Holidays, as all parents can confirm, are for people without young children. For those with little ones it is perhaps more accurate to classify vacations as childcare in a scenic environment.
Crete is very scenic — it is also warm. But more than that, the island offered the tantalising prospect of a holiday that the children would enjoy and would count as a break for their daddy and grandma, too.
Lucy and Alex (six and four), were sold the minute they saw the swimming pool of the Louis Princess hotel on the hotel website. To be fair, they love swimming and would be excited by a shot of the municipal baths.
However, even as a grown man, jaded by years of hotel swimming pools, I could see there was something special about this one. Or to be more precise, these three, one of which was enormous, shamrock shaped and with an island in the middle.
Our first sight of the hotel complex was a bit of an anti-climax, however. This was nothing to do with the staff, who were smiley and courteous, and nothing to do with the facilities, which were excellent. But it was 2am. We were not meant to arrive at 2am. But 20 minutes into our flight from Gatwick the captain of our A300 Airbus informed us that there was a “slight technical fault” with the aircraft and that it would be wise not to attempt to reach Crete. Luckily the plane landed safely at Gatwick. Unluckily, we had to wait seven hours while they found a new one.
Still, all was forgotten when we drew back the curtains the next morning after an, albeit curtailed, night’s sleep. The swimming pools were indeed as big as football pitches and so inviting that Lucy and Alex had to be persuaded not to jump in before breakfast.
During the course of the week, the children did so much swimming that they began to believe that they were aquatic mammals. Alex was a blue whale, Lucy a killer whale and I was Dave the Dolphin, whose job was to save them, specifically from imaginary whirlpools in the shallow end, all to the accompaniment of the shellfish band, the name the children gave to the poolside Muzak.
We had two interconnecting air–conditioned rooms which were simple but comfortable and well-equipped with glorious sea views from the large balcony. Midway into day two, it struck me that this was almost exactly what holidays were BC (before children): minimal stress and time for walks on the beach while the kids played happily in the “pirate ship” adventure playground. And there were longer periods of calm while they were entertained at the kids’ clubs, an oasis of shade and calm for the little ones. Older children and, indeed younger adults, were entertained by the “animation team” — an unfeasibly cheerful group of young people who organised daily water polo, beach volleyball and all manner of other fun.
Meanwhile, having found their way around the complex, the children seemed to need little in the way of supervision beyond the odd sharp word when they attacked each other. Whenever they got hungry there was food for them, and for us, come to that. Those on all-inclusive packages, had red bracelets to wear. Flash this and you could help yourself to unlimited food, with plenty of fish and veggie options (though the type of fish was not always identitified). Breakfast included everything from fry-up through cereal, to traditional Greek style breakfast — very much like an Israeli salad with feta thrown in for good measure.
Lunch was served poolside. On the first day I was amused to see that everyone was queuing with their trays at 12.59pm. Before the end of the week, I was there too.
To Lucy and Alex’s delight there was not only Greek cuisine but also a choice of pizza, pasta and Chinese every lunchtime. In the evening there was a kids’ buffet (all food was served buffet style) and an epic range of ’60s retro desserts including crème caramel, mousse and jelly with sliced banana.
For the grown-ups there was the considerable novelty of a cocktail of the day, usually in a rather lurid colour. However, despite the temptations, guests were surprisingly restrained. Sure, there was the odd Dane staggering about after dinner following one Metaxa brandy too many, but everyone else was so blasé about free alcohol that they kind of forgot it was there.
By day four, with near permanent pool-induced wrinkling, I suggested to the children that we should hop on the bus to the historic Chania — a half-hour ride away, to take a look.
“Definitely not,” said Alex. “Oh, I wanted to go swimming,” said Lucy.
Having dragged them onto the bus, I was glad I had done so. The bus took us through the glorious Cretan landscape — olive groves and lemon orchards framed by the blueish peaks of the mountains.
Chania, despite being well-trammeled by tourists, retains the crumbling Venetian architecture of the old town and harbour. The harbour itself is populated almost entirely by restaurants, its owners slightly too keen to drag in passing trade. Although we were told that the eateries tucked away in the old town were more authentic, the harbourside fish and chips kept the children quiet and the shade and views were just what we needed to recover from our visit to the historic indoor market. I say historic — indeed there was fish, feta by the kilo and myriad varieties of olives — but there was also a significant amount of tourist tat.
For those without young kids there is a challenging walk through the majestic scenery of the gorge of Imbrou at Skafia, and beauty spots like the island of Elafonisi, with crystal waters and white sand more reminiscent of the Caribbean than the Med.
Lying on a beach is something my two have yet to develop a taste for, but they were more than happy splashing away for hours on end, while retaining enough energy to run away every time I approached with the factor 50. Indeed, they were still boogying long into the night at the after-dinner kids’ disco.
Did we enjoy ourselves? Well, put it this way, a week after their return they were still wearing their hotel bracelets, and for me the sight of a fluorescent green cocktail will always bring back fond memories.
Louis Creta Princess Hotel (www.louishotels.com; 00357 22588211) bookable through Olympic Holidays (0844 576 2386, www.olympicholidays.com) who offer a seven-night, all-inclusive holiday this summer for a family of four, sharing, from £647 per adult (saving £127) and £292 per child, a reduction of £28, including flights and transfers. Louis Hotels also have resort properties in Corfu, Kefalonia, Rhodes, Zante,Crete, Mykonos and Cyprus.
Jews lived on Crete for more than 2,000 years. The community numbered 1,150 at the start of the 20th century. However, just seven Cretan Jews survived the Holocaust and only a handful of Jews — including some Israelis — live on the island now.
The historic Etz Hayim Synagogue in Chania is open to visitors from 10am and 6pm. Its website is at www.etz-hayyim-hania.org