Being destined to one week “only” on Crete is something like passing through heaven on your way to anywhere else. This arid, sunny, and friendly paradise in the eastern Mediterranean is a place people go to, and then never leave. For couples and singles, hitting a good many high spots might be feasible, but for a small family the itinerary must be crisp, tailored, and the traveler must take a lot into consideration. Here’s a suggested week long stay, an introduction to one of the world’s most fabulous getaways.
In Case You Don’t Know Crete
Crete is the fifth biggest island in the Mediterranean after Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus, and Corsica. It is the largest of the Greek islands and is a significant part of the economy and cultural heritage of Greece. Mountainous, with thousands of miles of pristine coastline, Crete is distinctive in many ways including its retaining its own local cultural traits. Once the center of the magnificent Minoan civilization (c. 2700–1420 BC), this land is home to the oldest recorded civilization in Europe. 160 miles long and 37 miles wide, Crete is famous for its beaches, mountains, valleys, gorges, lakes, and rivers, as well as for its healthy arid climate.
For visitors to the island, several factors affect the way this magical land of the Minoans is taken in. Even though it is only four and a half hours from one end of Crete to the other, the problem for short vacations is not road distance. The “problem” with Crete, if we can call diversity and amazing sites a problem, is that there is simply too much to take in for short stays. Many tour experts suggest the obvious, such as staying 2 nights at this place or that and moving on. As you might expect, putting such advice into play greatly depends on what “experience” you want. Once you make the Crete experience into a family affair, this obviously narrows choices a bit. Since most international arrivals will land in Heraklion, let me begin there with suggested stays and sites to see.
Heraklion Stayover – Jet Lag Remedy
Heraklion is the largest city and the capital of Crete. Situated on the north-central coast of the island, the city is the site of many important sights and touristic experiences. We always recommend that visitors who’ve just flown in select the best city breaks hotels in the city center, just to take the edge off and to get their bearings. Chief among our favorites are Lato Boutique Hotel overlooking the harbor, and the all new Olive Green Hotel, Greece’s first truly eco-friendly hotel. For a family of three, Lato’s family rooms or smaller suites are perfect for soaking up what Heraklion is all about. Two days at Lato and the family can easily take in sites like the Minoan Palace at Knossos (a very short cab or bus ride), the wonderful shops and taverns of Eleftherias Square (2 minutes on foot), Daidalou Street, Korai Street, Heraklion Harbour and Koules fortress (just beneath Lato’s Herb’s Garden restaurant), bothe the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion and the Historical Museum of Crete (short walks), the Venetian Loggia and the Basilica of St Mark, and many other city center sites.
For the Real Love
The best way to get a real feel for Crete is to rent a car and drive south for a two-day stay at Metala or Plakias in the south of the Rethymno Prefecture. While some experts might suggest venturing as to Hersonissos or Malia after leaving Heraklion, I’d recommend two days in the south for a preview of your next trip to Crete. You see, it is the south of the island where the locals spend their holiday time, swimming secret coves and sunning on beaches tourists have never discovered. I’m still sworn to silence about some of these hidden gems, but one I can share with you (close to many other secrets) is Villa Koutsakis at Chrisostomos Beach, which is an hour or so south of Heraklion. This wonderful hotel is situated in one of the most beautiful areas of Crete, right on the Libyan Sea. Villa Koutsakis is a 15-minute drive to the fishing village of Kali Limenes (okay, this is one secret) and a 25-minute drive to the Mires Street Market, where the tradition of the island is laid out before you. Also in this area, you’ll find the Roman Gortys, the Minoan Palace of Phaestus and Agia Triada, Matala of the hippies, the picturesque village of Pompia, the dam of Faneromeni, and the majesty of the wild Asterousia Mountains. I cannot say more, for I swore a blood oath. You’ll have to explore with the family and learn more in person.
Another great suggestion for this two-day adventure is the fabulous Kalypso Cretan Village Resort and Spa in Plakias, not far south of Rethymno. The resort, situated on Karavos beach, is set in a pristine environment surrounded by an impressive natural park, where towering rocks (fjords) form a unique vantage point from which the ancients no doubt observed their own paradise on Earth. The hidden sea inlet here was once used by pirates, and first time visitors steal away with the knowledge they must someday return. Just 31 km south of Rethymnon and only 115 km from Heraklion Airport, you’ll get the full “feloxinia” treatment here. This hotel has a spa, 3 tennis, courts, volleyball, glass bottom boats or canoes at the beach, and the Kalypso Diving Centre provides scuba-divers and free divers with modern equipment for an unforgettable experience in the crystal waters of the Libyan Sea. The hotel also organizes games, workouts and special entertainment programs for kids.
Up the Beach and Back
It is typical for Heraklion to be a sort of “base camp” for Crete sojourners who venture outward to beach resorts, agri-tourism, and eco-tourism experiences, and for those who want to experience village life in the mountains and valleys. It’s fair to suggest that most small family vacations are not centered around either true luxury digs, or purely adventurist tourism either. So, the big decision for most people visiting Crete is all about whether to travel either east or west (or south). Time constraints and the family aspect being foremost, I’d recommend finishing off a 7 day vacation by venturing back up north a short distance toward Rethymno to the tiny coastal village at Skeleta situated on the main coastal road. A good choice of stays here is the four-star family resort Creta Star Hotel, an all-inclusive resort on one of the island’s nicest stretches of beach. The resort has all the features families need including, 3 restaurants, 2 pools, kids activities and clubs, tennis, mini-golf, ping pong, archery, beach volley, aerobic, and so on. The staff here are great, the location perfect, and best of all it’s centrally located only 65 km from Heraklion airport (HER) and 70 km from Chania airport (CHQ), so excursions by cab, bus, or car are made drop-dead simple. Three days here will provide the appropriate suntan and ample opportunities to experience local cuisine and culture before you are forced to leave by your airline. Yes, this is how you’ll feel once your week on Crete is finished, but at least you’ll have had a nice introduction to the Mediterranean’s most fantastic island.
Like most other regions of Crete, the surrounds of Rethymno contain untold natural, history, and adventurous attractions. Whether you want to see the cave from which Zeus was born, or if you want to enjoy a moonlit vista from a hidden beach, Crete is just full of such experiences. From Creta Star the family can visit picturesque Rethymno, or venture for a day trip to the wonderful port of Chania, Crete’s most photographed city. Three days in this area will provide the appropriate suntan and ample opportunities to experience local cuisine and culture before you are forced to leave by your airline. Yes, this is how you’ll feel once your week on Crete is finished, but at least you’ll have had a nice introduction to the Mediterranean’s most fantastic island.
Feature image courtesy our friends at Incredible Crete