Postcards are our favorite sort of mail. We're talking texts, what's apps and emails rather than anything with a stamp, but there's nothing like in-the-moment travel notes for boosting our destination knowledge and fueling our wanderlust. Here, journalist Jackie Cooperman, a former Milan correspondent for WWD and a contributor to Wall Street Journal, New York Times and more, shares highlights and tips from a recent family trip to Athens and Crete — essential reading for anyone thinking of a Greek adventure next summer.
During a recent trip to Greece, our mythology-obsessed ten-year-old proved an excellent and exhaustive tour guide, and we happily balanced out our hard-charging visits to ruins and museums with some Hellenistic, even hedonistic, pampering.
In Athens, the Grande Hotel Bretagne knows most tourists are coming for the Acropolis, and they show it off to grand effect, with the hotel restaurant pointed dead over the temples and a breakfast buffet that takes the early morning meal seriously. From four kinds of honey (pine, orange, Cretan thyme and Mainalos fir tree) to local cheeses, spanakopita, tender pies filled with pumpkin or cheese, and Greek salads, the buffet breakfast was the perfect way to nourish ourselves before our big days of sightseeing.
We had booked the hotel intending to use the outdoor pool, but as it’s fairly tiny and seating was hard to come by, it proved less inviting than we’d hoped. What a boon, then, to discover the basement level spa pool — a nearly empty haven of salt water buoyancy. The spa also has the perfect amenity for tired tourists: heated and bubbly foot baths, open to all hotel guests, and blissful after hours of visiting ruins and Athens’ impressive museums. (A side note: we loved the museum food in Athens. The Museum of Islamic Art has a terrific terrace and makes a mean horiatiki and coffee frappe; the National Archeological Museum serves its very good cafeteria-style food in an olive tree-filled courtyard.) At night, after edifying but dusty days, we loved coming back to our quiet room and finding exceptionally good Greek chocolates from Pavlidis waiting on our crisp linen pillowcases.
After days of intense sightseeing in Athens and Delphi, we decamped to Crete. We spent several hot but fascinating hours touring King Minos’ Palace in Heraklion, then made a beeline for the Blue Palace Resort and Spa in Elounda, and never looked back. The rooms were large and inviting, and ours (and 141 others) even had its own infinity pool. We loved that we could walk into the adjacent little fishing town, Plaka, and eat at any number of reasonably priced and very delicious fish restaurants. Though the beach at the Blue Palace isn’t sand, the rocks are smooth, and the hotel’s built a platform to access the gorgeous clear water. If your kids aren’t excited to swim in the sea (and it was extremely windy during our stay, making the water challenging for young swimmers), the hotel has an impressive collection of three outdoor pools, ranging from baby size to immense, as well as an indoor pool in the spa.
Food options were varied and included Asian fusion and Italian (my daughter was a big fan of Isola restaurant’s gelato cart, a convenient few steps from the beach), but we particularly adored the Blue Door taverna, with outdoor seating overlooking the coast and Spinalonga, and a plethora of delicious mezze, fresh fish and crisp local wine. Another fun feature: rather than chocolates, the Blue Palace provides Greek Apitiva beauty products like honey and aloe vera moisturizing masks at turn down. The resort also offers what may be the ultimate perk for days when getting the whole family up and out seems like too much work for vacation: complimentary room service breakfast.
From the hotel, the island of Spinalonga is a three-minute motorboat ride, and definitely worth exploring. A former 12th-century Venetian fort which was taken over by the Turkish before becoming a Cretan leper colony, the island is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and has sublime views of the Cretan coast and deep blue sea.