Crete, as you may know, is a popular tourist destination for British people. It’s located in the south of the Aegean Sea, and it’s been a part of Greece since 1913, officially. It is steeped in ancient and modern history, and the ancient civilisation was the first in Europe. The Minoans predated even the Ancient Greeks, and many famous myths (such as the Minotaur) have their home in Crete. In one of the farthest corners of Europe from the UK, it might seem exotic (and it is!) but it easily reachable from many regional airports in Britain, such as Bristol and Manchester. There are two airports on Crete, Heraklion and Chania, and you can get a low cost flight there for around £100, if you’re lucky! Sounds expensive but believe me, it’s worth it.
There are three main towns in Crete, connected together by the National Road. These are called Heraklion, Rethymno and Chania, and you can get between them on the bus, operated by KTEL. There are ferry services to Athens from Heraklion and Chania, so if you wanted to do a Greek tour, there’s no excuse for Crete not being included! These three towns have both a historical ‘old town’ and a modern centre for shopping, working and living. Cretans are a little different to mainland Greeks – imagine it like a Greek Scotland or Wales, the locals are very proud of their Cretan heritage. Rightfully so – it’s beautiful!
The reason it’s so popular as a tourist destination are its fantastic beaches. In a recent Tripadvisor poll, the beach of Elafonisi came high up in a list of best beaches worldwide, in the same league as the Caribbean. If you don’t believe me, search it – you won’t believe your eyes. This beach, as well as being a warm, turquoise lagoon where you can watch all the sea life through your snorkelling goggles, has some tragic history behind it. When Crete was under the rule of the Ottoman Turks, many Cretans used the beach’s little outcrop into the sea to hide from the occupiers, but unfortunately they were found and killed. Local legend says that this is why the sand is tinged pink – it is stained with their blood. It’s actually little bits of ground rock, but it adds a little solemnity to your otherwise perfect day at the beach.
Further along the island is the beach of Preveli, located at the end of a river and mountain gorge. Walking down to the beach is a slight hassle, but as you near the edge of the cliff, you’ll see a river lined by date palms hanging lazily over the water. The cool water, fresh off the mountains, spills out into the pristine blue sea, so clear that you can see the little pebbles beneath the surface move gently along with the waves. Lie under the shade of a palm tree until the sun sets over the hill, and you can walk back up in the relaxing evening air. Take the bus back to the town of Rethymno, where you’ll enjoy a traditional Greek meal, generously portioned and expertly flavoured.
So, next time you’re looking for a summer getaway, the ancient island of Crete is your perfect option. If you’re worried about the language barrier, don’t be - I have created a series of basic lessons in the Greek language, so if you want to chat with the locals then take a peek at that.
Photo credit: Alice Barnes-Brown