Having read the many glowing reviews of Crete on these pages, I feel reluctant to have to strike such a discordant note, but while I didn't have exactly a BAD holiday there, it's certainly not a destination I would ever consider visiting again. The reality I found there was quite unlike the island idyll other reviewers have described; perhaps because notably, the next most recent review I saw was written in 2008, and Crete has clearly been hit hard by the global recession and the current high rates of exchange affecting the Euro. Wolves are at the door, figuratively speaking, for many of the businesses catering for mass tourism in the north of the island, and it shows: this was reflected in the attitudes of almost every single business owner we met during our recent stay.
I'm aware that when I go abroad, it is as a tourist from a relatively-speaking, privilleged background in the West and I have travelled moderately widely in less well-developed countries, namely in parts of South-East Asia as well as fairly rural Turkey. From my experiences in some of these places I am thus accustomed to be being seen by many of the locals I encouter as something of a walking revenue-package but I do not in any sense object to paying the elveated 'tourist tax' - in terms of slightly higher prices - that is often imposed (personally I think quite reasonably, given the disparity between our countries' different economies) by local businessmen. That said I have never, ever, so blantantly and offensively found myself been regarded as nothing more than a cash-packet on legs than I found myself in Crete this year.
At all but one of the restaurants and cafes we visited, we were subject either to aggressive selling policies, wherein the proprietor of the establishment tried to bully us into buying the most expensive dish on the menu, or the dishes we ordered were replaced by more expensive options that we specifically hadn't asked for, or when the bill arrived there were charges for items we hadn't ordered / even received. On one occasion, when I complained that a dish we hadn't ordered had been brought to the table, I found that my own food when it later arrived, spitefully, had been covered with an 0.5cm thick layer of ground black pepper, rendering the meal nigh-on inendible. I didn't dare enquire about that for fear of what would happen or be done to the later courses.
This sort of thing happened to us again and again and was by no means a problem that only we encountered; other tourists we spoke to had experienced exactly the same - being cajoled into buying expensive, rather than the bottles of house wine they'd wanted, etc. I'm aware that the country of Greece is - like most other places in Europe - currently in dire financial straits. There were food riots in Athens this January and general prices for household goods and groceries as we saw during our visit are very high - even significantly higher, if you can believe it, than they are here in Britain.
It's clear for all these reasons that restaurant owners in Crete this year have fallen on desperate times; most places are nearly empty and takings and orders are obviously down but it is unreasonable for these businesses to try to compensate by penalising those customers they have got. I didn't care for the way we treated when we were in Crete at all, and the attitude of many of the restauranteurs, hotelliers and even shopkeepers that we met there - far from being 'hospitable' or 'friendly' as I've seen described in other reviews here - seemed actually resentful; either because we weren't spending money, or if we were that we weren't spending what they considered to be enough. All this made for such an operationally unpleasant stay that I will never again consider - even for a moment - visiting the island.
Quite possibly the problems we encountered were my own fault for having booked a cheap package holiday in Crete to a resort area packed with tourist restaurants and hotels, but then I've booked cheap package holidays to other like destinations in the past and not exactly come to similar grief. Crete was unusual in this respect.
If this review has focussed on the economic, that is an accurate reflection of the prevailing situation we found there. Crete has natural beauty and in some places rather nice beaches, certainly, but until the economic situation settles down I'd contest that it will remain as it currently is: not the greatest of places for a visit.
September holiday in Crete
Had a really great trip to crete with my husband. Stayed in a small house, in the village of Spilia near Hania. Its a proper greek village, and you felt you were experiencing the real crete. Spilia is home to the cave church set above the village, which is truly spectacular. Also nearby is the Deliano Gorge, which is well worth a visit for vulture sighting, although we were followed by a pair of hoopoes all the way up. You can walk or drive it.
The nearest town was Kolimbari- an OK place with some nice restaurants.
But hire a car and go up into the Lefka Ori mountains. The scenery is amazing. You can drive up to the beginning of the Samairia Gorge walk, thru the town of Omolu, but take something warm as the temperature drops as you go up.
For beaches the best is Elafonissi on the south coast, its cyrtal clear lagoon is great for families
Hi all i spent a week in Crete last may and i must say it was the best time of my life, i stayed in the middle of Hersonnosis, where everything happens.
My first impressions of the Island were " what have i got myself in for?" but then as the day wore on it was much more inviting.
The locals are lovely, and my sister and i were lucky enough to be arriving with most of the workers, so we made some firm friends out of the trip.
Hersonnosis - This resort is not for the faint hearted and is mainly populated by Irish, Germans and Swedes but none of this put us off, if anything it completely enhanced the holiday. That and the fact that once the locals get to know you they give you free drink and there is an offer of a job at every corner, i had a hard time trying to convince my sister not to pack in her job as an accountant to work as a barmaid, but i was sorely tempted myself.
This holiday was so good that i returned in August, this time i stayed in Piskopiano, which was much quieter and tame, but a taxi service to Hersonnosis every night and laze by the pool or in a nice restaurant in Piskopiano made it as good as my first venture to Crete.
Ive just spent autumn half-term in Crete. Its somewhere Id already been to (in a previous life as my wife calls it) and shes always wanted to go to.
Having not been there since 1974(!), fearing the worst excesses of tourism, I was reticent, but as shed booked a stay nowhere near my previous haunts, I was quite happy with this state of affairs, especially given the amount of ground work she puts into choosing a location.
Please bear in mind that this was the very last week of the (British) tourist season, so you may have other views on the places I describe, relating to how crowded they were at the time.
Where we actually stayed was a village called Koutouloufari, which lies just inland and uphill from the seaside town of Hersonissos, and slightly east of Heraklion Airport.
Heraklion (or Iraklion, which is nearer to the Greek spelling) is about dead centre on the north coast of the island. The famous resort of Aghios Nikolaos lies much further to the east, whilst the largely unsung but nonetheless visit-worthy towns of Rethymnon and Chania are west of Iraklion. All well known towns are along the north coast with the exception of Ierapetra in the south. This can be explained by the fact that the south coast, apart from the odd flat stretch, is largely impenetrably mountainous except by dead-end roads or by boat.
Koutouloufari turned out to be something of a designer village not entirely phoney, as it contained a wealth of old buildings and sympathetic new ones, but with a much higher proportion of eateries and boutiques than youd expect in a real village. However, eating out is high on our agenda, so this looked more like our cup of tea than a beach resort, or villa in the middle of nowhere. Anyway, were great believers in the GOYA principle, so a base is entirely that, somewhere to sleep, preferably after having eaten. As will become evident later on, not having to drive at night in Crete is a distinct plus!
If youve never been to Crete before, dont expect it to feel like a Greek island is the same way as the ones where Uncle Spiros is the Mayor, taxi\donkey driver and local hotel owner/undertaker. Crete is big driving from east to west and back again in one day is purely for the likes of white van man on a mission; were talking London to Manchester here. Im guessing but Id say that Crete represents around 10% of the total area of Greek territory.
THAT MOST BRITISH OF QUESTIONS
.and the scourge of all tour reps at the end of the season Whats the weather been like? Well, we thought it was great possibly a little overcast some mornings but revving up to a beautiful sunny day well before lunch, with temperatures consistently in the mid to late 20s. Admittedly, the swimming pools were a tad chilly, whilst the sea was relatively warm, having had all summer to get that way. Crete also has a tendency to be a bit breezy, so beware burning, thinking its cool when its not.
.AND THE SECOND QUESTION
Whats the food/beer like? Well of course, a foreign holiday wouldnt be a foreign holiday without genuine John Smiths on draught, Yorkshire pudding on Sunday and football on Sky would it? These worst excesses of the British preponderance to only go somewhere coz the weathers nicer, whilst taking a little piece of home with them, or expecting it to be laid on when they get there never fails to amaze me. Why bother? - just buy a sun lamp guys.
Of course, to avoid these traits, (and the Germans have nothing to be smug about either, with their Echtes deutsches Frühstück und Bier vom Fass), you need look no further than anywhere OTHER than resorts like Malia and Hersonissos. The latters only redeeming feature is that its a marginally nicer place than Malia, but scoring from a low base at least it has less cead mile failte and enjoy the craich here jolly shamrock signs*. The Rough Guides advice to eating out in Hersonissos includes going to Koutouloufari instead. Need I say more?
*Is this the new definition of the back of beyond when you havent seen an Irish bar for two hours?
As you can imagine from my tone, I only drove THROUGH these places. I remember thinking that Malia couldnt get much worse in 1974, and to a certain extent I was right it just got 5 times larger though.
When it comes to actual Greek food I love it, the beer is so-so and the wines are better than I expected. Crete really does have some good vineyards and the supermarket prices for a bottle are commendably low, say £3.50 for a good quality vintage red.
