Since the dawn of history, Crete island has been a place of mystery, magnetism, and unequivocal beauty. The land the ancients called Keftiu has everything anyone could want. And a lot more. Here on Greece’s biggest island, there’s a tourism potential you won’t find in many other places. Here, you can find the joy you didn’t realize you were missing.
This list of best hospitality experiences will get you started wondering. I hope you’ll be wondering and wandering the hundreds of gorges, beaches, caves, mountain passes, and lost villages of this majestic island as we have these past five years. When you do, you’ll join so many of us, who found it difficult or impossible to leave.
“A” is the first letter of the English alphabet. It’s also the first letter in Abaton Island Resort & Spa, which is also Crete’s most glamorous retreat. This is the ultimate place to relax, with the idea you might run into a Hollywood star or two tweaking the back of your mind. The resort is polished, an architectural delight, and a veritable culinary Eden set on the perfect Cretan Sea. Everything here is on a grand scale, from the pools and private pier to the elegant staff with smiles big as Texas. Opps! My American heritage shined through. No, seriously, this is one of Greece’s most luxurious five-star resorts, in Hersonissos, down the coast from Heraklion. Double rooms start at 490 € with breakfast included, as of this posting on the resort’s website.
Imagine you headed to Crete with a family of four who wants to experience it all. The whole family wants a stunning bay with a perfect beach to lounge and play on. There should be a wide selection of dining choices, so nobody gets bored astronomically. Several stunning swimming pools would help too, for those times when the aquamarine sea seems distant, even if it’s only 50 meters away. And since you’re dreaming, how about gigantic waterslides cascading off the cliffside above the bay? Local natural wonders? A quaint village, only a stone’s throw away? Citrus groves, a river, unlimited watersports? Well, Fodele Beach & Water Park Holiday Resort west of Heraklion is all this. Sorry, you cannot get a week in August now, the resort is booked solid for their least expensive rooms. There is availability for a Sunset Room from August 25th – 30th at 615€ per night for a family of 4. But that’s it. This resort is this marvelous.
What about the traveler who’s a real dreamer? Crete can be that magnificent 17th-century land of pashas and Venetian royals. And Chania is still, a veiled beauty with beguiling charms every visitor to the island must see once. While the crystal Cretan Sea and stunning blue flag beaches are always appealing, the real magic of Crete lies inland, on the outskirts of the coastal villages. The organic farm, gardens, and picturesque terrace at Metohi Kindelis guest houses are as transportive an experience as you’ll find. Maintained by the Kindelis family for over a century, this lush and private retreat offers a type of luxury very few places have. Serenity, peace, quiet, and a place to drift away in the subtlety that is traditional Crete. Nightly rates in August are 380€, but readers should call for availability. They seem to be booked solid unit, forever maybe. I’ve shared the Instagram kindred spirits will get the message. This dreamy place is authentic as it comes. That’s how you earn a Travel & Leisure Editor’s Award.
For travelers who want to commune with Crete’s glorious Venetian past, Rethymno’s historic center is a lucid retro-dream. And the Veneto Boutique Hotel is reminiscent of the 14th-century Benedictine monastery it was transformed from. These luxury suites with their private verandas are set among the colorful alleyways of one of Crete island’s most beautiful towns. The hotel has a fantastic wine cellar, a beautiful Cretan-fusion restaurant, and an incomparable ancient courtyard to enjoy melancholy dreams. A Standard Suite is €179.10 per night for two persons on the website. This is a special experience, a five-star stay at a budget-friendly price.
In your mind’s eye, you see yourself barefoot, walking hand in hand with your soulmate on a perfect beach. In your vision, you are your own legend. There’s just the two of you. It’s like Eden. Well, on Crete’s southeastern shore, there’s just such a vision to be had. The all-new NUMO Ierapetra is an adults-only luxury resort surrounded by evergreen gardens, right on the Libyan Sea. Here private swimming pools and cozy terraces punctuate what’s an epic seascape. It’s the perfect place to escape, and it’s just cool as can be too. A stunning spa, fitness, an outdoor cinema, amazing culinary experiences, and more. Why there’s even an underwater art gallery. Can you imagine that! This is a stunning resort, simply stunning. There’s limited availability this month starting at 285 € on the resort’s website.
