A Wellness Guide to Crete, Greece

Much of Crete's draw as a wellness destination stems from its varied landscapes
Much of Crete's draw as a wellness destination stems from its varied landscapes | © Neil O Sullivan / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Heidi Fuller-Love
11 March 2020

Crete is a haven for health-seekers: chill at a stylish resort, indulge in healing treatments or soak up vitamin-packed sun rays on the island’s glorious beaches.

Cretan food has long been known for its health-giving properties, but there are plenty more wellness-packed delights on offer. The island, which was once home to the peace-loving Minoans, boasts off-the-beaten-track hiking paths, classy wineries, state-of-the-art spas and more. So why not burn some calories, get rid of aches and pains and let go of stress as you follow this insider’s wellness guide and find a “better you” on Greece’s largest island.

Beyond swimming in crystal clear waters, Crete has a wealth of wellness-centred activities | © Ian Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo

Indulge in a healing treatment

For top-notch pampering in a stunning setting, Nana Princess’s spectacular space-age spa near Hersonissos ticks every box. Apart from a mega-pretty pool, this colourfully lit space has high-tech Nuvola treatment beds and a sweet-scented, wood-fuelled Finnish sauna.

If you’re seeking healing in the hands of an expert, head for Elounda’s Aelia Healing Center where Vasiliki Exarchopoulou dishes out treatments ranging from acupuncture and cupping to shiatsu and reiki. “I worked for 20 years with athletes, doctors and physiotherapists – my massages are tailor-made to have a healing effect,” says Vasiliki.

Head for the hills

When the tourist hordes hit the coast, savvy wellness travellers head for the hills to hang out with the eagles and commune with nature.

Be the first to get off the beaten track in the newly created Sitia Geopark in lesser-explored east Crete, or hike the celebrated Samaria Gorge in the west.

Want to chow down after your workout? Join a foraging expedition near Chania’s Kournas Lake with Forage Crete. “You can’t get better wellness than hunting for your supper, and then cooking and eating it,” says owner Haris Saslis.

The Samaria Gorge National Park offers spectacular hiking opportunities | © Ian Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo

Step back in time

If you hanker for a far-off time when life was simpler, follow winding roads to Lasinthos Eco Park, a 200-acre (80ha) nature haven where you can pick fruit from the trees, enjoy home-cooked food and watch local artisans at work. “We believe in the revival of our tradition and culture, the customs of our region,” says craftsman Giorgos Daskalakis.

Another place to step back in time as you sample old-school cuisine in a rural setting is AgrecoFarms near Rethymno, but for ultimate escapism book a table at the Minoan Theme Park near Heraklion and enjoy Minoan-style dance, music and food.

Lasinthos Eco Park is a great place to reconnect with nature | © imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo

Sleep in style

Crete has seen an explosion of new hotel openings in the past few years, and wellness is top of the menu at most. For stylish surroundings and a super cosy spa, book yourself a pool suite at Abaton Island, near Malia, or check out one of Domes of Elounda’s totally private villas with blissfully relaxing waterfall pools.

If you’re seeking an Insta-worthy resort with plenty of hip trimmings, however, you should check into adults-only resort Domes Noruz near Chania, where rooms have tub-like plunge pools and the vast main pool is a backdrop for DJs and stand-up comedians.

Eat healthy

Food is a major reason to visit Crete, where organic produce-packed menus include dishes drizzled with some of the world’s best extra virgin olive oil, but be prepared to quit the coast to find the best places.

Fanis Eikospentakis’ Piperia, a short drive from the pretty resort of Makri Gialos, is the best place for grilled fish lathered with lemon and olive oil and red wine and pork dish stifado. For farm-to-table Cretan food sourced from the owners’ organically run small holding, however, it has to be Peskesi in Heraklion, where must-try offerings include their Cretan Sangria made with white wine and orange-scented raki.

Extra virgin olive oil is a key feature of Cretan cuisine | © Georgios Tsichlis / Alamy Stock Photo

Embark on a grape escape

Many studies suggest the health-giving properties of wine, and Crete, which has been producing alcoholic grape juice since Minoan times, is the perfect place to explore these benefits.

To sample some, follow the Heraklion Wine Roads route, which loops from the Psiloritis foothills to the ancient archaeological site of Gortyn. Stop off to sip at award-winning wineries such as the Lyrarakis Estate, famed for their use of rare local varieties, and the family-run Tamiolakis Winery, which produces fewer than 50,000 bottles per year. If you prefer to visit with a guide, try a tasting tour with oenology experts from Vintage Routes Crete.

Take the water

Voted the world’s best H2O at the prestigious Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting Awards, Zaros’s water has its source high in the mountains above the Cretan capital of Heraklion.

You’ll find bottles of this mineral-packed water on sale in most stores, but the best way to sample is to head for the mountain village from where it originates. After you’ve sipped a few glasses of health-giving water in one of the small kafeneia surrounding Zaros’s swan-studded lake, hike to the nearby spring and fill up a few bottles to take home.

Visit the Zaros mountain lake, where you can sip mineral-packed water fresh from the source | © Svetlana Zhukova / Alamy Stock Photo

Sample the local EVOO

Crete is renowned for producing some of the world’s finest olive oil and the best way to sample the island’s energy-packed Extra Virgin Olive Oil is to visit the farms that produce it.

At the Cretan Olive Oil Farm in Agios Nikolaos, you can watch a centuries-old olive press at work, then sample the oil it produces as you learn to make scrumptious local dishes during a cookery class. Alternatively head west to Terra Creta near Chania, where expert guides will take you out to watch how olives are harvested, then give you a taste of their produce.

Do a digital detox

For a total detox, head for Kapsaliana Village Hotel, a stunningly renovated cluster of stone-built village houses surrounded by dense forest near Rethymno, where you can lounge by the pool or linger beneath the restaurant’s grapevine-shaded terrace as you sup on a raft of home-cooked goodies.

Another more remote beauty, Thalori Retreat high in the Asterousia mountain range has 20 traditional stone houses, which combine rustic architecture and interiors with modern comforts. There are plenty of activities to get the adrenaline pumping – ranging from mountain biking to horse riding – that are guaranteed to make your email inbox and Instagram feed feel like distant memories.

Thalori Retreat is set high in the Asterousia mountains | © Hackenberg-Photo-Cologne / Alamy Stock Photo

Get in touch with your inner self

If you’re seeking creative vibes in a cool Cretan setting, you can’t do better than Artful Retreats – Cretan art therapist Penelope Orfanoudaki’s art, yoga, food and hiking haven nestled in olive groves near the traditional village of Gavalochori.

If you need an adrenaline challenge in order to get self-aligned, book a nail-bitingly thrilling canyoning foray with Greek Adventures, or get sky high on a paragliding experience with local company Paragliding Crete.

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