Destination Guide


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Greece’s largest and southernmost island offers a mix of beautiful beaches, historic ruins and glamorous hotels. Vast and amazingly diverse, the island’s topography ranges from the snow-capped peaks of the White Mountains to miles of pristine golden sands on the southern coast. Traditional mountain villages and dramatic ravines attract hikers year-round, but beach lovers are guaranteed great weather from April to October.


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View from Restaurant at Blue Palace, Crete, Greece

Blue Palace

Elounda is synonymous with luxury and this sprawling resort is no exception. On a hillside three kilometers from Elounda, it’s set apart from the surrounding hotels but also from the sea: a road separates the resort from the pebble beach, which is accessible via cable car. If the location is a little awkward, the views across the bay to the island of Spinalonga are glorious. 142 of the rooms and villas have private pools (be sure to ask for a heated pool, especially in low season).

Modern architecture, featuring local stone, marble and traditional pebble mosaics, makes subtle references to the island’s Arab, Turkish and Venetian influences. The striking lobby with its soaring arches is a faithful replica of the Venetian Arsenali (shipyard) in the harbor of Heraklion. Clusters of rooms in neutral, terracotta tones are scattered around the slopes to maximize sea views. Owner Costanza Sbokou, an interior designer, oversaw every detail of the design. (Her husband owns Costa Navarino, another Luxury Collection Resort & Spa in the Peloponnese.)

The five Asian and Mediterranean restaurants are a tad generic. The exception is Blue Door, an adorable fish taverna perched at the water’s edge. (It’s a short walk from Plaka, a pretty fishing village with more authentic tavernas.) The Elounda Spa & Thalassotherapy, with 23 treatment rooms, two couple’s suites, and a heated indoor pool is also by the beach. Family spa packages are a treat for teenagers, but kids of all ages are well catered for with a huge range of activities, from Cretan dancing to swimming lessons. All kids get their own welcome pack, bathrobes, and toiletries—a nice touch. It’s a popular venue for weddings too; look out for the olive trees with hand-carved signs commemorating the newlyweds who planted them.

Aerial View - Elounda Beach Hotel and Villas, Crete, Greece

Elounda Beach Hotel and Villas

The first fully-fledged five-star resort in Greece, Elounda Beach put this sleepy fishing village in northeast Crete on the map back in 1971. Since then, half a dozen pretenders have squeezed into Mirabello bay, jostling for a sea-view slot, but Elounda Beach still has prime position. It’s owned and run by the local Mantonanakis family, who have been in the hospitality industry for over half a century (their luxury portfolio includes several properties on Crete, as well as others on Nafplion and Lagonissi on the Greek mainland). Over half the guests are repeaters—mostly affluent older couples, families (there’s a well-run Kids Club and watersports galore), and the occasional celeb toning up and trimming down at the Espace Vitalité Chenot spa (upgraded in 2014).

Set in 40 acres of gardens overlooking a private beach, the resort is spread out so that couples and kids are segregated. With 245 rooms, suites, bungalows, and villas across seven different categories, choosing the right lodgings can be mind-boggling. Sleekest of all are the Yachting Villas, curvaceous waterfront suites designed to feel like superyachts, with counter-current plunge pools, retractable video projectors, and glass doors leading to teak decks.

The drawback to being the oldest kid on the block is that parts of the resort could use an update. There are eight restaurants serving everything from Polynesian to ‘bio-light’ cuisine, but the award-winning Dionysus is the only one that consistently gets rave reviews. Concierge services for the high-maintenance guests range from private jets to synchronized swimmers (yes, really).

Master Bedroom at Saint Nicolas Bay, Crete, Greece

Saint Nicolas Bay

The big draw at this quietly glamorous resort is that every room has a sea view. Though it opened in 1986, St. Nicolas Bay still feels fresh thanks to successive renovations by the architect-owner George Alexandrakis. Unlike most mega-resorts on the Cretan coastline, this secluded hideaway is independently run. Most of the friendly team has been around for decades. The star of the show is the white-haired GM, Costas Zarbalas, who seems to be everywhere at once.

Built from granite from the quarries near Elounda, the hotel is decorated in soothing natural hues. Its 107 rooms and suites are split into three one-and two-storey complexes, surrounded by lemon, orange, palm and olive trees. Standard rooms with large terraces or balconies are the size of junior suites elsewhere. But not all rooms are equal, so it’s worth splashing out for your own infinity pool (heated in cooler months). Top of the range are the six Thalassa Villas with endless blue views of Mirabello bay.

Facilities include five restaurants, an open-air cinema, and the top-notch Poseidon Spa, with breezy sea-view cabanas. There’s a games room, kids club and pool, but most children will be perfectly happy pottering about on the sheltered, sandy beach. For the energetic, there’s water skiing, windsurfing, scuba diving, and a 34-foot sailboat and motorboat for exploring the Cretan coastline. It’s one mile from Agios Nikolaos, a fashionable fishing port lined with boutiques, café, bars and restaurants. It’s less swanky and more laidback than Elounda Beach, just along the coast.

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