Everyone’s heard of the Mediterranean diet, hailed for its anti-inflammatory and health-boosting properties. What most people don’t know, however, is that the origin of the modern Mediterranean diet is the Greek island of Crete. Oft-overlooked by tourists in favor of its glamorous Cycladic neighbors Santorini and Mykonos, Crete offers the complete package: beaches, mountain villages, scenery, and the opportunity to eat healthily while traveling. Fortunately, the island has a long history of wine production, so there’s always a bottle made from indigenous grapes ready to pair with that smart Cretan feta and tomato salad.
Even better, travelers eager to dine Mediterranean style needn’t veer far off the beaten path or even their private villa’s pool. Many of Crete’s finest hotels source from the island’s farms and wineries, and almost every property offers an approximation of traditional cuisine.
When planning an itinerary, keep distances in mind. While 160 miles from east to west sounds conquerable, most of the interior rises into jagged mountain ranges that stretch to the clouds. Going from north to south requires traversing valleys and gorges and occasionally white-knuckling it on steep spindly roads. Thus, plan for two weeks with a rental car to avoid feeling rushed.
Blue Palace, a Luxury Collection Resort and Spa
This legacy property in Elounda remains a perennial American favorite for a reason: stunning views, unique architecture, and exceptional food. This benchmark hotel can be booked through the Luxury Resort Collection on Marriot’s website, making it accessible to members with points. Stunning grounds marked by multiple pools, a private beach, a spa and well-equipped gym, keep guests busy—and spread out—so it never feels crowded. While the beach is stony, piers stretching into the crystalline sea allows guests access the tranquil water.
One of the finest features of this property is the breathtaking view of Spinalonga Island, an archaeological ruin and former leper colony. Don’t miss the chance to sail on the hotel’s traditional fishing boat known as a caique. Guests can book a private sail to the sapphire waters behind Spinalonga, then stop for a swim and picnic with wine. Blue Palace has several brilliant dining experiences, from sampling shrimp saganaki at charming seaside spot Blue Door to indulging in roasted lamb and other traditional dishes at chef-driven Anthós. The solution: do both.
The Royal Senses Resort & Spa Crete, Curio Collection by Hilton
The Royal Senses Resort, a stunning new property in the Hilton Curio collection, was built like an amphitheater facing the sea. Rooms and suites furnished in neutral, natural materials, run up the hill with pool villas on the highest tier, reached by a funicular. The main entrance, dining room, and bars are located on the ground level, with the spa and intimate fine dining restaurant Cretamos tucked away on the second floor.
The sommeliers at Cretamos conduct private wine tastings in the cellar, introducing guests to the island’s best and most unique wines. For a fantastic example of Cretan lamb roasted on a spit (sensing a theme here?), a traditional technique called antikristo, book dinner at Mitato. You’ll likely be serenaded by traditional music by a Cretan who plays up to 7 instruments. It may be an all-inclusive hotel, but Royal Senses serves outstanding Cretan food and wine.
Domes Zeen Chania, a Luxury Collection Resort
One of the most beautiful hotels in Crete, Domes Zeen sits 15 minutes by foot west of Chania on the coast. Originally designed as a Thomas Cook all-inclusive, the Zen-style collection of bungalows was renovated and improved by the Greek-based Domes Resorts group after the 178-year-old British holiday firm folded. It’s now part of Marriott’s luxury collection and thus bookable with points.
The change-of-hands was clearly for the better: Domes Zeen Chania features stunning minimalist rooms and villas in dark tones using natural materials from leather, wood, to stone. Many rooms feature private pools and ocean views as bungalows cascade down the hill from the street entrance to the beach. While tempting to hang around one’s patio, the sleek pool affronting the restaurant and bar deserves a few hours.
Now, for the food. For an all-inclusive property, or simply a standalone restaurant, Domes Zeen Chania boats destination-worthy dining. Truly oustanding meals that shame most international hotel restaurants. The Cretan-inspired food—think succulent whole, grilled fish—matches the excellent local wine list that’s worth exploring with the knowledgeable sommelier.
If you like your holidays with a side of Brooklyn hipster or IG influencer, book this chic beachfront hotel on the south coast of Crete. Cool social media vibes aside, this resort is a bona fide hit of culinary substance.
The ocean front restaurant Tamarisk sports one of Crete’s best wine lists replete with the island’s near-forgotten indigenous grapes like Plyto. Don’t miss the traditional Crete tasting menu at Menoa. Once again, it’s all about the spit roasted lamb. The farm-to-table cuisine of both restaurants was initially guided by female chef Konstantina Voulgari, a San Pellegrino Young Chef of the Year finalist.
Stylish guest rooms, which range in size considerably, span cozy with a balcony to enormous, multi-room floorplans with private patios, pools, and lounge furniture to seat a family or three. A DJ spins during the day swapping tunes at dusk when the cocktails start flowing. A barefoot luxury ethos flows from the laid-back common spaces down to the beach, where a swath of black sand accommodates a dozen or so guests. Looking back from the clear velvety waters of the Libyan Sea, you’ll see mountains framing the hotel create a Palm Springs desert mood. Top your stay off with a visit to the spa, and you’ll think about booking a second week.
Travelers seeking international glamor on a Greek holiday should look to Abaton Island. A metaphorical island in the tourist-trap sea of Malia, Abaton welcomes stylish jetsetters who wish to relax on Crete’s northeast coast for a few days. The resort’s polished Cycladic architecture evokes Miami-meets-Rome with glossy white marble, black accents, and double-height ceilings in the grand second floor lobby and ground floor Ladies & Gentleman Bar.
Various dining options keep one-stop vacationers occupied. In addition to the daily buffet at the F-Zin Ivy League Restaurant, included with the rate, a la carte restaurants range from the seafood-focused Bony Fish, meat-centric WOW Steak, and Buddha Bar Beach based on the famous franchise. Visitors with a car should explore the food scene in Heraklion, visit vineyards, and tour the famous ruins of Knossos, all 30 minutes west of the hotel. The best guest suites at this hotel in Crete feature ocean views and private plunge pools, perfect for lazy days reading books before visiting the spa.