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Crete: The Perfect Winter Warmer

Hints, tips and hidden gems -- here's our advice on getting the most from this year-round holiday hotspot  

The Island
Crete is the largest, most populous and, in my humble opinion, most beautiful of the Greek Islands (with the possible exception of Poros). With its temperate climate, profusion of places to stay in or go out, and an abundance of flight options (should you choose to self-package) it makes for an excellent year-round holiday option for pretty much any demographic.

Although the traditional tourist season runs from April to mid-October, more and more people are now turning to off-season getaways to enjoy a less crowded, more tranquil (and needless to say, less expensive) version of this southernmost island in Europe. It’s the perfect time to appreciate the drama of Crete’s natural beauty and its often sub-tropical winter temperatures.  

Where to stay                 
Although I have never actually counted, there are probably close to a million places on offer to suit each and every budget, from super-luxurious to cheap and cheerful. Family-friendly resorts and private villas are pretty much everywhere, and then there’s my personal favourite -- the adults-only option -- which I opted for in the cosmopolitan resort of Hersonissos, a mere 25-minute transfer from the capital’s airport at Heraklion.   

Aquis Silva Beach Hotel, Hersonissos          
Back in late spring of this year (and again in October) Travelzoo published a fantastic week-long package deal to stay at the Aquis Silva Beach Hotel. So, having never visited Crete and being an avid watcher of Channel 4’s “A Place in Greece”, I decided to stock up on a bit of early-autumn sunshine, get my fill of feta and dust off my Shirley Valentine hat and sunnies.

Built in the style of a traditional Cretan village, the Aquis Silva Beach Hotel operates as an adults-only* all-inclusive resort hotel (although half board is also possible if you prefer the flexibility of exploring alternative lunch options). With its superb seafront location, extraordinary levels of service and hospitality, it’s an absolute must -- first class all the way, without putting too much of a dent in your wallet. 

Tips (should you choose to stay in Hersonissos):

  • For 20€pp, take a glass-bottomed boat trip to the picturesque port of Sissi. It’s a mere 15-minute stroll from Aquis Silva Beach Hotel to the departure point in Hersonissos, from where I would strongly recommend you buy the tickets. The “high street” agencies near the hotel charge an extra 8€pp
  • Hop aboard the little Happy Train. It’s one of those things I normally turn my nose up at, but I couldn’t resist this one, not only because of the value for money, but also for the chance to see a lot of the local area without needing to hire a car. For about 12€pp** you get picked up directly outside the hotel and spend about 90 minutes chug-chugging through the old and new bits of the port, and then up to the old town tucked into the mountains a couple of kilometres away. Jasmine scents, bougainvillea and stunning views along the way
  • For 56€pp (including unlimited soft drinks and an ample traditional Greek lunch) you can take a quad bike safari up to the beautiful mountain village of Mohos. Tickets can be purchased from the departure point, which is a 10-minute walk east from the hotel reception. This is definitely not for the faint-hearted but was a thrilling, if slightly vertiginous experience! 
  • If you chose to go half board then head for one of the many traditional tavernas or chic eateries that run along the coastal path into the bustling port of Hersonissos. Meat-eaters should try the traditional chicken gyros with tzatziki. Seriously yummy. For vegetarians, there’s halloumi aplenty! Warning: Tread carefully if you’re going to opt for any pork dishes. I guess after two rather tough offerings, I should have learned my lesson before opting for pork a third time.  Sadly not though. Maybe it’s my middle-aged molars, or perhaps just I failed to read that culinary memo which legally permits restaurants to serve up bits of old fried flip-flop and call it pork. And then charge for it
  • And now for my final secret -- a gem that’s a mere hop, skip and Zorba’s dance away. At the very bottom right-hand side of the Aquis Silva Beach Hotel is a little coast road stretching out northeast from the resort. Head to the Hawaiian-looking cafe built into the little cove and order your beverage or snack of choice. Then close your eyes and let the detoxifying lapping of the waves work their magic. You’ll never want to leave. Ever… 

So, whether you choose to travel in or out of season, and whether or not you choose this hotel, Crete is a definite must. Click here to find the best Crete deals available right now. 

*Currently 18+ years

**You absolutely have to buy a ticket before boarding -- on this occasion you definitely should purchase from one of the local ticket agencies in the high street

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Tips by

Deal Expert, London
Tuesday, 10 January 2012
See more Tips from
Pedro Hume-Rodriguez