Editor Hannah Faulder experiences Cretan hospitality at the luxurious Blue Palace Resort & Spa.
A land of mythical gods, sapphire waters and world-famous hospitality, there's little more you can ask for in a honeymoon than what Crete offers. If you like your beach holiday to have built-in history, then the largest of the Greek islands is for you.
When staying at Blue Palace Resort & Spa, you're walking in the same footsteps as Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Tyra Banks, to name but a few. America's Next Top Model was even filmed here, but don't let that fool you. This isn't showy or in your face. The resort offers a kind of luxury that's deeper than that, where sights, smells, tastes and sounds all leave you with a connection to the place. After all, isn't that what you want from a honeymoon? The promise to leave you with memories you can draw upon for years to come.
FEELING RIGHT AT HOME
The main talking point of the hotel is the panoramic view of Spinalonga Island and the glittering blue of the Aegean Sea – a location that captured the imaginations of the parents of Sbokos Hotel Group co-CEO Agapi Sbokou. Agapi explained over dinner how her father purchased the land after he and his wife met and fell in love there while exploring the wild landscape and swimming in the still, clear waters. Twenty years later, Agapi and her sister built the resort, inspired by the surroundings and with a commitment to blending seamlessly into their beloved landscape.
Jaw-dropping views and the imposing lobby, designed in the style of a Venetian shipyard, are the first things to grab your attention. I was given a refreshing take on a mojito, featuring locally sourced herbs, as I took in the hotel's contemporary-cool touches, which chime perfectly with traditional features such as wooden shutters, pebble mosaics and clay-tile roofs.
A golf buggy waited outside to whisk me down the steep hillside to my home away from home. Once inside, I was blown away by the achingly stylish bedroom, with its calming, neutral palette and contemporary four-poster bed. The sumptuous living area led on to the second (yes, second!) bathroom before I finally encountered the pièce de résistance: a huge terrace with a private heated pool and the most awe-inspiring vistas across the bay. It was so beautiful that it almost appeared not to be real – more like something from a postcard.
After jumping in the glass funicular and wandering around the resort, what becomes apparent is a sense of complete serenity. The soaring azure skies and the rough terrain are reflected in the rich colours of the buildings and the huge infinity pool that stretches out to the sea beyond. Children are welcome here – alongside the hotel's rich and famous guests, who fly in by helicopter – although the vibe is so relaxed you wouldn't even notice you had company.
FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD
If I said one word more than any other on this trip, it was “Yamas!” – the Greek equivalent of “cheers.” The fact it was said so much encapsulates the inherent hospitality and generosity of the Cretan people. As did my first meal at the resort, down at the bohemian Isola Beach Club. After munching my way through a decadent spread of breads, cheeses and fresh salads to the point of not being able to move, the waiter then surprised me by bringing out the main course – oops!
The Blue Door is a restored fisherman's hut turned beachside taverna. When you're sitting next to celebrity Michelin-starred chef Tom Kerridge while he tucks into traditional Greek fare, you know you're in a good place! The head waiter here makes you feel like you're eating in his home – he's attentive yet relaxed, like an old pal. Time has no meaning here as you relax and graze your way through fresh meze, the catch of the day and fiery raki. This aniseed-flavoured tipple is around 40 per cent ABV, so a little snooze in the sunshine will certainly be in order after lunch.
In the evening, it's time to dine in style. The terrace at Flame is a sociable space, designed for people who are spending time together while enjoying sumptuous steak. Fellow veggies, fear not! The Cretan people will never let you go hungry, and the chef whipped up an incredible risotto at a moment's notice.
Fancy something a little different? Then head to Asia East Blue. From Japanese teppanyaki to Thai flavours and beyond, dishes here are created, as with the rest of the resort, with local ingredients at their heart.
If you're still feeling hungry the next morning, I cannot recommend ordering breakfast to your room enough. Sweet Greek pastries and plump fresh fruit don't taste better than when they're accompanied by the view from your private terrace.
The hotel is a 10-minute walk to Plaka, a classic Cretan village, which is home to quaint white-washed shops, bars and tavernas – the ideal spot for an afternoon stroll. But this is your honeymoon, so why not take advantage of the personal concierge, who'll plan something truly memorable? There's no set activity menu here; staff are on hand to create a bespoke experience for you and your loved one.
First on the agenda has to be the island of Spinalonga. A Greek national monument, this small rock has been in many hands over the years and was most recently a leper colony up until 1957. The buildings are starting to crumble and be taken back by nature, but our seventy-something-year-old tour guide in her sunny yellow outfit and straw hat breathed life into the place and what it meant to the inhabitants. Victoria Hislop's book The Island is set here and is a must-read on your trip. Bustling with visitors by day, in the evening, you see an atmospheric spot lit up against the night sky.
From Spinalonga, we were picked up by the hotel's traditional caique fishing boat and were hosted by “The Georges” – two members of staff, both named George, who were both equally in love with their native Cretan food and drink. Not just colleagues, the two were best friends who travelled together, honing their skills and building on their foodie knowledge to bring guests the best experiences back at the Blue Palace. They told us that Cretan wine has had a renaissance over the past two years, as locals have started to cultivate heritage grapes to preserve and create delicious world-class wines. What better way is there to sample these than on board a boat while it gently traverses the shimmering sapphire sea in the Gulf of Elounda?
The resort has another trick up its sleeve with the seriously impressive Elounda Spa and Thalassotherapy. With more than 20 treatment rooms, seawater pools, saunas, Jacuzzis, Turkish-style hammams and couples' suites that are ideal for honeymooners, this beachside haven of tranquility is the ultimate in indulgence. My Swedish massage was out of this world. Divine-smelling almond oil with lemon, basil and mint left my skin silky smooth, while my therapist cut out all of the usual faff and tailored the experience to exactly what my body needed. I left Blue Palace with a heavy heart and a full tummy, feeling utterly spoiled and totally inspired by this diamond in the Greek crown.