Discover the mystifying energy of Crete
From the snow kissed mountains overlooking Chania in the west to the tranquil bays of Elounda in the East, Crete's mystique is almost impossible to describe. Here, writer Freddy Clode set out to immerse himself in this unique island to truly understand what makes it so special
Like Nokos Kazantzakis hundreds of years before me, I struggle to put into words the mystifying energy and sheer beauty and magnificence of Crete. What I can say is that the Domes resorts have captured that splendour, across all their individual resorts, to create a spectacular experience for their guests. It is no wonder that Domes are the fastest growing luxury resort group in the world.
From the snow kissed mountains overlooking Chania in the west, to the tranquil bays of Elounda in the East, there is a certain mystifying energy to be found in Crete that is almost impossible to describe. Noted by the Nobel Prize nominated author Kazantzakis as ‘an inexpressible flame more powerful than life or death’, I set out to immerse myself in this mystical land to truly understand what makes it so special.
I started my journey of discovery in Chania, the bustling metropolitan capital of Crete which has been forged by Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman rule. The cross currents of all these influences ripple through the city at every corner, from the 15th century Venetian harbour east of Kastelli, to the 17th century synagogue in the Jewish quarter of Ovriaki.
Having stopped for a delicious lunch at Kaiki, one of the outstanding seafood restaurants next to the old harbour, I headed to Domes Noruz Chania, the five-star adult only resort which was set to be my home for the next couple of nights.
The hotel is located along the secluded sandy beachfront of Agioi Apostoloi, merely 3 miles from the centre of Chania and boasts the most stunning views overlooking the crystalline waters of the Aegean sea. The hotel's architecture, inspired by the historic surroundings of the nearby Byzantine churches, has been effortlessly blended with a fresh and contemporary style.
Domes Noruz is a luxury lifestyle resort which specialises in wellness, witnessed by their 3 swimming pools, 2 gyms all open 24/7 (1 which is outdoors overlooking the beach) and the daily fitness & yoga classes on offer from the in-house instructors. Their award winning ‘Soma Spa’ features an abundance of treatment rooms fuelled by Elemis products, an indoor pool, steam, sauna and a juice bar offering a vast array of complimentary healthy snacks.
Surrounded by all this luxury, one would wonder how their rooms could stand out, but you’d be pleasantly surprised, for each room stands unparalleled in comparison to anything else the island has to offer. Mine boasted a 12 ft private pool with views out over the ocean, a panelled fitness area with equipment to match, an outdoor bath (which is best enjoyed at sunset, ideally with one of Raw Bars delicious cocktails). The luxury continued with a stunning regal king size four poster bed and a vast marbled bathroom. Each room at Domes Noruz boasts either a private pool or jacuzzi, and each are filled with the most opulent of touches; a Nespresso machine with unlimited pods, a Smeg fridge, automatic heat detecting air conditioning, a welcome bottle of fizz on arrival, and of course the added luxury of a twice daily turndown service.
In the evenings we whiled away the hours drinking local adaptations on classic cocktails, whilst enjoying freshly made sushi at the Raw Bar. When the sun had disappeared, we gazed at the projections on the side of the hotel playing out in perfect unison with the hotel's very own DJs breakbeat tunes. Then we headed into town and watched the streets come alive from a table at our favourite spot, Fagotto, a wonderfully atmospheric jazz bar located on the far west side of the old port.
Awaking with heavy heads both mornings, we found refuge in the flawless breakfast buffet being served at Topos restaurant, which stuck to the wellness theme with an array of salads, smoothies, fruit platters, local hams and cheeses, and a vast table of healthy nuts and snacks. However, fear not for those wanting to experience something less healthy, all the breakfast classics were there too, along with all the pastries, breads & cakes you could desire.
90 percent of the produce was different from the previous day's selection. This is the first restaurant I've ever witnessed do this and it’s incredibly special.
When it comes to making plans post breakfast, there’s plenty to choose from, whether you want to fully commit to the incredible wellness programme, relax on the stunning private beach or merely become a recluse and escape into the darkness of the spa and immerse yourself in sheer luxury, Domes Noruz has something for everyone. If you’re not travelling with children then this must be the greatest hotel on the island, I can’t imagine anywhere else that can match it punch for punch.
Unsurprisingly, when our time was up, it was incredibly hard to leave the brilliant Domes Noruz, although we were in luck as we headed straight to another stunning Domes resort, just a 5 minute drive away.
Domes Zeen is situated in a luxurious oasis on the side of a hill overlooking the Aegean sea.
The resort's boho bespoke aesthetic is a pleasurable mix of rustic woods, concrete and earthy tones which create a peaceful and relaxing environment. It stretches from the top of a hill overlooking Chania right down to the private beach below, and is one of few locations in the world where you can idolise snow glistening on top of the mountains, whilst bathing in the sea under a sun-drenched sky.
The resort has 14 different room types, the majority of which are bungalows which come with private pools, equally as comfortable and inspirationally designed as those in Domes Noruz; yet they are slightly more minimalist, in order to fit in with the hotel's aesthetic. The inch-perfect interiors are the work of Berlin-based design studio Lambs and Lions, who used earthy materials to create mid-century and brutalist shapes. I stayed in a sophisticated garden bungalow at the foot of the resort enjoying a private walled garden, with incredible views of the Mediterranean; it boasted one of the most comfortable beds I have ever slept in.
Domes Zeen is an incredibly family friendly resort with a plethora of activities to keep the kids occupied whilst the parents relax. The kids club is inspired by the philosophy of Maria Montessori the famous Italian educator who believed in giving children independence and choice with their learning and so the kids engage in a wide array of activities from gardening to arts and crafts to watersports.
