Crete is a top destination for a sunny family holiday. This island, emerging from the sea with its majestic mountains covered with snow six months of the year, offers a perfume of eternity. Both wild and cultural, it invites you to relax and discover. Head for Elounda to enjoy the gentle way of life on a mythical Mediterranean island.
Crete can be seen with a brush stroke on the clear waters of the Aegean Sea. As the cradle of the Minoan civilisation, the largest of the Greek islands is ideal for many tourist trips. From its capital Heraklion to Chania, from Rethymnon to Knossos and Phaistos; between archaeological sites, harbour towns and seaside resorts, Crete reveals many faces. Let’s set sail for one of its top destinations and one of its best assets: Elounda.
On the north coast of the island, 70 km from Heraklion, this former fishing village converted into a chic resort attracts many travellers. Nestled in an idyllic natural setting, Elounda is home to some of the island’s finest hotels, without giving in to theatrical snobbery. The atmosphere is lively but always relaxed. The narrow streets in the centre are always buzzing with the best of the local traditions. A stay in Elounda is an opportunity to enjoy the beach, long walks by the sea and Cretan gastronomy. The island of Spinalonga, once a piece of land, is also worth a visit. Little Guest has put together a list of the best things to do in and around Elounda for your family.
A site steeped in history, both austere and moving. Popularised by Victoria Hislop‘s novel, this island, also known as « the island of the forgotten », has become a major tourist site in Crete. You will embark at the port of Plaka, a pretty fishing village where you can enjoy delicious fried octopus and squid. As soon as you arrive on the island, you will not fail to notice the citadel. It occupies the largest part of the island and is continually being restored. Built by the Venetians in 1579, the citadel was occupied by the Turks from 1715 after being the scene of bloody clashes between Greeks and Turks. During the first half of the 20th century, the citadel became a refuge for lepers. The citadel was then cut off from the world; new patients entered through a tunnel nicknamed « Dante’s Gate ». The only outside visits were the delivery of basic goods and foodstuffs and a weekly visit by a doctor.
Spinalonga is very easy to visit; there are continuous shuttle buses from Plaka (5 minutes), Elounda (15 minutes) and Agios Nikolaos (a good hour). Alternatively, you can hire a boat and make the trip on your own. This is an opportunity to take the helm and discover this exciting activity with the children.
Cretan gastronomy is the result of a weaving of Mediterranean influences. It is essentially based on rich and healthy products of the land. Composed around vegetables, wild herbs, fish and white meats, the dishes are full of sunshine. In Crete, tradition dictates that the meal begins with the local mezze; a set of appetizers made of olives, vine leaves and tzatziki. The main course is delicious fish such as barbounia or red mullet with a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.
Even more than fish, meat is at the heart of the local cuisine. Lamb and rabbit are eaten in stews, chicken is often boiled and mutton is found in a famous dish that children love: moussaka. The meal ends with a fruit platter or, for those with a sweet tooth, with baklava, an oriental pastry made with honey and pistachios, or Kalitsounia with fresh cheese. Extend your holiday by taking home a jar of particularly tasty thyme or pine honey.
A chance to follow in the footsteps of the Mycenaean emperors in a landscape of sheep and goats and lush olive trees as far as the eye can see. The heroic times are not so far away, you will visit places made legendary by Greek mythology. The island of the gods, where Zeus was born and later fell in love with his captive Europa, offers exceptional ancient evidence. The myths have influenced art and architecture. The archaeological site of Knossos is a perfect example of this meeting of fiction and reality. It contains the ruins of great palaces, including the supposed home of King Minos and the mythical Minotaur. According to Greek mythology, a labyrinth was built there by the architect Daedalus to keep the Minotaur prisoner.
The half-bull, half-man creature was, after years during which seven young men and seven young women were sacrificed, killed by Theseus who found his way back thanks to the thread of Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos who fell in love with the young Greek hero. These ancient myths still resonate today and find their echo in our language (a maze, an Ariadne’s thread). They often fascinate children of all ages.
A land of many conquests, the island whispers its memories to travellers. The archaeological site of Malia offers a labyrinth of ruins that evoke the brilliant and proud civilization that flourished 3,500 years ago on the island. The bed of the small coastal river Potamos separates the site from a beach of the same name, appreciated for the quality of its waters. This beach is considered one of the most beautiful in Crete and is also worth a visit. Take a refreshing dip after a visit to Malia. At the back of the beach, a marshy area rich in vegetation is the habitat of several species of water birds, which can be observed with the children.
