Crete - the gift that keeps on giving

Travel journalists are not going far at the moment but that hasn’t stopped them sharing their stories, and love of Greece, with Olympic Holidays. From a return to Crete and the ‘poetry’ of Corfu to the foodie heaven of Kefalonia and Zante’s magical beaches we hope you enjoy the expert observations of our favourite islands to inspire your next journeys.

It makes me chuckle when I hear people say they've 'done' a particular place.  After all, changes in personal circumstances, time of year or just the company you keep can make a return visit to any destination a fresh experience.

And so it is with Crete. I`ve been visiting this, the largest of the Greek islands, for decades. Yet it remains the gift that keeps on giving.  Thanks to its location in the Southern part of the Aegean, Crete has the longest summer in Greece and is now emerging as a winter resort too.

Blazing sunshine in December?  Absolutely. Biking through deserted resorts one Christmas Day, face bathed in warm mellow light lingers in the mind as a stand out memory.

I first came to Greece as a student 30 years ago. Back then my boyfriend (now husband!) and I based ourselves in Rethymnon on the north coast. 

Port of Rethymnon
Beautiful port of Rethymnon

Crammed with well-preserved ancient buildings, the charming tavern-lined harbour is overlooked by a star-shaped, 16th-century citadel. If you want somewhere that offers a snapshot some of the historical riches the island can offer this is a place to visit. Though given that Crete has been occupied by invaders such as the Romans, Ottomans and Venetians you'll find vestiges of the past everywhere..

Of course you can spend lazy days on one of the island's sun-drenched beaches. What's more rich Cretan agriculture offers fresh food in abundance – golden olive oil harvested from local groves, aromatic herbs, juicy tomatoes the size of footballs and salty cheeses (my particular undoing is Sarikopitakia – triangular feta cheese pies).

But for the restless traveller there are so many options.

One favourite is Chania a city on the northwest coast. Known for its 14th-century Venetian harbour and 16th century lighthouse, I love ambling through narrow streets, dawdling at waterfront restaurants. Or visit Knossos, a sprawling Bronze Age archaeological site the size of a couple of football fields. In the still air, you can feel the past lingering around you.

Knossos Palace in Crete, Greece
The ruins of Knossos Palace

Meanwhile, fans of Victoria Hislop’s bestselling historical novel The Island must head to Spinalonga (10 minutes by boat from the village of Plaka), which was famously a leper colony for much of the 20th Century. Walking those ghostly streets is a sad but strangely serene experience.

Otherwise, go trekking, biking. Or just explore the island by car – I particularly love to drive through stunning Therisso Gorge where mountain goats have even less road sense than tourists in hire cars.

Ancient Venetian fortress at Spinalonga island, Crete

And of course, there are wonderful places to stay – not least, as we did on our last trip, the St Nicolas Bay, a five star hotel with the authentic feel of an unspoiled stone-built Cretan village.

So please do Crete. I can promise you, though, you`ll never be done.

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Beautiful cozy street in Chania, Crete
Beautiful cozy street in Chania, Crete