Friday, 7 October 2011

The Venetian House of Lion - Chania, Western Crete

A spur-of -the-moment decision to visit the romantic Venetian port of  Chania in western Crete ended up being one of the highlights of the trip

The old “Venetian Quarter” or Old Town is a web of charming, narrow little streets running between magnificent pastel-coloured Venetian houses which sit on a semi circular Venetian Harbour 

.... some have been restored to their former architectural glory, some simply run down, aged and creaking with weeds and vines tenderly vying for space in the cracks in of their walls ....

....each unique
....with a Venetian door here

....a Venetian door knocker there

....and elegant Venetian taps 

I had last visited Chania in 1989 and stayed in an ancient hotel right on the harbour – it was very run down and desperately in need of love - but  the memories still stop me in my tracks today

....the golden light which greeted me every morning as I opened the broken  shutters overlooking the Port
....the wheeling of the swallows as they skimmed the surface of the water and then looped high overhead in the silence of the morning
....the mouth-watering smell of freshly baked bread from the antiquated baker and his wife below

....the empty chairs and empty tables beneath my balcony, patiently waiting for the first customers of the day
I couldn't wait to go back

It was in the back streets of the Old Town that we literally stumbled upon the "House of Lion" -  Casa Leone  - a magnificently restored 600-year old Venetian boutique hotel 

We were awe struck as we walked through an old iron gate and began climbing the stairs around a charming little courtyard....

.... bursting with succulents, Argaves and a tumble of pots

 It didn’t matter that this wasn’t on the waterfront....if there was room - we were staying!

When we walked through the front door we were speechless
Charming Beautiful Breathtaking
Inspiring Glorious Opulent 
Luxurious Classic Romantic 
Oh so romantic 
No words did it justice 
The Turkish Mosque, perfectly reflected in the harbour formed a focal point at the end of the room -  the iron doors onto the little balcony forming a proscenium arch

The April sun shone though the double doors, bouncing off wooden glass-polished floors, sending splinters of light high up to the ceiling

More importantly, the building faced the harbour and had THE view – the same one I recalled so vividly from all those years ago.
I was ecstatic!

Classic period furniture and rich, elegant decor and antiques fill the five exclusive, spacious suites

Each is different and maintains the delicious luxury of the Venetian era whilst offering all mod cons surreptitiously hidden from view

The original owners were Venetians, descendants of a well-known family of musicians named Leone - hence Casa Leone

During Turkish occupation, the home became the residence of a wealthy pasha until Crete became an autonomous state in 1898 and Casa Leone was occupied by a Greek family

During World War II the building was requisitioned by the Germans and turned into their headquarters. The Greek owners of Casa Leone returned at the end of the war until 1951 when they sold it to the family that owns it today

In the late nineties, the building was carefully and painstakingly restored to its former glory under the watchful eye of the Archaeological Service and opened for business as a boutique hotel in 1999

Twenty years on and I am not disappointed. Many of the surrounding buildings have been carefully restored, retaining their old charm but now house chic art galleries, shops, restaurants, cafes and boutique hotels

Renovated, restored or left alone, the architecture along the harbour front reeks of a tortured history as it stands proudly framed by the snow-covered Lefka Ori - White Mountain Range 

The Cretan morning sun still rises golden and the spring swallows still silently reel and the smell of freshly baked bread still lingers at the break of day, 
but now there is a great sense of grandeur ....

.... the perfect synergy of the Past and the Present
.... and more importantly, it lives up to all its memories, plus some!

Thank you to Janny who took this photo of Alexandra and me on our little Casa Leone balcony


  1. Let's go back again to the golden light of Chania one day soon. Your images have transported me to our visit years ago, but I recall narrow beds with mattresses of concrete in a small room in a restored (barely!)Venetian hotel looking out over the splendid view - and not the elegant place you more recently visited. How stunning it is. Thank you again - love Balepy

  2. Gorgeous photos -- each one is truly a postcard! Thanks so much for stopping by my place and sharing your thoughts; I'm looking forward to following your journey as well :)

  3. How utterly beautiful!

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  5. Francesca, how nice to meet you and discover your blog! I've just spent a very happy time browsing through all your posts. Your Crete photos are just fabulous - your pics and words brought back such happy memories of Greek island holidays (and I especially loved your sleeping Santorini dogs and those incredible peacock photos!). Having two rescued dogs myself, your photo of little Milo really stole my heart! Your Sydney surroundings look gorgeous too, and I'm envious that like my Cape Town family and friends, you have a lovely summer stretching ahead. Thanks for your very kind comments, and I look forward to following your posts. Best wishes, Karen.

  6. Thank you Karen I am so glad that they brought back happy memories - photos are such powerful triggers and I am delighted that I am able to do that. F x

  7. Wonderful photos and I love reading along...the one of the faces peeping around the corner especially! She looks around the same age as my daughter... gorgeous
    ciao Lisa

  8. Thank you Lisa - the little one - now 15 is my daughter - it's such a joy travelling with children - they make us see things through their eyes so we see SO much more.
    ciao Francesca

  9. Beautiful Photos! Thank you and we will be happy to see you again!

  10. What a gorgeous place. You must have spent much of your time there behind the lens - a feast for the photographers eyes. Wonderful collection of photos.

  11. Thank you Elyn - it is a photographer's dream - and I will be going back again when I am next in Crete - there is SO much to explore on the island - Chania especially. Fx

  12. Veneza, sempre bela! Não importa a passagem dos anos e até mesmo os estragos cuasados pelo tempo, é e sempre será bela, romântica e misteriosa.
    Adoro! Fiz duas viagens para Veneza que para mim são inesquecíveis.

    Afetuoso abraço
    Maria de Fatima Moraes Rodrigues - Brasil - Rio de Janeiro.

  13. Your photos brought back wonderful memories of our previous visits to Chania. I am so in love with Crete!


I love reading your comments - so please feel free to add something. Thank you! F x


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