AH YES, THE NOSH
Along with Turkish, with which it has many links (whether they like it or not), Greek food is, I find, wholesome, unpretentious, tasty, colourful and pretty good for you, if a little heavy on the cheese sometimes. Crete has a few of its own specialities, one being Dakos, which turns out to be a posh form of cheese and tomato open sandwich, and its none the worse for its simplicity, making a good snack or starter. We dined in about 6 restaurants in Koutouloufari, over the 7 nights we were there (leaving our personal favourite for a second coming on the last night). Prices were only reasonable, not dirt cheap I think those days are gone, but the presence of a lot of locals coming out for an evening out from Heraklion I took to be a good sign. It certainly made the restaurants feel a bit more Greek, as in their effort to look a bit more up-market, some of the Greekness had been lost to cosmopolitanism.
Dont expect to find pita bread here thats more likely to be found in the Middle East and Cyprus. The locals do actually have some pretty healthy looking stone-ground wholemeal bread with all kinds of seeds, as well as more French-style white bread.
Just a few notes about Greek menus.
Firstly, the most accurate description of an item is known only to those that can read Greek by the time something like Païdakia Pah-ee-thackia gets translated, it could look like anything from Lamm Chips to Lamp Chopping. Anyway, its nice to show off, and in fact the Greek alphabet is actually shorter than ours, and on top of which, many of the letters, particularly the capitals are the same or at least recognizable.
For example, it doesnt take much of a stretch of the imagination to see the connection between the Greek and the English spelling of Taramasalata. Unfortunately, it all goes pear-shaped in lower case.
By the way, anything ending in aki is a small one, or akia if plural. Hence souvlaki is small souvla, dolmadakia are small dolmades, kalimarakia are small kalimares, and so on.
Favourite dishes? Stifado comes close. This is a delicious casserole, usually of beef or veal cubes, having been marinated prior to cooking.
Likewise, the ubiquitous Kleftiko is slow-cooked lamb which literally jumps off the bone, its so tender. Dont hesitate to ask why it sounds like English words prefixed with klepto-. Originally, so the story goes, you rustled a sheep on someone elses land, and to avoid detection whilst cooking it in the woods, you buried it in the dying embers of a fire in a hole in the ground, hence the slow-cooked aspect. So, its thieves meat. Of course, these days, its bought fair and square and cooked in a clay pot, but the ideas the same!
Yes, you DO get chips with it, or occasionally, a jacket potato in foil!
Then of course, theres the lovely Greek Salad with all that Feta on top did you see that the EU just ruled in favour of Greece, demarcating feta as strictly Greek? Sorry Denmark, its only feta-style cheese from now on.
Of course, Greek waiters could always stop referring to their own local brandy as Cognac or any old 'fizz' as champagne...that'd be fair then wouldn't it?
PLACES TO MEET, PEOPLE TO GO
Having six full days available to use, we listened intently to the Monday morning Welcome Meeting. Normally, wed wait till the rep finishes his spiel, and announce wed like to hire a car. However, cars were thin on the ground, for some unfathomable reason it being the last week of the season, and since the Tuesday and Wednesday coach tours would save the poor driver, i.e. me, a long haul we opted to go on these, hiring a car for a very reasonable 105 for the last three full days.
TOUR 1 ANOTHER SEAPORT, ANOTHER SEAFOOD LUNCH - This entailed an early start, setting off to the western end of the island, taking in, on the way, a comfort break at the pretty village of Fodele, which, it transpired, was El Grecos birthplace, and a museum commemorated this fact. Our main objective was the largest town at this end of the island, Chania. First impressions of any town can be off-putting, as you stare out of the coach window, but as we neared the centre, it got better. Chania has an old port area dominated by a Venetian rampart. Of course, the waterfront restaurants are pricier, but its a lovely place to sit.
Chanias many back streets and alleys, just away from the waterfront, felt quite Venetian in their atmosphere, and in fact the place has earned the soubriquet, The Venice of Crete. Youd never go short of somewhere new to eat in Chania, and its only after youve strolled the harbours edge, having succumbed to the very last exhortation to read a menu, that you find somewhere 30% cheaper and nicer in a side street. This actually highlights one of the perils of being there in the last week of the season being outnumbered by waiters!
Just prior to arriving in Chania, wed been taken to the Commonwealth War Grave at Souda Bay not a cheery holiday experience, but peaceful and thought-provoking. The majority of the graves here are those of British/Canadian/Australian and New Zealanders, killed during the fierce battle for Crete in 1941. The number of 19-year-old soldiers killed was a dreadful sight. Officers aside, youd have to look hard for anyone over 30.
On the way back, we also took in Rethymon, a smaller sea port with a similar if more subdued atmosphere to Chania. Being smaller, it doesnt take long though to find yourself in very uninteresting backstreets full of those wonderfully unfinished concrete structures that abound here.
TOUR 2. WHOOPS THERE GOES ANOTHER CIVILISATION - Not such an early start for this one, as were going to be spending the day in the area of Heraklion, which is only 23 kms away. First stop, Knossos, main centre of the defunct Minoan empire. Knossos would just be a pile of disjointed stones to the uneducated eye, i.e. mine, if it wasnt for the efforts of one Arthur Evans who reconstructed parts of the Palace to give an idea of its dimensions and architecture. Unfortunately, he made two grave errors, compared to the principles of modern day archeological restoration. Firstly, its only his idea of how things were, and secondly, to make the structure more permanent (the Minoans had incorporated a lot of wood into the structure to make it more quake resistant), he used concrete. As it transpires, the concrete is now subject to a rot all of its own, and more money has to be spent in keeping Evans speculative structure up than on any real historical work.
Id been here years before, but without a guide. Our guide, Constantin was a student of history and politics (a bloody dangerous combination for a Greek, Id say!), and really knew his stuff, although he was quite impressed by what Id retained from 1974. The Minoans didnt quite disappear over night, but it seems like that nearly 4,000 years later. The volcanic island of Thira (Santorini) blew its top with a force similar to Krakatoa. Being only 80 miles north of central Crete, the Minoans copped the lot an earthquake, followed by a tsunami, which effectively swept the first incarnation of their city and palace away. As if that wasnt enough, the dust thrown up created what wed now call a nuclear winter, and killed their crops, so they went from an affluent egalitarian society to subsistence and poverty in a very short pace of time.
Exit the Minoans as a force to be reckoned with. In their current state it didnt take long for boreal tribes on northern Greece to come a-knocking, and the arguably founding culture of what we now call Europe just faded away.
Entry to Knossos is 6 per adult or 10 if you combine it with a visit to the Heraklion Museum, which is where we went next. You are allowed to take pictures without an extra fee, but beware in the museum no flash, and watch out for the items marked copyright. The staff is VERY vigilant. To be honest, despite Constantins obvious enthusiasm, I was starting to get cultured-out by then, so perhaps Im not the museums best champion, but it did contain a fascinating display of Minoan artifacts, since, fortunately for us, the Minoans believed in burying their dead with their belongings. Dont forget, the Palaces would have been ransacked over the centuries, but the graves of ordinary people were largely ignored. Curiously, they were buried in the foetal position, presumably as a gesture that they were returning to where they came from (not unlike the amount of leg room in a Thompson Holidays flight!).
TOUR 3 ELOUNDA & AG NIK aka I KNEW THIS WHEN IT WAS ALL GRAVEL - Aha, now were printing with ink; Ive got a car! No holiday to somewhere you havent been for years would be complete without a trip down memory lane, would it? Wrong read on.
As Ruth had never been there, we set off to the eastern village of Elounda, near Aghios Nikolaos, which is where I stayed with a group of friends in 1974. Shortly before that, it had been the location for the shooting of the BBC series, Who Pays The Ferryman? I could still remember the basic geometry of the place; come down a hill from Ag Nik, through a narrow street of shops to be greeted by a rectangular gravel harbour front opening up to the right, in the centre of which was a narrow jetty out to a fish restaurant. Well ..the shops start a bit earlier these days, say a mile out of town. The harbour front isnt just tarmac-ed ; its covered with outdoor sections of the cafes that throng the remaining three side of the quad. Sure the little jetty was there, but since it now faced another breakwater, the view from the restaurant was ruined glad I never ate there before! To be honest, its quite a nice place still, and a lot of expensive villas have been built around the area, as have hotels with (very) silly prices.
Was the villa still there? Well, yes and no really. After a quick look down a few side streets I found it, hemmed in by the rear view of shops. Having lost its sea view, its now just a house, lived in permanently. Planning laws what planning laws?
Ironically, Id have liked the place as it is now more in 1974 sadly theres no way to rediscover how it was, and I cant even find my colour slides!
From Elounda, you can pay the ferryman to take you on a boat trip to the fortress island of Spinalonga, which in more recent times had been a leper colony, and strangely enough was the only part of Crete that the Wehrmacht didnt seem inclined to invade! If you combine this ride with a lunchtime visit to a nearby deserted beach (well, deserted apart from all the other boats anchoring there!) for lunch, a swim and a snooze, youll be able to say spinalonga day when you get back!
Oh well onward and upwards as they say. Whilst we were over this way, we also decided to try Aghios Nikolaos. Strangely enough, apart from having gone pear-shaped around the fringes, the famous picturesque bits were more or less as I remember them except that the eateries are somewhat more up-market these days. The little inner harbour (The Bottomless Lake) is still there with its bridge offering no headroom at all to boats. The main part of the harbour looks much the same. This already was the place to be in 1974, and it seems that the words spread even further. Fortunately, this more traditional part of town always has been tightly packed, so it kind of defies further development except in the purpose for each building, most of which are now places to stay, eat or drink (or all three).
