Words by: Estelle Lee
Holidays in Greece are a rich contrast of ancient history and aspirational modernity – where else can you feast on the wonders of the past and the altogether more luxurious present with such ease? Fittingly, Crete, the centre of ancient Minoan civilisation and the largest of the Greek islands, was our destination for half term. It is perhaps more truthful to say that the children were looking forward to Elounda Peninsula’s football camp, rather than to any exploration of the island’s cultural heritage. But stories of marauding Venetian pirates in the region grabbed their attention on a boat trip out to Spinalonga (an island used as a leper colony in the last century) and there, history came to life just a little.
The hour-long journey to the resort from Heraklion, Crete’s capital, winds through dry, mountainous terrain, eventually giving way to an eyeful of the bluest sea, where the road descends into the port of Elounda. There, the Kotokos family has developed the Elounda brand across four distinct properties that span the rocky and relatively undeveloped coastline.
Elounda Peninsula is promisingly described as an ‘all suite’ hotel. Golf buggies traverse the resort, transporting guests along a network of bougainvillea-lined pathways where rooms are named after each of the Greek islands. If you like your hotels neatly boutique, the resort may be a little on the big side for you, but the scale of choice and space on offer brings families back year after year.
Guests can access a total of ten restaurants and bars split between the Elounda properties – if variety is what you crave, this is a huge plus. From a typical Greek buffet in the village square, to a more refined Cretan dining experience or fresh fish – there is something for all tastes.
Our favourite dinner was spent at the Asian restaurant Koh, set on the rocks (with stunning sunset views and windows for viewing the fish below deck) – a surprise to us all, since neither of my children are well known for adventurous eating. We also liked the Italian restaurant under a shady olive grove.
Our suite accommodation was unusually spacious – the children’s twin room, dressing area and marble-clad bathroom mirrored our own, and between the two bedrooms, a large sitting and dining area looked out to our own private pool and deck. There we ate breakfast each day and caught the last few hours of the sun every afternoon, when the boys had worn themselves out at the pool or on the beach. The privacy and space felt exceptional, particularly when each room boasted a view to the sea.
We did get to peek in at the contemporary styling of Presidential Suite, enjoyed by the likes of Charlize Theron, where she had a clear view to the resort owner’s magnificent sailing boat from the infinity pool. The private beach just beyond is open to all at the resort. The warm water of the small horseshoe bay is wonderful for all ages, from the smallest of children. The sand is overlooked by the pool terrace above – meaning that if everyone in your family usually wants to do something different, there’s no problem.
Husband ordering a beer at the bar, littlest on the swings, eldest on the beach or in the pool. The oh-so-handy geography miraculously allowed me to keep an eye on everyone whilst remaining horizontal on a sun bed. We loved that the boys could wander up and down making friends on the beach, crabbing from the jetty with nets bought from the brilliantly stocked resort shop.
This is no fly and flop break. There’s almost too much on offer to fit into seven days… running along the dusty roads out to the ancient peninsula in the early morning, a pristine golf course for the enthusiasts, the luxurious Six Senses spa, gym, watersports for all ages, including yachting and scuba diving. At kids’ level the resort has an Arsenal football camp, basketball, tennis, a dedicated club with its own pool (with water slides!) and a Six Senses wellness programme for the little ones too. The children’s club (shaped impressively like Noah’s Ark) opens its doors to the smallest guests from four months, but happily extends up to teenage years.
Our highlight? A private boat trip along the peninsula, through the unchanged canal built by the hands of the Venetians – a reflective moment when you consider the passing of time at that exact spot, where the town of Olous, now underwater, once stood. We circled the island ruins of Spinalonga, putting down anchor to swim at the blue lagoon, before returning back to Elounda with two sleeping children on board.
Elounda Peninsula (+30 28410 68250, eloundapeninsula.com) offers rooms from £397 based on two people sharing a Peninsula Junior Suite Sea View