The Island of Crete: a Mediterranean jewel in Southern Greece
Crete is Greece’s largest island lying south of the mainland in the Mediterranean Sea. The island offers more than one thousand kilometres of coastline. It retains much of its original, unique identity and culture. Today’s Crete offers the visitor a heady mix of tradition, friendly and pleasant local character, excellent food and drink by the sea or amazing inland locations, history, a good selection of sports, a mostly temperate climate and relatively easy access.
Plakias Crete, by Wolfgang Staudt
Crete is best known for being the birthplace of the Minoan civilization, Greece’s oldest. I loved the Minoan city of Knossos, the site was excavated and largely restored by a British archaeologist in the early 1900s. As you wander around the maze like construction you can visualise the legends of Icarus and the Minotaur.
Crete was part of the Byzantine empire until the 1400’s, then most churches and monasteries became mosques under Ottoman rule until 1821 when Greece was freed from Turkish occupation. The famous painter El Greco was born in Crete during the 16th century, when it formed part of the Republic of Venice. He studied art in Venice and worked in Rome and Toledo. The cities of Chania and Rethymnon in Crete are examples of old Venetian city ports.
In the 1960’s Crete was a well-established part of the “hippie trail”, with many long-haired youths living peacefully in caves by the sea, easily tolerated (even fed!) by the friendly locals. Nevertheless, the parents of these placid Cretans were part of a fierce resistance during WW2, when the Germans could only truly claim that they occupied the seaside flatlands, with mountainous interior regions the undisputed strongholds of the ultra-patriotic chieftains. The custom of self-reliance and pride is so deeply embedded, that even today some older men can be seen walking the streets in traditional clothing (and it wasn’t too long ago that they also proudly dispayed the pistol in their belt!)
Crete, Traditional dress, by yuecelnabi
If you like hiking you’ll enjoy the amazing nature trail of Samaria Gorge in the White Mountains of west Crete. It’s one of the longest gorges in Europe and the area is a national park. The park is only open from May to October as the gorge is too dangerous at other times of year. The pan European E4 Walking Trail traverses the island but it’s not that well signed and parts can be impassable.
Crete – Samaria gorge, by doug88888
Crete has loads of beautiful beaches. In general the beaches on the northern coast have shallower water and the sea temperature is higher. I certainly remember very pleasant swimming at Malia in early July. Beware of strong winds on the beaches on the southern coast in July and August, when you may be subjected to heavy sand showers. Preveli Beach on the south coast is close to the town of Plakia. The beach lies at the foot of the Preveli Monastery. If you don’t fancy the walk up and down the 500 stone steps it can be reached by boat from Plakia.
Crete – Malia, by Eric The Fish (2010)
The island can be reached by air with passenger airports at Heraklion, the main airport close to the capital, Chania on the north west coast and Sitia on the north east coast. You can also get to Crete by ferry from Pireaus/Athens in the mainland, plus many cruise ships call in at the island. Once on the island, day trips to other nearby islands (e.g. Santorini) are also possible.
Sundown in Crete, by storem
So, what are you waiting for? Just make sure you have plenty of time to enjoy all the delights this amazing island has to offer.
Posted : Friday, June 11th, 2010 at 09:12
Karen Bryan is the founding editor of the UK based, multi author Europe a la Carte Blog which features Europe travel tips about the best places to visit in Europe.