I had to smile when I recognized the site of my getting off with a girl from Doncaster, only to reappear at the villa three days later not looking any more sun-tanned than when I left. I thought it prudent to keep this to myself, as her indoors wasnt at home to Mr. Boasty that day.
As a pleasant surprise, the harbour-side restaurant where we lunched turned out to be a very reasonable, at around 25 for two, including starter, full main course, beers and coffees each. Ag Nik (God I hate it when the tour reps call it that) lies in the spectacular Golf of Mirabelou, skirted all around by stark mountain sides, which is presumably what keeps them safe from villa builders!
A quick burn down the E75 (no, its not a food additive), and were home.
TOUR 4 - THE PLATEAU OF LASSITHI. Aka I KNEW THIS WHEN IT WAS ALL WINDMILLS, although not the traditional Greek sail-cloth ones, just those metal wind-pump things Im not THAT old!
Driving due south from the Hersonissos area, a surprisingly good and very scenic road takes us through the heart of the island following signs for the plateau. This involves driving over some of the islands highest roads, so nothing quite prepares you for the sight of the plain suddenly appearing at quite an altitude. I imagine its akin to driving over Ben Nevis, to find Romney Marsh shortly below the summit. We had the privilege of touring the outer perimeter of the plateau at pottering speed, there being no other traffic whatsoever. The juxaposition of contre-jour and autumnal foliage was breathtaking (the sun shining through brown leaves was nice too), and many happy moments were spent getting that definitive arty-farty photo.
As it was shortly before lunchtime, the many local outdoor restaurants were getting into gear for Oxi Day, it being 28th October. This is the day that the Greeks told Mussollini, what he could do with his side with us or be invaded ultimatum, and he wasnt best pleased as it involved sticking it somewhere the sun dont shine. Anyway, history apart, its now a national holiday, and the wood-smoke from the dozens of barbecues was quite heady, especially as the sun DID shine, through the smoke this time. It takes about an hour to cruise the edge of the plateau, and you can make a detour to the Diktean Caves, supposedly Zeus birthplace. Id seen it before and its currently a bit of a mess, being the site of further Neolithic archeological digs.
It seems that most of those windmills, yay, even the metal ones are now merely accessories for cafes and restaurants though shame; last time I was here, they were actually pumping artesian water up to the surface. I did run into a few wind-farms on my travels, so the age of the windmill is coming back, but to make electricity this time.
This was my first view of the old Greece for quite a while. Old men with grey-ing handlebar moustaches, wearing baggy black trousers and riding boots, Orthodox priests, complete with chimney pots, sipping coffee (or was it Metaxa?) with their chronies in a street café, little old ladies (yes, do all tall women die young here?) in black, riding mules, AND, the vast majority of signs ONLY in Greek.
You can more or less chose to exit the plateau at three of its corners, the rest being hemmed in by mountains. Here, much of the islands temperate vegetables are grown although vines seem to do well too. Snow is possible in winter about the only flat land in Crete where this happens, not surprising really, as its the only flat HIGH land.
TOUR 5 WEVE HIRED IT FOR THREE DAYS LETS DO SOMETHING WITH IT.
This was the tour we didnt really mean to make. Like Topsy, it just grew and grew. Setting off again in a southerly direction, I had this mad idea of pottering around in the mountains to see what happens. However, when it dawned on me that I hadnt seen a petrol station for hours, and we were on one of those bring it back empty deals, this seemed less of a good idea as the day drew on, so, straitened by this thought, we headed for a main road, this time leading along the south coast towards Ieraptra, which was somewhere wed never been, so that was OK.
Its very difficult to head along the ACTUAL south coast of Crete as its largely impenetrable, but the views from even 5 miles inland were stunning especially as the road seemed to be high up most of the time. It was also VERY windy, making steering a straight line difficult. The Rough Guide isnt very complimentary about Ieraptra, but it seemed pleasant enough, although by now, we were outnumbered by waiter by an even greater ratio! Wed taken sandwiches, so our no thanks, weve eaten was no lie. Ierapetra lies in one of the only flat southern part of Crete, with a fine sweep to its tourist beach, edged with outdoor restaurants, which on a less windy day would have been tempting.
Away from the beach, theres a whole working town out there, ATMs, traffic jams, drivers on the horn and holes in the pavements you could lose a leg down. Id recommend it as a way of breaking yourself in for coming home to Hounslow any day.
Getting back from Ieraptra was somewhat less of a rally drive. Its only 12 miles to the north side of the island here, bringing you back to the splendid coast road that sweeps round that Golf Of Mirabelou I mentioned earlier, taking you past the burgeoning outskirts of Aghios Nikolaos and down the E-75 to home.
Greece is within the Schengen zone of the EU, which means very little to us Brits coming TO an island FROM an island as it manifests itself as two immigration queues us and the rest of Europe. The Euro is the local currency ironic really, since Europa was a Minoan.
Continental-style plugs at 220 volts AC apply. ATMs are common and petrol stations take credit cards.
The double white lines down the centre of roads mean nothing to Greek drivers, unless its as a challenge to see how long you can hide them beneath your wheels. (Perhaps they think they are in Scalextric cars, and need to keep on the rails). If you dont move over onto what appears to be the hard shoulder, theyll tailgate and flash you to within an inch of your life, practically sweeping your wing mirror off as they pass.
Anyhow, white-lining is a luxury in some places, it having been applied with magnolia emulsion from B & Q, so it soon wears off.
Goodness knows what the main road speed limit is about 200 kph if the locals are anything to go by. Whatever it is, it doesnt get enforced much on Crete!
Overloaded vehicles with badly adjusted headlights are seemingly compulsory.
Ditto for smoking in restaurants.
THAT END OF SEASON THING
Much of what Ive written may well be at variance to other peoples experience but this was the last week of the season. There are pros and cons here.
Firstly, the great British travel industry choose to rack it back up to high season rate to fleece those with children, as its half-term in the UK. Despite paying more, the service in hotels can sometimes seem worse, like theyre waiting for you to move before they roll up the welcome mat behind you. Restaurants start to close down DURING the week, so plan ahead for that last night party. They also start to run out of things, and sometimes, its quicker ask whats still on rather than flick through 5 pages of the menu.
Youre outnumbered by waiters trying to get you to eat in their place.
Having said all that, its a last glimpse of nice weather for several months.
Being cooler, its easier to have an active holiday, and
NO BLOODY MOSQUITOS
Says it all, I think.
I look out over the tiny waves as they peacefully roll and break. To my right is a clear view of the flora-flecked mountains which plunge into the sun speckled sea. This unassumingly charming view is remarkably undisturbed by the throngs of boisterous, beach-crazy tourists that plague so much of Northern Crete. Having had my ambitious plans of holidaying in exotic South East Asia cruelly thwarted by a last-minute practical review of personal finances, I had dreaded arriving in a drunken Brit-infested Mediterranean hell-hole. Instead, the village of Panormos is the embodiment of everything I'd hoped for: tranquil beaches surrounded by impeccably clear sapphire waters, pretty cobbled streets, baking under a flamboyant summer sky.
I eat meze and politely sip the well meant complimentary Raki, a meths like alcoholic substance that sets your throat on fire . A television plays unobtrusively in the background as I walk over to the bar to ask for the bill. An ancient looking lady dressed entirely in black with a tired expression but smiling eyes waves to me, after exchanging names, she points to the TV. European elections are showing, with protests in Athens. Esmeralda speaks very little English and I speak much less Greek but somehow we cover the varied subjects of Tony Blair, George Bush (big thumbs down), the British royal family, David Beckham. With lots of hand signalling and odd words in a mixture of Greek (which she persists with determinedly), barely remembered German and slightly more successful French, we communicate just fine. I learn something of her life and she introduces me to her family, her son and his wife and their children. I walk away feeling that I have benefited from an insight into another culture that is a rare privilege on a package holiday.
It is often said that of all the Greek islands, Crete is the most like a separate country of i
ts own. The national slogan in fact is pretty much "Cretan first, Greeks second". It is the largest of the islands forming modern Greece and the fifth largest in the Mediterranean (behind Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus and Corsica) With its fine variety of sights and landscapes, it deserves to be explored independently by car, giving you the added advantage of escaping the over-trodden tourist trail for a while.
As with most Mediterranean islands there are two distinct aspects to Crete: sprawling resorts packed with sun-deprived North European holiday makers and the traditional, more isolated rural areas where people earn their living from farming. This is today's parallel Crete - mass tourism running smoothly alongside the gentle, timeless lifestyle of ordinary Cretans.
Over 2,000,000 visitors come to Crete every year, so it isn't always easy to escape them, especially in the over-developed north of the island. Panormos is probably one of the only non-commercial resorts left in that area now, but is sadly unlikely to remain that way for long.
The south is still far less targeted by the tour operators (saved so far by its distance from the island's two airports and lack of sandy beaches). However, even there "progress" is being made as farmers? children opt for the lucrative businesses of property and tourism.
