Melia Daois Cove – image courtesy of Sovereign Luxury Holidays
Hard-partying resorts like Malia may hog the headlines, but beyond them lies a gem of a destination with staggering strength and depth. Indeed, the Med’s fifth-largest island is a cradle of civilisation. Purportedly the birthplace of the god Zeus, Crete is home to major archaeological sites such as the Bronze Age Minoan site of Knossos.
Being just above Gavdos, the most southerly point in Europe, the island also lays claim to the longest summers in Europe. Add to that the cracking Cretan cuisine, and accommodation ranging from wallet-friendly self-catering options and all-inclusives to luxury hotels and secluded villas, and you’ve got a pretty compelling sales proposition.
Operators who have grown their Crete programmes for this summer include Planet Holidays, which has added nine properties, including three Aquis properties and the five-star Avli Lounge Apartments in Rethymnon. Olympic Holidays has added the Ariadne Beach Hotel and Aquis Blue Sea Resort and Spa in Stalis; the Iberostar Creta Panorama and Mare in Rethymnon; and the Triton Hotel in Malia.
“Crete is doing well – better than expected in view of the present difficult market conditions,” says Photis Lambrianides, Olympic Holidays commercial director, who points to the fact that many local hoteliers have pegged their prices over the last two years to make it more attractive.
The main point of entry is the international airport just outside the capital Heraklion on the north coast, with a second near Chania to the west. Some airlines such as easyJet serve both, supporting twin-centre options. Heraklion has a smattering of decent hotel options and sights of its own, not least the Venetian fortress and harbour and the museum, often featured as part of a tour of nearby Knossos.
Of the larger resorts, Hersonissos and Malia need little introduction. A short hop east along the coast from the capital, both are good options for budget breaks – and young’uns looking for nightlife.
Tracy Andrew, product and commercial executive for Greece, says it’s Cosmos’s bestseller for the summer programme, which started on April 26, and to meet demand it has added eight units chosen primarily for the youth market. Along with Elounda, Hersonissos and Malia also feature in the operator’s best value Pricebeater holidays.
One of Dream Holidays’ big sellers is the four-star Royal Belvedere in Hersonissos. Home to five swimming pools and a health and beauty centre, seven nights’ all-inclusive in a standard room through Dream costs from £599, including flights from Gatwick in June (0845 676 7877).
Further east, Elounda has won its fans for its more ‘authentic’ characterful options such as the Elounda Mare. Five-star options include Domes of Elounda, with its impressive spa facilities and two of its three restaurants overseen by a Michelin-starred chef; the sumptuous villas at Elounda Gulf, as featured by CV Travel, which sleep from two to eight people; and the ever-popular Blue Palace Resort & Spa, part of Starwood Hotels’ luxury collection. Amathus Holidays has seven nights’ B&B in a sea view room at the Blue Palace for £899 in May (0844 770 8095).
Seven miles along the bay, the town of Agios Nikolaos is a good spot for water sports, and with the fishing harbour, cliffs and nearby Lake Voulismeni, it’s an enviable spot. Top picks include the St Nicolas Bay Resort Hotel, offered by CV Travel, while recent openings include the Gran Melia Crete, whose neighbouring, sister property, Daios Cove Luxury Resort & Villas, is one of the standout new properties featured by Sovereign Luxury Travel this year.
The two properties will have their first full summer season this year and the hillside setting, sundecks and pier afford cracking views of the Aegean. Further east lie more resorts like Sitia, while the island’s north-eastern tip is home to one of Crete’s busiest beaches, Vai, which fronts an impressive palm forest.
Heading west from Heraklion takes you to sleepy bases like the village of Bali before you reach the port towns of Rethymnon and Chania, the island’s second city. Both boast charming old towns and Venetian harbours and great local beaches like Stavros.
Cosmos has added two new resorts – Stalos, about five miles from Chania, and the quieter Gerani, just under 10 miles from Chania – while Islands of Greece is reporting strong demand for more ‘authentic’ staying experiences, like Vamos Cottages, a collection of renovated guest houses and cottages in Vamos village, a few kilometres inland between Chania and Rethymnon (0845 675 2600).
Sovereign Luxury Travel is offering seven nights half-board at Daios Cove for a discounted £975 for a departure of June 23, based on two sharing a deluxe sea view room. The price includes flights from Gatwick and transfers.
Book it: sovereign.com, 0844 415 1936
Olympic Holidays has seven nights’ all-inclusive at the five-star Aquis Blue Sea in Stalis for £525, based on two sharing, for September departures. The price includes flights from Gatwick and transfers.
Book it: olympicholidays.com, 0844 499 4449
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