Gourmet dining, glorious weather, spectacular views and possibly the most chilled beach in the Med are the perfect recipe for the ultimate luxury break at Crete’s Elounda Peninsula
Words by Libby Norman
Crete is known as the island of honey and we feel as if we’ve landed right in the honeypot arriving at Elounda Peninsula. Flight delays across Europe mean we get here way later than expected, but a feast has been thoughtfully laid out for us. Feta and olives, charcuterie, ouzo and delicious local breads, plus an enormous plate of baklava leave us greedily full and – although the rest of the hotel is sleeping – we step out onto our deck to gaze in awe at our pool, backlit and beautifully turquoise in the warm evening air.
The next morning, we finally catch the view proper and it was worth the wait. This is an all suite hotel and our room sits upstairs. We’d been warned by the night porter to shut the blackout blinds before bed, information we promptly forgot, so here we are bathed in dazzling sunshine. Sunglasses on, we stagger out of bed and gaze in awe from our top floor balcony down to our private pool and then onwards to the most beautiful sheltered bay.
The suite is huge and cool, with marble stairs a massive bathroom upstairs and a second shower room downstairs off the living area. The pool is the star and it’s the ultimate luxury to come home from the beach to dip our toes in our own private waterhole gazing down on the ocean below.
The Elounda complex nestles above Mirabello Bay and consists of the original Mare (a Relais & Châteaux hotel), the Porto Elounda Golf & Spa and our fabulous all suite Peninsula. There’s a golf course further up the hill, a superb Six Senses Spa and a variety of great restaurants to choose from across the three hotels. We love the Calypso, where we sit outside every morning gazing out over an impossibly blue Mediterranean sea and watching the sun rise up above the hills. Shades are as essential at breakfast time here as the obligatory strong Cretan coffee.
“We gaze in awe from our top floor balcony down to our private pool and then onwards to the most beautiful sheltered bay”
But best of all is the Peninsula’s idyllic private beach. Sitting at the end of the bay, it is remarkably sheltered and a small harbour wall creates the most perfect place for swimming. We decide it may just be the best and most chilled swimspot in the Med. There’s loads of space on extremely comfortable loungers, and with waiter service should the need for a cool drink or snack be so pressing that we can’t walk to the hotel’s beach bar. Days pass in a perfect haze of gentle laps round the bay, followed by long leisurely lunches and then a final few laps in water warmed by late afternoon sun and the natural microclimate created by the shelter of the surrounding hills.
Food is something of a star in Crete, and at the Elounda it’s a very big deal indeed. The island has very close links to Venice, thanks to their shared maritime history, and we are invited on one evening to an amazing gourmet meal at the Mare’s Old Mill restaurant, where head chef Antonis Petrellis and the chef from Hotel Londra Palace in Venice join forces to bring us a marriage of Cretan and Venetian cuisine. It’s a five-course spectacular. Little wonder then that all three hotels have something of a reputation for hosting amazing weddings. With the food and the views – especially the views from the Elounda Peninsula terrace – this is a marriage spot made in heaven. And if you fancy something a little more traditional, there are two very beautiful old churches located close by.
“Days pass in a perfect haze of gentle laps round the bay, followed by long leisurely lunches and then a final few laps”
We make a couple of forays into the lovely small town of Elounda, with a harbour ringed by bars and cafés and a general air of Mediterranean sleepiness during the day, although a little livelier with promenaders once the temperatures drop. We also take a trip to Agios Nikolaos, a charming hotchpotch of restaurants lining its picture-perfect lake and a buzzy atmosphere closer to the beach.
Lovely though these side trips are, we always look forward to returning to our private suite cooling down poolside or grabbing our books and heading down to our private swimspot in the Med. We’re sad to say goodbye to our Cretan honeypot of a hotel and put it firmly up there on our ‘will return’ list.