With its rolling surrounds, rugged terrain and cerulean seas, Blue Palace, a Luxury Collection Resort and Spa offers yet another reason to pack your bags and head for Crete.
We know, we know, we've waxed lyrical about the myriad under-the-radar Greek islands that you should be visiting this summer. Spetses, Hydra, Tinos, Ithaca… but there's something to be said for going with the grain and hitting up the big players - there's a reason they're so popular, after all.
With its rugged terrain, varied cuisine - this is the garden of Greece - and wealth of ancient sites, not to mention the cerulean Aegean licking its shores, Crete is always a winner.
Distilling the best that the island has to offer is Blue Palace Resort & Spa, which sits on the seafront and blends into the distant rolling hills near the tourist town of Elounda on Crete's northern coast. A sprawling resort that offers several restaurants as well as private swimming pools with the majority of rooms, the hotel manages to retain a sense of boutique luxury despite its size - not least thanks to first-class staff, many of whom have worked for the (family) company for 20 years.
Individually designed rooms are done up in blue and white tones evocative of Greece, while natural wood and a muted marble colour palette in the bathrooms further bring the outside in. Eclectic artwork that has been carefully sourced by owner, Agapi (she's stayed in almost every room) brings a personal touch and is a colourful reminder that you are in Crete. Blue Palace is one for those who like to spend time relaxing in the privacy of their own little haven (read: sunbathing naked). The main draw are the 142 shimmering, private plunge pools that jut out of the back of many accommodations (choose from 251 luxurious rooms, suites and villas), each offering striking views of the ocean and historical Spinalonga island in the distance. It's a villa experience for couples or families, with all the amenities of a hotel.
What's for breakfast?
Head to the hotel's main restaurant, Olea, for a mammoth breakfast buffet. Alternatively, guests who are staying in two-bedroom suites, island luxury suites and villas can head to Anthós for a tranquil start to the morning in a fragrant courtyard. Here, artisanal treats and local specialties are followed by made-to-order hot dishes in an experience that is akin to eating breakfast in a Cretan family home - albeit one with spectacular views of the coastline.
How about lunch and dinner?
The dining offering means guests could eat for almost a week without having to visit the same restaurant twice. Our favourite has got to be the traditional Greek taverna, Blue Door, which feels like you're in a local, family-run restaurant, while other options include Olea for international cuisine; Asia Deep Blue for Asian fusion; Isola for Italian plates and Isola Beach Club for bohemian vibes by the sea during the day. For a special occasion, book into Anthós for a refined Grecian affair with an open kitchen beside the hotel's organic garden. The wine list here is excellent.
Is there a bar?
Yes, there are several. Striking Arsenali Lounge Bar is the main event, where guests gather for sundowners in the shadow of dramatic sandstone arches. During the day, Isola Beach Club will keep you more than satiated with frozen cocktails and bottles of Whispering Angel.
A fully equipped watersports centre caters to both adults and children, offering paddleboarding, jet-skiing and flyboarding alongside more traditional seafaring activities. Don't miss the gorgeous Elounda spa, fit for Greek emperors with its indoor pool surrounded by olive trees, and multiple treatment rooms offering a range of high-end therapies. We were also pretty impressed by wine tasting aboard a traditional caïque boat, and wish we'd had time to try our hand in a Greek cooking class.
Things I should know
The watersports centre lets you hire a little motor boat without having a powerboat licence (don't panic, it's only 40 horsepower). Book your ride, get the hotel to pack you a picnic and spend a day pootling around the coastline, channelling The Talented Mr. Ripley as you dive in and out of the clear waters.
Within a short walk I can find…
Probably yet another swimming pool. But hop on a boat to make the short trip to Spinalonga island just across the bay. Now a Unesco World Heritage Site, the rocky outcrop has a chequered history that's seen it repurposed from a Venetian fortress to a leper colony. Definitely worth the trip to break up lengthy sunbathing sessions with a spot of culture.