantzakis, of Zorba the Greek fame. I certainly would’ve been home in that suite too, surrounded by books, rugs, armchairs, and everything an influencer fond of the hashtag #librarylife, one of those aesthetic rabbit holes featuring everything from coffee cups on stacked novellas to Cretan hotel rooms that resemble the Library of Alexandra. I spied a copy of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin in a bookcase and agreed that he would probably feel at ease in this 50s-inspired bibliotheque, with the gentle waters of
the Mediterranean just beyond the room’s writing desk.
Another endearing feature of the Legacy Gastro Suites is the in-room gastronomy service. If Papi’s grandeur isn’t your scene or you’re more interested in sampling some traditional Greek delicacies, you can request some ulinary revolutions to be brought instead to your suite. Cold cuts, cheeses, nuts and tapenades, small plates, and local favourites – perfect for accompanying that bottle of wine or glass of… I really should just get out of bed and order that vermouth, shouldn’t I?
After a rejuvenating sleep, my first stop of the day was breakfast back in Papi. You’ve got to try the Cayenne eggs with Cretan sausage and feta cheese. I’m not going to spoil it for you – it’s one of those meals to jump-start your day like no other. You’ll find that they do eggs exceptionally well in Papi, but the selection of bread, Greek yoghurts and honey shouldn’t be passed up either. If you’ve read my previous article, you know I’m all about the bread – and like all the food put in front of me during this excursion, the fresh Greek bread did not disappoint.
After breakfast was the opportune time to reacquaint myself with what’s rapidly becoming a favourite destination. You’re in the heart of the city with this hotel, and everything’s accessible to you via foot. Overlooking the city’s central public space Eleftherias Square, Legacy is also two minutes from the Heraklion Archaeological Museum – somewhere I, unfortunately, missed on my previous trip. I managed it this time, and that’s definitely somewhere you want to check out.
Enjoying the hotel too much for archaelogical exploration? Not to worry – if you’re planning to stay in and around the hotel, food is served throughout the day in the restaurant. A healthy menu of well-roasted coffees, a keen selection of draft beers and ciders, and – of course – wines are also at your disposal. You’ll have to wait for the PM, though, for a certain Italian fortified wine…
I’m elated that my experience at this wonderful hotel – and in its very welcome new restaurant – was so positive. It’s certainly one I’ll return to on my next, and probably imminent, trip to Heraklion. Perhaps next time I’ll have the chance to stay in the writer’s room, or even the third style of suite inspired by Cretan poet Vincenzo Kornaros. Regardless, it’s safe to say that I’ll be back. Especially if invited.
For now, though, what will be the legacy of the Gastro Suites and Papi? A luxurious, bright, and intimate dining experience? A top romantic, boutique city break destination? A firm favourite of the critics and food enthusiasts? I would likely say all of the above.