Shops in the popular seaside resort of Hersonissos were shuttered and the main street, shimmering beneath a searing sun, was deserted when I arrived from Heraklion airport on July 2.
“A third of the shops are closed and there are only a handful of tourists – usually at this time of the year it takes me half an hour to cut through crowds,” the taxi driver told me as we swept along empty roads to Stella Island Resort, one of the first seasonal hotels to open its doors in Crete (and in Greece) post-lockdown.
Built around a lagoon-like pool which is one of Europe’s largest, this luxurious adults-only resort seemed like the perfect spot to slough off the stress of the past few months – and I’d be supporting the local economy, too. With tourism providing most of the island’s income, Cretans are desperate to salvage the season. “You can expect a very warm welcome on our island this year,” the driver confided.
The hotel sits in Crete’s tranquil eastern half, one mile from the traditional village of Analipsi. Behind high gates along a narrow lane, it’s surrounded by olive groves. A coarse-sand beach lies across from the resort, but since Stella Island has one of Europe's largest lagoon pools, which winds past every ground-floor room, guests rarely bother walking over to the sea.
The atmosphere was subdued on my first night’s stay, with only 10 rooms occupied out of 235. By the second night there were 50 rooms and staff seemed more at ease wearing their hot and uncomfortable plexiglass masks, whilst guests also seemed more relaxed, many shedding their PPE soon after arriving from the airport.
With so many pools, the sound of running water, along with birdsong and the gentle flutter of palm fronds, was intensely soothing – it really was like being on an island sealed off from the outside world. Post Covid-19, however, there was less of the usual party vibe in this adults-only resort – more a sense that guests were exhausted: just glad to arrive, soak up the sun and forget the stress of lockdown.
Service and facilities
Staff were excellent when it came to respecting hygiene measures, though for friendly Cretans who like to greet guests with a warm hug or handshake, it’s a visible strain to maintain correct distances.
Reception and management wear full plexiglass face shields at all times, and it can be difficult to hear what they are saying. Contactless check-in – done via an app on your phone – is swift. There are disinfection stations throughout the resort and high-touch points are cleaned frequently.
A big plus is Stella Island’s al fresco design: the high-ceilinged reception area has three walls – the fourth opens onto the vast pool area and there are countless sunken lounging areas throughout the resort.
The light-filled Anassa Spa is by appointment only (sauna and indoor pool are still off limits though). Beds are covered with one-use towels and (despite an initial impression of being touched by disturbingly dry hands), my English Garden massage with Elemis products delivered by a masseuse wearing gloves was deeply relaxing.
The resort also has a doctor on site around the clock, and Hersonissos has a modern clinic for more urgent ailments. The fully equipped hospital at the Cretan capital, Heraklion, is 14 miles away.
Food and drink
Staff in the restaurants and bars wear smaller plexiglass masks that cover the mouth and chin, and they are careful to respect social distancing. Tables are disinfected before and after use, and breakfast and lunchtime buffets (behind glass) are served to your plate. It’s also possible to order breakfast to your room at no extra charge. Although most guests use the resort’s app to choose their food options, I did see several printed menus in circulation.
Rooms are steam-cleaned every day and left empty for 24 hours between stays. There’s hand sanitiser, but no PPE for guests (although masks can be provided on request). Choose an Overwater Bungalow or a Villa for the most privacy.
Read the full hotel review: Stella Island Resort