REVIEW: CRETA MARIS RESORT, CRETE
Five Star All Inclusive is a Family Oasis Disguised as an Immaculate, Greek Village
If Disney, Instagram and God conspired to create a flawless, sprawling Greek village, festooned with scarlet bougainvillaea and centuries old Ficus, palm and olive trees providing dappled shade, plus private sandy beaches and crystal, turquoise sea, Creta Maris Resort would be it.
We’d been searching for the “perfect family resort” - that elusive beast. Go too far one way, and you’re locked in a hideous Groundhog Day of forced fun, foam parties and Agadoo. Too far the other way and the honeymooning couple is casting withering looks at your children across the candlelit restaurant. But this luxury, five star all-inclusive struck the ideal balance.
There is something for everybody. Children can play in the five kids' pools or the resort’s dedicated water park, while adults relax around one of the six adults' pools or private, Blue Flag beach. There are six, exceptional restaurants, nine bars, multiple snack points, a luxe hammam spa, chidren’s entertainment, Kid’s and Teens Club and Europe’s biggest outdoor cinema.
It’s a short, 12 mile shuttle from Heraklion airport (already a win with weary sprogs) and we were greeted by staff wearing Cretan mandili headscarfs and black leather stivania boots, which set the tone for this traditional escape and their impeccable and swift service.
The golf buggy whizzed us through the resort’s picturesque, cobbled alleys and squares, past pristine, white Aegean buildings and stunning mountain or beach views to our Deluxe Seafront Bungalow - a fresh white and rustic blue, spacious base with doors which opened out onto its own, hibiscus-studded garden, overlooking the private beach. A complimentary bottle of red wine, snacks and trays of macaroons, nuts and cakes were awaiting us on arrival.
Next door, was what would become our favourite restaurant there, and we followed our noses to the sizzling meats cooking at Cochlias barbecue restaurant. It has the best location in Crete, perched above Hersonissos Bay, with the moon and twinkling village lights dancing off the water as it lapped the rocks beneath us. They serve every imaginable meat, but my recommendation is the sea bass and their inventive, Italian starters.
Platia restaurant sits in front of the ancient, stone Holy Trinity church and serves a creative, Greek a la carte menu. Pithos is perched on a balcony, with breathtaking mountain views and serves organic, traditional Cretan cuisine, all sourced from the Creta Maris organic field or from local, organic producers. Almyra is your relaxed, poolside buffet restaurant by day, which scrubs up into a romantic, waterfront a la carte seafood restaurant by night.
Cosmos is their all-day buffet offering and our go-to spot for breakfast and lunch, thanks to the huge selections of food, with special kids’ buffet area (complete with colourful plates) and an impressive and delicious range of healthy, fresh salads and dishes. Estia is their second, all-day buffet restaurant, with a focus on Mediterranean specialities and a stunning dessert table, largely ignored by the children thanks to the giant chocolate fountain that presided over it. The multiple snack points dotted around the resort were also a big hit with the children, serving everything from crepes and ice creams to toasties, burgers, pizzas and salads.
Sexy, candlelit private dining is also available at a table on the picturesque waterfront. Options include the exotic menu (sauteed scallops, grilled lobster, mango parfait) the romantic menu (sea bass ceviche, beef fillet, chocolate soufflé) a summer sunsets menu (beef carpaccio, rack of lamb, chocolate tart) exotic delights menu (octopus carpaccio, tuna fillet, and lemon and chocolate symphony) or the vegetarian menu (fried feta cheese, mushroom risotto, chilled melon veloute with chocolate mousse).
When you’re not stuffing your pie holes, the village resort has ensured your every whim is catered for. Their luxe, waterpark is neatly tucked away from those who don’t want shrieking, ice cream-fuelled children and colourful slides on their break. And for those who do (our family loved it) there are water towers, twisting rides, multi level aqua tower pools, splash playgrounds and river rapids as well as more relaxing pools and smaller slides for little ones.
With 14 freshwater pools and one indoor pool, you can pick a different swimming spot every day of your trip. They each have their own charms, as well as cushioned loungers, sun chairs, free towels and various activities from aqua aerobics to waterpolo. With so many pools dotted throughout the sprawling destination, they never feel busy (despite the 2,000 guests it sleeps) and retain a relaxed, luxury Mediterranean feeling, without guests creeping out at silly o’clock to bag a lounger, because they’re so easy to get at any time of day - the hotel also discourages this by removing towels from loungers which aren’t in use, which we fully applaud.
Alternatively, you can enjoy the resort's 250m of sandy, Blue Flag beach (with free loungers, towels, lifeguards and assorted bars) and clear turquoise sea or the more beautiful and quieter 100m of rocky beach around the sea bungalows.
The resort is also home to the extraordinary Cine Creta Maris amphitheatre - the largest outdoor cinema in Europe - allowing you to watch the latest movies (Elvis, Jurassic World and Lightyear were showing during our trip) surrounded by silhouetted, Cretan mountains and starry sky.
Despite largely ignoring the cat we have at home, our children were mesmerised by the friendly and well looked after cats and kittens, which dozed by couples playing cards in sleepy, cobbled squares or stretched on rocks by the beach. Cat houses and feeding points were dotted throughout the village and guests are discouraged from feeding them, so they don’t beg for food and are content with belly rubs from sticky, ice cream hands.
Although it’s fantastically family-friendly, it isn’t stuffed with parents and sprogs. It attracts a pleasing mix of guests, from retired groups to newlyweds (there’s an onsite church for weddings) young couples and business travellers, since the resort also houses one of Greece’s biggest convention centres. This mix added to the feeling of living in an (immaculate) Greek village, rather than a family resort.
The children’s entertainment is excellent, with nightly mini disco and live entertainment - one surreal highlight was watching a dancing dog pushing a baby buggy - a playground (handily beside the perfect, sunset-viewing bar Kourites, ensuring parents are adequately refreshed while children play and mini disco. There’s also a dedicated kids club, teens club, baby room and tennis lessons, water sports, beach volleyball, mini-football field, arcade games and table tennis. For the grown ups, there’s a fitness centre, archery, darts, billiards, hammam spa, five-aside football, basketball, mini golf, boccia, yoga, Pilates, cooking classes and dance classes.
Thanks to all of the above - for the first time in our parental lives - both children slept immediately once heads were reacquainted with pillows, allowing us to digest the day with multiple cocktails, gazing across the moonlit sea outside our bungalow.
It turns out luxury and children can go hand in sticky hand, and it’s difficult to prise them apart again, when it’s time to go home.
Creta Maris, Navarchou Nearchou, Limenas Chersonisou 700 14, Greece