Grab a bargain break and bask in Greek island's breathtaking scenery and hospitality, writes MATTHEW WOODS
GREECE may well have a few problems with the pennies right now but there's really no better time to visit its beautiful islands.
Tour operators are slashing the prices of package deals in a bid to drum up business.
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Bars and restaurants are doing the same to attract more trade from tourists.
So while Greece has its arms wide open to holidaymakers I took advantage of a bargain deal and the warm hospitality of Crete, the largest of its islands.
Around an hour's coach drive east from its capital Heraklion is the little town of Elounda, set in a sheltered bay.
The upmarket resort attracts couples and families alike thanks to its calm, shallow waters and friendly, laid-back atmosphere.
It has its own marina with smart restaurants and bars dotted around which give a relaxed feel to the place.
Just half a mile north is the four-star Elounda Blu couples-only hotel and spa.
There aren't too many beaches on this stretch of Crete but this hotel has its own private stretch of sand, complete with loungers and a chilled-out beach bar selling drinks and snacks.
There are water sports and boat hire for the more adventurous.
We booked a junior suite with a massive sea-view balcony, complete with outdoor bath.
The 131-room hotel includes an all-inclusive deal through Thomas Cook, so you don't need to stroll the 15 minutes into town to eat if you don't want to, though it is worth making the trip at least once or twice.
Elounda Blu's three restaurants are all superb. The Island serves up traditional Mediterranean food and local Cretan dishes including baked fish and roast meats - traditionally lamb or goat.
Going all-inclusive also entitles guests to eat once in the a la carte Yellow Sea, a beautiful, open-air pan-Asian rooftop restaurant.
You can, of course, dine there every night but you'd have to pay extra for this.
Mesimeri, a relaxed poolside grill/bar, is popular with guests in the late afternoon and early evening. Away from the hotel complex, Elounda's coastline is stunning and across the bay the scenery is breathtaking.
The island of Spinalonga, which could be seen out in the bay from our balcony, has an interesting history and is worth a visit.
It was used as a leper colony from 1903 to 1957 and was one of the last in Europe.
As well as keeping the illness contained, putting lepers on Spinalonga had the effect of getting rid of the Turks, who had refused to leave the island after Crete gained independence from Turkey.
Rather than use force, the Cretan politicians colonised it with the lepers - and the Turks packed their trunks and headed home.
The best way to see the island and the rugged Cretan coastline is to take an hour-long cruise from Agios Nikolaos, just over five miles south of Elounda.
On the way, the captain stops off at a remote beach and invites passengers to swim in the clearest waters I've ever seen. After that, it's barbecue time on board.
Once back on your private beach, take out your copy of Victoria Hislop's novel The Island, which references Spinalonga - and read like it's compulsory.
The book, by Ian "Have I Got News For You" Hislop's wife, is sold and read everywhere in Elounda.
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If you get a bit of a sweat on (it was 36C mid-season when my wife and I went), you can always cool off in the hotel's air-conditioned Soma Spa with its luxury treatments, massages and fantastic raised indoor pool.
There are also numerous trips and excursions offered at the hotel, including a jeep safari in the mountains. Crete's mountains are very high, climbing to a dizzying 8,000ft.
There are also boat trips to the island of Santorini and coach trips to Samaria Gorge National Park to the west of the island.
THOMAS Cook Adult Style offers seven nights' all-inclusive at the four-star Elounda Blu Hotel in Elounda from £557 per person, departing Gatwick on October 9.
This hotel is recently refurbished and exclusive to Thomas Cook customers in the UK. Other departure airports, room upgrades and half board are available.
To book visit thomascook.com, call 0844 412 5970 or visit the nearest Thomas Cook, Going Places or Co-operative Travel store. Crete travel guides are available from £4.99 at thomascookpublishing.com.
Spinalonga boat trips cost £29 for adults and £14.50 for children, including barbecue.
. A jeep safari in the mountains costs £60 for adults and £30 for children. ? Boat trips to Santorini cost £120 for adults and £60 for children.
. A coach trip to Samaria Gorge National Park costs £46 for adults and £27 for children.
. Book all excursions through a Thomas Cook rep at the Elounda Blu Hotel.