Like so many of us, the past 18 monotonous months of lockdowns and restrictions had left every bit of me craving escape – a real respite from the same-old routine of life in the UK. And much as they have been great when they were the only option, this time I knew a staycation or spa day just wouldn’t cut it. Spending so much time cut off from the world during the pandemic made me realise that for me, the ability to travel is an incredibly important privilege that has now taken on even more importance, particularly when it comes to managing my mental health.
I was apprehensive at first about getting on a plane during a pandemic, but despite the uncertainty and extra layers of rules around travelling, seeing lots of my friends and colleagues escaping to much warmer climates with relative ease gave me enough confidence to start planning a getaway.
The Syntopia hotel in Crete was already somewhere I had Insta-stalked, and after many wishful double-taps on its FOMO-inducing feed, I finally had my chance. And, quite frankly, in the end the excitement of finally going away overruled any travel anxiety I’d had. The logistics around flying weren’t even as hellish as I’d imagined they might be. It was surprisingly smooth running – albeit admin heavy – but definitely worth it for the trip I was about to have.
After an hour’s scenic drive from the airport, we arrived at the Syntopia. Launched in 2019 and situated in Rethymnon, my first impression was how unassuming it looked from the outside: cool, calm and discreet, it was the epitome of understated Greek island luxury. Step inside, and what greets you first is the hotel’s signature scent – always a sign that you’ve arrived somewhere that wants to impress you and your senses. The artful decor, skilfully placed plants and Grecian pottery seamlessly brings the outside in; the space feels open and airy, with all the organic touches extending an instant feeling of welcome. It could literally have been a Pinterest moodboard for #InteriorGoals come to life, and many inspiration photos were taken – another good sign.
After checking in, we were given wristbands, which made me feel part of an exclusive club – and I’m into it! In record time, we dumped our luggage, eager to make a start on the day’s itinerary: soaking up the sun, poolside, with cocktails. But first, a few moments to savour the view from our room, overlooking the hotel’s main pool. Even better, on the horizon we could see the sea, a reminder to have our phones fully charged ready to capture that sunset content. And did I mention the jacuzzi on our balcony, strategically placed to take full advantage of the dreamy golden hour light?
Forget what you know about all-inclusive holidays. Syntopia manages to make the experience feel stress-free with absolutely no admin involved (thanks to the VIP wristbands), ensuring you get your favourite frozen margarita from the pool bar into your hand quicker than you can say ‘yamas’ (that’s Greek for cheers). I highly recommend either the strawberry or lemon, or even both. Light bites are also available at the canteen if you’re feeling peckish between meals, prepared by the amazing staff, who all help to make you feel like a rockstar. For our entire four-night stay, the food on offer was top notch. My advice is to sample the variety of Cretan dishes available for the full experience. And don’t miss seafood day every Thursday, which was a personal highlight for me. Not to mention anything from the grill station did not disappoint.
Syntopia gets top ratings because it feels like it’s built for lazy, do-nothing-all-day vibes; sunshine, nap, swim, rinse and repeat. Its summer-chill ambiance will mellow the busiest of minds and let you recharge until you acclimatise to laid-back island-living. It’s definitely geared towards couples or solo travellers who prefer to be more low-key, which is why it’s great that it’s also adult only. For those who need more help to decompress, then the Signature Massage at the Aegeo Spa will do the trick. The Spa is located towards the back of the resort, where you’ll also find a second secluded pool, tucked away from all the action.
The relaxed atmosphere continues right through to the evenings, with light entertainment every night while you dine and make the next day’s plans to explore the surrounding neighbourhood. Don’t miss out on the open-cinema and different events happening each week, including wine and cheese making, cooking lessons and more.
My insider tip for bagging a coveted day bed in a prime spot is to get there early, because spaces are limited. You might find yourself on the side of the pool that doesn’t get sunlight until afternoon. The unspoken rule is first come first served, but those who try to hog them with personal items for more than an hour as they enjoy a lie-in upstairs won’t be tolerated, everyone deserves a fair share of the poolside real estate.
By the last day of our trip, I suddenly realised that I’d broken the cycle of negative thinking and feeling of stagnation after so long in lockdown. It goes without saying that any getaway will help to improve one’s mood and outlook, but what I got from this trip was the importance of making new connections, and was reminded of the joy of friendship and good times. Maybe it was the sea air, but it’s been a week now since I got back and I’m still carrying the positive effects with me, and cannot wait to book another trip.
You’ll be also happy to know that a Covid-19 testing clinic and supermarket is literally a stone’s throw away from the Syntopia (handy), and the beach is also walking distance. To access the bigger, more popular beaches you’ll need a car, but quad rentals are also easy to find and much more exciting. All in all, it’ll take 20 minutes in a taxi to the old town in Rethymnon, costing around €12, or €5 for the bus.
So come with your bestie, or your significant other, or just yourself – what’s stopping you? Thanks for everything, Syntopia!