Greece's largest island also has one of its richest histories. An easy winner should there be a Greek island beauty pageant; Zeus's birthplace has long been a favourite destination for beach-longing tourists from Northern Europe. It's not only Vitamin D you'll be able to dose on in Crete because the island also produces mouth-watering food. Further from the sea you'll find a contrasting landscape dotted with caves, mountains and gorges. Remember to strike up conversation with the locals; they're renowned for extending their hospitality to a complimentary glass of ouzo.
For most people, unwinding on one of the pebbled coves, exotic lagoons or Preveli Beach, Europe's only palm lined beach is reason enough to pay Crete a visit. Those with the will to explore though will find many things to see and do in Crete. From the ruins of the ancient Minoan civilisation Palace of Knossos to the Venetian fortresses of Rethymo, the island is also home to 3,000 caves, one of which is believed to be the birthplace of Zeus. Dynamic Iraklio, the island's biggest city is worth a visit for the excellent Heraklion Archeological Museum while the St. George of Selinari Monastery is just one of the countless monasteries located throughout the island.
Mealtime is one of Greece's great attractions and right along the coastlines and deep into the countryside you'll find all manner of places to eat and drink in Crete. A natural menu straight from the land and sea, each location in Crete has its own dining highlights and the island's cuisine is so delectable that even in Athens, Cretan restaurants and food stores have popped up in recent years. Bars and restaurants line most tourist towns but some highlights include Spyros Taverna in Gouves, Neramilos in Sissi and Dounias in Drakona. For the freshest seafood, along Rethymnon's Venetian Harbour there are many specialties to be sampled while Iraklion's Fountain Square offers a good selection of everything in one place.
Where to Stay
Whether you want to pay a lot or a little, Crete is a destination that caters to travellers on all types of budgets. It is important to consider destination just as much as hotel though because each Cretan town has its own charms and selling points. As a general rule the north of the island is home to the best beaches but also more crowds. South of the island is home to more remote villages and better value accommodation. Revellers looking to party should stay in the Iraklio region's most developed resorts Malia and Hersonisos while the west, in particular around Hania, is great for outdoor lovers wanting to combine lazing on the beach with scuba-diving and mountain climbing.
Make sure to upgrade to extra baggage allowance because you'll find all manner of things to buy in Crete. The markets in Chania and Iraklion are a good place to start for traditional goods such as olive oil and wine. To find everything in one place and some air-conditioning on a hot day, Talos Plaza is a modern shopping mall located between Minoos and Yakinthou. More unique finds are had at Fanouraki in Iraklion. Established over 150 years ago, the shop sells exquisite copies of Minoan jewellery at pretty reasonable prices.
Crete Like a Local
Crete is an island that makes up a huge chunk of Greek tourism so it shouldn't be much of a surprise then that to find authentic local lifestyle you need to head away from the hordes and towards the hills. Studies prove that the Cretan diet is one of the healthiest in the world and to experience its entire benefits head to one of the village tavernas. A place where tomatoes are more likely to come from the owner's back garden than the market and wine, cheese and olive oil are all homemade, some of the best tavernas can be found in tiny villages. Cretan taverna highlights include Illiomanolis in Kanevos and Aetos in Anogia.