Despite warnings that hiring a car locally was risky in terms of insurance. However, after checking the terms and conditions to the point of pedantry, we decided to give it a go, since The Big Brand Name car hire company, recommended by the reps cost twice the price for half the time. We drive away our shiny red Fiat, convinced that we got a pretty good deal (around £80 for 4 days).
The next morning we begin our exploration by driving through expansive olive groves, carpeted with chamomile daisies and scented by other plentiful wild flowers and her
bs. Ahead an elderly shepherd whistles to his dog to get his sheep off the twisting, narrow road. A few kilometres afterwards we enter a secluded village, where modern ivory villas and older but tenderly cared for houses mingle peacefully with ancient domed churches. Under cracked stone arches, old men sit on threadbare chairs, chattering like the women they studiously ignore and gesticulating wildly as if in the middle of a grave political debate. Cerise pink bougainvillea and sweet smelling honeysuckle climb chaotically over whitewashed walls. As well as being undeniably delightful to the eye, Cretan villages are most certainly gratifying to the soul.
As well as random exploration, we have several touristy must-sees on our list. The first of which is Knossos, the site of the most important palace of the Minoan civilisation. This is laid out in a random and confusing way, as if to force us to give in and join one of the guided tours to avoid a meaningless wander. Our guide told us all the surrounding legends, such as the Minotaur and the story of Daidalos and Icaros, as well as outlining future plans for further excavations of the site, which are actually being put on hold until current tenant farmers are ready to give up their land, but also until technology improves so far as to eradicate almost any possibility of damage to the millennia old Minoan artefacts and ruins.
On our second Sunday, I sit in a tour coach with a mild feeling of dread as we curved up and down the White Mountains on our way to the Samaria gorge. My mild vertigo and inherently lazy nature had previously inclined me towards avoiding this day, but curiosity, pride and a persistent boyfriend soon persuaded me otherwise. We quickly decided to stick to the regularly scheduled group excursions for the sake of safety and convenience. Safety because you will have a guide following somewhere behind with the slowest members of the group, ready to get you help should you slip and sprain your ankle.
The coach will also collect you at the end, after a short ferry ride from the finishing village of Agia Roumeli to the pick-up port. For most people, the walk through is a one way venture as you start from an altitude of around 800m above sea level sliding down to zero. The brave or foolish can stay in Agia Roumeli overnight and walk all the way back up the next day (I count exactly 3 people doing this in the five hours it takes us to casually meander down).
A few myths about Samaria are firmly held onto; probably born out of the number of plagiarised works taken from an error-filled original guide. Firstly it is not actually18km long (although you may well prefer to hang onto to this fabled extra 2km to reduce humiliation from the fact that days after hiking the gorge, you still can?t walk without wincing and hobbling). The second related myth is that it is the longest gorge in Europe. The "gorges du Verdon" in South France are in fact almost 4 km longer, but millions of loyal tourists have apparently kept that record quiet from the French!
We walk at a very average pace, slowing down frequently in my case; to precariously tip toe over the narrow wooden ladder-bridges that frequently cross the gushing mineral water streams as you get further down. I find it reassuring to balance myself by walking across with both arms outstretched, but appreciate that I look a bit silly, when pensioner couples trot across without a moment's hesitation!
A lot of people, mostly groups of German men, seem to be treating the walk as a macho race of some sort. I suppose there could be some satisfaction in being the first one down from your group, but personally I think it a shame to be so hell bent on such shallow glory that you don?t take time to drink in what must surely be some of the most striking scenery in Mediterranean Europe. Much better to go at a brisk stroll, stopping regularly to drink from the pure translucent streams, observing birds of prey high above and mountain goats bounding effortlessly up and down the surrounding peaks. When we finally pass the finish line, touristy tavernas have never looked so welcoming and we wolf down a plate of chicken and potatoes, before catching the ferry to the coach pick-up-point.
After a day recovering by the pool, it's back to our little red Fiat. We visited ancient Minoan tombs in a site just being stolen by the tourist industry, but still free to enter and wander into the burial ground of a people that lived an unimaginable 3,000 years ago. On another perfect day we took a boat ride to the Venetian fortress island and 20th century leper colony of Spinaloga, to the east of the island. This is in some ways is a more interesting site of human history than Knossos since the images are so vivid, as recent as they are. Our witty Welsh guide was informative and took us round, giving us stories behind the island and each of the recently restored buildings, from marriages in the little church to how the leper islanders protected themselves from German invasion during the 1941 Fall of Crete. The island has an eerie ambiance, haunting but with a lingering sense of hope. These people fought hardships, fear and prejudices that most of us can thankfully only begin to imagine.
Our last day dawns rudely before we know it. Yanni whose family own the apartments we're staying in, serves us depression smothering cocktails and cool beers as we relax by the pool. The accommodation (Knossos appartments booked through Manos Holidays) is incredible for the money, just 8 clean and spacious studios sharing a large swimming pool, small colourful
gardens and comfy, well-stocked lounge bar. Our hosts are friendly and have worked their hardest to make our fortnight stay with them just perfect.
We're not due to leave until late evening, so I still have time to slip off for a final goodbye to the village I have grown so fond of. I pass Esmeralda, but she doesn't recognize me when I wave. Why should she? I'm just a faceless tourist to her. The Backpack Brigade may argue otherwise, but we're all tourists really, borrowing time in someone else's country and culture, seeing whatever we can before it's time to move on. I don?t understand Esmeralda's life any more than she can comprehend mine. Yet, in those final holiday moments I look at her and the younger generations of her family wistfully, wishing I could swap the hectic London life that is demanding my return, for something more less stressful, preferably in the Mediterranean.
I've enjoyed every minute of this holiday, but for the first time fleetingly emphasise with a notoriously gloomy former office acquaintance. She once told me that she had given up going on holiday, since she only came back from it feeling more dissatisfied with the reality that she was forced to return to. Not a philosophy I will ever be able to follow though, I realize as I walk up the steep and dusty hill for the last time. The idea of not returning here to Panormos one day, however faraway, is just too depressing to contemplate.
We visited the island of Crete this May. The island is varied depending on area, but we concentrated on the Chania area. This review is mainly random ramblings of our thoughts and observations, perhaps a few tips and some fundamental useful info too, hope you don't find it too boring. Chania (also known as Hania) is an obvious destination for the tourist to visit. It's a mix of old and new, quite a busy place especially around the harbour area of the old part of town - where you'll find the famous Lighthouse. Eating ******* If you are looking for places to eat, there are numerous restaurants, all offering a similar mix of traditional and international cuisine. Moussaka is always on the menu, and you can't help but smell it in the air as you wander around. If you are stuck for ideas of what to choose, a safe bet is a Greek mixed plate - enough for two, if not three. Expect to pay between 15-30 Euros depending on your choice of restaurant. What you'll get here is a very nice selection of traditional Greek food to sample - a bit of everything. Food on the whole is generally of a good standard, and presented well and in good sized portions. The staff however at some of the venues seem far from happy, quite obviously stressed and not particularly well dressed. Don't be surprised if your waiter takes your order and delivers it in jeans and a t-shirt. One thing to mention is that once you've sat down, you'll be liable for a cover charge, a few euros generally are added to the final bill. If you are on more of a budget, or just want a snack, there are takeaways and cafes, serving pasties, pies, pizza and the like. We didn't however see any of the major junk food chains (not a bad thing) - although I'm sure they are there somewhere. Drinking ********* A bottle of hou
se Greek wine will go well with your meal, and it usually is local. Greek wine is quite a mixed bunch, however the quality of that served in a decent restaurant is more than acceptable, and reasonably priced at around 7 euros per litre. Ouzo (not strictly Cretan) and Raki (100% Cretan) are of course always on the menu, as well as locally brewed beers Mythos and Amstel (both reasonably strong and tasty - 5% or thereabouts). It makes sense to at least try these things out, as you may never see them again. A beer in a restaurant may set you back 2-3 Euros, a cocktail - double that. Of course if you're looking for something to take back to you, any supermarket/mini-market will stock a range of local products, although the quality varies. If you can find real local products (home made) go for them instead. Ouzo will set you back just 4-5 Euros per litre, four beers less than 2 Euros, and an average bottle of wine, 3-5 Euros. Be very wary of large bottles of wine sold for less than a few Euros - some of them taste like toilet chemicals and are undrinkable. Tap water is perfectly good to drink, in fact it's rather nice - the local bottled variety is also available cheaply everywhere. Travelling *********** A cheap way of getting around is the public bus system. Less than a Euro will get you from the surrounding villages into Chania, and another Euro will get you back. It is possible to buy your ticket on the bus, but cheaper to buy them at a mini-market - there'll be one not far from the bus stop. Bus stops have a blue round sign, with a picture of a bus, and are in Greek and English - the letters for the routes are underneath, but timetables are no where to be seen. They seem to run regularly on well used routes though. It's a good idea to hold out your hand, even when at a designated stop, and of course press