A magnificent family dive into the underwater world. Created in 2005 as part of a project by Thalassokosmos, a marine research complex in the Mediterranean region, this aquarium is one of the largest in Europe. It features more than 2,000 aquatic creatures, ranging from sea turtles to jellyfish, seahorses to sharks, octopuses to starfish. The visit is an opportunity to learn more about marine ecosystems and to understand the importance of underwater biodiversity.
The CRETAquarium offers interactive games for children. After this visit, get into the water and try to find the fish identified during your visit through your diving masks. Underwater exploration can be done with a mask and snorkel or with oxygen tanks via one of the many diving centres on the island.
Domes of Elounda *****
The Domes of Elounda, Autograph Collection is a jewel in the crown of the Cretan hotel industry, nestled in a green setting overlooking the sea. The hotel deserves its 5 stars in every way: the service is impeccable, the rooms are modern and spacious, the spa with its treatment centre, sauna and hammam is unique and the restaurant is not to be outdone. This family-friendly address is the ideal base for a stay in Crete.
The plus: The hotel offers the stay to little holidaymakers under 12 years old. But make no mistake, nothing is left to chance to meet the requirements of the little kings. From the moment they are transferred from the airport in luxurious cars equipped with seats adapted to their age, children are the centre of attention. Creative and sporting activities are organised for young holidaymakers by the baby club, children’s club or teenagers’ club, depending on their age. Film screenings and family entertainment help to make the stay even more unforgettable!
Blue Palace, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa *****
To enhance your stay in Mirabello Bay, the Blue Palace, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa is an elegant address in shades of blue. The embodiment of luxury and elegance, the palace unfolds suites and villas in a Mediterranean landscape on the mountainside. The hotel is a place to enjoy the clear waters of the Aegean Sea and the azure blue of its private swimming pools. The resort also boasts a private beach lined with olive trees, adding a touch of green to the dominant blue. The architecture of the resort, inspired by traditional Greek culture, blends in with the generous landscape bathed in sunlight.
The plus: Between the kids-club which welcomes children between 3 and 12 years old, the sports activities for teenagers (water-skiing, paddle, windsurfing, cycling, etc.) and the babysitting services, you will be able to spend relaxing moments as a couple. Mum and Dad can also take a break and enjoy the Elounda spa. This wellness centre is an oasis of serenity overlooking the Aegean Sea.
Elounda Beach Hotel & Villas *****
Privacy, discretion and exclusivity are the key words of this exceptional address located a few minutes from the charming port of Elounda. The Elounda Beach Hotel & Villas is designed to appeal to a trendy family clientele, far from the resorts where tourists crowd together for a deckchair around an overcrowded pool. Its chic and romantic universe will amaze your adult eyes and the numerous activities of the kids-club will take care to amaze those of your children. A small paradise for a family stay punctuated by moments of pure relaxation, cultural visits and water activities.
The plus: The hotel, which has received numerous awards, including the one for the best wellness hotel in Greece, has an exceptional vitality area that uses the famous Chenot method for all its services, treatments and treatments. These programmes are inspired by the bio-based health and anti-ageing concepts developed by Dr Henri Chenot and a team of experts over nearly fifty years of research. Combine these treatments with rich local cuisine, blazing sunshine and family laughter and you’ll return revitalised and ready to face the daily grind before your next sunbath.
Through the window of the plane, Crete is revealed to travellers as a long chain of mountains emerging from the clear waters. We lose altitude and discover a country bathed in sunshine, between wild nature and historical sites. Finally, disembark in Heraklion, the island’s capital and home to the main airport, the second largest in Greece. Although the port city does not have the charm of Chania, it is a witness to the history of this island which has been perpetually invaded since the Mycenaeans put an end to the golden age of the Minoans. Marked by the passage of the Ottomans, Byzantines and Venetians, Heraklion is a good starting point for those who are curious.
Discover the imprint of these ancient civilisations in the city’s stones and in its archaeological museum, which is well worth a visit. For families with a passion for nature, the Natural History Museum is also a must. Children especially love the earthquake simulator. After this visit to the island’s capital, head for Mirabello Bay, so named by the Venetians and located 1 hour from Heraklion International Airport. Elounda can be reached by car (many rental companies are located at the airport), by bus from the capital or by transfer organised by your hotel.
Enjoy your trip with Little Guest!
Audrey, 25 years old, journalist with a passion for travel, from Brussels