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The hotel is located on an isthmus just to the north of the tourist town and port of Aghios Nicolaos. There are wonderful views across the bay towards mountains and little islets rearing up from the dark blue sea.
We put in for a few nights on our exploratory tour of the Eastern end of the island. We were rather fortunate in being allocated a top class suite with its own terrace and private pool - Oh bliss, Oh rapture - no rushing out before breakfast to 'bag' sunbeds with towels and beachbags! After the initial novelty of a morning wallowing in the pool like a couple of superannuated walruses, we decamped to the sheltered beach area which is like a miniature harbour. I preferred the carefully landscaped rocky places where you have the double advantage of a refreshing breeze and you don't get sand everywhere. There are two larger seawater pools and an indoor pool and health spa.
The water sports centre down at the beach is run by very helpful and competent Dutch staff and we watched delighted guests whizzing around at high velocity behind a very powerful speedboat in a variety of contraptions, depending on your level of skill and tolerance to being thrown about! At this point in our holiday, the seeds of curiosity about the banana-boat were sowed, albeit tentatively.
On our first evening we ate in the main hotel restaurant, trying out the standard meal offered to the majority of guests who are on half board. The out of town location of many of these resort hotels means that they have a higher captive audience for dining than most city centre hotels could hope for. The meal was pretty good, conforming to a well tried formula which we discovered is broadly similar in most of the larger hotels in Crete.
There's soup, followed by a hot and cold buffet of starters composed largely of local dishes, then a main course and a dessert buffet with plenty of variety. The hot and cold starter buffet was outstanding, making me wonder why anyone would want a hot soup (particularly in that climate). Ditto, the main course, which on this occasion was veal accompanied by a well executed tricolore of potatoes - plain mash, carrot mash and a delicious green pea mash. But this was only day one, and it occurred to me that after a while one would be only too glad to ring the changes a bit.
Every night there's a different theme in one of the other restaurants. We had an excellent open air fish grill accompanied by a strange trio of mature gentleman musicians, to whom I gradually warmed as the evening progressed. One simply couldn't fail to marvel at their linguistic skills - they sang convincingly in six languages - and they taught us some rather more complex and interesting dance steps than the basic Zorba lurch.
The fish was very good and the dessert buffet was a showcase of interesting Cretan culinary art. On our last night we went along to the Cretan evening where we tried yet more chargrilled fish, this time a huge lobster and some perfectly cooked seabream. This all took place in a traditional open air Kafenion, complete with a tiny chapel. Given that places like Aghios Nicolaos are tourist traps, these made up faux-villages in the resort hotels enable you to enjoy the "traditional" atmosphere without the tatty trappings.
We went into the town by speedboat, in a style befitting the guests of so illustrious an establishment. The unique feature of "Ag Nick" as the Brits call it, is its 'bottomless' lagoon, which must have been a volcanic crater. It was originally quite cut off from the sea, but a short canal was cut, enabling small fishing boats to use it as a safe harbour. Nowadays, it's fringed with wall-to-wall picturesque little restaurants, all serving identical food: Tsatsiki (cucumber and yoghurt dip) and dolmades (stuffed vine leaves), souvlaki (pork kebabs) followed by various sticky puds made from filo pastry, pistachios and syrup.
Clifford Mould flew to Crete with Caledonian Airways from Gatwick. Most of the charter flights from the UK to Crete arrive and depart on a Tuesday. UK package holidays to the Hotel St Nicolas Bay are arranged by Simply Crete
Hotel St Nicolas Bay
PO Box 47-GR-721 00 Aghios Nicolaos Crete Greece
Tel: 0841 25041-3 Fax: 0841 24556
Hotel St Nicolas Bay is a member of Grand Heritage Hotels
International reservations: +44(0) 171 244 6699 Fax 244 7799
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