Set in the Mediterranean sea Crete is the largest of the Greek islands and at over 280kms long is filled with a wonderful diversity. The north of the island may be filled with holiday resorts offering a playground for those wishing to party but venture further afield and you will find a very different Crete; a Crete filled with warmth, with hospitality and a heritage that stretches back to prehistoric times.
Cut off from the mainland Crete developed a unique culture that dovetails perfectly with the rugged and often unexpected beauty of the island; you will find no animals here that are dangerous to humans – according to local folklore this is down to the Greek Gods love of the island and its inhabitants, visit the real Crete and you’ll understand why.
The north of the island is filled with developed resorts which although perfect for a lively break are less suitable for those wishing to enjoy the beauty of the true Crete, car hire is the perfect way to see the island and allows you to stay in one of the many rural villages whilst still being able to enjoy all that the cosmopolitan resorts have to offer.
Independent travellers have a huge range of accommodation to choose from and many of the best places are to be found off the beaten track, hiring a villa from a private owner gives the opportunity to stay exactly where you want to be and to keep the cost of the holiday down – the further inland you are then it is generally the case that the prices are much lower.
Crete is well known for providing the model for a healthy Mediterranean diet, fish and seasonal vegetables were a dietary staple with meat being served rarely, as with all of society the island has not remained untouched and meat is now often part of the daily diet, but dining in the traditional Cretan way guarantees a holiday filled with culinary health benefits (until you start on the local wines!).
Agios Nikolaos has some of the prettiest views on the island and has escaped its tawdry past when the excesses of holidaymakers ravaged its streets, the harbour is now filled with good seafood restaurants offering the very freshest of the days catch at reasonable prices. Pelagos although close to the harbour has a special setting with the grandeur of a large house and a shaded terrace that is perfect for those hot lazy days.
For a real rural treat head to the Plateau of Lassithi, the journey into the hills is a delight as you pass through tiny rural villages along twisting roads that take in some of the best views on the island; stop at Agios Georgios on the way to see Greek village life at its very simplest and best, flowers fill the village with their scent as the locals relax outside the bars in the intense sunshine. Once you reach the Plateau the sight is one to behold – 10,000 windmills were built during the 16<sup>th</sup> Century with the purpose of keeping the fields irrigated for crop growing and animal stock, unbelievably over 600 of these windmills are still in working order.
Spinalonga Island in the East of Crete is a small island in Elounda Bay, not famous for its ancient history as a Venetian Fort but rather for its more recent history as a leper colony, occupied in the early 1900’s this island was totally isolated from the outside world until a cure for leprosy was found mid century. Architecture from the history of Crete is still very much in evidence but with the added poignancy and fascination of the islands more recent purpose.
Crete has hot humid summers and mild winters, straddling two climatic zones give the south of the island an almost North African feel which is enhanced by the palm trees and year round swallows that are typical of the region. The Mediterranean climate of the north enjoys temperate summers with temperatures that remain around 80F – humidity can be high but is generally bearable.
Festivals take place in most of the villages throughout the summer months, live music with lots of shared food and drink make these incredibly fun-filled social occasions, whenever you plan to stay it is always worth checking if any of the nearby villages will be having one of these many festivals during your stay.