Crete, once a magnet for backpackers, now has a selection of luxury resorts offering world-class spa and wellness facilities
On my first visit to Crete, more than 20 years ago, I fell in love with the island but, to be honest, facilities were a bit basic. The road between Elounda and the small village of Plaka was little more than a track, the only landmark being a World War ll German gun emplacement. Two decades later, the bunker is still there, painted white and incorporated into the front wall of the luxury Blue Palace Resort and Spa.
The island was once a magnet for Sixties hippies who lived in beach caves. Today it retains its stunning scenery and relaxed lifestyle but also offers the very best in relaxation and pampering at a cluster of spa resorts.
Blue Palace Resort and Spa
The Blue Palace has truly breathtaking views across the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Mirabello (which means “beautiful view”). Set into a hillside and built from the local honey-coloured stone, it blends perfectly with its surroundings.
The accommodation, from the rooms to the four private villas, is stunning and 142 suites have private infinity pools. There is even a pillow menu for a perfect night’s sleep. There are five restaurants to choose from. One, the tall, domed L’Orangerie, is designed to look like a Venetian boat house. My favourite was the Blue Door, a waterfront taverna that serves some of the freshest fish I have ever tasted.
Across the bay is the fortress island of Spinalonga, which was made world-famous in Victoria Hislop's bestseller, The Island, perfect reading for my visit. The hotel has a traditional fishing boat, a caique, for sunset trips around Spinalonga and over the sunken ruins of the ancient city of Olous.
We took a 10-minute stroll to the charming little village of Plaka for lunch. The small, traditional tavernas near the Spinalonga ferry jetty serve the best omelettes on Crete. After lunch we took the 10-minute trip from here to the island.
But the whole point of deciding on this type of hotel is for the spa itself. It was very difficult to decide on which treatment to go for, with so many available. The extensive massage menu covers everything from scalp to deep tissue and even has a maternity massage. One uses the natural vitamins and minerals of yoghurt as an antioxidant while another uses the ancient sparkling clear Cretan spirit, raki. My favourite was the traditional olive oil massage. It is designed for total relaxation and, gazing out across the clear blue water while the masseuse performed her magic, it certainly seemed to work. At one point I dozed off.
My husband, meanwhile, opted for the thalassotherapy in the large seawater pool. The treatment uses jets that massage different parts of the body. Then he amazed me by having his first-ever facial.
We met several honeymooners while we there who had arranged their wedding through the resort’s “romance department.”
Further west along the coast, you will find the Sensatori Resort at Analipsi near Hersonissos. Exclusive to Thomson Holidays, it opened in May 2008 and is perfect if you are travelling with kids. Our room was vast and luxurious, with flat screen TV and beautiful wooden floors. The dividing sliding partition meant that we could all have our own space and with a private pool, cooling off was only a few steps away.
When we wanted to do activities as a family we hired mountain bikes to explore the area, or pedalos on Lyttos Beach. When we needed pampering - the magic honey massage left my skin baby soft - the children could enjoy their own separate mini-treatments or join in at the soccer school, which is taught by FA-qualified coaches. There are extra activities for kids during July and August including singing, dancing and acting lessons, although these cost extra.
We tried the food in all of the six restaurants and were never disappointed; it was excellent. In the evening, after dinner together, we grown-ups could go to the adult-only comedy club, Sensahumour, while the kids opted for the magic show.
When it 's time to leave, If you are flying with Thomson Airways, you can book your luggage in at the hotel before you leave for the airport and collect them when you arrive back in the UK.
Out of the Blue Capsis Elite Resort
If you want to introduce the younger ones to some of Crete’s ancient history, the Out of the Blue Capsis Elite resort has a Minoan Mythological Park within its complex. I think I probably enjoyed the labyrinth and archaeologist game more than they did.
The resort is on a private peninsula at Aghia Pelagia, just 15 miles from Heraklion airport. We made the journey by taxi but, for those with a rather larger budget, helicopter transfers can be arranged.
The Euphoria spa here focuses on rejuvenation and stress reduction. We used the sauna every day, and this is supposed to be followed by a cold plunge to improve circulation. I have to admit that after the shock of the first time, I didn’t repeat this experience.
Our bungalow had a beautiful setting, surrounded by trees and flowers, and was just a short stroll from the private zoo, so for nature-lovers like us it was perfect. Of the seven restaurants, our favourite was the Poseidon Fish Taverna, right next to the beach. Try the delicious mezes while watching the traditional Cretan folklore dances. After a morning in the gym and an afternoon aqua-aerobics class, relaxing here was a wonderful end to the day.
Crete has been one of my favourite places since that first visit. The island’s spa revolution means that now you can combine the pleasures of Crete’s timeless beauty with some world-class pampering.