the button to get off again in advance. At times, buses may become packed to bursting point - much like the London underground. On one occasion, the conductor stepped off the bus to allow one more person on - it was that tight. Incidentally the bus conductor will not be wearing a uniform, just so you can identify him easily. Mopeds are another cheap way to get around, and of course you are far more free than with the bus. Hire centres can be found anywhere, and prices are cheap - most offering a discount on multiple day hire (40 euros or so for 3 days). It's common to see riders not wearing helmets, but it's not advisable to join in this fashion. It is law to wear a helmet, and is becoming more common to be stopped if you are not - and of course it's dangerous. While most major roads seem to be in reasonable condition, pavements are pit ridden, uneven and strewn with debris - certainly not great for those with prams, wheelchairs or difficulty in walking. Pavements also disappear at times, meaning you must walk on the road itself. Taxis are cheap, a 15 minute journey costing less than 5 euros. If you are standing at a bus stop, a taxi driver may try and pick you up, negotiating a good price before you get in. Car hire of course is available, and prices are neither expensive or cheap but somewhere in between. People ******** It struck as being a very safe place to be. At no time did we feel threatened or unsure of our surroundings, We intentionally strayed off the tourist streets of Chania at times, walking through areas with local children playing in the streets, and old ladies sweeping them. These streets by our standards appeared run-down and tatty, but obviously have a certain charm to them. Perhaps this is due in part to heavy bombing that the town suffered during WWII. It's easy to see the Venetian/Tu
rkish influences in these crumbling structures. In the middle of the day when people were taking siestas, the place seemed unbelievably calm and quiet, doors and windows left open with a feeling of contentedness flowing out of each of them. We would have loved to have been invited in. The streets are very clean, and not just of litter - we saw absolutely no beggars or buskers anywhere at all. Shopping ********** Whilst there are numerous shops to browse in, it can become tedious seeing the same products time and time again, much of which is made elsewhere anyway, with a Crete label stuck on. Souvenir hunters should look for real local goods rather than the endless cheap tat sold at these touristy shops. Shopkeepers commonly sit or stand outside, and may sometimes entice you in, but never being overly pushy. Once inside service can be stressful if you are the only customer, as all the attention is on you. This doesn't appear to be as bad as shops in other countries however. Don't be surprised if the shop staff are puffing away at a cigarette whilst serving you, smoking seems to be widely accepted here wherever you are. We were surprised to find an old lady in the room of a small museum doing just that. Apart from the shops, there is the local market place - although this seems aimed at tourists too. All the local spices are available, although many of the market sellers have the same wares. Good buys are olive oil (2-4 Euros per litre) of all descriptions, a huge variety of herbs (including diktamos - only found on Crete), cheeses and honey. Staff seem very helpful, and willing to practise their sometimes pigeon English. The Euro is in use here, and there are plenty of exchange houses around competing against each other. Sights & Attractions ********************* We visited a few of the museums in the town. The Archae
ological Museum is housed in the 16th-century Church of St Francis, and has a wonderful collection of Cretan artefacts from the Neolithic age, up to more recent times. It includes some large mosaics, which were only recently uncovered in the town. There are some really good items which show just how Cretans have lived in history. It could take a few hours to look at all the exhibits in detail, but half an hour is best if with small less interested children. Entry is a few Euros per adult. No photography is allowed in this museum. The folklore museum is somewhere we stumbled upon by accident, whilst looking at the Catholic Church, in Halithon Street. It's a small web of dimly lit rooms, filled with things such as would be used in Cretan homes going back through time. Although quite interesting, it can all be seen very quickly. This also costs 2 euros to enter, but we were able to take photographs here. On the opposite side of the street is the Cathedral - you can't miss this. it's free to enter - it's worth it just to see the impressive artwork on hanging on the walls. The other museums, which we should have perhaps visited are the Historical Archive of Crete, Naval Museum and the War Museum. There are also plenty of other churches to look into, some little more than simple and somewhat shabby shrines where you can light a candle in return for a donation. We wondered into the Jewish district of the town, where it was very quiet, and there were a lack of other tourists. The Synagogue, Kehal Hayyim can be found here. Back at the harbour area, we walked along the Bulwark of St. Nicholas of Molos - a jetty which leads to the lighthouse. There is a restaurant and bar actually on the jetty. When we went, we weren't able to reach the lighthouse due to wo
rk being carried out, but the walk is nice enough anyway. Some boat restoration projects are happening in the harbour area too. Climate ********* Crete has a warm climate year round, although snow can be found on the highest mountain tops. We were able to still see white peaks on the mountains whilst we were there, sweltering in temperatures of almost 30 degrees. Even in the winter months, the temperature rarely falls below 15 degrees. The summer months can see temperatures reach 35 degrees. Sun protection and hats are a must in the hottest times, it's easy to burn quickly. Language *********** Obviously the official language is Greek. English is widely spoken in tourist areas, although it's not always easy to make yourself understood completely. More surprisingly perhaps is the huge range of limited vocabulary some of the restaurant staff have - especially the ones who entice you in. They quite easy could start a simple conversation in all the major European languages - and Swedish. Whilst this is all very useful, sometime you feel the uniqueness of being in another country depends on them using their own language - not yours, certainly not Swedish anyway. Most restaurant menus were in at least half a dozen languages, taking some of the fun out of choosing, and signs everywhere too, if somewhat badly and humorously mis-spelt. Outside of the main tourist areas, expect very little English to be spoken or understood, a phrase book and body language will be useful here. Communications ******************* Should you need to call home, and your mobile doesn't work, a payphone is the next best thing. These accept cards which can be purchased almost anywhere for as little as 3 Euros. They seem to be good value when used at off peak times. Internet facilities can be found in the main town, prices vary
but aren't too steep for light usage. Beaches ********** Whilst perhaps they can't be compared with the gems of the Caribbean, the best beaches seem very clean, some of the sand being very soft and fine. The water is clean, free from weed, although rocky in places. Some places charge for sunbeds and umbrellas, but you'll also find beach restaurants which don't. Beach sellers are not common, we only saw one chap selling donuts the whole week. To the west of Chania, the areas of Stalos, Marina, Agios and Platanias form a long stretch of beach to accommodate the tourist. I'm sure these are extremely busy in the peak of summer, however in May, they were all very little used - and it was never a problem finding a nice spot. Landscape in general ************************ What you'll see around you will vary very much due to the season you go. Late spring, early summer seems to be a perfect time to see the island at it's best. Beautiful flowers can be seen everywhere, and trees of lime, lemons and oranges, amongst others grow, even in the town itself. I was just tall enough to pick a ripe orange from the tree, you can't get fresher than that. The smell of the countryside air is fresh and inviting. Fields of olives can be seen everywhere, lining hills roaming with chickens, goats and ducks. The summer heat takes it's toll after this and dries the island, taking a lot of the colour away. It's not all chocolate box material though. Construction of new apartment blocks, hotels and so on is evident everywhere. Ugly grey slabs of concrete, some seemingly long forgotten spoil otherwise postcard views. Many buildings seem incomplete, with iron rods poking out of flat roofs, however this is so that the owners pay less taxes, and it's a very common practice throughout the island. Summing up ************** All in all we did enjoy the trip. Whilst it's not the Caribbean, it's a reasonably cheap destination if you can avoid some of the tourist traps, has enough to see for the average sight-seer, and of course a wonderful climate with some real treasures to be found. The character of the old town is pleasing, as is the friendliness of the locals. There are many places in the world for us still to visit, once we've done them all, we'd probably go back for another look.
