Tuesday 23 July 2019

Greece’s paradise island resort - our all-inclusive luxury stay on Crete

Cooler weather should start you thinking about next year’s hols, and Crete should be high up on your wish list...

The five-star Sensatori Resort in Crete
The five-star Sensatori Resort in Crete
The adults-only Guru Bar
Mark's family with Roger Rambo, shepherd family and fellow tourists in the Cretan mountains
Stephen Evans tries flyboarding...
The Sensatori Resort in Crete

Mark Evans

Given recent miserable storms, it’s not too early to start thinking about next year’s summer holiday. In fact, it’s a really good time, with the brochures due out in the coming weeks, and better deals and room and flight choices available for early bookers.

If you’re budgeting ahead, going all-inclusive often makes sense. It’s been growing in recent years, and offers peace of mind when away. Once you’re by the beach, you’re safe in the knowledge that accommodation, food and drinks are taken care of, so if you’re travelling as a family, you won’t be putting your hand in your pocket each and every day.

TUI is the big pioneer in all-inclusive, and its holiday villages are popular choices each year, particularly with parents of younger children who are looking for plenty of on-site activities like water slides, or even water parks, playgrounds and variety-packed children’s clubs.

At the top end of the scale is the Senatori range of hotels, dotted around the Aegean and Mediterranean seas, including the Canaries. With the family in tow, I visited the first of them to open — the Senatori in Crete.

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The adults-only Guru Bar

Greece has come back into fashion and it’s easy to see why. The locals are friendly, the gentle pace of life is the perfect antidote to modern stresses and the food is excellent. Travelling as a couple, it’s a dream, given its facilities. Ditto for families with young children.

But how would it fare when travelling with a teenager caught in between the age of children’s clubs and the adult world? Read on...

Situated outside the bustling resort of Hersonissos in the tiny village of Analipsi, the Senatori Resort Atlantica is a chilled-out oasis.

First up, the rooms. The very top-end ones are something else — swim-up rooms with pool outside the patio door if you want to really splash out in private. Our room was good-sized, situated beside one of the resort’s six pools, with great views over to the azure-blue Aegean Sea. The large bathroom is well-equipped too, with ‘his and hers’ sinks and a large shower and bath area.

The only danger in this resort is enjoying the relaxation way too much, as it’s full of things to do.

The only quibble I’d have is that the hotel could do with a notice board — the action-packed schedule is available on a dedicated phone app, but older guests didn’t make use of it.

From morning yoga by the beach to personal training and night-time entertainment, the app has it all. We struggled to fit it all in — from lazing by the pool to sports to eating, having fun can be daunting. The best advice? Grab some early-morning rays by the pool (there are six in all).

Our favourite was the adult-only one, near the beach. If you’ve got younger kids, there’s a big main family pool in the heart of the resort, and a smaller one to the rear of the property, complete with water buckets and slides.

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Stephen Evans tries flyboarding...

In the afternoons, there’s a host of pool-based activities. We loved the water polo and tried, with great difficulty, to master intense aerobics and yoga classes balanced on a board in the adult pool. (In fairness, half the fun was watching fellow guests trying, with no luck, to exercise without falling on their backsides into the water).

In the early evenings, there’s a football match, with a mix of young and not-so-young guests, and we made a lot of friends there. Archery and tennis are just some of the other activities available, so if you want to get active, there’s something for everyone — even a teenager, who was kept busy enough to avoid Snapchatting pictures of himself every five minutes.

Getting active is a must, though — especially if you like your food. You can take breakfast in either the main buffet restaurant or in the adults-only buffet restaurant. Full-Irish, Greek, omelettes — you name it, it’s there. By the time you clear your plate, it’ll be getting dangerously close to lunchtime (or you could pop into the sandwich-and-cake coffee shop in between if you really aim to pig out).

Lunches were varied and wonderful — plenty of pizza and burger favourites for kids, but also a myriad of healthy options too. My tip? Don’t miss out on the Greek salads, vine leaves and kebab meats, and check out the Cretan specialities too.

At dinnertime, there is plenty of variety, from fish and steak favourites to themed nights, including Asian (great sushi) and Mexican. If you want something different, you can book a table at two of the speciality restaurants — steak and Japanese — for an additional fee.

