This week’s ‘return to travel’ interview comes from our resident European holiday expert and Product Manager, Alex, who has recently returned from Chania, on the Greek island of Crete. We cover his experience from the uncrowded airport, to his nothing short of exquisite stay at Domes Zeen Chania, and the island-hopping adventures and piña coladas that topped it all off. After reading this, we’re putting Crete to the top of our travel wishlist, so if you’re looking for a little more first-hand information and a lot more inspiration, see the full interview below.
Firstly, please introduce yourself!
I’m Alex, I set up the Europe programme for Kenwood Travel, and I have always had a fascination for European destinations since I was young. Having lived and studied languages in France and Spain, I feel as though it’s in my blood. What I love most about Europe is the cultural variety you get from such a small continent. Each destination has its own customs, dialects, landscapes, cuisine and general atmosphere, so it might be only 30 mins away from its neighbours yet hugely different.
Where else in the world do you get this contrast in such close proximity? I usually travel with my partner, Dom. Whilst he is less so, I am a total sun worshipper so I tend to choose beach destinations, but I prefer to choose those where you have enough to explore. I love mountain scenery, dramatic coastlines and cities that feel very local, where you can really get inside a destination and the psyche of its people. This most recent trip, my first since the pandemic, ticked all these boxes and more!
Where did you travel and when? Who did you travel with?
This time we revisited Crete and I try not to return to the same destination, but let’s not forget this is the fifth largest island in the Med with two airports, so having never been to Western Crete we were keen to find out more as we had heard this side of the island offers the most spectacular beach scenes for those who like to explore. September is one of the finest months to visit Greece, as the August crowds have dispersed yet you still tend to enjoy endless sunny days, ending in spectacular sunsets.
This was a trip we had originally booked for May, and were forced to cancel, so we decided to rebook for September, and whilst we both knew the pandemic was far from over, we also both firm believers that we have to keep things moving, albeit in a safe way taking all precautions and minimising risks. What we found was that it was startlingly easy to do so, and the whole experience was completely stress-free!
Did you feel safe and protected during your journey?
We felt completely safe from the get-go. We arrived at Gatwick Airport, which needless to say with only one terminal in operation, felt like a much quieter place without the usual bustle. But in my opinion this is one of the plus points of the travel experience during the pandemic. It is actually very easy to socially distance with far less footfall. Everyone is wearing masks inside the airport, there are frequent signs and sanitising stations, reminders of the distancing rules in areas where queues usually build such as customs. We are not the type of travellers who linger in airports anyway, so we headed straight to the gate, where boarding was again hassle-free and everyone was maintaining a distance.
The flight itself was not a scary or daunting experience that some might expect – the safety briefing of course has been adapted to include Covid-19 information and what to do should you feel unwell. Disembarking the plane was also a different process, with each row exiting the aircraft one-by-one. This however just made the experience feel even safer. We could not fault the professionalism of the crew or the flying experience in general, and we would have no hesitation in flying again – even for longer than our 4-hour flight!
Tell us about the hotel you stayed at.
Arriving at Domes Zeen Chania after our short transfer from the airport, we both felt an immediate sense of calm, it was exhilarating checking into a resort once more, but we could also tell this wasn’t just any resort – it was obvious this place was truly special. One of our key partners, Domes Resorts, assumed management of the ex-Casa Cook property in 2020 and they have done a remarkable job of making it feel instantly warm, open and sophisticated. The team throughout our stay were so effortlessly service-focused yet friendly and knowledgeable. You would not have guessed it was their first season in operation.
I would probably describe the feel of the resort (and it really does have that ‘feel’ that all travellers yearn for) as an organic and semi-tropical luxury retreat – laidback yet carefully considered in every respect from the landscaping filled with a variety of tropical plants, to the rooms set on a sloping hillside overlooking the Aegean Sea. The main pool area, set back from the beach, is probably one of our favourites ever. For one, the huge size of the pool makes it easy for swimmers to find their own space even when the hotel is busy. But it also had a very particular ‘tropical oasis’ style to it that I have not encountered before in Europe, and the mix of young couples and families all looking for a classy break with their individual clans worked so well.