i went to stalis last year and i fell in love with it, its my best holiday. It is a small place but it is quite lively. i didnt like malia it was too loud and gouves was like ghost town. it is good for familys because it is all mainly all on one street spread out and the street which is called beach road is split up into restruants, bars, shops and exchange places. i stayed on the main road in a hotel called irene apartments and the ppl who run them were fantastic. i am defo going bak there in the nxt copule of years. i give crete and stalis 10/10. xxxxxxxxx
For the last week I have been enjoying the Greek sunshine away from the cold and misty British Isles on the Mediterranean island of Crete. Well you may not have missed me that much, but here is the first in a series of opinions of my great holiday on Crete in general. Background ********** The island of Crete or Kriti in the local language lies 100 miles south of mainland Greece in the Mediterranean Sea. It is the fifth largest in the sea after Corsica, Sardinia, Cyprus and Sicily. It measures approximately 150 miles across and 50 miles wide making it the largest Greek island, but still retains all the features of the Med. Clear and warm blue seas, golden beaches and of course the great weather. Crete is very much part of Greece and proud of it. As Greece are in the 12 countries that adopted the single European currency this year, so the Euro replaces the Drachma as the currency on the island. Greek is the only official language on the island, though the island has a dialect of this that can make it a bit harder. Not only does the Greek language have a new language but a new alphabet, using the Cyrillic like Russian and other parts of Eastern Europe. Crete is an island, surrounded by seas full of fish and other life. On the land the terrain is very mountainous with large hills and peaks close to 1,000m. It makes spectacular scenes, very dramatic hills. The vegetation is typically Mediterranean with olive trees and rough bushes on hard ground. Much of Crete is hilly, but there is still a large amount of agriculture. The Capital of Crete is Irakleio or Heraklion depending on which spelling you use. This is on the north coast about central on the island. Heraklion is the fifth largest city in Greece, though this is not too hard as much of the population lives in Athens. 180,000 people live in Heraklion, and don’t ask me to name the other cities. The islands economy is very much tourist based, but has plenty of other things going
for it. It is a large exporter through the capitals sea port of lots of fruit such as oranges bananas and other things such as olive oils and wine. Heraklion also has banking and other financial services. Crete can be split into the north and south with a large line of mountains separating this. The north is the most developed for tourists with the south relatively untouched provides a taste of old life and some quiet peaceful destinations. Agios Nikolaos and Chenia are the other two large settlements, Chenia is in the western part of Crete and Agnic as it is called by tourists is one of the large club centers on the island along with Malia. The island does provide a popular destination for young people with clubs in the sun, but it also provides a great relaxing and quiet place for a holiday. It is up to personal tastes what you do and where you go. All types of accommodation are provided. From luxury five star hotels to middle of the range and self-catering apartments and campsites. The weather on Crete is standard with summer from May to September high temperatures and low rainfall, a short autumn and winter brings snow to the hills. Spring is less heat with flowers and still great weather at the time I went. Winter tourism is attempted to be brought to Crete, the high peaks provide snow good enough for a bit of skiing and walking with breath taking scenes then on the coasts which still have mild temperatures and sun. Tourism is the largest part of the Cretan economy and is very season, so could be a great step if it catches on. History ******* Like Greece Crete has a fine history going back several thousands of years, and have left the island scattered with historical sites and finds. The Greeks have a huge history that need no introduction with warriors and genius coming from their as well as legends and myths. Crete was home to the Minoan civilization; basically a person living on Crete was a Minoan. They were around two thousand year
s before the birth of Christ, a hugely long time. Crete was a lot like it is today, the Minoans were fine sailors and traded with Egypt and other nations as well as being feared. The Minoans were around for several thousands of years before an earthquake wiped them out and left their cities in ruin. There are several sites on Crete to look at these ruins, you can feel the history at times. Crete has struggled throughout its history as it was ruled by foreign powers. The Minoans were displaced by the Mycenaean around 1500 BC, and Crete has been ruled by the Byzantines, Arabs, Venicetian, Turks and Greece. Crete is part of Greece now. Crete was also a stronghold during the Second World War, so much so that the Germans took it upon themselves to invade it. During several bombing raids, an invasion force was landed. Paratroopers landed on the island and allied forces stationed them made a hasty retreat, helped by the Cretans living there and the Greek army who later fought a guerilla war against the Germans. As a result the civilians on the island suffered terrible acts of reprisals against them. There were a lot of German tourists there when I was in Crete, interesting given the older population would have suffered under them. Getting Around ************* Crete had no tarmac roads until the 1970s, a sign of lack of investment from their rulers such as the Turks to weaken the islands infrastructure. The first place most people will see of Crete is Heraklion airport, a few miles out of the capital. Chenia does have an airport and you may go by sea to Crete. The airport itself is not excellent, small with few services but good enough. Many tourists to the island hire a car to get around the island, there are several braches of car hire firms at the airport and others at large towns and hotels can get you one. A car is pretty much needed unless you want to stay in one place and the island is small enough to easily navigate. Car hire and e
specially petrol is relatively cheap. If you don’t hire a car then buses run from large towns stopping locally, again cheap though not exactly luxury or for that matter on time. Heralkion has a sea port that runs ferrys to Athens mainly for people wanting to drive a long way and take their own cars, though boats also move between other settlements on Crete. Taxis are also cheap and used for long and short trips and are usually good if you don’t have a car. The roads and more importantly the drivers on Crete may put some people off hiring a car. Not as bad as some continental drivers it is still pretty hairy at times. There is a lot of construction work around and new roads are being built still improving. The roads are interesting as well with one main lane on all roads then an extended hard shoulder which is not quite a full lane. Drivers are expected to pull into this when some one wants to overtake, and there are some people that insist on driving at several hundred kilometers and hour. All road measurements are in kilometers and road signs are often translated into the roman alphabet so are easier to recognize place names. Sites to See ********** One of the most famous sites on Crete is the palace of Knossos. This is one of the many archeological sites on the island from the Minoan period. This was the place where the labyrinth from Greek legends with the Minator. Located just a few kilometers away from the capital Heraklion it is well worth a visit. There are loads of other sites such Gournia and Lato that have Minoan ruin, but Knossos is the largest and most famous of the lot. All that remains of most of the sites are rocks of the foundations, so you have to imagine the rest of it, and if you bring the kids along they may get a bit bored. In all cases you are able to walk all over the ruins and you can feel the history. There are many great beaches on Crete and the sea is wonderful as well. The sea is very safe wi
th no tides or any roughness at all so is great for families. Water sports available include windsurfing, diving, water skiing and others less active snorkeling swimming and cruises. No surfing though. There are plenty of sandy beaches, but also little coves and rocky bays. The sand is good and especially on the north and south coast just away from Heraklion. A real Mediterranean climate and coast line, both spectacular and beautiful. The capital Heraklion is not great beauty. If you are going to the airport them you don’t go into the city and you may not want to. It is basically a lot like any other city though it feels much more dirty and suffocating in the heat. It has all sorts of facilities including banks, hospitals and police and other things you may need. The other main towns have shops and all things for self-catering. The big clubs centers are on the smaller towns like Agois Nikolos, Malia and Neapoli. Some people may be totally put off by these sort of things, others think they are great. It is one of the best surroundings for a clubs, great weather, nice beaches, sun and relatively cheap. Crete has some nice clubs, a real nightlife and is a great place for a good time. A place to go back to for me as I was on a family holiday, I would go back again in both holidays. Conclusion ********** Well that was a long opinion, hopefully there was some information in there and it was of interest. Crete is a wonderful place, spectacular views with the mountains and the sea, beautiful beaches, warm water and warm weather and great people. The clubs and nightlife is great if that is what you are going for you will not be disappointed, great surroundings and there is just as much for any other holiday for kids, relaxing and sports. Well worth a look.
I arrived in Crete,in Chania airport in the middle of August. The difference between Crete and the rest of the world is spotted as soon as get out of the airport: The scenery is amazing and the people more than friendly. We stayed in Crete for two weeks and I can ensure you,that not only the beaches were amazing and the food so nice but there were very many places to go as well. Being two weeks there allowed us to travel from the Western side of the island to the eastern one, that is from the county of Chania to the county of Lasithi. Starting from Chania,the old harbour is a must-see. It is better to go there late in the afternoon since you will be able to watch a very beautiful sunset and avoid heat as well.There is a very large range of shops in the small streets,most of reasonably priced and of high quality. There are many beaches you can go and swim as I mentioned above."Kalamaki","Agia Marina","Chrisi Akti"(Golden Beach that is) are some of them. As far as daily excursions are concerned, I would personally recommend a one to the gorge "Samaria", which has an amazing scenery and is very well preserved. We also went to "Paleochora" which stands to the south of the county (and the island)a small town by the sea and "Elafonissos", which is basically a small island where you can go walking (!!!) following a small path in the water. Rethymnon is the second county of the island (if you look in the map from left to right)and is supposed to be the most "cosmopolitan" city of the island. We didn't stay much there-but we went to the monastery of "Arkadi" which was a base for the revolutioners during the Turkish occupation of the island in the 19th century. People said a lot about the "Plakias" beach but we didn't have the chance to see how beautiful it was ourselves. Next is Herakleion,sitting in the center of the island. If you enjoy visiting arc
haelogical sites (which we do) the museum near the city center is a must. Most of it is about the Minoan Period and the findings that are exhibited there are unique indeed. Just outside the city are two big archaeological sites: Knossos and Festos where the remaining of those two ancient cities can be seen.Don't buy your films there though: We did and we still regret it,since they were quite expensive. If you are into the clubbing scene-do visit "Hersonissos" a town outside Herakleion,towards Agios Nikolaos.It's a town full of clubs,bars and pubs,full of people partying-day and night. Lasithi is the 4th county of Crete.Agios Nikolaos is the capital of the county and literally by the seaside.The lake that stands in the middle of the city is very beautiful and peaceful-so an espresso by the lakeside is highly recommended.In the county you should also visit the amazingly preserved palm forest of "Vai".We were lucky enough to find a place in the camping site and we did enjoy it. "Elounda" is another small town of the county,maybe the most expensive in the island. This is due to the fact that many rich people(and famous celebrities) spent there their holidays(and money). Locals say that the best period to visit the island is early September-but even when(14th of August) it was quite nice-although some places were quite crowded.
