JC Stays: Isla Brown Chania resort, Crete

Checking into the second Isla Brown design resort from Israeli hotel group Brown


There can be few towns anywhere in the Mediterranean more alluring than Chania, on the north coast of Crete. Behind a café-lined harbour, built of golden stone by the Venetians in the 14th century, lies a dense warren of alleys and narrow, cobbled streets.

It’s worth dawdling over, replete with quirky, individualistic jewellery, clothes and craft shops, and some truly excellent restaurants, some serving dishes far more imaginative than the standard Greek salad and souvlaki menu to be found on the waterfront.

The town is also home to the exquisite 700-year-old Etz Hayim synagogue, the most visible sign of a Jewish tradition on the island that dates back some 2,300 years, and somehow — just — survived the Nazi occupation and the Holocaust. Unfortunately, it’s also a testament to the survival of antisemitism: in 2010, the second of two successive arson attacks on the shul caused the destruction of 2,500 books and manuscripts.

In summer, Chania comes alive in the relative cool of the evening, and most of the shops and restaurants stay open until at least midnight. Of course, there are hotels in the town, but I’d guess that staying in them isn’t very relaxing in the midday heat, which for much of last summer reached the high thirties Celsius.

So when my wife and I planned three days there in July, at the end of a holiday spent mainly in the island’s south, we opted for the Isla Brown resort, the latest addition to the fast-expanding Israeli-owned chain that also includes properties in Athens, Corinth, and Evia in Greece, as well as hotels in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Eilat.

Its location, on the northern edge of the Akrotiri peninsula, a 30-minute drive from the town and just 15 from the airport, is breathtaking. Built above rocky cliffs, in the lee of a craggy mountain that marks the peninsula’s highest point, the resort commands a panoramic view of the Cretan sea.

Some of the 148 rooms, which are spread across the hillside in a series of low-rise satellite buildings, have their own, private swimming pools, but there are also three large ones available for any guest, as well as a spa, gym and children’s playground.

Previous stays at Brown properties in Israel had led us to expect stylish architecture and décor done with flair, and we were not disappointed.

The second in the Isla Brown collection of luxury design resorts, Greek firm Liakos Associates has melded the blue of the sea with earthy tones of brown and ochre, making the most of local wood and stone.

Our room was spacious, with its own sea view terrace and floor-to-ceiling windows, a huge and comfortable bed and a large marble bathroom.

In one sense, our visit came slightly too early. The resort had only been accepting guests for a few weeks, and two of its restaurants aren't due to open until May 2024.

That left only a buffet, which we tried for both breakfast and dinner, but to be blunt, it was nothing to write home about — certainly nothing approaching the exceptional standard of food we had enjoyed last spring at the Brown Eilat.

For lunch, there was bar food served by the two biggest pools, but the menu was very limited. If it is to establish itself as the chic, five-star destination that the resort aspires to become, food is currently its weak point, and it has to up its game — though my past experience of the group suggests to me that it will.

The Isla Brown would make a good base for anyone wanting to combine rest and recreation with seeing some of Crete’s stunning sights. The sandy beach and azure lagoon where much of the Oscar-winning movie Zorba the Greek was shot is a just a few minutes away, and is overlooked by several good fish restaurants.

Further afield lie the ancient Minoan palaces of Knossos and Phaestos, gorgeous Byzantine monasteries, mountain villages and the extraordinary archaeological museum in Heraklion, which hosts Minoan artefacts of quite astonishing beauty, dating back around 4,000 years.

After a day of culture in the heat, the resort’s huge open air terrace bar is a perfect place to wind down with a cocktail and watch the setting sun strike the mountain’s slopes. If it can get its food offering right, the place will be unbeatable.


Double rooms at the Isla Brown Chania cost from around £225 per night including breakfast

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