If you are after luxurious accommodation on the island of Crete, in a child friendly resort that offers high quality service, a variety of restaurants and pristine beaches as well as easy access to the airport, then you should look no further than the sea side village of Elounda and the port of Agios Nikolaos, in the north east of the island. The location regularly attracts people in the public domain - pop stars, footballers and actors - and the reason is actually quite simple: the weather is great, the hospitality second to none and there is plenty to do if you don't like staying around your resort much.
Today's review is focusing on Elounda Beach Hotel & Villas, one of the Leading Hotels of the World. Having returned to Elounda Beach three times in the last 5 years - in press trips and as a paying guest - I am always filling excited to see what the team have come up with, what has changed and how the resort evolves.
Elounda Beach is not a completely new resort. Everything started with its sister hotel Elounda Bay, which you can walk to as both occupy a large bay area just before the Schisma of Elounda. You can walk to Elounda village from the hotel, but rest assured that you cannot walk to the hotel beach from somewhere else; there is also security at the entrance to both Elounda Beach and Elounda Bay.
It is recommended that you rent a car throughout your holidays if you want to visit nearby Agios Nikolaos, Plaka and the village of Kritsa in the mountains. Alternatively, you can book a taxi from the hotel to take you to Agios Nikolaos (10 min drive) or Plaka (5 min drive) where you can take the ferry to the island of Spinalonga. The resort is just over an hour's drive from Heraklion airport.
Elounda is by no means an expensive village. You can find any type of restaurant for any budget there. At the same time, Agios Nikolaos, the nearby port, offers an even larger selection of places to eat and drink whereas Plaka is where you need to go to get the little boat to Spinalonga, the old leper colony island.
Elounda Beach has pristine, blue flag beaches, and its villas and main hotel building are within lush gardens that are very well looked after.
Who goes there
Everyone who is someone will at one point come to Elounda, from Lady Gaga to Leonardo di Caprio and Rio Ferdinand. However it is not a party place like, say, Mykonos. It is a very child friendly place although there are resorts which are more relevant to couples (aka with no direct access to the sea, which for me is a no-no).
Elounda Beach and Elounda Bay both have kids clubs which are very modern, well equipped and are ran by very competent staff (so great that we tried to convince one of their staff to come to the UK with us as a nanny :)
The children are taken to the sea to play safely under supervision, have competitions and even movie nights.
Once a week, there is a party where both clubs come together and there is an entertainer involved as well. There is no charge for the kids club. So it's a win win for everyone. Moms at the same time can go to the award winning spa for some serious pampering. Of course, there are tennis courts and beach volley if you fancy a sweat as well as indoors swimming pool, gym and sauna.
Who is behind this resort
When it comes to architecture, your perception of what accommodation should look like around the Greek islands is probably this: plain, one or two storey buildings, with white washed walls and blue windows. Breaking this stereotype, the Yachting Club villas at the multi award winning Elounda Beach Hotel in Elounda, Crete, blew me away with their Bond-like design.
The hotel has been ran for over a decade by Manolis Rasoulis, although I have heard that he is retiring in 2019. Under his suprvision, the resort has catered for a number of very high profile guests; in my last visit I spotted the Angelopoulos-Daskalaki power couple, enjoying an afternoon cocktail in their private villa.
The Yachting Club Suites
Davide Macullo Architects, a Swiss based ID studio with an international aspect, were involved in the renovation and re-design of the sea front properties in this resort. Elounda Beach and its sister Elounda Bay (which are literally in the same area and share 7 restaurants between them) have been around for some time, with Elounda Bay being the oldest of the two and the one that is currently being renovated in stages during the winter months.
There is a common key controlled entrance at the top, for every two villas. The sea at the bottom is framed between the adjoining buildings and this gets you excited as you follow the steps down to your private residence. The staff take you around the various rooms and explain what each button is for (lots of buttons in these rooms!) and you try to focus, while in reality your mind is just out there on the deck and the infinity pool. The rooms look and feel very expensive.
