Crete: Check-out this haven on earth
We can't help wondering when it's all going to go wrong.
Gran Melia’s Daios Cove resort nestless on a hillside, a few steps from the waterfront of its private bay on the North East of Crete
Can we talk about check-out? Check-in – oh yes, you'll read all sorts of stories about how long it took, messing up reservations, that sort of thing. But no one ever mentions check-out.
Not surprising, really. Who wants to remember leaving a wonderful hotel, or being stiffed with a bill which is always more than you imagined.
So let me change that. Check-out at the Gran Melia resort in Daios Cove, on the North Eastern coast of Crete, was fantastic. Seriously. Because it typified everything about the week we'd had.
The receptionist seemed personally upset that we were leaving, as if she'd find it difficult to carry on doing her job now we were going. And not with that obvious fake charm that so many customer service types live by. It really felt genuine.
The day before check out, we'd asked for a small packed lunch for our daughter for the journey. I'd completely forgotten. As our cases were being loaded into the car, a porter came running with a bag: "Don't forget Sophie's lunch."
That final half hour exemplified the problems I have writing this review. Because Daios Cove is perfect. Seriously. I spent a week trying to find the flaws. There aren't any.
Take check-in. The resort is accessed through a secured gate, so when we arrived from the airport our taxi driver gave our name, the gate was raised and we drove up to the main entrance. By the time we were there, two model-like creatures were standing waiting for us, greeting us by name and offering us wet hand towels to refresh us.
● Classic Collection Holidays offers seven nights at Gran Melia Daios Cove from £1,377 per person this summer. The price is based on two adults sharing a deluxe room on a bed and breakfast basis and includes return flights from London Gatwick (other UK departure airports available) to Heraklion and private transfers. Child prices start from £476 per week. 0800 294 9318.
"Aha," I said to Mrs P. "They've turned on the charm because they know I'm editor of the JC. They want to impress. The JC is clearly huge in Crete."
Except, we discovered it's the way all guests are greeted on arrival.
Or take the private shingle beach. That word shingle usually means a no-go. But it's so fine that it might as well be sand - you can walk barefoot (and there's a full waiter bar and snack service, as well as the necessary constant fresh towels).
So having established that Daios Cove is perfect, let me tell you just one of the many reasons why it worked so well for us.
I regard people who dump their kids in the creche for the duration of a holiday as something close to evil. "Kid's clubs" are so often for the benefit of the parents, not the child. Not here. There were five delightful British girls (the kid's club is run by a leading British childcare company) and Sophie (who is nearly two) had such a ball when we left her for an hour - painting and baking biscuits - that she positively demanded more visits over the rest of the week.
Daios Cove is a resort rather than a hotel - more than 300 rooms, many of which are villas (ours was on two floors), most of which have private pools, all of which overlook the cove.
It's built over 37 acres, so you never feel cramped even when it's full. And Gran Melia, a Spanish company with a well-deserved reputation for luxury, spent 120 million euros developing it. This is its second season, and it feels brand new.
It's very steep, but you simply don't notice that because there are lifts and a fun central fenicula, with stunning views, going from the private beach up through the large swimming pool and wet bar, the spa, the main restaurant and the lobby. And there are golf buggies and drivers on call for any longer journeys through the resort.
For us - and given the paper in which you're reading this, I imagine for you, too - the food is a critical part of any holiday, and Daios Cove scores very well here. The main buffet is reliable, if not that exciting, although on our first night, a party of formidable Russian women attacked it with the gusto of a swarm of locusts and there was almost nothing left by the time we managed to elbow our way in.
We had most of our lunches at the Greek taverna, where the traditional food was exceptional (and much better than the food we ate on the one night we left the resort to head into Agios Nikolaos, the nearest town). The taramasalata was the best I've ever had.
At night, the menu changes and the taverna serves 'modern greek' - traditional food with a twist.
There's also a decent Italian, although it's rather overpriced (mains are about 25-30 euros).
The pool bar also serves very good salads and above-average snacks, and the room service we ordered was hot when it arrived and exceptionally well cooked.
But here's the real reason why I loved it. My problem with sun-based holidays is that I hate the sun. To me, civilisation equates to the development of roofs, and thus shade. Mrs P on the other hand…
Such is the luxury at Daios Cove, however, that we were both happy.
Your every poolside whim is catered for by an army of waiters, and there are sofas and shade right by the pool.
It says something that not once in our week did we feel the need for a change of scene.
Our one night out of the resort was simply because we thought it would be a bit silly to be in Crete and not see any of it. Every guest gets a hire car included, so if you want, you can drive around the stunning coastline and stop off at the little villages.
But trust me, the thought of leaving the haven will seem bizarre.
If you're after luxury, exceptional service, good food and a thoroughly chilled atmosphere, you won't go wrong at Daios Cove.