If you are lucky enough to have traveled widely, maybe you think you have been to all the good destinations. But have you been to the Greek island of Crete? It is a land of beaches and snow-capped mountains, bustling cities and restful villages, great food and friendly people. It is a land, quite literally, of (sheeps’) milk and honey.
On top of all that, it is affordable. I spent a week in Crete in early May, staying in a lovely one bedroom apartment on a mountain’s edge overlooking the small resort town of Agia Pelagia (I can’t begin to tell you on paper how it’s pronounced, but not as you think.) (Pic 1 – Nymphes apartment hotel.) The apartment was basic – maybe even a little Spartan, if I dare risk a pun – but clean, convenient and tastefully furnished. The proprietor, Pepy Chatzimarkaki, clearly cares about her property (which as a civil engineer she personally designed), the hotel’s gardens, her many kittens that roam about and, not least, her guests. Total hotel cost for three people for eight nights: 448 euros, about $604. The town is about 14 miles from Heraklion, the largest city and modern capital of Crete. We had a private terrace with a spectacular northeastern view over Agia Pelagia (Pic 2), and at night we could see the twinkling lights of the big city. In the mornings, the sunrises. (Pic 3) And also the grazing goats bedecked with cow bells (Pic 4). Lovely landscapes of olive groves surround the area. (Pic 5).
The cities were fun. We visited three of the four main cities on the north coast: Heraklion, Rethmynon and Chania. The fourth is Agios Nikolaos, on the far east end of the island and the cruiseport. We didn’t make it there; it will have to await the next Mediterranean cruise. Heraklion was chaotic (motor bikes and scooters almost outnumber cars), but fascinating, and the home of the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. The history of the island is awesome and worth reading about before you go. At least as important, the shopping was great in all three cities, especially in Chania where the market sells drop-dead gorgeous leather bags of all kinds, as well as jewelry and other things. (Pic 6 – a leather workshop). There are some lovely restaurants on back streets in the old part of the city of Rethmynon (Pic 7 – “To Pegadi”), as well as a fortress built by the Venetians to keep out the Turks. (The effort failed. The city fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1646.)
The mountain drives to reach notable villages (or just to explore) were an adventure and the villages enchanting. Our rental car, a Toyota Yaris, cost us $350 total, including the extra. Take a drive to Fodele, surprisingly the birthplace of the (Spanish, I thought) painter El Greco; and Mirtia, the birthplace of Nikos Kazantzakas, the famous author of Zorba the Greek. The villages are also the place to enjoy some of the most authentic Cretan food or just to bide the time at the ubiquitous “taverna”. (Pics 8 and 9).
We hated to leave, but we will be back. We still have to do the south coast with its many beaches and the Samara gorge which we are told offers spectacular hiking. Wanna come along? Or put together your own group. Call me and I will arrange it all.