Crete has a lot to offer young families and the luxury resort Blue Palace takes the stress out of visiting the island with a baby. Amy Hopkins reports
I survey the baby paraphernalia heaped on my bed – a mountain of bibs, swimming nappies, sterilisers, plastic spoons, sippy cups, toys and teddies – and wonder how I’m going to cram it all into a suitcase. I’m packing for a trip to Crete with my husband Nick and our six-month old daughter, Annie. This will be Annie’s second overseas holiday (one of the perks of having a mum who works at Family Traveller). Our first trip, to Normandy, was when she was a snuggly, breastfed three-month-old. Back then she didn’t need much more than a handful of tiny nappies and vests, but travelling with a six-month-old suddenly feels like a whole different ball game. Luckily we will be staying at Blue Palace, a luxury hotel in Elounda that really walks the walk when it comes to being ‘family friendly’. A quick visit to the hotel website reveals that a travel cot, steriliser and even a bottle warmer will all be provided. I feel more relaxed already.
Blue Palace is built into a hillside in Elounda in northern Crete, (a hill so steep that we stall the hire car twice on the in). It’s difficult to get a sense of the size of the resort from inside, because it’s scattered across a number of low-lying terraces. Our suite is in an intimate cluster of seven or so, but I’m surprised to learn there are 251 suites and bungalows in total. In this sense, Blue Palace offers the best of both worlds; an intimate atmosphere coupled with the excellent facilities you’d expect to find at a big resort, including a kids’ club, a dreamy spa, PADI dive centre, two floodlit tennis courts and water-sports centre. Best of all, we don’t have to worry about navigating the slopey terrain with our travel buggy, because a quirky funicular elevator takes guests from reception to their suites and then all the way down to the private beach.
Our airy suite has a contemporary style with traditional Greek touches, and sliding glass doors that open onto our terrace and (yes!) private infinity pool. The sturdy travel cot doubles as a play-pen, which we can slide on the shaded terrace. We decide to keep to Annie time (UK time) while in Crete and her morning nap coincides perfectly with the sun sitting directly over our pool (midday Greek time). It’s bliss to be able to swim, sunbathe and read – three things pretty much out of bounds for new parents – knowing Annie is snoozing safely in her cot a few metres away. I’ve packed a travel blackout curtain, but the drapes in our suite are so thick we didn’t need it.
Every morning we ride the funicular to the resort’s main restaurant, where the staff never fail to remember Annie’s name and greet us with warm smiles. The breakfast buffet, which includes Champagne, is one of the best I’ve tried. Annie, who’s only been on solid food for a week, has her first experience of finger food while perched in a highchair at Blue Palace. She takes to it well and has a great time hurling chunks of cucumber and mango across the patio. The staff are just as friendly as we leave the restaurant, despite the detritus we leave in our wake.
As well as options for suites with private pools and saunas, guests at Blue Palace have the added luxury of the hotel’s private pebbled beach. However, after a couple of quickly aborted attempts, we accept that the beach, as inviting as it is, isn’t the best environment for a restless six-month-old. Instead we use our afternoons to discover what else Crete has to offer. Most days we stroll from the hotel to the village of Plaka in Mirabello Bay, ten minutes away, where traditional Greek evil eye charms (Mati) peer out from turquoise gift shops and a host of restaurants offer fresh fish and ocean views.
From our suite we have a fabulous view of a mysterious rocky island protruding from the Cretan sea. We’re intrigued to see that at night, not a single light shines from its stone buildings. In my made-up bedtime stories for Annie I nickname the deserted rock Skull Island, but it is in fact Spinolonga, an island leper colony until 1957. One afternoon we take the ten-minute boat ride (10 Euro each) to Spinolonga from Plaka village. The island costs 8 Euro to enter (babies are free) and with Annie in her sling, we follow the steep and rocky path among the eerie deserted buildings, reading about the island’s sad and fascinating history. Nick climbs to the top of the deserted fortress wearing Annie in her sling and together they enjoy views over Crete.
One afternoon we drive west from Blue Palace for just over an hour to reach Knossos, a Bronze Age archaeological site, known as Europe’s oldest city.
The terrain isn’t exactly pushchair-friendly and shade is sparse, so after a speedy look round we settle in the on-site cafe, where Annie is warmly welcomed – as she is everywhere we go – and her dad and I tuck into delicious Greek salad.
We keep Annie to UK time (two hours behind local time) for the duration of our trip. This means we can enjoy morning lie-ins and eat out in the evenings in time for Annie’s bedtime. Blue Palace has five restaurants, ranging from a beach club offering daytime snacks to a romantic Moroccan-style lounge. The best restaurant is undoubtedly Blue Door, a traditional Greek taverna in a stone fisherman’s cottage where the tables are sprawled across a patio overlooking the water. Nick and I devour the catch of the day cooked over the grill, while Annie waves breadsticks from her highchair (they are plentiful in the hotel’s restaurants) and charms our fellow diners.
Only three months have passed since our last holiday together, but already Annie is like a different person. Yes, she comes with a lot more baggage, but the pay-off is incredible. Suddenly I have a travel companion who plays, swims and eats with me, and who finds Crete just as interesting as I do. As we pack to leave Blue Palace, Annie watches us from the centre of our suite’s giant double bed. To my astonishment she sits unsupported for several minutes – something she’s never done before. I’m reminded of the magical moment when we heard her first laugh on our trip to Normandy. How will travelling with her be different in a few months time, I wonder, and what new ways will she find to amaze us?
Double rooms from £168 in low season and £330 in high season. Breakfast included.
Flights from London to Heraklion take four hours. Blue Palace is an hour’s drive from Heraklion Airport. Transfers available.
Family rooms, cots, sterilisers, bottle warmers, high chairs, supervised kids’ club and babysitting services.