The rooms are spacious, some with their own private pools. All naturally-inspired and instantly relaxing, everything inside the room was just so easy to use yet thoughtfully considered for the luxury traveller. Another huge plus for us was the food quality. The breakfast format of different daily specials to choose from à la carte meant it felt different and exciting every day. The same also applied for the evening, with dishes that bowled us over such as black cod, lamb with orzo, and lobster spaghetti. The most delicious Mediterranean cuisine, and varied daily. Each table also had its own unique setting. Dining was a total joy here – in fact, everything was!
How was the hotel set up to ensure you felt safe?
This was something I had to commend the hotel team on when we departed. They were not only in their first season of operation but also had to adapt new measures and protocols due to Covid-19. What they managed to achieve was that difficult balance between a safe environment and relaxed atmosphere. The lobby desk had screens on display that were pretty unobtrusive and the staff were all wearing face coverings. Masks and sanitising stations were readily available in the reception.
In the rooms, a clever touch was the addition of a tray with details of the protocols, face masks, and sanitiser all provided in-room for each guest. Reminders of the social distancing rules were placed around the resort where most needed (e.g. when arriving at the restaurant desk). All staff members wore coverings at all times and at no point did our safety feel compromised, or even at question. The hotel also occupies its own position, with no neighbouring hotels, so it feels in its own exclusive space. I would not hesitate to recommend Domes Zeen Chania even to the most nervous of travellers.
What was the best memory from your holiday?
Without a doubt the highlight of our trip (aside from the hotel, which was just exceptional), was the day trip we took. We hired a car early in the morning and headed to Elafonisi Island, on the southwestern corner of Crete. It is widely considered to be one of the finest beaches not only in Crete but also Greece. The drive there was a highlight in itself, via the Topolia Gorge, with hairpin bends and tunnels slicing through the dramatic mountain range. Viewpoint stops were compulsory! The scene upon arrival at Elafonisi was dazzling – crystal clear, turquoise-hued water and the shallow reef connecting the islet to the main island is easy to wade through to reach the island.
The island itself is beautiful, with pink coral sand, dunes, caves and beaches that get less and less crowded and more spectacular the further away you walk from the connecting reef. We spent a good few hours exploring the terrain and swimming in deserted coves in perfect waters. We then took the coastal route to Falassarna Beach, and this was even crazier a route with some of the most incredible winding coastal roads and views we’ve come across. The long, wide, sandy beach at Falassarna was the perfect sunset spot for piña coladas – and was the finishing touch to the most perfect day!
How was Crete as a destination?
We had heard that Chania is a very cosmopolitan place and we weren’t disappointed at all. The hotel was in a very privileged position being a 30 minute walk into the Old Town, and here we found a fascinating mix of Venetian and Turkish architecture plus contemporary bars and restaurants, a picture-postcard harbour with stylish yachts and plenty of meandering streets and alleys, with bougainvillea draping over outdoor dining terraces. There was a local curfew in place of midnight, but we just headed out (with our masks!) a little earlier than usual and it did not really affect us. Most places still seemed to be open for business, both in Chania town and around the island as we explored.
What would you say to someone who was thinking about travelling at the moment?
I would 100% recommend travelling, the whole experience is much quieter overall than pre-pandemic, and less stressful. This aspect surprised me as I was expecting the opposite. The hotel staff, airport staff and locals all seemed to thankful we were there, as ultimately their livelihoods depends upon tourism, and they are taking the right precautions needed every day to ensure it is a safe experience for us all. Don’t be afraid to travel, it is still the most enriching experience, and felt even sweeter than ever following the oppression of lockdown!
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Booking your holiday with Kenwood Travel
We’ve been perfecting the art of travel since 1977 and it’s our passion to share our travel expertise with you. As Alex saw for himself, now is a great time to book a holiday if you’d like to discover a destination without the crowds. Call Kenwood Travel on 020 7749 7260 to speak to a European travel specialist directly, or visit the Kenwood Travel website to snap up one of our irresistible worldwide offers. The Travel Is Back On Sale continues until the end of September, so secure your next escape with discounts up to 65%, exclusive extras, and so much more today.