Vacationing at a resort hotel may not sound like the most adventurous way to spend one’s summer holidays, but the relaxing experience one gets out of it can be a truly fulfilling one. It is perhaps not the best way to get to know what life is like in a different part of the world, but it can impart to the visitor a profound feeling for his surroundings and have a soothing effect upon his senses. However, as distinctive, luxury hotels are growing in number, this contemporary genre of vacationing runs the risk of becoming another standardized, holiday package. A hotel’s special ambience can make all the difference. St Nicholas Bay, a bungalow complex in the area of Aghios Nikolaos in Crete, possesses this kind of necessary, distinctive personality. Located in an area that contains the most luxurious hotels on the island, it is a cluster of bungalows with a cool elegance, an unpretentious sense of luxury and a warm Mediterranean atmosphere. Owned and designed by architect Giorgos Alexandrakis, St Nicholas Bay has been built with a sensitivity for scale and unusual attention to the natural surroundings. The foliage is indeed one of its most impressive aspects. In this arid part of Crete, St Nicholas Bay is a lush haven of all sorts of plants, flowers and well-groomed trees in full bloom. The building complex – a total of 107 units – is literally hidden in this Mediterranean garden which runs along pleasant, intertwining pathways throughout the property. This merging of the constructed and natural environment creates a tranquil, relaxing atmosphere but also enhances the hotel’s attention to privacy. It is probably with privacy in mind that Alexandrakis included in the complex a number of bungalows (grand suites or club suites) each with its own garden and swimming pool but also with varied decoration and interior architectural design. Luxurious yet cozy, they are the ideal retreats for cocooning, as are the rest of the bungalows. Equipped with all the necessary amenities and comforts and decorated in a blend of local, traditional and modern style, they will lure the occupant to spend the entire day on the premises as if it were his home. This also applies to the complex as a whole. St Nicholas Bay includes a charming spa (with a variety of treatments on offer), a gym, two boutiques, a kids’ playground, even an art gallery. It has everything that a large hotel complex has, yet is designed and discreetly housed to create a welcome, intimate feeling, rather than the more impersonal atmosphere typical of large, all-inclusive hotels. There are also two swimming pools and four different restaurants, offering different cuisine throughout the day. Everything is connected via paths that lead one into the other and take the guest from the central area of the swimming pool, down to the restaurant and terrace overlooking the sea and, a level further down, to the hotel’s charming, private beach. St Nicholas Bay has the ambience of a small, private hotel yet the facilities of large hotel unit. It is a difficult and unusual balance in scale. According to Alexandrakis, for a hotel to be both successful as a business venture and distinctive in terms of personality, it can neither be too small nor too large. If it is too small, then the sacrifices that have to be made to meet expenses compromise the quality of services. If it is too large, then it is also likely that it is impersonal and the service is standardized. But is there enough demand for either? The peak of tourism in the 1980s is now well in the past. Back then, the large influx of tourists to Greece encouraged Greeks to open new businesses. The question is: Are they viable today and do they offer the right combination of services and prices to lure the visitor? Alexandrakis believes that there is still quality tourism in Greece. He also thinks that, in general, quality hotels (from a certain level up) in Greece are in good standing and refutes the overall impression that they are overpriced. The main problem with tourism is, according to Alexandrakis, the poorly handled official tourist campaign. He believes that Greece is a badly advertised country, still victimized by its folklorish, Zorba-type image of the 1970s. Hotel owners may try their best to organize themselves through marketing alliances and self-promotion, but a broader campaign is necessary for more effective results. It is perhaps then that hotel owners will have the incentive to expand and ameliorate their businesses. The art gallery «Aquarium» – the title of a group exhibition at the art gallery in the St Nicholas Bay hotel complex – captures the summer holiday spirit. Art historian Iris Criticou, the exhibition’s curator, asked 34 contemporary Greek artists to produce works on themes inspired by the sea and its underwater life. She then arranged the works in an imaginative, frieze-like way to create the impression of a self-contained world, the world of an aquarium. The majority of the works are paintings, but there are also a number of objets d’art and small sculptures. The colorful paper-mache gorgons by artist Yiannis Pavlidis, an ensemble made of fish-shaped origami by Georgia Gremouti and Maria Grigoriou’s metal insects are among the most charming. A photograph by Tzeli Hadzidimitriou evokes a sensual, dream-like atmosphere. Painter Maria Filopoulou portrays human bodies seen underwater and skillfully captures the light as it is reflected under the water’s surface. Kostis Georgiou’s painting of bright orange fish on a blue background has humor and imagination. At St Nicholas Bay, Aghios Nikolaos, Crete, tel 28410.25041.