Travel: Agios Nikolaos, Crete

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It has reached that time of the year when summer seems like a distant memory and venturing out without a scarf and hat is unthinkable.

Which is why most of us are dreaming of sunnier climes, blue seas and unspoiled beaches on which to enjoy a cocktail or two. One destination where these can be found pretty much all year round is Greece, which is why the island of Crete has been a popular tourist destination for many years. But if the island makes you think of 18-30s holidays in Malia then think again.

Agios Nikolaos has an ideal balance of turquoise sea, peaceful beaches and late-night bars and restaurants, and within this not-so-sleepy seaside town is the Minos Art Beach Hotel. Located in its own private peninsula, this is a design destination with a difference.

As the name suggests, creativity plays a big part in the life of this hotel resort, with contemporary paintings, sculptures and frescoes dotted around the grounds and in the rooms. As well as these eye-catching creations, the hotel has a large freshwater swimming pool, a spa and private beach access – perfect for quick dips and lazy bathes.

Despite a late arrival, we were warmly welcomed and shown to our Garden View bungalow – one of the whitewashed villas that create a tranquil, village-like feel within the resort. Comprising a double bedroom, dressing area and spacious en-suite, the villa was comfortable with the décor reflecting the traditional vibe of the villa. Colours were muted, mainly white and blue, and the bathroom benefitted from local toiletries containing Greek honey. Our terrace proved to be an ideal spot for early evening drinks thanks to its peaceful, garden location. But for more of a sense of occasion a trip to the Pure Lounge Bar at sunset is a must as its beach-side setting offers unparalleled sea views. And for an afternoon beverage or two, the Ibiscus pool bar has a lengthy list of cocktails coupled with friendly service.

For a truly memorable experience – for honeymooners or old romantics – guests should book into a waterfront three-bedroom villa, situated right on the water’s edge. Boasting a luxury private pool that overlooks the Mirabello Gulf, other features include a master bedroom, a dressing room and bathroom with Jacuzzi, a fully equipped kitchenette and a spacious living room with a wonderfully appointed sitting and dining area with sea prospect.

Although only a ten-minute walk from the bars and restaurants of Agios Nikolaos, the dining options available in the hotel are varied enough to keep guests satisfied. Serving a range of cuisines from traditional Cretan and gourmet Mediterranean to fine dining and buffets, there is something to suit all tastes and budgets. Bacchus Restaurant, one of the four choices (which hosts a fresh breakfast buffet) serves a daily changing dinner buffet from which we enjoyed Italian and Greek fare during our stay. But it was the special, seasonal lobster dinner served in La Bouillaisse that was the most memorable meal of the trip. This five-course tasting menu featured a range of dishes such as a smoked lobster salad, lobster consommé with homemade ravioli, sautéed lobster served with celery risotto and peas and Valrhona chocolate mousse with raspberries. La Bouillaisse specialises in Mediterranean food which is served in a romantic setting by the bay.

Seafood lovers should book into Terpsis seafront tavern and tuck into the delicious specialities of fresh fish served with pure Cretan olive oil. And any guests staying in a villa or superior room can choose to spend an evening at the pretty Ambrosia restaurant. Its terrace is shrouded in beautiful pink Bougainvillea, which stands out against the whitewashed walls to offer a picture perfect location.

Other gastronomic highlights include an Asian night and a Mediterranean night on alternate Fridays, a gala dinner (all in the Bacchus restaurant), live violin music every Sunday and a Cretan night twice per month in the Ambrosia restaurant, as well as a jazz saxophone night in Dionyssos Lobby bar.

While most of our days consisted of lying on loungers in one of the charming, fairly private outcrops of rock right by the sea and relaxing with a good book, the hotel is only about ten minutes away from Lake Voulismeni and the Archaeological Museum of Agios Nikolaos. A little further afield is the Aquaworld Aquarium, one of only three aquariums in Greece. For keen golfers, Crete’s only 18-hole golf course is about 25 miles away.

If you’d rather stay within the hotel grounds, a range of watersports, tennis, bike rides, Greek mythology lessons, landscape photography contests and fishing are available to guests. There’s also a small gym on site, situated within the spa building. Less strenuous activities are available and include yoga classes.

The Ananea Wellness by Aegeo Spa is a perfect retreat after a day of exploring (or lying by the sea or the pool). Although small, the spa offers a wide variety of treatments – from massages and facials to scrubs and masks – all of which take inspiration and ingredients from the local area. The signature Cretan Experience combines a body scrub with olive oil-based ingredients and a Cretan therapeutic massage, whereas the Green Detox package will appeal to any guest looking for a health kick courtesy of the detox aroma massage, seaweed therapy and fruit enzyme face mask.

After a consultation with the spa staff, we decided to use our welcome voucher towards an aloe vera facial, which will help soothe sun-kissed skin, and an anti-stress massage, which combines aromatherapy oils with classic massage techniques. Treatments can also be booked in the privacy of the Spa Gazebo at the water’s edge.

Those expecting lavish five-star luxury may be slightly disappointed with the Minos Beach Hotel’s laid back, boho look, but it has been good enough for celebrities such as Walt Disney, Prince Andrew and the Apollo 13 crew, thanks to its understated, unpretentious style and its exceptional waterfront location. Now there’s something to raise a glass to.

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