On the northern Crete coast, Abaton Island Resort & Spa is a sugar-cube-like structure that the island’s favourite half-bull would have loved to be left to dwell in. Up in King Minos’s court, there are five restaurants, a spa and sea views as standard. The dazzling-white buildings lead directly down to the shore, where a part-sandy, part-rocky beach awaits. Most of the bedrooms have a private balcony or terrace, and the chance to make a splash, whether it’s in a private or shared pool, or a Jacuzzi on the deck. The staff don’t miss a trick should your drink need topping up or your beach towel need switching. Settle in for sundowners by the curved communal pool – it’s one of the best sunset spots on the island.
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm, also flexible.
Double rooms from $217.79 (€194), excluding tax at 13.5 per cent.
Rates include a full Cretan breakfast buffet (it's amazing).
There’s a 365-metre stretch of coast on your doorstep with sunbeds and parasols studded along the shore. Pick your patch wisely: three areas are sandy and the rest are rocky. Staff are poised ready to swap towels and serve snacks and drinks.
1 November until the day before Easter Sunday.
At the hotel
Free WiFi throughout, beach, gym, tennis court, car park. In rooms: flatscreen TV, Nespresso coffee machine, air-conditioning and Elemis (Hermès in some room types) bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Nearly every room has a sparkling sea view, but there are a handful that don’t – if it’s a dealbreaker, speak now. The decor is bright, white and simple, letting blue waves out the window do the talking. If you’re travelling en famille, some rooms can be connected – but we’d recommend the Royal Villa, which has two bedrooms. Splash out on a private-pool-enhanced room if your holiday goals are a bit more grown up – some categories share their pool with the neighbours.
There are two pools: an unheated infinity-edged pool outdoors, with a bar and restaurant, and a heated pool in the spa. The former is open from 7am until 7pm; the latter’s hours are 9am to 7pm.
The Elemis spa has a Turkish bath, nail bar and tempting treatment list, which includes various rituals, scrubs and massages. A personal trainer is on hand and the gym has top-spec equipment.
Sturdy slope-tackling gladiator sandals, billowing breezy linens and an imagination-sparking book on Greek mythology – Crete is the home of the Minotaur’s Labyrinth.
The hotel is on a slope, which may be tricky to navigate in a wheelchair, but there are four specially adapted rooms.
Extra beds and cots can be added to rooms. There are mini bathrobes and slippers, bath products and bottle sterilisers. Babysitting can be arranged for €20 an hour (two-hour minimum; a week’s notice is required) and the restaurants have children’s menus.
F-zin Ivy League is perfectly positioned for sunset so be sure to get to the terrace in time. Sit on the deck by the water’s edge in Bony Fish. Watch the chefs at work from the kitchen-facing communal table in Wow Steak & Sushi.
Greek gods and goddesses. If you’ve packed heels, bust them out at Wow Steak & Sushi. F-zin Ivy League at dinner has the smartest scene.
There are five, so all bases are covered. Breakfast – a spread of local (Cretan sausages, feta and yoghurt) and the usual international suspects – is best taken on the sea-facing terrace of the inexplicably named F-zin Ivy League Restaurant. By night the deck is transformed into a smarter set-up, with white tablecloths and a more formal vibe, but the same sea views intact. Beachside Bony Fish is one of the finest seafood spots on the island, serving only that day’s catch at lunch and dinner. Elemes Cretan Cuisine specialises, unsurprisingly, in locally sourced classics with seasonal ingredients from the island’s farmers served in a trad taverna setting in the centre of the grounds. Breakfast is also served here and lie-in lovers can capitalise its midday finish. Wow Steak & Sushi serves – you guessed it – Josper-grilled steaks and expertly rolled sushi, as well as bao buns. C’est La Vie Beach Club is by the pool and will see to all of your snacking and sundowner needs throughout the day.
The Ladies & Gentleman bar is near the top of the main building with a sundowner-ready terrace looking out to sea. The elaborate cocktail list includes twists on some classics; we loved the Caramel Oak Manhattan, which was as sweet and smoky as it sounds. The bar’s open all day and calls time at 1am.
F-zin Ivy League is open from 7am until 10.30am and 6.30pm to 9.30pm. Bony Fish: 12.30pm and 5pm; 7pm to 11pm. Elemes: 8am to 10.30am; 7pm to 11pm. Wow Steak & Sushi serves dinner from 7pm until 11pm. C’est La Vie serves food from 10am until 5pm.
The breakfast menu can be ordered in-room between 7am and 10.30am. After that, a selection of burgers, sandwiches, salads, pizzas and pastas takes over. A late-night menu is in operation between 11pm and 7am.
Abaton is on the northern stretch of Crete, just along the coast from Heraklion.
The island’s main air hub is in Heraklion, which is a 20-minute drive from the hotel. Mercedes transfers can be arranged by the hotel for €60 (for up to six passengers).
The drive into the centre of Heraklion will take about 25 minutes. There’s a car park at the hotel.
There are plenty of direct flights into Heraklion, but sea-faring sorts will be pleased to know there’s a ferry linking Greece’s biggest island with its capital (though, at seven hours, it’s not the swiftest sailing).
Worth getting out of bed for
The hotel has plenty to keep you happy, whether it’s a treatment and swim at the spa, a session with the personal trainer at the gym or a round of tennis – but Crete is Greece’s biggest island and has a fabled history that’s definitely worth discovering. As with most gorgeous Greek isles, Crete is a place for beach babies. There’s one on your doorstep (literally), but other sandy spots include Agia Pelagia (it even rhymes), Lygaria and Agiofarago (though this one’s a two-hour drive, so it depends how much you like gorges). Set off for a walk around Piskopiano village to up the romance levels – and for buzzy bars and restaurants, head into Hersonissos for the evening. The hotel can arrange scuba-diving and sailing trips into the Gulf of Hersonissos. The fortified Kera Kardiotissas Monastery has murals dating as far back as the 14th century – and it’s thought a monastery has existed on this site since the 9th, but the exact date is unknown.
For brunch with a bougainvillea backdrop, try Iokastiin Koutouloufari. In the centre (right on the square) of Hersonissos’ old town, don’t miss the traditional Zachos Taverna for seafood and stuffed tomatoes. Since 1987, Galini has been keeping Cretan cuisine alive – and its old-world wine list is an impressive effort, as well.
Heraklion is the place to head to for a party (unless you really mean business and could do with a punch-filled watermelon with giant straws in Malia) – the curiously named Dish Bar Party does great cocktails and helpfully turns into a club if you fancy a dance and don’t want to move. And if you’ve visited Agia Pelagia, stick around for cocktails at Almyra.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this resort hotel in Greece and unpacked their feta and filo, a full account of their beach break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Abaton Island Resort & Spa on Crete…
Abaton Island Resort & Spa is undeniably close to the clubby Crete resort of Malia: whether you think that’s a good thing or not depends on the sort of traveller you are (and how many 18–30 holidays you booked in your youth). If you’ve graduated from that crowd but are still looking for the party, meet fabulously fun Abaton, a beachside bolthole with blinding white walls and regular glimpses of the sparkling Sea of Crete (starting from the moment you check-in, thanks to the vast windows that provide a watery backdrop to the carved-wood desk). Five restaurants will keep you ensconced within the hotel’s contemporary confines if you don’t want to leave – a simple seafood shack, a trad taverna, a snazzy steak ‘n’ sushi joint and a be-tableclothed terrace to watch the twinkling lights out at sea while you dine. Bedrooms continue the sugar-cube scene, with all-white decor that passes the baton to the bright blue behind the windows. Good times are guaranteed – just don’t forget your glowsticks
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