I devour books when I go on holiday but I’ve never had one come to life in quite the same way as when I stayed at Blue Palace, A Luxury Collection Resort and Spa, Crete. You see, while I had my nose deep in Victoria Hislop’s The Island, I was actually enjoying sweeping views of Spinalonga, a former leper colony, on which the plot is based.
This wasn’t the only unforgettable experience of my stay. Flanked by rugged mountains, the resort is the epitome of chic minimalism, its architecture inspired by the Arabian, Ottoman and Venetian influences on the region. Despite making a style statement, the wood and natural pink-hued stones of the buildings blend seamlessly into the natural backdrop so everything feels very understated. And unlike many hotels, every room has a sea view, which trust me, you’ll be mesmerised by. I stayed in a superior bungalow with a private pool, which was bigger than my London flat, and furnished in beautiful shades of azure blue and stone – colours you’ll see everywhere around the island. I could have happily moved in.
There are also suites of different sizes and, for larger parties, villas that can accommodate up to eight guests. Another thing to mention: the luxurious surroundings at this resort are matched only by the friendly service. By the end of my stay I was on first name terms with our lovely waiters who couldn’t have been more helpful in their food and wine recommendations or more informative about Cretan culture and history.
What to do
With three main outdoor swimming pools, one indoor pool, a water sports centre (fly-board, waterskiing and diving classes are all available) and a kids club, there really is something for every member of the family. But if you fancy a break from lounging by the crystal clear waters of the bay, I’d advise visiting Spinalonga. From the resort it’s a five-minute speedboat ride there – just be sure to embark well before lunchtime when a lot of the cruise ships arrive with daytrippers. For just 8 euros you can walk through the deserted houses, school and church on the island – something I found profoundly moving as you begin to understand just how isolated daily existence was for these lepers and how tangibly close they were to the families they had to leave behind.
The resort can also organise a wine and cheese tasting experience on a traditional Caique fishing boat while sailing around the island. Cretan wines are experiencing a revival and I can vouch for just how good these local sun-soaked grapes taste. For a family adventure, the resort can arrange for an amazing BBQ lunch on an isolated beach after snorkelling. There’s also the opportunity for budding chefs to try their hand at a Greek Cooking lesson or go hiking up one of the nearby trails.
How to relax
The award-winning Elounda Spa is the ideal after-sun sanctuary featuring three thalassotherapy pools so your muscles and joints can benefit from the sea water and jet sessions; 24 treatment rooms; a 24/7 fitness centre and hair salon. The menu is extensive and includes everything from the usual hotel spa fare like Deep Tissue Massage to a Traditional Olive Oil Massage and the head-to-toe Aphrodite Beauty Ritual (which includes salt exfoliation, candle massage, relaxing facial and nourishing hair mask), as well as made-to-measure pre and post sun treatments by French brand Anne Semonin.
Where to eat
Blue Palace, a Luxury Collection Resort and Spa, has five restaurants and two bars on site, all with very different cuisine so you are spoilt for choice. A typical American style buffet breakfast is served at Olea while lunchtime is typically spent at Isola, where Italian dishes combine summery salads and fresh seafood. While Isola Beach Club, with its relaxed boho ambience and spiral stone building, serves up light dishes and cocktails under olive trees as the DJ mixes some chilled out tunes.
Anthos features a new breed of Greek cuisine, serving up flavourful plates around the open air kitchen where you can watch the chefs cook first hand. If you want a break from local cuisine, try Asia Deep Blue, with its delicious Japanese and Thai inspired gyozas, bao buns and sushi.
But my absolute favourite dining spot was Blue Door, a tiny family run taverna on the sea front offering Cretan cuisine and fresh fish with a contemporary twist. It’s the sort of place you’d normally find in a quaint fishing village off the beaten track rather than in a 5-star resort, but it is this very contradiction that made it so appealing.
When to go
With the near-guarantee of sunshine, June-August are peak times to visit Crete. But what makes Blue Palace, a Luxury Collection Resort and Spa so appealing is that it is works equally well as a last-minute holiday in September, when the heat is broken up by a light breeze, as it does a long weekend to recharge your batteries or a two week family holiday. And once you are there you have everything you can possibly need on site, including a helipad should you choose to arrive in style!
Prices starts from 235EUR for aSuperior Bungalow Sea View room (including taxes & breakfast).
The following airlines travel from UK to Crete:
Ø British Airways
Ø Thomas Cook Airlines