Having had all my long-haul plans for my landmark birthday scuppered, I looked closer to home.
I haven’t been to Greece for 30 years, but I have always had Crete on my radar. But first I had to get there!
Even as a seasoned traveller who works within the industry, I had to triple check everything was in order. It’s straightforward once you start the process, but I was glad to have the backing of colleagues if necessary.
What a memorable experience it turned out to be!
Mask in place, I boarded my first flight since January 2020, and it was good to be back. Social distancing was apparent, masks were compulsory throughout the flight, even when sleeping.
On arrival at Heraklion airport, it took about 25 minutes to clear passport control, as the officials were randomly testing - however the upside of a small airport is that my luggage was waiting for me once I got through.
My private transfer was ready to whisk me away and approximately 40 minutes later, I arrived at my home for some pure R&R for the next 14 nights.
The St Nicolas Bay Resort Hotel is simply beautiful - a hidden gem with sweeping views over Mirabello Bay. Having never been to Crete before, I had no preconceptions other than for the food, which is always high on my list when travelling.
It has of course been a torrid time for everyone, and this was my first time away from my desk for longer than three days in the last 18 months.
Having never been away completely alone, I was totally out of my comfort zone.
How would I spend 14 days eating alone, not sharing my experiences ‘live’ with another person?
Alex, the hotel’s General Manager, and his entire team, hugely contributed to the enjoyment of my holiday. With so much to tell about this delightful resort and my stay, a dedicated blog will follow shortly.
I took the first couple of days very easy, relaxing on the beach, reading, listening to music, watching the waves lap calmly on the sand, eating fresh local food, and simply being.
By day three, I wanted to explore a little and knew I could either get a taxi or the speedboat from the hotel to the local harbour town of Aghios Nikolaos (AN). I love boats and it was a no brainer for me to research and experience this exhilarating excursion.
The journey takes around seven minutes and costs €35.00 one way, so it’s better value if multiple people are doing the trip.
Picture postcard perfect, AN is situated on a small round lake which has steep rocky cliffs to one side and tree-lined pedestrianised streets to the other.
It is quite hilly but so pretty it’s worth the effort with boutique shops selling everything from high-end leather bags, designer clothing, cheesy gift stores, and everything in between.
There is a Wednesday market, which I simply had to visit, with fruit and veg mixed with the obligatory fake designer goods. I also found some fantastic skincare made from local ingredients.
I wandered around the cobbled streets in town for about four hours, getting lost, browsing the stalls and shops, all whilst enjoying the atmosphere of people on holiday.
I had lunch in a lakeside café, people watching and reaffirming just how much I had missed travelling.
A taxi to the hotel from AN is set at €6.00, takes about 12 minutes and it was good to see that the drivers kept their masks on throughout.
You can also walk - it takes about 30-40 minutes, but it’s hot and don’t forget lots of shops still close for their siesta, so the best times to visit are in the morning and after 5 pm.
Having heard of Spinaloga, it was on my list of must-dos. The book, The Island by Victoria Hislop, is based on the surrounding area and I had downloaded a copy and was soon absorbed in the world of the 20th century.
I was keen to explore the history of the leper colony which can be seen from Elounda or Plaka, just along the coast from AN.
I got a taxi to Plaka for a fare of €21.00 as I had wanted to see the town where most of the above book was based.
Having to wait a while for the ferry due to lack of demand, I mooched around the village until it was time to board. This costs €10 for a roundtrip and takes around 12- 15 minutes. Making the same journey as the lepers would have done made it very poignant.
I walked through the island in around an hour and could physically feel the history. Seeing how they lived and survived with their incredible inner strength, the irony of visiting during a pandemic wasn’t lost on me.
There is a huge history to Spinalonga dating back to 1574 when the fort was built. It wasn’t used as a leper colony until 1903.
Returning to Plaka, I was excited to explore the village further and enjoyed sitting outside a café 'people watching' and cooling down from the midday sun.
Plaka Square is very small and can be walked in 15 minutes. With its whitewashed buildings and different coloured shutters, it is the epitome of a traditional fishing village, with its independent stores and owners who are just happy that the tourists are starting to come back.
Looking for some lunch before returning to the hotel, by chance I came across Giovanni’s. It just happened to be one of the most popular restaurants in the area and for good reason.
My table overlooked the bay, where I was served a sumptuous dish of seafood risotto. The deep-dish was overflowing with seafood and with the breeze coming off the sea, it was the perfect setting to relax and savour the wonderful combination of tastes, smells and glorious views.
Back in AN, I spent lots of time exploring the offerings of this little town, including sampling the delicacies, baklava, halva and raki (brandy, distilled from grapes), all in the name of research, of course!
The people of Crete enhanced my holiday experience to such a degree, it felt like I was part of an extended family wherever I went. Happy and welcoming to the returning tourists, I can understand why clients go back year after year to this mesmerising island.