Well-heeled travellers tend to plump for the exclusive jewels of Mykonos or Santorini when it comes to the Greek isles, but Crete is catching up fast.
While Malia may be the choice for young partygoers or cheaper package holidays, the charming and quieter east coast of the island is now home to a glittering hive of boutique hotels, exclusive resorts and decadent five-star spas.
The low-lying white-washed or sandy coloured resorts are also fast-becoming a celebrity magnet with visitors such as Lady Gaga and Leonardo DiCaprio, all helping to put Crete on the map.
Case in point is Daios Cove, a resort offering private villas, suites and rooms in a barefoot chic setting.
An hour’s drive from Heraklion airport, it is ideally situated to explore cultural hotspots like Spinalonga, the place that inspired Victoria Hislop’s bestseller, The Island.
An idyllic setting and private beach
The leisurely motor along the winding coast is a treat in itself, with blue skies and punchy pink blooms punctuating the thick coils of olive trees and dramatic mountainous scenery. Nestled protectively between two towering cliffs, Daios Cove is a rather idyllic setting with a private stretch of sandy beach that sinks steadily out to sea.
The accommodation is built on one side of the bay ensuring rooms are not overlooked and instead enjoy uninterrupted views across the cove.
Daois Cove is certainly a different type of Crete; the resort’s every pore oozes sophistication. A red carpet leads to reception and a helipad is located just a two-minute buggy ride away.
The sea is something altogether different from the white waters of the UK and even the sparkling turquoise shores of the Carribbean. It’s a delicious shade of rich, navy blue that renders Instagram filters redundant.
Deluxe sea-view suites boast private infinity pools on the balcony, while family suites and villas come with larger freshwater pools. And, depending on your outlook you’ll find the pillow menu (where you can order everything from rock hard to feather soft) over the top frivolity or a luxury touch that makes this resort special.
Infinity pool and five-star spa
Along with a beautiful infinity pool (something of a prerequisite on this part of the coast) there is an indoor pool, Finnish sauna, experience showers, plus a hydromassage and counter-current pool for guests to unwind in before enjoying treatments at the large spa.
From tapas to fine dining
Crete’s local cuisine is reason enough to book a trip and goes hand in hand with their famous hospitality. Local tavernas are excellent and colourful dishes descend with crumbling feta, fresh fish, plump tomatoes and more olive oil than you can shake an artisan breadstick at.
Daios Cove has six food outlets to choose from and three bars, including the swanky Crystal Cocktail Box terrace bar. My pick of the eateries are the Taverna restaurant, which serves a feast of Greek tapas, and Ocean, where a la carte fine dining is the order of the day. Try the beef tartare with poached egg for starters.
Top things to do in Crete
So much of the country is worth visiting and many resorts will arrange tailor made excursions for you. Here are a few things to fit into your stay:
- Agios Nikolaos is a quaint fishing town developed around Lake Voulismeni. Architecture is more modern than other parts of the island but it has just as much character. A good shopping destination or somewhere to head for a lively dinner and drinks.
- Spinalonga, once a Venetian fortress and later the island home of a leper colony, now lies in beautiful ruin. Its bleak history has left an eerie spell of sadness over the island, promising a thought-provoking visit.
- Kritsa is a traditional village on the Lassithi mountains. A slow pace of life operates among the narrow streets, tiny shops and quaint houses. For a great view of the sprawling olive groves that make Kritsa’s award-winning oil, walk up the hill towards the church.
- Elounda was once a small fishing village and is now a magnet for the wealthy, with a beautiful harbour and impressive restaurants. Hop on a tiny open-air train to Plaka and take in the scenery from the coastal road.
- Several smaller islands hug the rugged coast and are wonderful to discover by boat. Head north where there’s plenty of distinctive scenery to enjoy.
An exclusive but relaxed air
Despite being at full capacity during my stay, Daios felt remarkably peaceful and never crowded, retaining that air of exclusivity. A red rose hand delivered to my room every day was a small, yet elegant, gesture that put the cherry on the top of a very decadent trip.
Along with Crete’s exciting history, gourmet delights and welcoming locals, there’s now a slither of grandeur for holidaymakers, making quiet, unassuming Crete a strong competitor for luxury stays just a hop, skip and a four-hour flight from London.
Daios Cove Luxury Resort & Villas: deluxe sea rooms from €202 a night, based on two adults sharing