As the roadmap out of lockdown reveals itself, planning trips to tried-and-trusted destinations such as Crete and options such as Abaton Island Resort & Spa where service is king could offer agents a bookings boost.
If The White Company did hotels, I imagine the rooms would look something like this. When I visited Abaton Island Resort & Spa’s last year, I was cosseted in a two-storey villa, one of the highest-level accommodation options at the hotel, and downstairs, a large monochrome lounge with huge squishy sofa, enormous mirror and dining table, led to a private terrace.
Out there, there’s a hot tub, private (salt-water) pool, shady decking and a lawn leading out into the shoreline beyond, where curling up in one of the hippie-chic cabanas is another appealing option.
With spring around the corner and news from the government around the “cautious and irreversible” route out of lockdown (in England at any rate), including a tentative date of 17 May on when international travel may restart, it hopefully makes sense for lots of people to start turning their dreams into reality now and booking a holiday. And Greece – as it was for much of last year – could be one of the bright beacons Brits consider.
“It is certainly promising also that talks are underway about a possible UK travel corridor to Greece this summer and we are greatly looking forward to welcoming our guests back,” Georgios Kaloutsakis, deputy chief executive of Abaton Island Resort & Spa, tells me.
“We understand people’s plans can still change at the last minute right now, and we want to support everybody in the tourism chain and industry. With this in mind, we are offering free cancellations up to the very same day of arrival, which we hope offers trade partners and their customers reassurance.”
Crete in general could offer a reassuring option for a lot of people this summer: familiar, not too far, lots of great hotels, and a track record of having already got a lot of protocol measures in place last year. Plus of course, it’s a beautiful island.
During my stay, I was ready to do as little as possible if I’m honest, which my sister and I achieved with some aplomb. Hanging out at the villa became an easy and enveloping option, and there was plenty of space to do so. There was a bathroom and closet space downstairs, so a family could easily make this an extra bedroom; of course, it worked well for two women who needed oodles of places for endless clothes, shoes and toiletries (not that you need to bring much with you, as the hotel offers its villa guests Jo Malone’s Lime Basil & Mandarin range in the bathrooms).
Upstairs, the twin beds are draped in white linens against a wall backdrop of a beautiful inlaid fresco, there’s a striking ceramic feather piece on the wall, and a big white chaise longue – it was literally like walking into heaven. Floor-to-ceiling sliding doors the width of the wall ensured we had full views of the Aegean Sea, and another terrace to relax on.
There is just a handful of these villas, set at the furthest end of the resort, and they come with butler service – I swear there must have been clones of ours, Nole Zivkovic, as he was always around, making sure we had what we needed, suggesting where to dine, and leading us to our tables at mealtimes.
There are plenty of other options for those whose budget doesn’t quite stretch to villa heights too, with a total of 152 villas, suites, and guestrooms created in the resort’s distinctive architecture. Around 71 of those have access to private pools as well – but there’s also an attractive large main pool by the sea, and a pool at the spa.
The hotel is on the island’s northern coastline, and drawing on its Cretan roots is Elemes, a restaurant at the outer edge of the resort, just outside our villa. Other dining choices include seafood restaurant Bony Fish, where I devoured a plate of calamari, followed by an incredible salmon pasta dish, washed down with Cretan wine (the lovely waitress also shared a shot with us between courses), and Wow Steak House.
F-Zin Ivy League is the main restaurant at the top of the resort, offering a mix of Cretan dishes, fresh grills of the day, and familiar international favourites, with dinner there included in the half-board plan, which certainly contained enough variety. Buffets have been banished as a result of Covid-19, so everything is a la carte, including breakfast. For guests on half board who want to eat outside of F-Zin Ivy League Restaurant, a €25 per person allowance entices them to do so, with any additional spending added to the bill.
There is also an Elemis spa and a good-sized fitness room that had been operating on a reservation-only basis (other changes across the resort obviously now include wearing of masks by staff, digital menus that can now be read by scanning a QR code and emptying of in-room mini-bars to minimise contact points).
When Abaton reopens on 23 April, it will be going into only its fourth season, having opened in 2018, but its experienced staff certainly make it feel as if it’s been here for years, despite also having to work within new Covid-19 protocols.
The resort is not resting on its laurels either, with plans for the year ahead, and beyond, according to Kaloutsakis. “We have been working hard behind the scenes to expand our offerings, to include an exclusive helicopter tour of the island, showcasing the beauty of Crete and new culinary menus. Looking ahead, we are building a new pier and will launch new, luxurious villas in 2022,” he tells me.
Although it may have the vibe of a beach resort – Abaton doesn’t strictly speaking have an endless sandy beach, more a rugged 364-metre shoreline, with one main inlet whose size changes at Mother Nature’s whim. But there are plenty of sun loungers sprinkled around that coastline so you can lie back and be lulled by the sound of the crashing waves of the Aegean.
Or – if you choose to lie by the pool, the sounds of a DJ, given the resort is home to Buddha-Bar Beach Crete, part of the global chain of bars and restaurants known for bold design, Asian-inspired cuisine and DJ-led atmosphere.
The Buddha Bar menu veers on the higher side price-wise, but does contain such a brilliant array of options, from delicious sashimi, sushi and ceviche, through to Asian big-hitters like salmon with soda noodles, five–spice BBQ chicken and wok-fried beef with vegetables and black mushroom.
And having a Buddha Bar fits perfectly with the young, sociable profile of this hotel, which is a prime Instagrammable resort, with a kind of boat-like water feature up on the top level making an ideal backdrop for snaps. Whatever reason people pick this place, I just hope they pick it, and that the team can look forward to a full season once again.
“Our goal is to bring luxury back the old fashioned way, making each guest feel special and well-looked after,” says Kaloutsakis. “We are already noticing distinctive post-lockdown travel trends, including bucket-list itineraries and longer-stay bookings. Abaton is ready to meet this demand, with experiences such as our new exclusive helicopter tour, and our suites and villas that are perfect for longer-stay bookings for groups and families.”
Carrier offers seven nights from £3,185pp based on two adults sharing a room with private pool. Price based on departure 19 June and includes breakfast, return Club Plus flights from Gatwick with British Airways, Fast Track Business service at the airport and private car transfers.