Best time to visit: July to September
Words Tiffany Chan, Iris Wong and Cherrie Yu Illustrations Tim Cheng
*Featured in Crave’s Issue 90, December 2017
It’s no exaggeration to say Crete has it all. Located in the southern Aegean Sea, Greece’s biggest island is renowned for its diverse landscapes: mountain ranges, olive groves, historic villages and gorgeous beaches. Wander through ancient Minoan ruins or reflect on remnants of the Cretan resistance against Nazi Germany in the second world war.
The picturesque old towns of Chania and Rethymnon, on the northwest coast, exude a distinct Mediterranean charm, with Venetian harbours iconic lighthouses, Byzantine churches and myriad well – preserved monuments and fountains. In the eastern region of Lasithi, the tourist town of Agios Nikolaos has a pedestrian – friendly waterfront packed with cafes, restaurants and nightspots, and a marina with both sandy and pebble beaches. At Vai, Europe’s largest natural palm forest culminates in a pretty but busy beach and, inland, the Lasithi Plateau is famous for its distinctive white – sailed windmills.
The capital, Heraklion, is not particularly attractive, but it is steeped in history, Nearby is the Bronze Age Minoan city of Knossos, thought to be Europe’s oldest. Construction of the multi – storey palace complex, now in ruins, began in about 1900 BC and is thought to be the location of the legendary Minotaur’s labyrinth. For trivia lovers, it’s also the site of the world’s first flushing toilet.
To escape the peak season crowds, head south. Separated from the rest of the island by a chain of rugged mountains, southern Crete is another world. Visit tiny traditional mountain villages in Sfakia for healthy, home – cooked Cretan cuisine or kick back on postcard – perfect Elafonissi beach, where turquoise waters ash onto a sandbar that sometimes glows pink.
How to Get There
Fly from Hong Kong to Athens then take a domestic flight to Chania or Heraklion, or catch an overnight ferry.
What to Do
Don’t miss Rethymnon, a seaside town dating to the 11th century, with architecture that reflects both Venetian Renaissance and Turkish influences. At its heart, the Venetian Fortezza offers panoramic views of the town and the coast to the west.
Of Crete’s hundreds of beaches, azure Balos is among the most beautiful, while exotic Elafonissi has astonishing pink – and white – coral sand lapped by crystal waters.
Anyone with even a passing interest in history should explore Knossos to unearth the secrets of the Minotaur and its labyrinth, then visit the displays of ancient Minoan artefacts at nearby Heraklion Archaeological Museum
Where to Stay
Situated in a 17th – century Venetian mansion in Chania’s walled old town, Casa Delfino is a boutique hotel that oozes heritage and romance, and offers a luxury spa experience not to be missed.
9 Theofanus Street, 73100 Chania, Crete
T +30 28210 87400
This bohemian island resort offers spectacular sea views, lovely infinity pools, and a hip beach club overlooking atmospheric Spinalonga island, a national monument with a Venetian fortress and a sad history as a former leper colony
Plaka, 72053 Eloúnda, Crete
T +30 28410 65500
The perfect home from home, able to accommodate up to six guests, Villa Filira is ideal for couples and families alike. Overlooking the coast and rolling hills, it offers privacy while still being close to the village and beach.
Kolymbari, 73006 Chania, Crete
T +30 28210 28254
Where to Eat and Drink
A Greek version of bruschetta, dados is a typical Cretan mezzo dish of softened rusks topped with grated tomatoes and myzithra (a creamy cheese made from sheep and goat milk), drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt, pepper and oregano.
A traditional Cretan brandy distilled from romance, raki – also known as tsikoudiá in some parts of Crete – is served ice – cold and often offered on the house as an after-dinner digestif at tavernas.
Snails have been a Greek delicacy for millennia. In this popular dish, they are served fried with flour, olive oil, vinegar, rosemary and a dash of lemon juice to lift the flavours.