Introduction ~~ Having just got back from Crete I thought I perhaps should write an opinion on the Greek island that has something for everyone. Out of the 1,400 odd Greek islands Crete is the largest and the most popular place in Greece for tourists. And having now been there twice I can see why its so popular with English tourists… Places to stay ~~ The main towns of Crete are on the North of the island and all of the main towns are on the coast and most hotels are in the towns or a few miles outside of them. I stayed very near Rethymno in the Rithyma Beach hotel which was part of the Grecotel chain. Though I won’t go into detail about the hotel I’ll stick to category – Crete in general! Places to stay in Crete vary quite widely and there are hotels to suit every budget. Though the overall cost of the holiday will be a bit more if you are going to Crete as its quite a lot further from England than what Spain is. Our flight to Crete took about 3 ½ hours. I said I would not go into much detail about hotels but if you are going to Crete I recommend you look at one of Grecotel’s hotels. Grecotel are the biggest Greek hotel chain and they have lots of hotels in Crete, about 5 I think. Most of their hotels are 4* or 5*. Though I think a 5* hotel in Crete for example is the equivalent to a 4* in England. Shopping! ~~ If the duty free at the airport isn’t enough shopping for you then you might as well go bargain hunting in Crete. Near where I was staying there were lots of shops that called themselves supermarkets. These weren’t supermarkets at all, I think the Greeks just think they can stick an English word on something and tourists will flock there. Anyway most of these supermarkets sell a wide variety of things including souvenirs, chocolate, soft drinks, cheap booze, cigarettes, English newspapers, English magazines, BB guns, lighters, bread, fruit, postcards and inflatables. These supe
rmarkets seem to be everywhere in Crete and they are very cheap and you can also barter at them! In all of the supermarkets I went in the staff seemed very friendly and spoke good English. They often ask what your looking for when you walk in and if it’s a gift ask how much you want to spend, etc. They also wrap things up free of charge, they often seem to wrap things up even when you don’t ask. Which if your buying a gift saves you the hassle of wrapping it up when you get back home. Bargain buys in Crete are olive oil which they use ever such a lot of in there food and the high amount of olive oil they use supposedly explains why they live so long. Other bargain buys include booze, which is really cheap there. Especially the local stuff like Ouzo some weird spirit and Mythos a Greek lager which is really nice. Pottery and other hand-crafted items are also cheap in Crete though you’ll have a job taking back some of the Greek pottery as there quite big and heavy. Restaurants and bars ~~ Cretan food is supposed to be different to Greek food though as I haven’t been to Greece I can’t compare the two. We mainly ate in the hotel where the food was a mixture of Cretan, Greek, Italian and English food. But we did eat in traditional Cretan restaurants while we were there and I thought the food was similar to Italian. They eat a lot of fish, veal and lamb. A lot of the actual food is similar to what we get here but they make things differently for example I had lamb in a yoghurt source. Sounds a very weird combination but it did taste nice. Other food that’s really good over there is Greek yoghurt, it tastes brilliant. Much better than Greek yoghurt here. Its probably the fresh ingredients and fresh cream that made it taste so good. Even though we stayed outside Rethymno there were lots of bars outside the hotel on the road to Rethymno. Beer and that is very cheap in bars in Crete and lots of bars give you free sh
ots with your drink! They also are very relaxed over there about drink and let anyone drink. Weather ~~ It is cooler in Crete than it is in mainland Greece, while I was in Crete it was about 30c – 35c. Whereas in Athens it was between 40c-45c. I think that it was cooler in Crete than in Greece because Crete is an island and we were on the coast. Obviously sun cream is a must in Crete. The Airport ~~ All flights to Crete from England go to Heraklion. Out of all the airports I have ever been to Heraklion was the grottiest. The airport has low ceilings and although smoking is supposedly banned everyone smokes there. The air-conditioning is crap and on a hot day which is most days in Crete you boil. Heraklion has two duty free shops. One is just a newsagent sized shop selling fags and booze, the other a tiny crowded perfume/aftershave/fragrance shop. I know most holiday airports are not nice but Heraklion really is not a nice airport, so if your ever there have your fingers crossed for no delays! Scenery and tourist spots ~~ Crete has some great scenery in the mountains and we were lucky to see some of the breathtaking scenery on the coach from the airport to the hotel. You can do tours and trips to the mountains but as it is so hot it is far nicer to be just by the pool or near the beach. Though if you are in Crete and there is a cooler day it is probably worth going up into the mountains to see the scenery. Knossos is a very popular place for tourists, it is where one of Earth’s first civilisations was and there are lots of ruins there. If your going with Thompson’s you can go on a coach trip to Knossos. Overall ~~ The airport aside Crete is a fantastic island that is not just a Greek island but is Crete and has its own culture and identity. Most Cretan locals are very friendly and welcoming and are always very helpful in shops, restaurants and cafes. The beaches are very clean and the
“Sea of Crete” is unpolluted and clean. If you are staying near Rethymno you will also see the endangered sea turtles. They are really cute little turtles, we saw some baby turtles that were tiny and some adults that were 1 metre in length! These turtles bred and lived on the beach that our hotel was on and often turtles would land on the beach. Luckily our hotel was very protective of the turtles and were taking lots of measures to help the turtles that are getting closer to extinction everyday. So overall I would say Crete is a good holiday destination and I’d reccomened it to other Dooyooers. Thanks for reading
Not the normal four S words you might associate with a holiday to Crete but there again we did have our two children sleeping in the same apartment so that might explain the substitution of serendipity. This was our first holiday to Greece so we did not know quite what to expect, we took far more clothes than we needed we even took fold up raincoats (you can see we are used to camping holidays in France). All we really needed was lots of different t-shorts and shorts. The Journey: We flew from Birmingham to Herakilon using an Airtours flight (although the holiday was booked with a small tour operator, Hillwood Holidays). Birmingham airport is quite convenient for us, only 45 mins. from home however I do reckon that it does have good facilities and the check-in procedure went fine. I was a bit wary about flying with Airtours, having read lots of opinions about them, however I was pleasantly surprised. The seat room was reasonable, the stewardesses very helpful and the in flight entertainment not bad. Two complaints, should we really have to pay for a headset in order to listen to the film and why despite our tour operator informing them well in advance had they not reserved us vegetarian meals. We arrived after 4 hours at Herakilon airport and immediately were hit by the heat, however when we got into the airport buildings thankfully there was air conditioning. Onto baggage retrieval, what a nightmare, the hall was full there were only two carousels and four flights had just arrived. There was no indication as to which carousel was for which flight so we spent the next 30 mins hopping between one carousel and another looking for our suitcases. Eventually we got our luggage and through to where we were met by the company rep. As we were the only customers arriving on that flight he had arranged a taxi transfer to our resort Bali that was about 45 mins drive from the airport. The journey was an experience that I wont go into detail a
bout, however our plans to hire a car for several days were quickly rethought. The Resort: Bali Bay where we were staying is on the north coast about 50 kms west of Herakilon. Although there has been some development it is still very much a small fishing port, ideal for families but not very suitable for those wanting a lively night life. We had the choice of staying in a hotel or going self-catering, we had chosen s/c because our son is nut allergic and we like to have some control over what he eats. Clearly when they use the term self catering they expect people to go out and eat as the cooking facilities were minimal to say the least, however we did manage and the owners of the apartment who ran the supermarket underneath were always incredibly helpful. It was very hot 35+ degrees C in the day and 25+ degrees C at night and there was no air conditioning which made sleeping very difficult. The resort contained a number of taveranas which we sampled, the food was mainly fish based and had often been caught locally, it was also very cheap, a meal for the four of us plus drinks came to less than £20. The harbour had a small sandy beach which was never crowded and from which we could swim or snorkel or just lie around. There was supposed to be a small charge for the sun beds and sunshades but they often didn’t bother to collect it. From the harbour you could also book various boat trips or hire pedalos, canoes, sailing boats or jet skis. We also had the opportunity for our children to have a go at parasailing, the same person who was the company rep ran this, and the kids thoroughly enjoyed it. There are a number of other small beaches nearby which you can get to, all of which have incredibly clear water with lots of small fish swimming around. There is the opportunity to try scuba diving in the area if you wish. Excursions: We did less of these than we thought we would, partially because of the heat and partially beca
use of the driving conditions, but these are the main ones we did. Firstly we went on a full day’s cruise on a catamaran, this was really great the captain was very friendly and allowed our children to steer the boat. We sailed up the coast, visited some pirate caves and then had a long lunch in another small village up the coast. We then sailed out to sea looking for dolphins. Unfortunately on this occasion we did not see any but we did have the opportunity to swim off the boat and generally have a wonderfully relaxing time Our second excursion was completely the opposite; it was to the Samaria Gorge. This gorge is 15 km long and drops from 1500 metres at the start to sea level at the end. It was an exhausting but spectacular walk, which took nearly seven hours to complete, and you certainly need a reasonable level of fitness to do it. I would also not recommend it for children under the age of 9. You take a coach to the start of the gorge and at the end you have to take a boat which takes you up the coast to meet your coach which has had to do a 40km round trip to get there. It is a very long day, we started at 7.00am and didn’t get back to 10.00pm but the scenery is spectacular. If you can do it when it is cooler, June or September I would certainly suggest you do. Our third excursion was to Knosos and a water park. Knosos which is near Herakilon is the site of the ancient Cretan civilisation and is basically a very large set of ruins which have been excavated over time. It is certainly very worthy but when we went there it was very hot and very crowded and I can’t say we got a lot out of it but if you are into that sort of thing then I am sure you will enjoy it. The water park we then went to is one of two in the area and was good fun but no different from any other. This was the one excursion we did hire a car for and in the end my fears were unfounded, however signposting is not good and you need a good quality
map and a good sense of direction. There are a large number of other places we could have visited but in the end we just enjoyed relaxing by the sea. The Tour Company: As I said at the start we went with a small company called Hillwood Holidays, they only operate in this one resort in Crete and we chose them because of the childcare they offer. They provide a programme of activities on 5 days a week for 4-6 hours a day. There were two girls running the activities and there were on average only 4-6 children attending. Our kids thoroughly enjoyed it and it gave us time for ourselves. Final thoughts: Would we do the holiday again?, probably yes but we would try to go at a cooler time of the year, May or September. We would certainly take less clothes with us. We felt the people in Crete were nearly all very friendly and helpful and if you can learn the odd Greek phrase they certainly appreciate it. As for the fourth S of my title ‘Serendipity’ the dictionary definition says “the facility of making happy chance finds”, well Crete does certainly give you that opportunity! One final piece of advice. When flying back home, having checked in (an experience in itself) do not go through passport control. This leads into a departure lounge which is very small, overcrowded and has few facilities. Instead go to the restaurant which is on the second floor. This is much more pleasant, you can see when your plane lands and only then go through to departures.
