Gazing out from my crescent-shaped saltwater infinity pool to Spinalonga, the setting for Victoria Hislop’s best-selling novel The Island, it’s easy to see why celebs ranging from Gaga to Ronaldo make a beeline for this classy corner of Crete when they feel a need to kick back.
I’m staying at Elounda Gulf Villas & Suites, a family-run villa-hotel hybrid overlooking the scintillating, sand-decked curve of Mirabello bay.
Combining the attentive service you’d expect from a member of Great Hotels of the World Luxury collection (there’s a butler on hand to tend to your every whim) with all the privacy of a luxurious private villa, it’s a winning combination if – like me – you long to get away from it all, whilst having all the taverna- and nightlife-options of a first class Greek resort close to hand.
Staying in one of the resort’s swish Presidential Spa Villas, I have the use of three vast bedrooms with walk in wardrobes (each with it’s own full-length mirror), mezzanine dressing rooms (well-stocked with Italian brand Etro toiletry goodies) and cute cabin-style, marble-clad bathrooms with trompe l’oeil ceilings and the choice of hydro massage tub or separate power shower.
Although I’m not planning on cooking much during my lightening break away, two-day stay, the spacious open plan kitchen downstairs is equipped with every kind of cooking utensil imaginable, whilst the adjacent dining area has wall-to-ceiling windows looking out across the pool to Elounda’s yacht-studded seashore.
Best of all is the downstairs gym, sauna and hammam area opening onto a totally secluded terrace with alfresco dining area and sunloungers decked with plump cushions, where I spend a blissfully relaxing afternoon skipping from steam room to sauna, jacuzzi to cooler pool, then back again.
Brought to my villa by a team of maids, breakfast the next day is a many-plated affair: grilled pumpkin seed bread, creamy bougatsa pastries, pungent salty strips of graviera cheese, cereals, Greek yoghurt with Cretan thyme honey, herb-sprinkled scrambled eggs… and a busily-fizzing flute of champagne.
Later that morning I tour the propery with owner Anna Papakaliatis. Set out amongst carefully manicured mature gardens, there are luxury senior and family suites (best if you’re on a budget), which have separate living rooms, balconies with sea or garden views and ensuite bathrooms, and share a large swimming pool.
The spacious villas with their superbly equipped kitchens, oversized dining rooms, and (a nice touch for families with toddlers) their own washing machines, are more expensive, but do have their own private infinity pools.
And if you really want to splurge you can rent the four-bedroom Royal Villa with it’s football-pitch-sized living area, landscaped garden with infinity pool and barbecue where trend-setting Jordanian Royal Queen Rania recently stayed for several weeks.
After the tour Anna suggests things to do: I could head to Agios Nikolaos, a buzzing resort with a rumoured-to-be-bottomless lake; I could lounge amongst Europe’s only natural palm groves on Vai beach, or I could visit the typical mountain villages of Armeni and Ziros near Sitia. She tells me that she can organise excursions to local villages, cookery lessons with the resort’s chef, or – if I’m feeling in the mood for romance – she can arrange a candlelit dinner complete with iced champagne and fresh flowers decking the pool.
Instead, I spend the afternoon shopping for sponges, local alcohol raki and other take-home trinkets in Elounda, which turns out to be a surprisingly unspoilt cluster of tavernas and bars overlooking a port bristling with bright-coloured fishing boats.
That evening I have candlelit dinner at the resort’s Argo restaurant. From an extensive menu of Cretan and international delicacies, I choose tender pork filet doused in honey, organic baby spinach salad drizzled with locally produced organic extra virgin olive oil, shrimps in rich aniseed sauce and a crispy caramel-coated crème renverse for dessert.
Next day Anna calls through to the resort’s Elixir Spa Gallery and arranges for a masseuse to come to my villa. It is the icing on top of a very sumptuous cake. After an hour-and-a-half of kneading, skin-rolling and pummelling I feel fit and relaxed. Like Gaga and Ronaldo I’ll be back, but for now Elounda has worked it’s wonders and I’m ready to face the outside world again.
Elounda Gulf Villas & Suites is a member of Great Hotels of the Worlds Luxury Collection. Rooms start from £116.
For more information or to book, please visit http://www.ghotw.com/elounda-gulf-villas-suites