Cretian contrasts

With its temperate climate, outstanding cuisine and fascinating culture, the perfect holiday awaits on Greece’s biggest island

On paper, Crete has it all; the climate (it’s one of the most temperate islands in Greece, due to its southerly location); the history, both ancient and modern, from the Minoan temple at Knossos to its strategic importance to the allies in World War II; the culture, which is unique even among Greece’s rich tapestry and continues to fascinate. Indeed, one of the biggest hit page-turner beach-reads of recent years was set here – The Island, by Victoria Hislop, which weaves a heartbreaking tale around the real life leper colony on Spinalonga, a small islet just off the north coast at Plaka. With such credentials, I was bemused as to why I had received such mixed reports from friends and family who had visited, from the absolutely glowing to the distinctly ambivalent. As such a committed philhellene, it seemed remiss that I was relying on the opinions of others, and so it was that I set off to establish my own.

The size of the island was probably, I discovered in my research, the key to this disparity. It’s Greece’s biggest, which means a huge variance in landscape – there are even regional cuisines – and quality of tourism development, and, sadly but unsurprisingly, the coast is studded with the sort of UK-on-Sea type resorts so beloved of some Brits. But again, here the island’s size counts in her favour, as it is perfectly possible to spend, I’d imagine, months on end on Crete and avoid so much as a whiff of Full English; and so we settled upon the upmarket resort of Elounda, where the promise of luxury accommodation combined with proximity to Spinalonga proved the decisive factors.

The Elounda Peninsula All Suite Hotel is one of a handful of exclusive hotels propped on the water’s edge, with a number of award-winning restaurants on site, including Old Mill, repeatedly voted the best in Greece; as well as a private beach, a yacht club and all the other bells and whistles one would expect from a hotel of this calibre. We were super excited by the private plunge pool on our terrace, complete with hammock strung across it, although in the end, if you are anything like as inelegant as I am, the main value of this will prove to be its über-Instagramability, as the sight of me actually trying to get on and off the thing gave my partner the best laugh he’d had in months.

Still, I put that down to my own failings rather than the hotel’s, although my slippery struggle became even worse towards the end of our week, having made the most of not only the culinary excellence on offer within the grounds, but also exploring more hidden gems around the region. One restaurant we visited twice (almost unheard of for us, when each meal is an opportunity for new discoveries) was Kanali, a small family-run taverna reached by driving along a causeway; we had the most outstanding meal there on both occasions, and their fried cheese croquettes became not only my new obsession (I haven’t mentioned that I was pregnant – give a girl a break) but became my most-liked post on social media for some time, proving that… er, everybody loves cheese? Anyway, it was a fabulous place and you must visit.

Of course, our real must-visit was Spinalonga, and it didn’t disappoint. Although I don’t necessarily recommend scrambling around crumbling ruins in the midday sun wearing flip flops, particularly if you’re 24 weeks pregnant, the fascinating fusion of Venetian, Ottoman and 20th century history proved too strong a pull to resist. Exploring the outward, fortified side of the island was exhilarating, imagining raids by Saracen pirates of yore, but wandering the tumbledown streets of the old village, and realising that the last permanent resident left the island as recently as 1957, was as eerie as it was moving. If this was our most active adventure of the holiday, in stark contrast was the following day, when the most spectacular thunderstorms swept the coast, and we took the decision to stay in our suite all day. As if preempting us, housekeeping had made up two day beds in our living room, and so we spent the most wonderfully cosy time watching the weather and reading (in my case The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, which was phenomenal). It struck me, lying there, that this is the essence of Crete: its contrasts. It can be as wild and rugged as the infamous mountain bandits of its history, then in a heartbeat, as warm and welcoming as only the Greeks know how. If your experience of Crete previously hadn’t quite hit the mark, I urge you to revisit; the holiday of your dreams could be around the next corner. We certainly found ours.

Elounda Peninsula offers Peninsula Junior Suite sea view rooms from £390 per room per night on a B&B basis, based on 2 sharing (+30 28410 68250;