Three weeks ago I came back from a fortnight's holiday in Crete. It had been my first journey to this Greek island. It won't be my last. Most Greek islands are small places, sporting one or two villages. This is true of places like Ios, Santorini, and the like. Crete is different. It is huge. It has a couple of cities and hundreds of villages. Look at it on the map. It is a big place. Surprisingly for a place of its size, it is not that easy to access. There is an airport on the island, that serves charter flights, but other than that the only way to get there is by ferry from Athens. Since the journey is a long one (eight hours) there are only overnioght ferries; no services run during the day. This is worth noting, as it may affect your planning, such as the time of your flight to Athens, and the amount of time you need to allow to get there. A night on a Greek ferry is not an easily forgettable experience. Noise, chaos, and colour are the principle ingredients. These ferries carry locals, tourists, rich and poor in both categorise and lorry after lorry bringing and removing all sort of produce. Even if you get a cabin, which is recommended as it is air conditioned and leaves you somewhere to dump your luggage, do not expect a quiet night. The Greeks are not the most reserved and discreet of God's creatures. Announcements are shouted on the loud speakers, arguments and conversations take place in the corridors- but if you are on holiday who cares? Just soak in the local colour. The most developed part of the island is the north. There is much to visit here; the beautiful port of Chania, the great museum of Minoan art at Heraklion and the palace of Knossos. Sadly, however, Mass tourism is beginning to leave its mark on this side of the island in the form of characterless sprawling hotel complexes. It may rock others' boats, but not mine. I stayed on the southern side of the island, much less developed, bu
t oh so beautiful. But before I describe that, a few general observations. Crete is visibly much more fertile than a lot of Greece; there are a lot more tries, and the population is still largely dependent on agriculture for its income. The result of this fertility is a lot more green scenery than one would find on other Greek islands, which is lovely. The food is also magnificent. Being very far south, Crete is no ice box. It is hot, especially on the south side, withb temperatures often reaching in excess of 40 degrees C. But don't be too alarmed; this is dry heat, not humid, and that makes it tolerable. Crete, as I have said, is a big place, so a car is essential. As I said, I stayed on the south side of the island. I stayed in a lovely taverna just outside the quiet fishing village of Chora Sfakia. The Hotel Ilingas has its own website- sorry I dont't have the details. Everything was wonderful; a stony beach. which may not have been easy on the feet but made the water crystal clear; warm seas; and spotless weather. The food everywhere is wonderful- I recommend Goat in Wine sauce, a local spieciality, which is mouth wateringly succulent. Whilst there I went to a Cretan folk music festival. Wow! All the men had wonderful huge moustaches. At points during the singing and dancing these farmers would fire their handguns in the air to show their approval. Distinctly unEnglish behaviour, but tremendous fun. I had a wonderful time in Crete. The swimming is some the best I have ever experienced, and the scenery, with hugh mountains and beautiful beaches, amazing gorges and beauty always present, is to die for. GO THERE NOW!!!!!!!!!!!
Last week I went to Crete with my boyfriend for a weeks holiday. We did a last minute deal with Thompson, so it was allocation on arrival. We were placed in a town called Kalo Horia, which is situated right by the beach. Last minute deals are a brillant idea as they are so cheap, but it is a risk as to where you go. The beaches on Crete are beautiful. You have never seen clearer waters. Sun beds are normally 800 Dracma. There are 500 to the £. The island of Crete can get quite windy, so it is easy to forget that you can still catch the sun. It is easy to get around the island. The taxi's are quite cheap, mopeds and cars are available for hire in most towns. Mopeds are great fine, but wear a helmet, otherwise it could well be a £50 fine from the police. Local buses are quite frequent and to travel about 8 miles costs under 50P. English people could live like Kings in Greece as the cost of living is so low! The one town I would recommend going to is Agios Nikolaos. It is west of Iraklion on the northern Coast. It is known for its bottomless lake, which is over 63metres deep. It has some wonderful resturants and some great bars. I suggest 'Sorentos', the bar staff dance on the tables and hand out free drinks. Charlie Chans is also very entertaining. It is a town that has something for everyone. If you have time to go, I suggest you go the the Waterpark, which is a fun day out, 27 slides, great fun. If your holiday rep can't arrange this for you, then there are plenty of tourist shops that sell tickets. A boat trip to the island of Spinalonga is worth doing. It used to be the place where lepers were sent to, a guide shows you around and gives you history into the island. From London Luton the flight is about 3hrs 45 minutes, well worth it!
Greek islands are all about relaxation and friendliness & Crete is no exception to this. Being the largest, most southerly of the Greek islands, makes Crete very popular as it is has a very warm climate and also caters for a wide range of tastes. It is still quite unspoilt despite the many visitors which it receives each year. Crete is served by an international airport, roughly in the centre of the country at Iraklion. No Greek airports boast the height of luxury but it isn’t the worst I’ve ever seen and let’s face it, you aren’t there for the airport. Knosos, just under 4 miles from Iraklion, is an absolutely amazing experience. Visiting this archaeological site transports you back in time to the time of the mythical creature, the Minotaur ( half man & half bull). The frescos adorning the walls at Knosos are still bright and colourful and must be seen to be believed. Rethymnon on the north coast, and further east than the airport, is a rather enchanting little capital. Much of the old city can be seen still, along with a more modern addition which is excellent for shopping. Chania (pronounced without the C at the front), is further east still but still on the northern coast. With an old fortress, and still very much a fishing port, this is a very much more traditional Greek town to visit. It really is beautiful and has a good selection of good restaurants and traditional Greek art shops. Agios Nikolaos is just 39 miles to the west of Iraklion, again on the northern coast. A lake is the centrepiece of this town. The locals maintain that it is bottomless. Surrounding the lake are many restaurants and bars, providing some of the best scenery around to eat your meal or have a drink near. A wonderful atmosphere prevails in Agios Nikolaos, making you just want to return time and time again. Lerapetra, on the south east coast, has brilliantly warm waters in which to swim.
It is by the Libyian Sea and is a good place to enjoy a beach holiday. Unfortunately I found that Lerapetra was just a little too commercialised for my liking but if you prefer beach holidays to culture than this is the resort to stay at. The Lasithi plain sits in the middle of the eastern half of the island and again is worth a visit. Hundreds of small windmills have sails flying round and round upon the plain, making it an unusual area to see. Much of the central part of the island is beautiful and unspoilt but be prepared for journeys taking quite a while as roads are quite windy and steep up through the mountains. On route up to the top there are various little Greek tavernas along the roadsides. If you are not the one driving then try the local spirit. Raki is a colourless spirit and is called fire water by the locals. Beware though, you have a few and think that you feel fine, but on trying to get up to walk outside again you may find your legs don’t seem to work! Yes, this wonderful island really is worth a visit, or two, or three.
I have been to Crete loads of times, and i can tell you, IT IS GREAT! The best places that i have ever visited in my life, are in Crete. When booking a trip to Crete,one should be aware that it is a huge island, so not every town is equally beautiful. My personal favourites: Hania, Georgoupoli and Rethimno. Avoid Iraklio, since it is a bit industrial. The best season: SUMMER!!!!!!!The weather is great and there are loads and loads of things to do. You spend your day on the beach(there are plenty to choose from, some crowded ones, some more remote) and your nights having the time of your life. Hania especially, are full of clubs, whatever your taste is. If you visit hania,by the way, don't forget to visit the castle of the town, it is AMAZING. The island has loads of archaiological places you could visit. The most famous is of course, Knossos, the ancient palace, where the mythical monster, minotaurus was supposed to be living.
"Crete (Greek Κρήτη Kríti; Ottoman Turkish گريد (Girit); Latin Candia, Creta) is the largest of the Greek islands at 3220 sq. miles and the fifth largest in the Mediterranean Sea. It is located at approximately 35° N 24° E (35, 24). Crete is a popular tourist destination; its attractions include the Minoan sites of Knossos and Phaistos, the classical site of Gortys, the Venetian castle in Rethymno, and the Samaria Gorge, as well as many other natural sites, monuments, and beaches. Crete was the center of the Minoan civilization (ca. 26001400 BCE), the oldest civilization in Europe."