Greece’s islands often get a bad rep and are considered more of a destination for boozed-up teens than a relaxing holiday haven or foodie paradise. One side that often gets overlooked when we’re flicking through photos of the blue hues of the sea, the resorts and beaches is that Crete has a long history of myths and legends – tales of which make travel to Crete a much more interesting experience.
The Legends: According to legends, Crete was the home of the monstrous Minotaur, who lived confined in King Minos’ labyrinth. As the story goes, he was eventually killed by brave Prince Theseus of Athens to prevent him from eating 7 Athenian girls and 7 Athenian boys. The legacy of King Minos’ dynasty (the oldest known civilization in the whole of Europe) lives on in the island’s magnificent palatial buildings, including, of course, the palace at Knossos. With its use of luxury materials and its grandiose size, it is a monumental symbol of the Minoan civilization. (It’s 150,000 square feet (14,000 square meters) in total!) According to legends, Crete is also the birthplace of the mighty Zeus, who was hidden in a cave by his mother Rhea so his father (Cronus) could not find him and kill him.
What to do in Crete: Aside from the palace, the old Venetian harbor in Chania is another favorite for visitors. With its beautiful old buildings, churches and shops it’s a great place to spend a relaxed afternoon in the sun. Those more interested in history and cultural artifacts will also enjoy a visit to the island of Spinalonga, which is the last leper colony in Europe. Read The Island by Victoria Hislop before you go to get a sense of life as an ostracized leper living on the island.
What to eat in Crete: Another pull Greece has over tourists is its fabulous cuisine, including: Mizithra cheese (a soft cheese, often compared to ricotta) Kaltsouni – like a calzone; a crepe stuffed with mixed bitter greens and mizithra Dakos – the Greek answer to bruschetta, finished with crumbled cheese (there’s a theme here…) Sfakiani pita – looks like a pancake but has cheese kneaded into the dough. Best served as a snack, dribbled with honey.
Where to feast in Crete: One place that can guarantee to impress is Dounias (Ntounias), a restaurant settled high up in the mountains. It’s one of those small, family-run kind of places that will serve you up what they’re making that day. The food is all locally sourced, incredibly fresh and often killed that day (sorry vegetarians!)
When to pack your suitcase: May, June, September and October are the best months – the weather will still be warm and balmy, but hotel prices are likely to be cheaper and you won’t have to fight with hordes of bustling tourists for restaurant and café space.
Where to stay in Crete: The north of the island is home to Chania and Rethymnon – the old harbour towns, whereas the south is busier with resorts. When choosing where to stay in Crete, you could check out hotel reviews and base your location on which hotel sounds perfect for you. From there, rent a car to travel to the island’s hotspots (or go by taxi). Public transportation around the island is also good.
What’s the time there? Crete is 2 hours ahead of GMT.
How much for the essentials? In most bars, a beer will cost around 4 euros, a coffee will be 3 euros and bread at the supermarket will be 1,50. More information on prices can be found here.
Anything else? If you do decide to take the plunge and rent a car, be careful not to get caught doing anything untoward; traffic fines are astronomical!