Agios Nikolaos: wellbeing, water therapy and the bath of Athena on Crete’s east coast

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The gateway to the majestic region of east Crete, Agios Nikolaos has long been a magnet for health seekers coming to indulge in healing spa treatments, soak up vitamin D on the island’s glorious beaches, enjoy the famed Cretan diet and escape the coastal crowds by hiking high into mountains along pine-fringed winding shepherd’s tracks that lead to dizzy gorges, mythical caves and ancient Minoan sites.

Set on a hill overlooking the sparkling waters of Mirabello Bay, this idyllic seaside resort, with its small sandy beach and tangle of shopping lanes has been a centre of wellness since antiquity when, according to mythology, the goddess of wisdom and war, Athena, and her sister Artemis (who was in charge of nature and fertility) bathed in Voulismeni, once a freshwater lake – it is now connected to the sea – surrounded by cinnamon-coloured cliffs, which sits at the centre of town.

Boats on Lake Voulismeni.
The port of Agios Nikolaos.
The Mirabello gulf, Agios Nikolaos.

Soak up those healing vibes yourself by joining locals in their laid-back way of life: enjoy a lunch of grilled fresh fish or sip thimbles of treacly café elliniko at one of the tavernas clustered around the lake’s edge, or stroll past bobbing fishing boats to light a candle in Voulismeni’s tiny fisherman’s church, which now doubles as a quirky nautical museum.

The classical physician Hippocrates recommended thalassotherapy – ocean bathing and the use of marine products – to stimulate and regenerate body and soul. Surrounded by Blue Flag beaches lapped by mirror-clear waters, the Agios Nikolaos area is the perfect place to wallow in those healing waters while catching some of the sun’s therapeutic rays.

Byzantine Church Panagia Kera in Kritsa Crete Greece
Church on the pier of Lake Voulismeni.
The Agia Triada monastery and domes.

There’s also spiritual solace to be found in one of the region’s beautiful monasteries: soothe your soul in the incense-bathed tranquility of Agia Triada or make a beeline for Kritsa, where icons in the mountain village’s Byzantine Panagia Kera church are said to work miracles.

Food is also a major reason to visit east Crete, where the lauded Mediterranean diet is central to daily life. Dishes cooked with fruity, local extra virgin olive oil are based on whatever grows in the garden or can be found close to hand: such as the famed briam, a delicious bake of layered seasonal vegetables piled on with a rich tomato sauce.

The panoramic views of the mountains, the olive groves in the countryside.
Baked zucchini, potatoes, eggplant and onions in tomato sauce close-up in a pan.
View from wooded hillside to the village of Mesa Lasithi, near Tzermiadoon the Lasithi plateau.

Head for traditional villages – such as Mochlos along the coast, or Tzermiado on the windmill-spiked Lasithi plateau – to indulge slow-roasted lamb kleftiko, snails xochloi in a garlicky sauce, and horta vrasta, lightly steamed wild greens drizzled with the award-winning local olive oil. Produced here since Minoan times, wine is currently experiencing a renaissance in east Crete, as the island’s pioneering growers, oenologists and winemakers work to rescue forgotten grape varieties. Sipping those antioxidant-packed tipples on a tour of the local vineyards is the perfect way to end your wellbeing break on this Greek island where Athena once came to get away from it all.

Where to stay
With wellbeing and sustainability at the heart of its ethos, Daios Cove Luxury Resort and Villas – a sumptuous stone-built hideaway overlooking a secluded silk sand beach near Agios Nikolaos – makes the perfect base for a healthy stay on Crete’s secluded north-eastern coast.

Pool at Daios Cove.

Spacious villas (all with their own private pools) and light filled suites have stunning views over the turquoise waters of Vathi Bay, while larger, duplex wellness villas have their own Finnish saunas and larger pools that are perfect for families.

The resort centres on its pioneering spa, Kepos by Goco. This vast healing sanctuary is home to advanced wellness facilities such as a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, private hammam suite, a heated vitality pool and much more. Treatments available include cryotherapy and colonic hydrotherapy – which rids the body of toxins using thermal spa water – among many others.

RIBboat Aerial
Villa
DC Villa

Away from the spa, you can jet off on a private cruise in the resort’s speedboat, work out in the gym or enjoy a game of tennis, splash around in the heated infinity pool with its spectacular views over Vathi Bay or just relax on the resort’s silk sand beach – then refuel on that famous Mediterranean diet from any one of the hotel’s six gourmet restaurants.

Book your Crete holiday to Daios Cove at ba.com/daios

With British Airways Holidays, you can reserve your well-deserved break with deposits starting from just £60 per person and pay the balance in as few or many instalments as you like*. All package bookings are ATOL-protected (5985) and include a 23kg baggage allowance per person. Their Customer Promise is a commitment to quality and service which ensures that their hotel partners adhere to strict safety standards, you’ll get a speedy refund should your holiday be cancelled and there’s a 24-hour helpline if you need any assistance on your holiday – just some of the reasons why 92 per cent of customers say they would choose British Airways Holidays again.

*T&Cs apply. Deposit balance due 7 weeks in advance for long haul and 28 days in advance for short haul. Travel restrictions may apply.

**From over 27,000 independent Reevoo reviews in the last 12 months – as at March 2022