Travel: Daios Cove, Vathi, Crete

There's luxury. Then there's enjoying breakfast by your own infinity pool, with views of crystalline waters lapping on the shores of a pristine private cove.

A room with its own veranda at Daios Cove, Crete

This is Daios Cove, an unashamedly five-star resort in Vathi, northeast Crete, the largest of the Greek islands.

A short ride from the bustling town of Agios Nikolaos, it is a pinch yourself kind of a place and the second most expensive resort ever built in Greece – it even has its own helipad.

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Considering my last jaunt to Crete was as a teen to the party town of Malia (the less said about that the better), I felt like I was visiting this majestic island for the first time.

On day two, I am sitting in a catamaran, heading to the island of Spinalonga in the Gulf of Elounda.

Ahead lies the tiny enclave where around 400 lepers from across Greece were quarantined from 1903 until 1957, at a time when leprosy, the oldest disease known to man, was also one of the most feared. It is the setting for Victoria Hislop’s award-winning novel The Island.

It’s hard to believe that just 60 years ago an entire community survived, and even thrived, on the island, because despite its isolation, the area was transformed by its inhabitants, into a place with a busy shopping street, theatre, cinema, church and school, where classical music can be heard from the loudspeakers in the street.

“For them, it was the chance for a normal life, to be away from the pointing, the staring,” our friendly guide tells us.

But one heartbreaking reminder that Spinalonga is more than a picturesque Cretan village can be found in the island’s graveyard, where hundreds of people affected by leprosy were buried.

Today, the island welcomes thousands of tourists each summer, and day or half-day trips can be arranged by Daios Cove or various other private tour groups.

After stopping for a champagne picnic lunch (provided by the resort) and quick dip in the sea – with a blueness that seems as if it could only be achieved with a specially selected Instagram filter – it was time to take advantage of the resort facilities.

“Exceptional”, “amazing in every sense of the word”, “magical”, “just wow”. A quick Google of online reviews gives you an idea of how special this place is.

Spread over five levels, the complex is served by a funicular and the sprawling resort offers 39 villas and 251 luxury rooms and suites. Despite its size, it manages to maintain a village feel, with interiors designed using natural materials and staff being attentive but not over the top.

Restaurants include the Pangea, an international buffet-style venue, which was offering Italian-themed cuisine the night I dined there, and the Taverna, where local seafood and Greek salads are the stars of the menu.

In the spa too, natural ingredients are to the fore and my one-hour facial left me feeling very pampered.

A Finnish sauna and steam baths are also on offer, along with a variety of massage treatments and special ice showers.

There are opportunities here for scuba diving, tennis, fitness training and private outdoor yoga and pilates sessions, but for many guests simply relaxing on the resort’s sandy beach with views of the attractive private cove will be top of the list of activities.

As well as winning plaudits for its luxurious facilities and thermal spa experience, the resort is also very family friendly, with cleverly timed children’s pyjama parties offering adults the chance for a quieter dinner. As someone all too familiar with kids’ menus that offer nothing more than a variety of deep fried foods, I found the resort catered very well for younger guests, with healthy Mediterranean food tweaked perfectly for the younger palate. There is also a kids’ pool beside the main heated pool.

For the convenience of guests who don’t fancy the short but steep labyrinth-like hike back to their room, there are club cars (posh golf buggies) to take the strain.

I was staying in a seaview room, one of many with a private seawater pool, and it was spacious, with king-sized bed, lounge and dining area.

The complimentary olive oil produced locally and perfectly sweet Greek baklava was a nice touch.

Summer arrives earlier on the largest Greek island than elsewhere on the Med and as the sun beats down, I enjoy perfect poolside breakfasts while drinking in gorgeous views of the cove. One morning, prising myself from my luxurious room, I join a trip to nearby Kritsa, a handsome, hilly Cretan village with winding cobbled streets and quaint boutiques offering olive soup, a local speciality of thyme-infused honey and other souvenirs, along with shops selling quirky fashion and jewellery. Outside sit little old ladies selling the weaving, lace and embroidery for which the island is so well known.

Kritsa is an easygoing place, and despite tourism being the economic mainstay of the island, our enthusiastic guide tells us the area also has a thriving agricultural community producing olives, grapes, fruit and vegetables, including tomatoes, cucumbers and courgettes. The region has also taken advantage of the recent explosion in popularity of avocados.

On my final afternoon I spend my time soaking in the resort surroundings and enjoyed a three-course meal of delicious Mediterranean fare at the hotel’s Taverna restaurant, taking the opportunity to ask our guide if she liked living in this quiet corner of Crete.

“Oh yes, I know how lucky I am,” she smiled.

Ultimately, Daios Cove is about retreating from reality for a while and immersing yourself in five-star luxury. Something I was quickly reminded of after a busy airport and earlier flight time than scheduled meant dinner was a cheese toastie and a packet of ready salted on the plane home… quite a step down from gourmet dining and fine wine.

Nightly rates at Daios Cove are from €252 (£215) in a Deluxe Sea View Room. To book, visit daioscove.com or call +44 20 3807 1418.

Easyjet and Jet2.com offer direct flights from Edinburgh to Heraklion International Airport in Crete. Prices, dependent on season, are around £250 return.