Sustainability is more than just a checkbox at the recently renovated Cretan Malia Park, a family-run coastal resort that brings together lush gardens, California vibes and views across the Mediterranean Sea on the Greek island of Crete.
Malia has had its share of bad press - or good press, if you are a British teen planning a hedonistic end-of-term holiday - not helped by its 2011 starring role in The Inbetweeners Movie. Yet on the unspoilt, craggy (private) beachfront of the Cretan Malia Park, silence is only disturbed by cicadas and attentive staff. The nearby strip seems worlds away.
It's not especially "Greek", as hotels in Greece go. Recently renovated, its lobby feels like somewhere between Ibiza and California with parquet-style wall panelling, imposing cactus plants, mid-century furniture and wiry light fittings.
Set in lush gardens (with four varieties of hibiscus, we're told), the hotel is more than just green in its surroundings: eco credentials aren't just a checkbox here; sustainability is in every fibre of the property and it has the accolades to prove it (including a Blue Flag beach). Using local produce - some grown on site - and solar power to provide most of its electricity, this family-run resort practices what it preaches.
That said, "resort" isn't a word that feels right to use here. Yes, multiple pools and guest activities indicate a holiday-village vibe, but there is something about Cretan Malia Park that makes you feel like you're part of the family.
The complex feels more like a series of villas than a 204-room hotel, and those nearest the beachfront - mostly suites - have generously sized balconies with views over the Mediterranean. Guest rooms are located in the main building, while suites and bungalows are peppered across the grounds, with either sea or pool views. Cali vibes continue here - think geometric wallpaper, more cacti and wicker light fittings - and the decor and colour palette is nature inspired without being cliché. You won't find any unnecessary water features or fake plants here.
What's for breakfast?
Leaving no culinary stone unturned, Cretan Malia Park has three restaurants, serving Mediterranean, Cretan and Italian cuisine. It's at Mediterraneo where guests can kick-start their day with a buffet breakfast of Greek pastries, fresh fruit and coffee on the terrace.
How about lunch and dinner?
Cretan classics are served in Mouries, a peaceful courtyard with an open kitchen and hot-coal fire. Yet it's the recently renovated Almyra that is the star of the show, serving Italian-inspired dishes (including some pretty gorgeous pizza baked in the outdoor oven) in view of the sea. Ask the sommelier to recommend some Greek wine and settle in for the night.
Is there a bar?
Yes, three in fact, but forgo the poolside and lobby bars for the newly opened Beach Shack. Here an eternally chirpy team of bartenders will satisfy just about any cocktail request, to be enjoyed on cushioned bamboo chairs or, better yet, your sunlounger. Sunset beach parties are held here most evenings with a DJ wheeling out appropriate beachside beats - though it is more of an all-ages, family affair.
It feels as though there's just one huge pool that spreads throughout the grounds, with rivers and separate children's areas - but it's really just three. One is heated, but the typically warm Cretan summer temperatures meant we didn't feel any need to dip a toe in. The on-site Cute Spa offers a range of treatments and uses local olive oil as the base of its products. If you can tear yourself away from eating, drinking and lounging (we didn't), there are bikes to rent, and reception staff will point you towards local landmarks.
Things I should know
Food is where the hotel really shines, and it knows it. The executive chef will proudly take you on a tour of the biodynamic garden where guests can pick seasonal vegetables including cherry tomatoes so sweet you'll turn your nose up at the ones you find back home. Bring your bounty back to the outdoor kitchen at the Mouries restaurant, don an apron and learn to make stuffed vine leaves, proper Greek salad and kaltsounia (snail-shaped cheese pies), served drizzled with honey. Fear not - constant encouragement and the regular intervals of punchy raki shots mean even the most apprehensive of cooks will find their inner Ramsay.
Within a short walk you'll find…
The aforementioned Malia town (it's not all bad). Eschew the strip for the old town, a labyrinth of streets with family-run tavernas set in flower-filled courtyards. The Greeks eat late, so rock up after 9pm for the best atmosphere. Expect live music and yet more raki.