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LUXURY RESORTS: aLDERMAR royal mare thalasso resort, crete
Style: Cool Mediterranean.
Scene: Sensational spa meets turquoise sea - with plenty of things in between. 
Seen in the lobby: A cosmopolitan Euro mix of couples, friends and families. 

After getting up in the early hours to catch a plane that was subsequently delayed due to fog, it’s fair to say I landed in Crete feeling frazzled and frayed around the edges. Within 20 minutes that became a distant memory as a private limo whisked me to the entrance of the Royal Mare hotel, and the charming guest relations manager assured me I was now on Greek time and not to fret about being late. 

Aldemar Royal Mare
Aldemar Royal Mare
Chef George Chatzopouls
The Candia Restaurant at the Aldemar Royal Mare
albatros restaurant royal mare
Aldemar Royal Mare Spa
Viggo Mortensen  and Kirsten Dunst  in The Two Faces of January

The arrival set the scene for a week of R&R at this impressive resort that’s part of the Aldemar stable, which operates eight properties on the islands of Crete, Rhodes and the mainland. Situated on the north coast of Crete, the largest Greek island, the five-star Royal Mare is in Hersonissos. The town’s proximity to Heraklion airport has led to plenty of hotels springing up in the bay, but the self-contained Royal Mare is on the outskirts of the town and occupies an expansive site (so much so, that the handy map I received with my room card was a great help in initially getting my bearings) and if need be there are on-call golf buggies to whisk you around.

If you’re after small-scale, boutique-style luxury this 380-room resort isn’t the place for you. However, the Royal Mare’s layout, coupled with the fact it is so spread out, means it never feels overly crowded and the friendly staff provide a really personal service that you’d typically associate with a much smaller property.   Leading from the lobby and main building, and adjoining multi-award winning spa, the resort resembles a small town, with shops, restaurants and low-rise accommodation buildings leading off the straight ‘main road’ down to the beach. Nice touches along the way include a giant sun dial and clock tower. In addition to main pools, a standout feature is the fact that there are 25 other pools - shared or totally private - linked to VIP rooms and suites, so there’s never an undignified early morning scrabble to bag sunbeds.              

The Luxury Travel Bible checked into one of the four Harmonia VIP suites on the main complex. It was spacious and airy, with a light décor in cream, blue and green that reflected the surroundings. The suite was equipped with all sorts of touches that go down well with TLTB - two bathrooms, tea and coffee maker, CD and DVD player, WiFi, whirlpool bath, well-lit makeup and shaving mirror, snuggly robes and slippers and luxe olive oil infused bathroom goodies. The main bathroom, which also included a large shower, had masses of storage space and an ingenious automatic waste bin that opened with a wave of the hand over the lid. Outside were two private sun loungers and a table and chairs, leading on to the secluded shared pool with more loungers.   Active types can head to the tennis and volleyball courts, driving range and putting green and watersports centre. There’s also a playground where youngsters can let off steam.

In TLTB tradition I decided to head to the spa, and it didn’t disappoint.  Spread over two floors, and divided between a traditional spa and Thalasso complex, the latter has been listed among the ten best Thalasso Centres worldwide and voted as World's Leading Thalasso Resort for eight consecutive years.   A spa this size could feel slightly overwhelming, but personable staff are always on hand to guide guests through the menus - which run from individual and reasonably priced treatments to six-day slimming and wellness packages – and show them where to go. My block of four treatments moved seamlessly from one to the next, a body scrub, bubbling Thalasso bath, aromatherapy massage and facial using gorgeous Thalion products. Normally I brace myself for the dreaded hard sell at the end, so it made such a pleasant change when the therapist handed me a generous handful of samples to try without any mention of buying them. I wish other spas would follow suit as I’m sure it would make clients feel much more inclined to make a considered, rather than pressured, purchase. I floated back to my suite ready to present my smooth and suitably pampered self to the manager’s Champagne reception, another nice luxury touch, where guests can get to know each other over fizz and canapés.  

The Cretans are proud of their cuisine, which is based around the island’s abundance of fresh, seasonal ingredients, most notably local olive oil. The Royal Mare’s cuisine is delicious, with a diverse range of restaurants in which to enjoy it. By day I loved the Albatros beach bistro, a wonderful spot for a glass of chilled white wine (Cretan of course) and a Greek salad. By night my personal top spots were the Royal Palm Asian restaurant, with a lovely outdoor seating area, and the romantic fine-dining Candia, where the al-fresco area is set above a sparkling lagoon.   Other restaurants include the large Symposio, which is good for families, and more secluded El Greco, where VIP guests also have breakfast. The terrace in the main building’s Minos bar, with views over the resort to the sea, is a great spot for a pre-dinner drink.  

Aside from the spa, another high spot was the free weekly cookery session with executive chef George Chatzopoulous, who heads a team of 40 chefs at the resort. His passion for the local cuisine is infectious and although, to be honest, he did all the hard work, it was great fun to help prepare and serve an aubergine salad bursting with different flavours (which I managed to replicate on return) and prawn critharada, similar to risotto but made with pasta. Needless to say, a tasting is an integral part of the class.   It’s among the daily activities and evening entertainment available for guests, which err on the side of low-key rather than lively. These include live music, including a Greek night with the obligatory Zorba’s dance, and special restaurant nights such as Cretan, Italian, barbecue, lobster and fish. Anyone who wants to paint the town read can head to the lively centre of Hersonissos, but, surprise, surprise, I was more than happy to stay put. 

If you can drag yourself away in the daytime, the hotel is well-placed to visit Crete’s cultural highlight, the ruins of ancient Knossos that were discovered by British archeologist Sir Arthur Evans and, more recently, played a starring role in the glamorous thriller The Two Faces of January, starring Kirsten Dunst. It’s easy to get there by bus or taxi if you haven’t got a hire car. It’s also worth checking out Heraklion’s well laid-out Archaeological Museum, where the treasures of Knossos are housed, and going for a stroll by the pretty Venetian harbour.   As the sun set over a fitting glass of rosé wine on the last evening, my stress levels had reached zero, a far cry from the afternoon I arrived. If you’re after chill-out time and wonderful food the Royal Mare has all the right ingredients.              

Check in: The Aldemar Royal Mare Thalasso Resort, Limenas Hersonisou 700 14, Crete, Greece. Tel: +30 28970 27200
Ultimate Luxury: The spectacular two-bedroom 147 square metre sea view Presidential Suite, with its own private pool, which accommodates up to six luxe loving guests. 
Most Indulgent Moment: A glass or two of fizz at the Sunday breakfast/brunch in El Greco restaurant, served against the backdrop of a cool saxophonist
Insider Secrets: Spa bunnies and keep-fit enthusiasts should check into one of the Harmonia VIP suites in the main building, which are just a hop and a skip down the corridor from the spa and gym.
The Little Things: Superb, experienced staff (many have been with the hotel for years) who get to know guests by name.
Junior Luxies: Look no further than Aldy’s World. Mini-club Aldy caters for 4-12-year-olds from 10am to 6pm seven days a week. There’s a children’s pool and youngsters will feel very grown up at their own restaurant Aldy, with special menus, plus a morning and afternoon buffet serving sandwiches, sponge cakes, juices and water. Babysitting is available.
Dress code: Laid-back beachwear by day and smart/casual after sundown. 
Dent in the platinum:
Luxury Resorts Link: www.aldemar-resorts.gr
 Jeannine Williamson 6/2/15
 
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