The hotel is named after ‘Ef Zeen: the art of living well’ and has stunning facilities on offer for everyone; private beach loungers with Bluetooth service buttons. allowing you to never have to get up to go to the bar, there is a huge black-lined swimming pool, which looks sensational. There is a fully equipped outdoor, beachside pavilion gym, and finally an incredible menu of treatments at the al fresco Jungle Spa.
I spent the majority of my stay in the following cycle: unwinding pool-side and gazing admiringly at the view of the Lazaretta Island, unable to resist the delectable fresh food on offer at the all-day Beach House, before feeling guilty and retreating to the outdoor gym for a workout. There is also an exceptional a la carte restaurant (adults only) Enino Degustation, which serves a delicious Cretan, Mediterranean and International menu entirely made from local produce.
The wonders of Chania lie a mere 30 minute walk, or even faster, a 5 minute cab away, however with the abundance of activities on offer at the hotel, like me you’ll find it very hard to leave.
The final leg of my Cretan odyssey took me from coast to coast, from Chania in the north-west to Elounda in the north-east and worlds away from Chania’s bustling streets. Laid-back Elounda is a stretch of coastline featuring fishing villages, uninhabited islands, and tranquil bays, all essential ingredients to properly unwind. The journey took 3 hours to travel across the north coast, where highlights along the road included the attractive and overbearing Venetian Fortezza castle in Rethymno, and the Minoan Palace of Knossos. We arrived at the world famous Domes of Elounda, with a far greater understanding of this mythical land.
Domes of Elounda is a magical man-made kingdom with the power to trigger a whole host of emotions. Just walking into the reception takes your breath away, as you stare out over the sparkling blue Aegean sea, which glows like a sapphire under the azure light of the sky. In the background lies the island of Spinalonga, a once infamous leper colony whose history gave birth to the best-selling novel ‘The Island’ by Victoria HIslop.
The resort itself is built on a lush hilltop and the rooms and facilities are linked by winding paths, and impressively manicured gardens which take their inspiration from the colours and contours of Spinalonga. Before we could become lost forever in our picture perfect surroundings, we were whisked away in a chauffeured golf buggy to be shown the resort and on to our room. During our journey we passed the serene adults-only pool, the outdoor gym with a view over Elounda, the Kids’ Club & pool, the Teenagers Club which offers a VR games room, snooker tables, a games arcade, a graffiti wall and more. There are also a basketball court, several tennis courts, 4 separate restaurants & ‘The Core’ which is a unique pop-up recreational zone, which blends leisure, art, action and gastronomy. Oh, and a helipad. The area plays host to; live music, an interactive art gallery, a fashionable boutique, pop-up stores, local food trucks and an innovative cocktail bar which, in the early evening, is the beating heart of the hotel.
Eventually we arrived at our Core Suite, which was harmoniously built into the hilltop surroundings. It features an impressive stonewall exterior that perfectly blends with the rugged Cretan landscape. The room boasts a full size jacuzzi in the private front garden, a huge bathroom with his and hers basins, an indoor bathtub, a rainfall walk in shower and a plush king size bed, and of course all the extra touches which we’d become accustomed to in Dome's other outstanding hotels.
There is so much to do in this fantastic resort but as the sun was shining, it was an easy decision to head down to the private pebbled beach Plaka, where they had carved out a garden path to get you straight from the beach to the hotel with no need to cross the road. On the private beach you enjoy some incredible cocktails from the bar, and perhaps enjoy the freshest of seafood at the award winning Greek Topos 191. Here if you’re lucky, you can sit on the private pier and be entirely surrounded by the Aegean sea.
Due to the location of the private beach within a natural valley, the sea is a lot quieter than on the coast line, as it’s naturally sheltered and therefore it feels like swimming in a freshwater lake, rather than in the sea. As much as I enjoyed wading in the calm waters, after lunch I needed something slightly more active, and so decided to go and meet up with their Water-sports Team.
It's all on offer, and served with a smile. Whether it be renting a speedboat, or hiring a traditional yacht with skipper, canoeing, scuba diving or water skiing. I fancied an adrenaline hit, and so we went out on the banana boats for just 20 minutes, but what a terrifyingly enjoyable experience! Unsurprisingly, I made straight for the bar upon my arrival back on dry land.
This is very much a family hotel, with large parts purely dedicated to children, and a dedicated family buffet for breakfast in one of the restaurants. However, there’s plenty of space wherever you go, for adults who are looking to unwind and relax in sheer luxury, away from the little ones. One of my favourite places to go and unwind, was the spa with an assortment of wellness and relaxation areas: Jacuzzi, gym, steam bath, laconium, tepidarium and even a salon.
Elounda plays host to some exceptional fish restaurants, bars and tavernas on the harbour; however with Domes boasting 4 exceptional restaurants with all tastes catered for from local Cretan dishes to international food and my personal favourite the Asian-Peruvian restaurant Yaosai, you may once again find it hard to escape from the clutches of this holistic nirvana.
One feature which all the Domes hotels offer, is their ‘Haute Living’ package where you can upgrade for a fee, to unlock the gates to becoming a VVIP! All ‘Haute Living’ customers have a personal member of staff contactable 24/7 via WhatsApp, who will organise anything desired. It also confers access to a unique suite of events each day, from local cooking classes to cocktail parties and access to a private lounge which includes 24/7 coffee, tea, soft drinks and branded wine, evening cocktails and branded spirits. It also includes all day snacks, salads, canapes and nibbles and afternoon tea.
If you’re looking to properly indulge in sheer luxury and switch off from the trials and tribulations of life then this is the package for you. Rest assured however, that regardless, you’ll still be treated like royalty, in each of these truly outstanding Domes hotels.