A mythical land where the ancient Minoans had many of their settlements, palaces, and places of worship, eastern Crete is an enchanting – and less explored – region where life comes together on the hulls of brightly colored traditional fishing boats. Golgotha of the Alpine bells, when shepherds bring their flocks to pastures. The landscape is dotted with small villages that seem lost in time (in the best way possible) and golden bays lined with sand and covered in turquoise waters where it is possible to relax all day long without living to see them.
The unofficial capital of Crete’s east coast is the bustling town of Agios Nikolaos with its maze of colorful shopping streets, a Venetian promenade and the fabled Lake Voulismeni at its center, where legends say the goddess Athena once bathed. Enjoy a pleasant meal in one of the cozy bars surrounding this mirrored pool, then follow the sweetly scented wild fennel-lined roads to Elounda. Although this fishing village briefly gained a reputation as a swing hangout in the 1960s for the likes of Aristotle and Jackie Onassis, like the rest of this beautiful area, it remains surprisingly low-key.
Clustered around a harbor where fishermen often sit and mend their nets, Elounda is also home to quaint shops selling woven goods, ceramics, and other souvenirs, as well as a surprising number of restaurants, bars, and pubs. Like many other places in this region steeped in history, it is of historical interest: Elounda is on the site of one of Crete’s most important cities in antiquity. The sunken city of Olous was reached by the narrow isthmus, it was built by the Dorians and even appeared in the epics of Homer.
From the traditional Elounda two master cake Wooden fishing boats sail the sparkling waters of Mirabello Bay to Spinalonga, where Victoria Hislop’s bestselling novel, the island, is set. Here you can spend a few hours exploring the Venetian forts and stone buildings of this haunting site, where members of the last leprosy colony lived in Greece until 1957 – then make your way to some beautiful Blue Flag beaches, known as this part of Crete is considered famous.
Elsewhere, the nearby town of Malia also has plenty of golden sandy beaches bathed in sparkling water, while the coast between Elounda and Istro is dotted with many pristine coves. If you’re feeling adventurous, head east to relax in the shade of Europe’s only palm forest at Vai Beach, near Sitia. Or take a boat from Ierapetra in the south to explore the daffodil-strewn dunes and ancient salt pans of Chrysi, protected by Natura 2000, in eastern Crete.
Eastern Crete is more than just gorgeous seascapes: head inland and discover the windmill-infested Lasithi Plateau, known for its rugged landscapes, fertile soils, and traditional hamlets like Kritsa – home to the famous Panagia Kera Church. It is also a region rich in legends. The small village of Psychro is about an hour’s drive from Kritsa, where you can begin your ascent to the remote Diktaean Cave, said to be the birthplace of Zeus. When you get busy with enough appetite, take the opportunity to try the local cuisine at Psychro or in one of the nearby mountain villages, where bistros (usually grandmothers) serve home-cooked food. And since Crete is considered the friendliest island in the country, even by Greeks, don’t be surprised if you’re offered a free glass or raki after dinner.
Where do you sleep
Blue Palace, a Luxury Collection Resort, Elounda
Just a stone’s throw from some of the island’s major attractions – including the ancient Minoan Palace on Knossos, the Lassithi Plateau and the historic island of Spinalonga – the Blue Palace sits high on a hilltop with stunning views of the deep blue Elounda Bay. Featuring its own expansive private beach and stunning infinity pool, the resort is filled with mosaics, roughly carved brick walls, chandeliers, and curved sofas – culminating in the stunning poolside lobby lounge.
If that sounds fancy, prepare to go one step further: Inside the Blue Palace is what can only be described as a resort within a resort – the Haven Collection, home to the most exclusive suites and villas. With an emphasis on privacy and space, uninterrupted sea views and elegant interiors await as part of this ultra-glamorous enclave along with attentive and personalized service.
With five on-site restaurants and two bars, Blue Palace guests can go from a sunset aperitif at Arsenali to Asian cuisine at Asia Deep Blue. Authenticity and seasonality take center stage here, with menus curated by acclaimed creative chef Athenagoras Kostakos and Executive Chef Giannis Kalifritakis, reflecting a love for the freshest and most local of Anthós, a contemporary farm-to-country Greek restaurant, as expressive. At Blue Door, the resort’s signature Greek bar.
Whether you use it as a base for exploring Mirabello Bay and beyond, enjoying local culinary experiences, or just lounging by the pool with a book overlooking the Aegean Sea, a stay at the Blue Palace combines nature, luxury and typical Greek hospitality.
Cretan Malia Garden
The manicured lawns of Cretan Malia Park, filled with fragrant flowers and fringed with palm fronds near Malia, overlook a strip of Blue Flag beaches dotted with sunbeds and hammocks, perfect for sunbathing and sunsets.
A Design Hotels member focuses on sustainability and authenticity, and features several excellent restaurants – including Mouries, where Chef Lefteris Iliadis serves modern Cretan dishes in an open-air outdoor kitchen. There is also a wide range of beach activities on offer – and when you’re ready to unwind, treat yourself to treatments using selected cruelty-free products at Cute Spa.
Village Heights Resort
A stone’s throw from Crete’s capital, Heraklion, is Village Heights Resort – a conscious Cretan hideaway, home to an inviting selection of suites clustered around an infinity-edge pool and surrounded by lush vegetation, overlooking Crete’s northeastern coast.
With a 9-hole mini golf course, a spa with pool, sauna, steam room, and children’s pool, there’s plenty to do around the resort during the day. Professional golfers also enjoy discounted golf fees at the nearby Crete Golf Club, while the sandy beaches of Stalida are within easy reach.
Village Heights is also home to two signature restaurants serving elegant dishes of local specialties, as well as a fine indoor lounge bar and an outdoor poolside snack bar.
Book your luxury holiday in Crete with Blue Palace, a Luxury Collection Resort, Elounda, Cretan Malia Park or Village Heights Resort at ba.com
With British Airways Holidays you can book your well-deserved holiday with deposits starting from £60 per person and pay the balance in installments as few or as many as you like*. All parcel reservations are protected by ATOL (5985) and include 23 kg of baggage allowance per person. Their promise to customers is a commitment to quality and service, making sure their hotel partners maintain strict safety standards, you can get a quick refund if your vacation is canceled and there’s a 24-hour hotline if you need assistance during your vacation — just some of the reasons why 92 in Per cent of customers say they would choose British Airways Holidays again.
* Terms and conditions apply. Deposit is required 7 weeks in advance for long distances and 28 days in advance for short distances. Travel restrictions may apply.
** From over 27,000 independent reviews from Reevoo over the past 12 months as of March 2022