|Bars, Hotels, Restaurants, Design, Food Design / Gastronomy
On a lucid, warm evening in July, we found ourselves sipping ambrosial apéritifs amongst a laid-back crowd of worldly sophisticates at one of the most majestic and enchanting terraces in Greece, the Arsenali Lounge Bar at the five-star Blue Palace – a Luxury Collection Resort nestled on a gentle slope above the Mirabello Gulf in north-eastern Crete. We were there for the launch of Blue Aperitivo, a partnership between the Cretan resort and Venice's legendary The Gritti Palace, also a Luxury Collection Hotel, bringing together the latter’s expertise in the art of the aperitif with the former’s noble Hellenic spirit, heart-warming hospitality and breath-taking setting.
To get an idea of the evening’s magical quality you have to picture the setting: a poolside veranda marked by a 11-metre-high domed structure – an authentic replica of Heraklion Harbour’s 17th century Venetian Arsenal, or shipyard, which the Arsenali Lounge Bar takes its name from – and graced with sweeping views of the Aegean Sea and Spinalonga Island, a popular tourist attraction with a 16th-century Venetian fortress enclosing an abandoned leper colony.
Considered the oldest hotel in Venice – once the home of Doge Andrea Gritti, the 15th century palazzo was turned into a luxury hotel in 1895 – The Gritti Palace has a long history of serving apéritifs to luminaries such as Ernest Hemingway and Peggy Guggenheim at its iconic Longhi Bar and canal side Riva Lounge, with a long list of signature cocktails attesting to its mixologist heritage. It was therefore the ideal partner for the Blue Palace to collaborate with for a “signature Aperitivo Ritual” offering guests the chance to toast the sunset with signature aperitifs, courtesy of the Gritti Palace’s award-winning Bar Manager, Cristiano Luciani, who we had the pleasure to meet during the inaugural evening.
Made with fresh, seasonal ingredients, Luciani’s colourful concoctions were luscious and aromatic, masterfully combining Greek heritage and Venetian allure in cocktails such as the Basil-ica, the Acqua Riva and the Wild Fennel Martini. Add in the cinematic sunset, swaying beats courtesy of live guest DJ sets and the sensual tunes of a saxophone player, and Luciani’s dreamy apéritifs, plus creative cocktails by Blue Palace’s own award-winning mixologist Aristotelis Papadopoulos, along with plenty of champagne, and it becomes clear why it was an evening-cum-night to remember.
Not that we needed a special occasion to visit this tranquil, sun-drenched corner of Crete. Stretching across 143 acres, the Blue Palace unfolds as a series of low-rising bungalows, suites and villas situated amongst lush gardens, conceived as personal sanctuaries, complete with private pools, terraces and patios, sweeping sea views and sunset vistas. Eschewing ostentatious displays in favour of understated sophistication, the resort is imbued with a laid-back sensibility and peaceful ambience inspired by the Cretan lifestyle where natural materials, muted, earthy tones, clean-cut forms and handcrafted details constitute a crisp, contemporary aesthetic in harmony with the natural landscape.
Committed to a truer, more timeless experience of Greece, the resort’s culinary offerings embrace a farm-to-table philosophy underpinned by the use of local, seasonal produce, including ingredients sourced from the hotel’s own organic kitchen garden. From the creative interpretation of traditional Cretan cuisine at Anthós restaurant courtesy of Creative Consultant Chef Athinagoras Kostakos, to the quintessential Greek taverna Blue Door, to Isola’s authentic Italian cuisine, dining at the Blue Palace has been conceived as an all-sensory journey.
Three outdoor pools, a private beach, and an acclaimed spa and fitness centre with views overlooking the sea complete the Blue Palace’s five-star amenities but what makes the resort such a truly remarkable destination is its unique brand of hospitality which balances luxury and comfort with a renewed focus on authenticity, tradition, sense of place, and a genuine respect for the natural environment. The approach is the brainchild of Agapi and Costantza Sbokou, co-CEOs of PHĀEA RESORTS, whose portfolio includes the Blue Palace and the eco-conscious Cretan Malia Park, a member of Design Hotels™. Chatting with the two sisters during Blue Aperitivo, their visionary ethos shines through as does their passion for the hospitality industry, which clearly runs in their blood, evidently taking their father (founder of the company) and his hospitality vision one step further.
Luxury and travel have been shifting lately towards a more mindful model that prizes meaningful experiences and inspiring engagements over conspicuous consumption, a trend which the pandemic has clearly accelerated, and one which Agapi and Costantza have been at the forefront of. Luxury is in the details as Agapi explains, from the architecture and design in dialogue with Crete’s heritage, to the discrete yet warm service, to the local, organic farmers that provide the fresh produce, all the way through to the aromas of the landscaped gardens. Underpinning their philosophy is the commitment to creating slow-paced, authentic environments rooted in the Cretan lifestyle yet cosmopolitan in outlook and worldly in aesthetic – an alchemical combination that we experienced first-hand while sipping Cristiano Luciani’s signature apéritifs at the Arsenali Lounge Bar as the sun ceremoniously descended into the Aegean Sea behind Spinalonga Island.