CRETE EX­PEC­TA­TIONS

SHEILA BEGUM finds the Greek is­land makes the per­fect spot for some win­ter fun in the sun

Harefield Gazette - - Get Away -

THE Greek is­lands hold a spe­cial place for me – they are where I got mar­ried and hon­ey­mooned, and in­stantly fell in love with its charm, its at­mo­spheric vil­lages and monas­ter­ies, world-class mu­se­ums and a laid-back life­style.

My hus­band and I have been want­ing to go back and ex­plore some of the other is­lands, and Crete pro­vided the per­fect win­ter sun get­away.

In many ways Crete is ex­cep­tional. It is the largest Greek is­land, has the most di­verse mix of land­scapes, and stands far to the south of most of the rest of the coun­try. Bits of it are rem­i­nis­cent of other parts of Greece, but on the whole it stands alone and has its own un­mis­tak­able cul­ture and at­mos­phere.

The north coast of the is­land is the most pop­u­lated area, and most well known to tourists.

Her­ak­lion is the is­land’s cap­i­tal – and where we landed. To the east of the Is­land is Agios Niko­laos, one of the is­land’s ma­jor re­sort, and not far from our des­ti­na­tion Elounda.

Once a sim­ple fish­ing vil­lage, Elounda has be­come an up­mar­ket tourist des­ti­na­tion – though it has man­aged to re­tain its charm that orig­i­nally drew vis­i­tors to this tiny re­sort in the first place.

It is an ideal des­ti­na­tion for peo­ple who want a sea­side hol­i­day in a place that is nei­ther too busy, nor too iso­lated, hav­ing a spec­tac­u­lar coast­line, shaded beaches, crys­tal clear seas and arche­o­log­i­cal in­ter­est.

Our Cre­tan ac­com­mo­da­tion was at the five-star lux­ury Elounda Mare Re­lais & Cha­teux, which is part of fam­ily-owned Elounda Ho­tels & Re­sorts complex – three low-rise sis­ter ho­tels share fa­cil­i­ties in­clud­ing a nine-hole golf course and sump­tu­ous Six Senses Spa, but have their own dis­tinct area, with an olive grove be­tween them.

This is a se­cluded five-star re­sort with spa­cious, white­washed rooms and suites which are el­e­gantly dec­o­rated in soft tones cre­at­ing a serene at­mos­phere. We stayed in a suite in the main wing with a sea view bal­cony.

On ar­rival it was great to see that they had a cot set up for our twoyear-old son, and there was plenty of space for him to run around, although he spent most of his time on the bal­cony, where, like his mum and dad, he wanted to ad­mire the view across to Mirabello Bay.

Staff were friendly and wel­com­ing from the mo­ment we stepped in with wel­come drinks on ar­rival and plenty of ad­vice on how to keep our toddler en­ter­tained.

They of­fer plenty of chil­dren’s ac­tiv­i­ties in the neigh­bour­ing complex, but our lit­tle one was con­tent play­ing on the re­sort’s pri­vate beach.

There are not many hol­i­days we go on where we end up stay­ing in the re­sort for a full week, but that’s ex­actly what we did. And for mid-Oc­to­ber, the weather was glo­ri­ous at 27 de­grees.

The pri­vate golden beach was only a few min­utes walk through the ho­tel’s gar­dens, and was per­fectly set up for a small fam­ily.

The en­closed bay was small, but as it was Oc­to­ber and off-peak, it wasn’t too crowded. There were plenty of beds and I didn’t have to once worry about my son wan­der­ing off.

The golden soft sand and clear wa­ter was a win­ner for us. Most morn­ings we were able to spot tiny fish swim­ming right up to the shore and cir­cling our toes.

Bar and food ser­vice at the beach is also avail­able. The beach menu is sim­ple of­fer­ing ev­ery­thing from pani­nis, sal­ads to burg­ers with a range of cock­tails.

How­ever, just a few steps away is also the Yacht Club, which over­looks the sea and of­fers a range of fresh sea food – the seafood plat­ter of char­grilled shrimp, oc­to­pus and cala­mari tossed in an olive oil, lemon and oregano dress­ing – is a must.

While sun­bathing was my forte, my hus­band was up for some­thing more ad­ven­tur­ous. Again just a few yards away was the res­i­dent waters­ports in­struc­tor.

Af­ter watch­ing other ho­tel guests take a ride on the jet ski, my hus­band fi­nally took the plunge. At 60 eu­ros it was pretty much a bar­gain, and he went back the fol­low­ing day.

I pre­ferred to treat my­self at the re­sort’s award win­ning Six Senses Spa. Treat­ments in­clude the Aegean Breeze treat­ment (a scrub us­ing lo­cal is­land salt and olive oil) and a Sense of Greece (a 2.5 hour-long hy­drat­ing and nour­ish­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that in­cludes a gen­tle ex­fo­li­a­tion, an­tiox­i­dant fa­cial and power mas­sage). I went for the hour Thai Mas­sage. The masseuse was gen­tle and ac­tu­ally lis­tened to what I said.

As we were stay­ing on a half board, we had the op­tion of break­fast and din­ner at the main restau­rant. Thank­fully this is not a buf­fet restau­rant and smart dress is a must.

There are three restau­rants at the ho­tel, all with sea views. The Deck serves up gen­er­ous break­fasts with a view, and the Yacht Club, as men­tioned is a Mediter­ranean beach restau­rant of­fer­ing fresh seafood and tra­di­tional lo­cal dishes.

The gas­tro­nomic high­light here is the award-win­ning Old Mill, set around an an­cient mill­stone, its set­ting is as charm­ing as its menu, which spe­cialises in Cre­tan cui­sine cre­ated from lo­cal in­gre­di­ents.

If you’re not one for lay­ing by the beach all day, why not head out to the town of Agios Niko­laos, a 10 mins drive from Elounda. While there is plenty to see and do, it is a touristy des­ti­na­tion, but peo­ple are friendly and help­ful. Most nights they have en­ter­tain­ment on the main square too and we en­joyed the tra­di­tional Greek mu­sic and danc­ing.

The restau­rants are tai­lored to­wards tourists, so the food isn’t the best. How­ever if you want to try lo­cal cui­sine there are plenty of tav­er­nas in Elounda vil­lage.

Elounda Mare Re­lais & Cha­teux has been de­signed to cre­ate an ex­clu­sive and el­e­gant at­mos­phere and it cer­tainly does that with ease.

The re­sort is not only great for a win­ter/sun break, but is a won­der­ful des­ti­na­tion to re­lax, eat great lo­cally sourced fresh food and for­get about life for a while. The grounds are beau­ti­ful, the views breath­tak­ing, and the am­bi­ence sooth­ing. The per­fect get­away for a young fam­ily.

The beau­ti­ful sur­round­ings at the Elounda Mare Re­lais and Cha­teux in Crete

Stun­ning blue wa­ters off the Elounda Mare Re­lais and Cha­teux

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