Our reporter Heidi Fuller-love enjoys a gourmet food festival combined with star-studded luxury pampering at The Domes of Elounda, one of east Crete’s most exclusive beach resorts.
There’s a bustle of excitement as my taxi pulls up outside the Domes of Elounda, the chic Cretan sleepery which is a short boat ride from Spinalonga, The Island made famous by Victoria Hislop’s eponymous novel.
For one fleeting moment I think that I’m the star attraction that’s causing such a stir, then a long low limo draws up alongside mine and out steps tattoed celebrity chef Dimitris Skarmoutsos and I’m nearly trampled in the rush to get his autograph.
Skarmoutsos, famed for making sumptuously simple rustic Cretan cuisine achingly hip in his award-winning Athenian eatery Alatsi, bats away his gaggle of goggle-eyed fans and heads for the kitchen to cook up a storm.
Meanwhile I bat my eyelashes at the Domes of Elounda’s doorman who leads me to the Domes bar, hands me a martini cocktail and leaves me to enjoy untrammelled views over the bay where Aristotle Onassis used to hang out on state-of-the-art yachts with his millionaire cronies in the late Seventies.
The Greek counterpart of Italy’s Mario Batali, Skarmoutsos is the last of half a dozen, internationally renowned chefs who’ve come to this stylish hotel throughout the summer to participate in La Festival De La Gastronomie, an annual event hosted by local company Ergon Products, which gives visitors a chance to sample some of Greece’s best gourmet products.
At tables lit by glittering candles, that evening we sit around the pool as Skarmoutsos serves us Gamopilafo, a feathery pilaf swimming in a rich meaty broth, Apaki, smoked pork dotted with wild mushrooms and pungent Graviera cheese, and a subtly perfumed desert of traditional semolina halva, smothered with chocolate sauce, pistachios and homemade rose jelly. Calories? Whose counting? Not me!
If you are watching your waistline, however, you’ll be glad to know that food isn’t the only reason to stay at The Domes of Elounda – although, with one of the regions only Michelin-starred restaurants on site, good food is certainly an incentive here.
Set on a slope overlooking one of Crete’s most beautiful bays, the hotel is called the Domes because – you guessed it – it has a lot of them.
Wanting to play up the hotel’s Mediterranean ambiance, architect Stefanos Skandalis combined those domed roofs with narrow winding staircases leading past high stone walls to tiny courtyard-style gardens planted with sweet smelling jasmine and swaying palm trees, to create a sophisticated version of a traditional Greek village harking back to its Byzantine roots.
Electric buggies whizz residents quietly downhill from the The Domes of Elounda’s 90 suites and rooms, to the delightful strip of gently shelving sandy beach shaded by olive trees just opposite.
Flagging one down, I head out for a lazy swim in the clean green water fringing the sandy beach, then linger over a long lazy lunch (food again!) at Topos 1910, the hotel’s beachside seafood taverna.
That afternoon I’m booked for a massage at the hotel’s Soma spa. The spa is small, but huge picture frame windows with views over the hotel’s lush gardens to the sea, give a sense of space.
After a quick skip from sauna to steam room, followed by a dip in the pocket sized saltwater pool, I head for the well-equipped treatment room for an invigorating mango and passion fruit Tropical Oasis scrubbing and peeling salt mousse body treatment. Followed by a yoghurt-based wrap, the sweet-smelling treatment leaves my skin glowing and smooth.
With its beach-side kids’ club whose childcare staff are qualified to look after children upwards of four months old, The Domes is definitely a child friendly resort and the rooms and suites – some with bite-sized private pools or Jacuzzis – are ideal for families.
Seeking some private couple time, I chose to stay at The Pleiades the hotel’s complex of nine luxurious villas overlooking the bay of Mirabello. A ten minute drive from the town of Agios Nikolaos, with its mythical lake and great shopping, yet close enough to the Domes to enjoy all the facilities, it was the perfect choice.
Althoough the villa was full equipped with oven, fridge, dishwasher and washing machine, I plumped for the butler-service option and spent my time with my partner, splashing in and out of the villa’s garden-sized, private infinity pool or lazing on sunloungers overlooking glitzy yacht-studded Mirabello bay, whilst the food was prepared, served and miraculously cleared away without us having to budge an inch.
So maybe we weren’t celebrities like Skarmoutsos,. But for a few blissful days at the Domes we almost thought we were…