Travel – Goodbye to Ag Nik
Does anyone in Walmley remember the TV advert that features a chorus of alarms going off at 5:00 AM immediately followed by a stampede of German holidaymakers going out to put their towels on the sunbed? Meanwhile, a plucky Brit saunters out to his balcony and hurls his Union Jack towel so that it arranges itself neatly on a sun lounger. Sadly, the art of dawn sunbed reservation is alive and well, only now it is the British who are the culprits.
I mention this because it was probably the only black mark against my family holiday to Agios Nikolaos in Crete. We stayed the Hotel Hermes located on the seafront near the centre of town. It was built in the 80s and it has vast sweeping lobbies and foyers occupied only by the occasional sofa. Our suite was equally vast and featured flat screen TVs, a double width balcony and a separate bedroom for the kids. The Hermes is a trifle bland, though reassuringly efficient, but this was easily countered by the view over the vivid blue sea to the towering mountains across the bay. From my balcony I could look down on the bustling port and watch a procession of cruise liners dock and then promptly sail away again.
The food in the hotel restaurant was good quality if uninspiring, but this did not matter because five minutes’ walk away was the centre of town and literally hundreds of restaurants. During my stay I enjoyed lobster, lots of freshly caught fish, a passable steak and the inevitable meze, all at reasonable prices by English standards. Ag Nik, as it is affectionately known, is a strikingly pretty town. It is built around a lake which is actually a lagoon connected to the harbour by a narrow canal. The lake is surrounded by cocktail bars and restaurants and is home to a Heath Robinson array of fishing boats. I cannot think of a better place to sit and watch the sun go down while sipping a Long Island Iced Tea and pondering what to have for dinner.
Although there is a disco boat that returns noisily to the harbour each evening, packed to the gunnels with slightly intoxicated teenagers, Ag Nik is by no means Crete’s answer to Ibiza. In fact it is a resolutely middle class resort and decidedly cosmopolitan; I even encountered several examples of that very rare thing, a French tourist outside of London. I was puzzled by the plethora of shops selling Prada handbags, Rolex watches and even fur coats – hardly standard tourist tat. The mystery was explained by the presence of Elounda, one of the most exclusive resorts in the Med, a few miles up the coast. Ag Nik’s two main beaches are spotless, sheltered and surrounded by a pleasing plethora of bars and restaurants. Better still, there is not a jet ski hire or sunglasses sales tout in sight.
Crete has plenty to offer to the inveterate sightseer. We hired a car for a day, promptly got lost and discovered just how mountainous the island really is. Some of the mountain passes are truly hair-raising but the views make it worthwhile and the villages remind you that Crete had a culture before the tourists came. Eventually we made our way to Knossos where they have excavated an entire 3000 year old city. Sadly, little was left standing and it was just a jumble of old stones; we didn’t stay long. A more worthwhile excursion is a visit to Spinalonga, a medieval island fortress that was used as a leper colony until the fifties. It is a poignant and slightly eerie place, fascinating to look round and you also get a boat trip and a swim.
So it is not goodbye to Ag Nik, but adieu. I will return someday soon.