Look no further than Crete for sun, sand and a rich cultural history

daily_starThe restored north entrance, with its striking red pillars and colourful charging bull fresco, reflects the wealth and sophistication once at the heart of the 5,000-year-old Minion civilisation.

According to myth, the palace was the site of the Minotaur’s labyrinth, and as the sunlight breaks over the craggy hilltops onto the historic olive groves around it, you can almost believe it.

With such a dramatic history, Crete’s imposing architecture can be overwhelming. Thankfully, Knossos Palace has a modern namesake just a few miles away, and it’s a lot more geared up for the modern holidaymaker.

The Aldemar Knossos Royal, near the town of Hersonissos on the island’s northern coast, is a five-star hillside getaway, with its own area of beach.

With 413 rooms arranged in small, white-washed blocks, surrounded by pretty pathways and immaculate gardens, it feels more like a traditional Greek village than a hotel.

Welcomed to reception by friendly staff, we were whisked down the hill in one of the resort’s club-car buggies to our room. This was smart and comfortable, with a stylish bathroom and facilities including a fridge, TV and broadband. The patio doors opened onto our block’s private pool – a chilled-out, spacious area with plenty of loungers and awnings ­and a view of the sea beyond.

Climbing down a couple of steps at the far side of the pool, we found ourselves on the beach. A gleaming mix of sand and pebbles, we had plenty of fun jumping in the surf and watching fish dart around our feet. Aimed at families as well as couples, the resort has a glistening main pool ringed by shops and bars. There is also a watersports centre – with scuba diving, paragliding and jetskis – plus tennis and volleyball courts.

For those staying on a full or half-board basis, the buffet restaurant has something for every taste, from pasta to sushi. We preferred the local fare on offer: crisp Greek salads, olives, squid, swordfish and ­ for a few euros more ­ lobster. Plus the sweet and sticky baklava for dessert was always a welcome treat.

Making the most of the warm and tranquil evenings, we skipped the buffet one night and dined al fresco at the hotel’s Villas restaurant. Sitting at a table on its wide balcony we tucked into juicy grilled steaks and roast salmon as the sun went down.

We felt like we’d really struck gold with the Aldemar Knossos after it had popped up in a search on travel website loveholidays.com. Here we simply stated our budget for the holiday, then the site came up with a list of options of where we could go for our money, and we only had to pay a £49 deposit.

A short cab ride from the hotel is Hersonissos, a bustling modern town with lively wooden bars dangling over a seawall on stilts. Typical of these was Taverna Acropolis, where we enjoyed some cheap and cheerful cocktails before hitting the shops that cram the narrow streets.

You can find a wide range of clothes stores, designer goods and souvenirs here. And if you like bling, head for Peter’s Jewellery, on Agias Paraskevis, which offers discounts on Carrera & Carrera, Roberto Coin and Rado watches.

Hersonissos is also home to the Aquaworld Aquarium which shelters rescued sealife and reptiles. Enjoy patting the giant tortoises and iguanas and ­if you dare­ handle snakes, including a large albino python.

Local driving habits can take some getting used to, but hitting the road in a hire car is still the best way to discover the island’s charms.

First stop was the capital, Heraklion, where we took in the impressive 16th century harbour, built under Venetian rule. Meanwhile the Archaeological Museum displays items ranging from Minoan times up to Roman rule and artefacts include snake goddesses, fertility symbols and the enigmatic Phaistos Disc, a 4,000-year-old object covered in mysterious symbols which has archaeologists arguing to this day.

Daily Star Sunday

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