It's easy to miss the entrance to the new Caramel Boutique Hotel in Crete, set on a stretch of road outside of the town of Rethymno, tucked in between restaurants, convenience stores and a tattoo parlor. But once you pass through the gates and into the lobby, the bustling street life seems worlds away.
The hotel, opened in June 2014, is the latest luxury offering from the Grecotel chain. Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, Grecotel is the largest hotel chain in Greece, with 30 hotels throughout the country, including seven in Crete.
Comprising 69 suites and villas, the Caramel's location caters to those looking for both culture and beach time, said hotel manager Marika Zanettou. "You're a little bit outside of the city, so you can really enjoy the beach and the sea, but then in 10 minutes you can be in the nice, old town of Rethymno."
As a guest of the hotel on a recent trip to Crete, I stayed in one of the family suites in the main building. The spacious two-room suite featured a large patio facing the garden, with an arched interior doorway and blue-tiled floor that gave the room a uniquely Greek feel.
The living area and master bedroom in a two-bedroom beach villa.
Those looking for something a little more secluded can stay in one of the villas, some of which open onto the beachfront and others featuring a private pool.
For families, the largest villa can accommodate up to 10 people, and the hotel offers a children's play center with a daily program of activities.
After enjoying the hotel's extensive breakfast buffet each day — complete with homemade jams, fresh figs and, of course, Greek yogurt — I would head out to explore Crete.
As the largest of the Greek islands, there is no shortage of things to see, from the Minoan ruins of Knossos to the beautiful Samaria Gorge. I chose to visit the lesser-known Minoan ruins of Phaistos, about an hour from the hotel, and combined that with a trip to the town of Matala, set on a beautiful beach next to sandstone cliffs riddled with man-made caves from the Neolithic era.
While Crete is smaller than 48 of the 50 U.S. states, the surprisingly high mountains and narrow, curvy roads make the island seem much larger when traveling from one side to the other. But while the mountains and the hairpin turns may slow travel, they also afford magnificent views of the Mediterranean and the rest of the island. My favorite views were on the road to the 17th century Moni Preveli monastery ruins, located in the hills above the white sands of Preveli beach.
The hotel’s restaurant features items grown and produced at the nearby Agreco farm.
After a full day of exploring, I spent my time back at the hotel either lounging by the seawater pool or down on the beach admiring a sunset over the deep blue Mediterranean. In the evenings the hotel provides live music, performed around the central pool, which is lit up at night with multicolored lights.
Guests can choose to eat at the hotel's restaurant or make a reservation for a complimentary transfer in a Porsche Cayenne for dinner at one of the two nearby hotels in the Grecotel family. The transfers are also offered for spa appointments; the Caramel plans to open its own spa next year.
Another dining option, an activity in and of itself, is to visit the nearby Agreco farm. Also owned by the Grecotel family, the farm is a great way to see traditional production of olive oil and wine, and visitors can also make a reservation for an extensive organic meal made from the farm products.
The Caramel Boutique benefits from being so close to the farm, as the restaurant features wine and food produced at the farm, bathrooms are stocked with farm soaps and each room comes stocked with a small complimentary pitcher of the anise-flavored liquor raki, distilled on the farm.
For more information, visit http://caramel.grecotel.com.