There is plenty of wood and leather throughout the space, all in warm tones. The wood is almost mahogany but combined with the sleek surfaces, the designer lighting and the ample white leather, it is impactful and feels modern. And the way the villas are designed, each one affords total privacy, even outside on your balcony.
The service on offer
While the service throughout the hotel is outstanding, if you stay at one of the sea front villas you can also expect a butler service, and if you need a quick ride, the resort's golf carts are on stand by.
Luxury aside, for me, the feeling of being so close to the sea and being able to experience the change of colours in the horizon as the sun is setting each day is surreal. Yes, you get the same with over-the-water bungalows in the Maldives too but here, you're only 3.5 hours away from London. So why travel around the world to get the same effect? Plus, if you are in the Maldives you feel completely cut off from the rest of the world. Here, all you need to do is step out of the resort to experience the local hospitality and a change in scenery.
I would recommend staying within the resort for a couple nights before heading out. Book at one of the seven restaurants (smart casual dress code). My favourite was Thalassa at the far end of the bay that was almost inside the sea. And the best night of all: the Cretan night when everyone got up and danced, including our 6 year old George (when we first visited in 2015).
The hotel offers include breakfast only, half board and full board. The half board is more than enough, trust me, as their breakfast is KING. The food theme in the evening changes regularly so you get to taste everything local as well as different types of cuisines (European, Asian etc). The restaurants on site offer a good mix of local and international cuisine with great service.
10 things to do in Elounda
There is so much to see and do, the question is do you have enough time?
An absolute must is a visit to the island of Spinalonga. This is a former leper colony, and feature in Victoria Hislop's The Island. You drive 15min to Plaka where you get the little boat (every 15') and it's a 10 minute boat ride to the island. You can get back the same way.
Try the seafood in Plaka - all the sea front restaurants are good, but our favourite is Jiovanni's (aka Giorgos Plaka). Expect to spend some time looking at the photos of all the famous people who have been there over time. You can also do shopping there for clothes and souvenirs.
There are also villages in the mountains nearby where you can buy rugs and local artefacts as well as - classic - olives, oil and cretan sausages and cheese. Our favourite village to visit is Kritsa. One of the oldest and most picturesque villages in Crete, Greece, built amphitheatrically on a rock hill, named Kastellos, surrounded by olive groves, at an altitude of 375 m. It is part of the municipality of Agios Nikolaos. During the Middle Ages, it was thought to be the largest village in Crete.
A visit/ hiking in the Kritsa gorge.
Have ice cream and walk around Limni Voulismeni (Agios Nikolaos). According to legend, the goddess Athena bathed in it. A local urban myth is that the lake is bottomless (in fact it is 48.8m deep).
Spend half a day sailing around the Mirabello Bay.
Light a candle at The Church of Panagia Kera.
Drive to Crete's most exotic beach, Palm beach (Finikodasos) which lies 96 kilometers east of Áyios Nikólaos and makes a popular day trip.
Visit Diktean Cave, filled with stalagmites and stalactites and supposedly the birthplace of the king of gods, Zeus.
Try the local raki drink!
A stay at the Elounda Beach will be unforgettable for you and yours. The hotel has a really nice mix of people from all over Europe as well as the US, and, as we found out, a lot of them are return visitors. The staff at the kids club would have 15 year olds coming to them and asking "do you remember me still, I used to come here when I was 10!" which I thought was super sweet.
The food and service was second to none and the sea is fantastic. The bay is very well protected both from winds and waves which means swimming is always a pleasure. And yes, there are plenty of sun-beds all with mattresses and towels which are changed with a single nod. Everyone is pleasant and friendly and ready to accommodate you. Given we're regularly visiting Crete it's only a matter of time before we return again.
Special thanks to General Manager Manolis Rassoulis and the hospitality teams at both Elounda Beach & Elounda Bay. Photography by Seasons in Colour.