Villas on Crete. When I scan travel media about luxurious or even interesting rentals n Airbnb, I am often amazed at what I find. Sure, there are scores of expensive, dreamy vacation homes here, but don’t writers ever actually go to the places they are publicizing? Interestingly, not once have I seen a stay near famous (with the locals) Tsoutsouras. But Evgoro – Infinite View and several others in this area of Crete’s south coast are literally another world. And not just for the views. This exquisite accommodation has private parking, every convenience, and the famous healing waters of the goddess who once was worshipped at this amazing seaside town. I won’t get into the legend of King Minos’ tomb, or the UFOs the American military secreted out of the cave nearby. The point here is this awesome Crete stay is 180 €. Of course, it’s booked solid except for a five-day stretch in September. If you look around when you arrive in this area, you’ll understand why I question travel magazines recommending cliche stays.
For many travelers to Crete, Greece’s biggest island, is a really big blue flag beach with an endless buffet line. And it’s true, the island has more of the world’s best beaches than just about any place. And lots of amazing products to pack into a fabulous all-inclusive buffet. But this is not really Crete. Not the real Crete, I mean. You see, in the time before the huge resorts, this island was a bulwark of tradition, immovable culture, and a way of life that was the basis for the Mediterranean diet that’s so en-vogue in foreign capitals now. Terms like “back to nature” and “sustainable living” were not yet invented in the Crete of the 1950s or 1960s. Thankfully, there are still places on the island where time has, to a great extent, stood still. A small hotel hidden high up in the hills of Lassithi Prefecture is a place like I am speaking of. Mala Villa in the ancient village of the same name is a portal to a time we need to return to if I am candid with you here. The verdant hills that protect this amazing place above Ierapetra are spellbinding. And the family who runs the hotel and taverna are true gems of the island famous for its love of strangers. I’m going long here edging into being unfair to the other wonderful hotels, so just consider a trip to Eden for 133,23 €, the August rate. There’s some availability if you check now.
I once drove 3 hours just to share the sunset over Falasarna with a visiting friend. The west coast of Crete is without equal. Well, except, perhaps, for the east coast. The point is, the extremes here are magnetic, awe-inspiring, and stunning beyond your imagination. So, why would you stay anywhere other than the perfect house? Native Beach Villa has been in just about every architectural magazine that exists. And for a good reason. Situated right on Cape Koutoulas, not far from world-famous Elafonisi Beach, this eco-friendly wonder is a dream come true. The rental even comes with a private chef. As you’d expect, unfortunately, it’s almost booked solid through October. Readers should check for cancellation and scattered availability at about 550 € per night. This amazing villa is truly one of Crete’s 10-Best.
Ecotourism, there’s not a more appropriate place to enjoy travel the way it should be, the way it has to be, than Crete. And for those in search of uniqueness, Enagron Ecotourism Village delivers legendary Crete philoxenia, along with the indescribable. The best was to tell you about what to expect here is to remind you of the wonder of your childhood. The first time you saw a duck or a donkey. The memory of that first food that’s burned into your brain. The wide-eyed wonder that only nature and the simple things can bring. This is Crete, the best of Crete. I have 10,000 moments already. Screaming God’s name from a mountain road in the middle of nowhere or tasting a tiny banana from Malia and wondering – “They grow bananas here?” Enagron is a “bucket list” experience you can have starting at 110 € for bed and breakfast. There is limited availability, so check the website for August stays. Warning, visiting Axos Village, and the myriad activities to experience here will probably make you want to live in Crete.
So many friends, old and new, ask me where to go, what to see, and the best places for this and that when they come to Crete. I point them in the direction of their ideas, desires, and dreams, of course. After all, the island is its own continent of wild variation. There is, however, one place I tell everyone they simply must experience. And, do you know what? Not one group in the hundreds I’ve sent to Aravanes has failed to thank me profusely. Located in the tiny village of Thronos, which is the throne overlooking the sacred Amari Valley, this tavern-inn is run by the nicest, most authentic people on our planet. No, really. Aravanes is that home away from home every human being longs for. My son, when he saw what you see on Instagram above, said, “Look Poppy, it’s the hand of God.” Enough said I should hope. The rooms with balconies run, get this, 50 € per night. Two final notes. Do NOT tall Lambros you want to dance until dawn unless you are prepared to dance til the morning light. And DO be sure to tell Maria you want “Phil’s Breakfast,” the Cretans forgot more about this meal than the world knows. This is not only one of Crete’s 10-Best experiences, it’s THE best.