A Taste of Cretan Culture at Blue Palace Resort and Spa
by Caroline White
If you're planning your summer superyacht holiday already, Caroline White recommends booking a stop-over at the Blue Palace Resort and Spa in Crete, Greece.
“Each family here produces their own wines and raki,” says executive chef Athinagoras Kostakos as we slip along on the Blue Palace’s traditional wooden caique, inhaling the scent of thyme from the ochre Cretan coast. “In the first week of November they have a party – every second or third house has a distillery, and they make different recipes with different grape varieties – they drink the first batch, singing and drinking and eating.”
Cretan village culture may seem far removed from the experience of the island’s luxury hotel offerings. But the Blue Palace, whose stone villas, cyprus trees, palms and tranquil swimming pools sprawl down an eastern hillside to a little pebbled cove, is deeply infused with the culture of this southern Greek island. That means a focus on family, hospitality, food and drink. Guests arriving by water can leave their yachts at the nearby Marina of Agios Nikolaos, which takes boats of up to 70m, and tender in to one of the Blue Palace’s jetties.
Back on the caique, which guests can charter for sunset cocktails or more extensive adventures, we sip some of the wines stocked by the resort’s four hotels. A 2018 cherry-hued red of the local Liatiko variety is from the Cretan Lyrarakis Estate: “The grapes grow 800m above the sea – very difficult to collect,” says Kostakos. “Less acidity; could have it on a beach with some fruit and cheese – nice with dates.”
On dry land, the hotel boasts a wealth of restaurants. For casual snacks there’s Isola Beach Club, a scattering of wicker and chic cream upholstery under the shade of olive trees; or for a more elaborate lunch there’s the Italian Isola, with sea views from the terrace, gorgeous seafood and ultra-fresh touches such as home-grown cherry tomatoes served with salt when you arrive at the table as a sort of proto-amuse bouche. “It’s taken from a trip I made to Italy,” says Kostakos. “Simplicity is the key but my salt – one kilo is almost €25. It’s sea salt from another part of the island, the top stuff.” The tomatoes, like most produce used in the restaurants, is grown in the resort’s own organic garden, which you can admire from the veranda of the signature restaurant, Anthós. The concept is new Greek cuisine – dishes you may know with a twist – and the execution is flawless. Try the deconstructed Moussaka for evidence. It’s also the best spot in the resort for breakfast, a spectacular affair including a vast menu of egg dishes and an expansive buffet of honeyed pastries, fresh cheeses, meats and other culinary treasures.
At the other end of the atmospheric spectrum, Asia Blue serves up ultra-fresh sushi and evening glamour. Sleepy, sated guests can retreat to quiet, deeply comfortable accommodation. Top of the list is the Island Luxury Suite, with a Greek palette of blue and white used in fresh modern way, with wicker hanging lights, sink-in upholstery and beds you won’t want to get out of – as well as private pools with sea views. Families, meanwhile, will have plenty of space to sprawl in one of the villas.
But there are attractions outside the resort too. A five minute speed boat ride from the resort’s jetty lies the island of Spinalonga, a former leper colony that now stands as a deserted and atmospheric time capsule. You can wander the dusty streets of its town, in and out of the modest homes, and up the central hill for spectacular views of the surrounding sea and landscapes. Between here and the resort, energetic teens can zip about on the Blue Palace’s water toys, while parents lounge with a fresh fruit juice at the exclusive “Haven” section of its beach.
Unusually, the entire family can enjoy the resort’s spa. This vaulted white haven offers a parent-and-child Family Package, with massages, facial treatments and a mini-mani or mini-pedi. For tiny divas there’s a Princess Glow treatment, with cleanser, hydrating mask, moisturizer and sunscreen; or the Sun Kissed Skin lavender body wrap for tots who’ve spent all day playing on the beach. For little bundles of energy there are also kids’ yoga and fitness classes. Must-have grownup treatments include new body rituals by Swiss brand Valmont and facials by Parisian brand Anne Semonin. Alternatively, an Aromatherapy Massage, powered by essential oils, involves expert pressure – but the menu here is massive, you could spend days cocooned here.
Once relaxed and glowing, families can refuel at arguably the resort’s most fun restaurant, the Blue Door. Modelled after a traditional Greek Taverna and perched on the water at the end of the beach, host Harris will make you feel at home and ensure you’re kept topped up with complementary raki throughout your meal. Choose the Cretan Feast menu for an onslaught of mezze and traditional dishes (don’t miss the slow-roasted lamb “antikristo”) while the Cretan lyra thrums in the background. From here, it’s but a few steps to the jetty and your tender – although you may find it hard to leave.
Rooms at The Blue Palace, a Luxury Collection Resort and Spa, start from €235 for a Superior Bungalow Sea View room (including taxes & breakfast). bluepalace.gr