How is everyone? I’ve been to Crete! It was my first holiday to a non-Italian / non-English location for years. It turns out, as an ex-pat it’s quite easy to spend all your holidays going back to your country of origin rather than discovering other parts of the world, something I used to love doing. Deciding it was high time to change that, a friend and I decided we’d go abroad.
Now, I usually try to go somewhere off the beaten track; I’m not a package holiday sort of person. However, my holiday buddy doesn’t seem to appreciate my hour-by-hour holiday itineraries to ensure no potential area of interest is left un-turned and besides, it’s been a stressful few months so why not give ‘relaxing’ a go, I thought. Our criteria was thus: as relaxing, as sunny and as cheap as possible. After an hour or so of trawling websites, we found an all-inclusive deal to the Kalyves Beach Hotel in the north west of Crete. We arrived with me excited but still full of disdain for my own holiday choice and imagining Crete (completely unfairly and based upon no information at all) to be a tacky resort island with no charm at all. I imagined 7 days of lying by a pool, stuffing my face with food and drink until I had to be rolled back to the airport.
I was wrong! (Well, about the sitting by the pool bit at least – regarding the constant eating, well, my prediction was accurate and I’ve pretty much doubled in size). It wasn’t anywhere near as boring a holiday as I’d anticipated, far from it in fact! I’m now actually impressed with Crete as a holiday destination. It’s much bigger than I’d imagined – you need a car to get around it really (about 30 euro a day). There’s lots to see and we didn’t get to see half of the island. It’s got a lot of history with ruins and castles and forts. There are quaint little towns and some spectacular natural wonders to see too.
The hotel was good – I’d recommend it. The staff were nice. It was clean, bright and well decorated with lots of sofa space inside and lots of sun-beds, tables and chairs outside. The bedrooms were simple and bright with a balcony. The beach is a stone’s throw away from the hotel. It’s a nice beach which you can walk along to a little harbour and have a drink in one of the bars on the beach and watch the sunset.
The food at the hotel was really good. It had a buffet so you can pile your plates with all manner of things. The salads were many and varied and the hot food was good too. As a vegetarian it was a bit of a challenge, not because there wasn’t any vegetarian food but because the food wasn’t labelled and meat was often snuck into seemingly safe looking food! There were always people around to ask though so it wasn’t a great hardship. The deserts were great. After having effectively a baklava intravenous drip for the whole week, I’m now having withdrawal symptoms.
The bad things were few and far between… I was a little disappointed by our ‘sea-view’ which we were charged quite a bit extra for but was more of a ‘other-side-of-the-hotel-and-pool-and-if-you-looked-carefully-to-the-right-you-might-see-a-bit-of-sea-view’.
The shower ended up being more of a wet-room which meant having constantly soggy feet whenever you went to the bathroom. The complementary body cream smelt like gone-off sewage. You had to pay 20 euros extra for the safe for a week. The bed sheet was just a little bit too small for the mattress and so had a habit of working itself off. I’m a wriggly sleeper and somehow one night I woke up under the undersheet and on top of the mattress itself. Ugh.
If you use the MTS transfer service – be prepared to not know when you’re being picked up to get to the airport until the last minute and be prepared to speak to a very annoyed woman whilst you’re trying to work it out!
Things to do
Samaria Gorge. This was my favourite bit of the holiday. Crete is quite mountainous. The closest mountain range to us were the “White Mountains” which were still snow-capped much to my amazement given it was about 28 degrees every day. In the midst of the White Mountains is the Samaria Gorge. These mountains are spectacular. The gorge is 18km long. To ‘do’ the gorge you really need to go on an organised excursion that takes you to the top of the mountain. We got picked up from the hotel in the middle of the night (well, 5.30am or so!), and then by about 8am we were dropped off at the start. You’re then left to your own devices to get to the other end of the gorge by late afternoon. It’s an easy route but possibly hard going for people that aren’t used to walking a lot. We just had our normal trainers but I’d have felt more comfortable with my walking boots – the path is quite slippy and rocky in places. Be prepared to ache the next couple of days!
I took a million snaps of the Gorge – these are a tiny selection, and still none of them do it justice…
People have passed their time in the gorge creating little rock piles and propping up boulders with small sticks!
