‘The private golden beach was a few minutes’ walk from through the hotel’s gardens’
THE Greek islands hold a special place for me – it’s 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 resorts 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 the 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.
Visit the harbour and you can still see fishermen bringing in the day’s catch, children playing while elderly ladies sit by and mend nets, with plenty of traditional tavernas where you can enjoy ouzo or tsikoudia.
Our Cretan accommodation was at the five star luxury Elounda Mare Relais and Chateux, which is part of the family-owned Elounda Hotels and Resorts complex – three low-rise sister hotels that 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. A complimentary golf cart shuttle runs between the hotels and around the resort.
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 two-yearold 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-long Thai Massage. The masseuse was gentle and actually listened to what I said.said Some people like their Thai Massage quite hard and firm, I prefer mine very gentle and often gentle is still too hard. But the masseuse got the pressure just right and I left feeling totally invigorated.
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-minute 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 and 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 also a wonderful destination to relax, eat great locally sourced fresh food, meet interesting people and forget about life for a while.
The grounds are beautiful, the views breathtaking, and the ambience soothing. The perfect Greek getaway for a young family.