Meanwhile, among the free restaurants are Mexican, Thai and traditional Greek. Do book early via the hotel’s own app or at booking machines below the lobby. The Mexican restaurant is also a good lunchtime option, and no booking is required for that if you need a hit of Tacos or Tex Mex-style burgers.

The Thai was our personal favourite, with a nice spicy hit, but you can’t go wrong with any of them, and they’re a nice change with their waiter service.

Entertainment-wise, we loved (really loved) the adults-only Guru bar (above). With its open-air design and wooden roof, you could be in Thailand or Bali here. The waiters — as with all the hospitality staff — are typically Greek: friendly to a fault, and even helpful with my no-so-brilliant efforts at their language. Yamos!

Later at night, the Terrace Bar comes to life, with guitarists, pianists and singers. It’s waiter service and a lovely spot to meet fellow holidaymakers or watch the sun go down.

Twice a week, in the lower bar, comedians fly in to entertain the guests. Remember that bit about keeping a teen happy? After the show, we ended up hanging out with friendly comedians Bren Riley and Martyn James, who kept us both in stitches with a night of jokes, showbiz stories and magic tricks across the road in the Club Cafe, a favourite last-gasp haunt in the village when the hotel’s bars close for the night at 1am.

You could easily spend a week or two in the Sensatori without leaving its grounds, but it’s worth taking a look around the island, especially if you’re a first-timer.

Turn left from the hotel, and you’ll find a local beach watersports centre, where our son Stephen had a go at the flyboarding (above), and after a few dips in the water, got to grips with surging water jets into the air.

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Mark's family with Roger Rambo, shepherd family and fellow tourists in the Cretan mountains

Hersonniso is less than 10 minutes by taxi, and it’s a hive of bars and restaurants, catering to a mix of families, couples and young couples.

The Jet Boat at the port is a must-do, hitting speeds of around 35mph and manoeuvring the odd corkscrew turn to get you splashed.

The highlight trip for us was to the Cretan mountains, organised by Belgian-born Roger Rambo, who lives on the island with his wife. You can take one of his Jeep safaris (driving yourself or letting someone else do it) with other tourists in a convoy. What unfolds is the kind of experience you’d normally find in a far-flung exotic country.

Driving through the mountains, there are stops for drinks and camera shots, with hairpin bends bringing you to a remote farmhouse. And that’s only the start: from there, the family of goat-shepherd brings you up to their farmhouse, perched on top of a mountain. It’s a taste of historic Crete.

You’ll be treated to local home-made food (above), the non-drivers get shots of Raki (a local alcohol), and you’ll feel at home with a mix of tourists looking down on a beautiful Greek panorama. You normally don’t expect — or find — such an experience on a sun holiday. (see jeepsafari-experience.com for details).

Forget about teenagers, I usually get itchy feet in a resort for one week, let alone the two we did. But even after 14 days, I was reluctant to leave. Roll on next summer...

Resort Factfile

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The Sensatori Resort in Crete

Prices for next season at the Sensatori resort start from €1,349pp all inclusive, departing May 16. For families (two adults and one child) departing on the same date, it costs from €3,299 — that’s a saving of up to €400 per family for early bookers.

The price includes direct flights from Dublin to Heraklion airport, and the journey takes around 4.5 hours. Transfers to your hotel and 20kg luggage are also included.

A nice touch is that on your return journey, you check in for the flight at the hotel. Your bags are collected at your room, so there’s no queuing at the airport — just walk straight through.

The five-star Sensatori resort features seven restaurants to choose from, six pools, including two outdoor adult-only pools, and a full spa, with treatments at extra cost.

The hotel is located on Lyttos Beach, and if you’re relaxing by the sea, a waiter service to your sunbed from the hotel bar is included. Drinks are all-inclusive from the many bars, including the Terrace Bar, which is open until 1am (pictured above).

Hotel rooms range from doubles to family rooms and suites. Most are available with sea views, private pools or swim-up entrances.

For children, new wave play comes courtesy of the Crazy Kitchen, Silly Science Lab and water-soaking Sprayground.

For more info, see TUI Holidays' website here.

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