And there were some unusual flowers and plants …
But in parts it felt quite dangerous with signs instructing people to ‘walk quickly’ in case of rock falls and there were a few ominous looking river crossings.
Tip: TAKE FOOD! Don’t listen to any crazy person in the excursion office telling you there are taverns. There are none, only at the very end of the walk. (And on that note – if you want to see the a waiter with the bluest eyes known to mankind – go to Taverna Rousios.) We also arrived back at the hotel a couple of hours later than advertised so missed dinner too.
Elafonisi beach is on the south west of the island. It’s a bit off the beaten track with nothing else much around it. The way to the beach is beautiful, through lots of twists and turns in the mountains and past quaint little towns and bars offering fresh orange juice. This beach has to rate as one of my favourite ever beaches (it only lost out on my top spot of Australia’s Byron Bay because the water was so icy cold!). The beach is wide and long with white and pink sand and cool rocks. The water is a beautiful turquoise and is absolutely crystal clear. Definitely worthy of a visit!
If you’re going to Elafonisi beach, stop at this cave. It’s big, (100m wide, 100m deep) set reasonably high into the mountainside and it’s free to enter (though you have to walk through a taverna to get to the entrance so it requires a bit of courage if you’re not going to buy anything!). There’s lots of unusual stalactite and stalagmite formations and there’s legends going back to 1347AD. One describes how a couple of religious folk were voluntarily decapitated by their son (and nephew) who took their heads to the Venetian rulers at the time to get amnesty (who knows what for but it seems quite a high price to pay!). Their headless bodies were recently discovered in the cave. Back in the Neolithic period there’s evidence that humans used to live in the cave. All in all, very interesting.
This is a lake nestled between some low level mountains. We rented a pedalo (5 – 10 euros an hour depending on who you go to!) and went turtle spotting (they’re near the edges by the reeds). Apparently the turtles are completely native to the lake. On the shores there are tavernas and shops selling tourist paraphernalia. I must say, I was really impressed with the level of craftsmanship to their souvenirs – it wasn’t just the usual tourist ‘tat’. If Easyjet weren’t quite so harsh with their luggage requirements (honestly, Ryanair put them to shame – I never thought I’d utter those words!), I would have bought quite a few things.
Chania is a town in the north east of the island. We didn’t get to explore the town much unfortunately, spending only a couple of hours there but it had a really nice vibe to it. There are lots of little backstreets to explore and lots of nice things to buy. Head to the lively harbour area where there are lots of bars to relax in and take in the scenery.
Reythymno is also in the north east but inland. It’s quite big and certainly the bit we saw lacked some of the charm of Chania, seeming less of a tourist area. It did have some quaint parts though and we had a look at one of the Greek orthodox churches which was interesting to look around.
However, its big selling point for us was the fortezza and that was definitely worth a visit (4 euro entry). It’s a Venetian fort built in the 16th century and which was captured by the Ottomans in 1649. Crete has had quite a troubled past seemingly being taken over by people left, right and center. The fort has a few buildings remaining inside – including a couple of chapels and a mosque, but my favourite part was just wondering around on the grounds. It offers great views of Rethymno and certainly at this time of year, the grounds are covered with wild flowers.
There were a couple of things about Crete that puzzled me. The first being that there is no consistency at all on how they spell any place. It adds a level of stress when trying to navigate as the place names on the maps don’t represent any of the names on road signs. Even the road signs themselves will spell places differently from one road sign to the next. Chania can be Hania, Xania or one or any of those with various accents placed over the letters and then of course there’s the Greek word. The graffiti artists of Crete have gone on a mission to cover over many of the road signs to make them illegible. They needn’t have bothered; bushes and tree’s cover most of them anyway. If you don’t have a sat-nav – be prepared to get stressed!
In towns, people seem to paint the bottoms of their trees white. We uncovered some theories as to why… Apparently some people do it in the belief that it acts as a pesticide (apparently it doesn’t actually work) and it also helps to reflect heat (I’m not entirely convinced about this theory. Whoever heard of a hot tree? And besides, they even paint the bottoms of telegraph poles, you can’t tell me they suffer from the heat!). I think the more likely explanation is that they think it looks nice. It doesn’t look bad, but it was certainly a talking point!
Anyway, all in all, Crete is a worthy holiday destination and has my seal of approval! Go forth with confidence… 🙂