TV presenter and mum-of-two, Laura Hamilton, takes advantage of two weeks' filming in Crete to explore the beautiful island with her family, staying at two gorgeous hotels along the way

Two weeks in Crete with my family - I’ll take that!  In fact, during the uncertain year of travel in 2020, I was extremely lucky to be working and travelling the Greek Islands with my family. Of course, the thought crossed my mind: was this the right thing to be doing? Is travel safe right now? Will my travels go to plan? Yes, yes and who knows if my travel schedule would go as I had planned were my answers. I am extremely passionate about supporting what is left of the travel industry right now. If we don’t support it, it's safe to say there will be nothing left.

Over the years I have travelled to a few of the Greek Islands and they are, quite simply put, stunning. Crete is the largest of the islands and has a choice of two airports: Chania in the west and Heraklion in the east.

It’s not typical of my filming schedule for A Place in The Sun that I get to spend two weeks, back-to-back, in the same location, but this time I had a fortnight on the west side of Crete so I decided to use the opportunity to experience two different hotels.

Our first stop was Giannoulis Santa Marina Beach Hotel, a four-star hotel with a new five-star wing.

This felt like a hotel of two halves, with each section divided by the road. On one side, you find the restaurant, beach and family rooms, while on the other you find the five-star accommodation, another restaurant and a couple of pools. You can go through a tunnel to access either side, but we just didn’t feel it was ideal.

Mylos Tou Kerata is a real experience, with dried fruit & flowers everywhere

The pool area by the five-star accommodation is lovely. The rooms feature nice bathrooms, have comfortable beds and small balconies. The air conditioning (essential) worked well too! The gardens are nicely maintained and after viewing other rooms in the hotel, the bedrooms in the five-star wing are definitely the best.

The general manager and his senior team really are trying their best to offer excellent customer service. The buffet restaurant wasn’t my favourite place to dine but the à la carte restaurant had some nice options and Efti, the waiter, was lovely.

Giannoulis Santa Marina Beach Hotel is well located in the resort of Agia Marina. There are a number of good restaurants within walking distance and although they had to close at midnight (due to the COVID-19 rule), we were often already in bed by that time anyway. Our favourite restaurants were The Olive Tree, a traditional restaurant located on the beach, Mitsos, which is also on the beach but has a little play area with swings for the little ones, and Mylos Tou Kerata, which is a real experience with dried fruit and flowers everywhere and a castle ruin wall and swans on a pond behind what looks like a very unassuming door.

Another place worth checking out for a few hours of fun with the children is Red Havana. It features a small inflatable park with three large slides and a pool. It is well managed with a strict lifeguard keeping a watchful eye on the children and at a cost of just five euros offers excellent value for money.

After six nights at Giannoulis Santa Marina Beach Hotel we were ready to experience our next hotel and the next stop was Domes Zeen. Part of the Marriot brand, this place proved to be a hidden gem. So much so, it was difficult for the Sat-Nav to find! With its boho, chic and natural-style interior design, I felt inspired to redecorate parts of my own home when we got back.

The well-designed, spacious bedrooms (most of which have their own plunge pools) are built into the hillside and follow a winding road, accessed only by golf buggies down to the restaurant, pool and finally the beach. The main pool at Domes Zeen wasn’t like your average hotel pool - it featured dark tiles, which doesn’t sound very inviting, but it actually looked fantastic. The gravelled area where the sunbeds were situated wasn’t quite as appealing, however I think the hotel has plans to improve this space.

I experienced one of the best massages I have had in the outdoor, but well shaded ‘Jungle Spa’ and I managed to get a daily work out in at the outdoor (again shaded) gym, which was constantly being wiped down.

It's definitely worth venturing out to try some of the local restaurants

During the time of our visit, the kids' club was open (one of the few in Greece) and the restaurant was serving all food on an à la carte basis. Following COVID-19 protocols, they felt this was a safer option rather than offering a buffet. The menu on offer was limited so it’s definitely worth venturing out to try some of the local restaurants.

Portes Restaurant was with within walking distance that we visited with a few friends we had made chatting around the hotel pool. Another restaurant we tried was Salis, which was situated not far from the old Venetian port of Chania and offered some of the best food we tasted in Crete. I would highly advise booking this restaurant a few days in advance because it gets so busy!

As our two weeks in Crete came to an end, we were happy to have been able to support two hotels and a number of restaurants on this Greek Island and excited that our Greek adventures would continue over on the Peloponnese on the mainland.

We travelled safely, were well looked after and our travel plans in Crete worked out as they were meant to. Even if they hadn’t, travel is all about the adventure and making the most of the experience. I sincerely hope that reading this gives you hope, and inspires and encourages you to travel again.

Laura Hamilton