A Week On Crete
If I’ve ever been anywhere where just a week was painfully short it was Crete. It is a much bigger island than I imagined and there are so many things to do in addition to the requisite beach days with basking in the sun enjoying azure Aegean Sea as a backdrop. Crete is densely packed with options for nature lovers, cat lovers (they’re everywhere), gardeners, beach fans, foodies, history buffs and just plain old wanderers like me. Bronze Age Minoans left their mark in Knossos while the Venetian stamp can be seen in Rethymnon’s and Heraklion’s old ports and Fortezzas. Famous Cretans include Nikos Kazantzakis, author of Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ and lets not forget that Crete was heralded by the ancients as the birthplace of Zeus.
The nicest way to see Crete is to rent a villa and hire a car. Crete is an easy place to drive, even in the largest city it is nothing like driving in other European capitals. The traffic can be heavy inside village centres but that’s usually where you want to park your car and get out and walk anyway. Since the island is big it might be smart to rent a villa at one end of the Island and explore the surrounding area and then shift to the other end of the island to do the same. I think it would be easy to spend a couple of months on Crete and not run short on enthusiasm for the place.
We rented a Villa with a pool just east of Chania in a small seaside resort called Almyrida. The owner, George was great and the place was clean and large enough for five of us. Close to the beach, restaurants, shops and hillside villages we enjoyed time at the beach and around the pool with a mix or touring by car. As a special treat we hired a chef and had him come to the Villa to cook for us one evening and so we got a first hand view of the preparation of traditional seafood, vegetable and lamb dishes.
Popular with Brits and Germans in particular Almyrida is a great location to explore from. Our first wander was in the city of Chania (pronounced “Hania”) and was a great place to start savoring Greek culture.The cobbled streets, narrow and crammed with shops and people meander through the old quarter where there are many great restaurants and bars for sampling the superb Cretan food. Street markets are common and you will find everything from fruit and veg to live rabbits. Eating is definitely an activity in itself on Crete as the food is fresh, delicious and spiced to perfection. Lamb, goat, seafood, fish and typical Greek dishes prepared according to the tradition never disappoint.
Road Trips Through Gorges
While on Crete we read about a drive through the Therisso Gorge that recommended a stop for lunch at a restaurant with a beautiful garden and lookout on The Valley below. Once again the scenery was rivaled only by the cuisine. All around us were olive groves which along with grapes, melons and tomatoes are the main stays of Cretan agriculture.
Another outing was along the east coast to Heraklion to see the ancient Minoan city of Knossos. The drive was pretty and we managed to have lunch in a small village where once again, the food was great. We also squeezed in a winery, although we just missed the tour we visited the shop and I bought some local spices.
The natural beauty on Crete is stunning and the views from the coastal highway are unbeatable. I had one more look at it after my friends drove me to Rethymnon where I caught a bus to Heraklion for an overnight stay. Heraklion is a bustling city with a very modern shopping area in the center of town and the night I was there the streets were full of shoppers, diners and teens just hanging out.
As our week on Crete flew by it was clear that we could only explore a fraction of the Island before it was time to say goodbye to Crete and my UK friends and head solo for Naxos.
Fast Ferry to Naxos
With more time I definitely would have looked at a slower route to Naxos with some stopovers along the way, including Santorini where we stopped to let off and take on cars and passengers. Built on the top of the rocky crags of the island it looks like a dusting of salt from a distance but up close it takes on the shape of the white plaster buildings common to Greece.
I sailed with the fast ferry company Sea Jets on one of their large catamaran boats. They hold around 200 cars and sail at up to 40 knots but beware in a rough sea passengers often spend at least part of the time between islands with their head in a barf bag which is unpleasant enough just for those who don’t get sick. Also if you book online you can’t pick your seat and the computer assigns you one and I believe its also one of the most expensive ways to take a ferry Its airplane style seating and the food on board is expensive and bland.
Naxos is one of the Cyclades Island which include the more popular islands of Santorini and Mykonos. I chose Naxos as I had only a week before I had to leave Greece for Rome and I had heard it was quiet and less travelled. I read that the island has not been a tourist destination as it is the most fertile of all the islands and it’s economy has been made strong by agriculture.
Although it was getting to be the middle of October, there was still plenty of sun and the sea was warm enough for swimming but it was not crowded and it was easy to find a beach chair read the afternoons away. In the mornings I explored the seaside resorts close to my hotel in Agio Prokopios. Many places were closed for the season but there were enough shops, restaurants etc open for the stragglers. I rented a hotel room in the beautiful Liana Hotel across the street from the beach and the price included a warm staff, an ocean view, private deck and a full breakfast.
Athens for a Flight
I arrived in Piraeus, which is the port for the city of Athens. The metro to Athens is very close to the Piraeus ferry dock and in minutes I was standing under the lights of the Parthenon in Monastiraki, the pedestrian square next to the Athens market. I stayed in the Cecil Hotel minutes from the Monastiraki metro stop that would take me to the airport and my flight to Rome early the next day. Monastiraki square in evenings is full of locals and tourists, eating, visiting, shopping and just hanging out with friends. It’s a good place not to eat or shop and also a place to hold fast to your purse. Better food and more reasonable prices are generally found off of main squares, down side streets and if there are lots of locals it’s generally a good sign. The airport is a 10 Euro, 1 hour long metro ride from Athens and for early flights like mine its a very efficient way to make it to the airport on time.