An island of sun, sea and delicious food is just a few hours away. It’s time to pack our bags and indulge in a sunny weekend away in beautiful Crete.
We might be well into July, but here in the UK we prefer to keep our jumpers and umbrellas close at hand. After all, it’s always best to be prepared for the occasional rain shower or temperature drop when you’re summering in old Blighty.
Thankfully, a few hours away there is a different planet awaiting: Greece. It doesn’t matter what games the weather plays in any other part of Europe, Greece seems to be constantly graced by warm rays of sunshine and a fresh breeze to cool the evenings – just like a real-life Mamma Mia!
So if, like us, you really need some sunshine to recharge your batteries, it’s time to book a flight. And don’t worry about what to do when you land on Greek shores, because we’ve written a comprehensive guide on everything the island has to offer.
Best places to stay in Crete
Blue Palace, A Luxury Collection Resort & Spa
If you are after a weekend of complete indulgence and amazement, Blue Palace, A Luxury Collection Resort & Spa will fulfil your wildest dreams.
Located on top of a hill, the Cretan resort looks like something that should belong in a film (Sex & the City or James Bond – the choice is yours). One of the main pools, just outside the lobby, is a dreamy combo of arches and still blue waters overlooking Spinalonga Island. If you want more privacy, don’t worry: you can book one of the incredible suites that feature a gorgeous private pool. Even better? Your super private pool boasts a view of the the shimmering Aegean sea.
For complete relaxation, you don’t even have to leave the resort. There’s a private beach, an open-air cinema on site, an incredible spa and, and most of all, many delicious restaurants to try during your stay. If you only have time for one, Blue Door Taverna is the hotel’s traditional restaurant, where you can experience a real Greek party with lots of mouth-watering local food, exquisite wine and live music.
Domes Noruz Chania
On the other side of the island, close to the city of Chania, is Domes Noruz. This luxury boutique hotel is the epitome of modern luxury: sleek contemporary design, friendly local staff and an amazing location make it a perfect base to explore the neighbourhood.
For a holiday focused on relaxation, make sure you get your hands on Domes Noruz’s wellness loft: a two-level suite created in collaboration with the spa Elemis which features a gorgeous heated jacuzzi on the terrace. The perfect nest to regenerate and relax.
Cretan Malia Park
If you are searching for a fun hotel to share with family or with a group of friends, then Cretan Malia Park is your best bet.
The newly refurbished resort features suites and bungalows, and offers an all-inclusive stay – the perfect excuse to enjoy a glass of bubbly with dinner or with brunch.
During your stay, don’t forget to book a table at the Mouries – and maybe even a cookery class with the chef – to try all the delicious Cretan specialities, perfectly combined with local wines by the restaurant’s sommelier.
Best things to do in Crete
Trekking to Samaria Gorge
There are lots of impressive gorges and natural paths to visit in Crete but, for a weekend, make sure you take the time to hike the 13km of Samaria Gorge.
A jaw-dropping UNESCO protected site that is visited by up to 2000 people a day during the summer months (the Gorge is only open from May to October, depending on the weather), a walk through Samaria Gorge is an immersion in Crete’s remarkable views and wildlife.
It can be tiring but there is a reward at the end: the beautiful pebble beach of Agia Roumeli where you can take a break before coming back or even spend the night in the nearby village.
Relax on Chrissi Island
When you spend a day on a beautiful sunny island like Crete, exploration is a must and the little uninhabited Chrissi island is definitely one to visit.
There’s an incredible pristine beach, crystal clear water and the biggest Juniper forest to explore. And, for those looking for a culture kick, we recommend taking a trip to the Minoan ruins, too.
A boat sails only once a day to visit the island and comes back in the afternoon, so make sure you don’t miss it (there is no drinking water on the island). It’s finally (really) time to think about what you need for your desert island paradisiac experience.
Climb the wonderful Cretan mountains
If you are feeling particularly sporty, the mountains in Crete are made to be climbed, thanks to some great rock climbing routes around the island.
Kalathas – a climbing deck near the sea of Akrotiri – has routes for climbers of all abilities and, of course, an amazing beach to relax after the effort. For more experienced climbers, though, there are more difficult options, including Stavros, Akrotiri, and Gigilos, the latter of which boasts routes above the famous Samaria and Therisso Gorges.
Best places to eat in Crete
Part of a small hotel, Drossia is located in the centre of the city of Malia.
This restaurant serves everything from delicious gyros and souvlaki, to more earthy meat stews. Throw in the friendly staff, fun atmosphere and reasonable prices, and Drossia becomes a must-visit for a taste of Cretan cuisine and hospitality.
Located in Chania, Christomos is a multi-award winning restaurant with a lovely Greek taverna atmosphere. *Better still? Chefs only use local produce to create delicious and traditional Sfakia dishes, including fried spinach or cheese pies, an unmissable moussaka and baked meats.
The perfect location for an al fresco dinner, Gramboussa’s menu is filled with Greek’s favourite dishes. Think cheese, cheese and more cheese, accompanied by mouth-watering moussaka, homemade pies (Greek grandma’s way) and grill specialities.
A local’s favourite, Gramboussa is the perfect place to spend an evening eating, drinking, dancing and making friends.
Best things to see in Crete
Knossos Archaeological Site
You can’t go to Crete and not visit Knossos Archaeological Site. Located only 5 kilometres away from the city of Heraklion, the ruin is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on the island and the centre of the Minoan civilisation.
Once there, make sure you visit both the site and the Archaeological museum – you can buy a ticket for both at the entrance or better online, to skip the queue.
Located in the Gulf of Elounda, Spinalonga is one of the many uninhabited islands in Crete. Boats come and go frequently, though, and the location is usually very touristy so it’s always best to organise your visit in advance.
Once a fort and then a leper colony, the little Aegean gem hides many stories – which means this real open-air museum is best explored with an experienced guide. A great cultural half-day trip to take while on the main island.
Another island to put on your list, Elafonisi is Instagram gold. Of course, all beaches in Crete are dreamy but this one has something special: it’s pink.
It is located in a remote angle of the island but, due to its popularity, Elafonisi is usually filled with hundreds of tourists, all of whom are there to get the perfect Instagram pic. Our tip? Try to visit off-season (aka not July and August) and get there early, so that you have the peace and quiet you need to appreciate the wilderness and the beauty of this incredible place.
What to pack
Pictures: Getty / Provided