Jeannine Williamson relaxes in Hersonissos’ beach hotels, and explores beyond them

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An abundance of sun and fun have made the lively beach resort of Hersonissos one of the most popular on Crete. A wide promenade backs the bustling stretch of sand, and once the families retreat and the sun goes down, the resort comes to life again, with plenty of restaurants, bars and nightclubs catering to everyone from partygoers to pensioners.

However, visitors who want to get beyond the beach won’t be disappointed. The remains of the Bronze Age city of Knossos – considered to be Europe’s oldest city – is nearby, as is Heraklion, Crete’s largest city.

Olympic Holidays’ Photis Lambrianides says: “Hersonissos is ideally located to explore the island by hire car. It’s only five minutes’ drive from the motorway, which runs along the northern side of Crete, with Heraklion and its well-preserved old town by the harbour just 15 minutes away.

Active visitors can hike south into the countryside to traditional Cretan villages such as Koutouloufari, Piskopiano and Ano Hersonissos.”

The main tourist season is between April and October and dependent on airlift, but the tourist board hopes this will be extended. British Airways will launch flights to Heraklion in April 2015, flying four times a week from Gatwick.

Both easyJet and Ryanair have extended their 2014 timetable by one month to fly to Heraklion and Chania until November.

Beachside luxury

While there are budget options on offer, Hersonissos has some luxurious choices too.

The five-star Aldemar Royal Mare & Thalasso Resort has 384 rooms and suites, but never feels crowded as the main building, adjoining spa and separate accommodation complexes are spread over a large landscaped area with a shop and restaurant-lined ‘main street’ leading to a private beach.

Similarly there are 29 pools, including two main pools and 25 shared and private pools for VIP rooms and suites, enabling guests to spread out and find their perfect spot.

Despite its size, staff excel at providing a really personal and welcoming touch, often greeting guests by name. High-spec rooms, in attractive muted colour schemes, all have marble bathrooms, fridge, slippers, bathrobes and Wi-Fi. Suites include a laptop, tea and coffee-making facilities, DVD player and welcome cocktail.

The large, main Symposio restaurant is good for families, and a big sell is the choice of alternative restaurants such as the fine-dining Candia, set on the water, El Greco with low-key live entertainment and the casual beachside Albatross.

Many guests visit for the spa alone. It comprises an award-winning Thalasso centre, indoor pool and separate beauty treatment rooms.

The 680-room Creta Maris straddles two sides of the road, connected by bridges, and is one of the island’s biggest hotels. Now an all-inclusive, its highlights include a 14th-century chapel and lovely bungalow area, leading off a square and resembling a traditional Greek village.

Deluxe bungalows, fully renovated in 2013-14, have their own private entrances and terraces, some with a pool and access to the beach. There are six restaurants and 85% of the food is locally sourced.

Guests are encouraged to immerse themselves in Cretan culture and the hotel offers excursions to take part in grape harvests and other annual events.

The ultra-stylish 205-room Amirandes, a good choice for couples, has plenty of wow factor features including two restaurants semi-submerged in a lagoon that has a romantic evening dining platform.

The stunning Italian Minotaur restaurant contains original works and sculptures by Pablo Picasso, who drew himself as a Minotaur, the mythical man-bull of Greek legend. The Olympic-sized seawater pool has an uninterrupted view of the beach.

Honeymooners and clients with a big budget will be interested in the luxury villa accommodation, which comes with a secluded private pool and designated beach cabana.

Novel features include a pillow menu with miniature sample pillows, pre-packed beach bag and a container to keep make-up cool.

Crete Heraklion

Explore more

For beachside action, most hotels offer activities including watersports and tennis, with horse riding available locally. Hersonissos is the location of the island’s only 18-hole golf course, which has closed for a year-long renovation and is due to reopen in September 2015, and nearby is the Aquaworld aquarium.

Families will enjoy the large Water City water park that’s a short distance from Heraklion airport.

It’s easy to combine a beach stay with a visit or overnight in the interesting if gritty port city Heraklion, where the picturesque Venetian harbour nestles next to the modern marina and bustling cafes and restaurants line the waterfront.

The modern, central 158-room Aquila Atlantis Hotel, with views of the harbour from the rooftop pool area also has an indoor pool and contemporary restaurant serving authentic Cretan and Mediterranean cuisine.

On the outskirts of Heraklion is Crete’s must-see sight – Knossos. The vast ruined palace was the capital of Minoan Crete and home of the mythical Minotaur.

Its treasures, including exquisite frescoes, were uncovered by British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans in the early 1900s and are now housed in Heraklion Archaeological Museum. To save clients having to queue for tickets, agents can book a Knossos and Heraklion city tour through Attraction World.

Sample product

Olympic Holidays offers seven nights’ B&B at the Aldemar Royal Mare from £478, or £781 in a junior pool suite, for travel in April 2015, including flights from Gatwick and transfers.
0844 499 4449

Classic Collection has seven nights’ all-inclusive at the Creta Maris Beach Resort from £880 in May 2015, with flights from Gatwick and transfers.
0800 008 7288

Thomson offers seven nights’half-board at the five-star Grecotel Amirandes from £771 in May 2015, with flights from Luton and transfers.
0871 230 2555