I was dreaming of escaping to the charm of an ancient Mediterranean culture and longing to enjoy the warmth of the sun and an authentic place where tradition and modernity coexisted.
The Isle of Crete, Greece was my answer. I found Crete had much to offer a tourist. You know I am a history buff, so I went on a tour of the remarkable Palace of Knossos, the cultural and political centre of the Minoan civilization dating back to 2000 BC. I reached it easily from the town of Heraklion.
I sought out the 18 Km day hike down the Samaria Gorge, famous as the location where the Greeks held off the Germans in WWII. I was dressed in shorts and running shoes as I trekked through forests, streams and rock quarries to the sea side village of Agia Roumeli. Here I rewarded myself with a refreshing drink in a local taverna before taking the boat back to my pick-up destination.
Crete’s rugged landscape reached into my soul. The bounties of the land could not go unnoticed. I rented an automatic car and toured easily along the highway which runs along the north side of the island from west to east linking the three main towns of Chania, Rethymno, and Heraklion plus countless small villages. Each curve in the road greeted me with the turquoise hue of the Mediterranean, a pristine sandy beach, a Greek Orthodox Church or a white washed villa.
My preference is for the north- west Chania area of Crete. Chania is a beautiful picturesque Venetian City that has managed to preserve its rich cultural life and historical character. The old city allows no cars and thus I spent many hours exploring the winding streets full of restaurants, tavernas, shops, a public market, churches, museum, horse drawn carriages, and people watching.
While touring in this corner of Crete I encountered many hilltop villages. Here the topography totally changed from the alluring beach scenes. Dense thickets of trees with olives, oranges, grapes and figs terraced down the hillsides to the fertile valleys below. Time has stood still in these villages. Some of my favourite days here were to simply stop and have a drink with the locales as I soaked up the architecture, churches, tavernas and perhaps a passing herd of sheep.
Daily I visited different acclaimed beaches on Western Crete such as Stavros Beach where Zorba the Greek was filmed; Elafonisi, part of a tropical lagoon noted for its pink sand; Palaiochora, boasting crystal clear water with isolated bays that the hippies exposed in the 60’s.
The Mediterranean exceeded my expectations for swimming as it was so warm and clean. At various beaches such as Agia Marina, I was able to rent water equipment such as kayaks, jet skis, paddle boards, snorkels and parasails.
Food, wine and good company are at the heart of the Cretan culture. The abundance of fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, and fish gave way to my delicious meals of two to three hours. I was encouraged to try a variety of healthy dishes full of native herbs and olive oils. Each meal beckoned me to try the local red or white wines, and was topped off with delectable pastry desserts, yoghurt drizzled with honey, and fresh fruit. A glass of Raki or Ouzo often followed, courtesy of the restaurant owner.
The residents welcome and appreciate tourists on Crete. The Cretans are a proud, genuine and warm people, and were eager to strike up conversations with me in one of the many coffee shops and tavernas.
I have enjoyed many holidays here. My “Touch of Paradise” is a wonderful family-run nine-room apartment/hotel located nine kilometers west of Chania. It is on a beautiful sandy beach in a small village with a most generous and accommodating host. Pavlakis Beach Hotel/Apartments has spacious living areas with well equipped kitchens and balconies with spectacular sea views. My apartment would easily accommodate up to six visitors. I listened to the waves as they lulled me to sleep each night. The host kept fresh fruit, eggs and free wine on tap for his guests. This location gave me good access to the town of Chania, nearby villages and the beaches to the west.
Chania has daily sea connections from Piraeus (Athens), and is serviced at its airport by Aegean Air. Instead, I flew first to London then took EASYJET, a British charter airline directly to Chania.
This safe vacation in the cradle of early civilization, with the sea breeze, warm sun, and welcoming host has convinced me to return in 2018!