Everyone in the world has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Planes are grounded, ships are moored, trains and busses are empty, that is, if they run at all. We all know the news. The situation here on Crete, Greece’s biggest and most popular island, things feel like something out of a surreal sci-fi flick. Huge resorts that would normally be open, are closed. The shopping streets of Heraklion, Rethymno, and Chania, they’re nearly deserted. There are those who wonder if anyone at all will return to Crete or visit for the first time this year.
Certainly, with restrictions being lifted in a few days, it seems like a trickle will find their way sometime this summer. Eventually, travelers from the UK, Scandinavia, Russia, and places like Israel will feel the pain of missing Crete. Then later on, as lockdown and the economics allow, more will come. But when they do, the destinations and the experiences will certainly be different. With a demographic paradigm shift in mind, I thought I would mention a few logical stay choices for the first to come back to Incredible Crete in 2020. Here goes.
City Breaks and Business
Crete has so many exquisite city hotels spread from Sitia in the far east, to Chania in the extreme west of the island. In Heraklion GDM Megaron and Galaxy Hotel come to mind, as do a couple of conference oriented offers. But, Heraklion is crowded. Chania, to the west, is a wonderful and picturesque seaside city. But it’s too far away if you are doing business or wanting to find a home base for some village sightseeing. Rethymno, a chic and compact Venetian wonder in the center of the island, is a more perfect choice if geo-compromise seems right. But the old part of town is a tightly packed tourist magnet, for the scenery, shops, and amazing eateries and bars.
That’s why the new swanky Syntopia Hotel (Instagram above) just off the old town center is an ideal choice. The beach is a few meters away, and a short walk takes you to anything that matters in the city. Designed for adults, couples, and solo travelers, this classy hotel gives guests just the right amount of space and comfort at a respectable price. Accommodations from the hotel’s website start at €117 euros per night.
In the Middle of What Matters
Also in Rethymno Prefecture in the center of the island, Aravanes is a family operated tavern/guesthouse in the tiny village of Thronos, overlooking the fantastic Amari Valley. My fantastic friend Lambros Papoutsakh, his wonderful daughters Maria and Eleftheria, their husbands and children, the remarkable Haroula, simply cannot be outdone when providing authentic Cretan hospitality. I don’t think a coronavirus would dare touch these sweet souls, even if one could find its way into the valley might Zeus grew up in. For a country getaway where you become part of the Cretan family, there’s no better place to stay and explore on your return to Crete island.
A few kilometers in any direction and you find natural wonders like Patsos Gorge. Minoan amazement like the Palace of Monastiraki further up the valley in the village of the same name. The treasured Arkadi Monastery is a stone’s throw from the ancient city of Eleftheria and a new archaeological museum there. Surrounded by the Kedros and Psiloritis mountain ranges, the valley leads from closeby Rethymno port, to the port of Agia Galini to the south of the island. Rooms at Aravanes, now get this, go for as low as €40 per night. Trust me, if you wake up one morning when the rooster crows, step onto your balcony overlooking the valley, you’ll never want to leave.
A Crete Vacation – Out of This World
I’ve known Markos Skordalakis for some years now. My son took a short sabbatical to work in Crete for a few months and stayed a few days at Markos’ fantastic Thalori Retreat in the remote village of Kapetaniana, in the mysterious and dramatic Asterousia Mountains. A vision of perfection created out of the hard work of this amazing man, Thalori will remind some guests of a dream from some fantasy world. The retreat features traditional Cretan cuisines, adventures led by Markos and his team, and a separateness like no place else on Earth.
This part of Crete island has a unique magic you’d expect in the shadow of Mount Kofinas (1,231 m.), which was named after the local king Asterion, who married Princess Europa at the command of her lover, Zeus. Go horseback riding with Markos, make him take you fishing, rock climb, take to the many trails, or get him to reenact a Minoan sacred ritual in a hidden sanctuary nobody knows about (maybe). Thalori is a nature lover’s paradise, for real. Best of all, getting trampled by a crowd here is impossible. Nobody knows where the traditional stay is. Well, almost nobody. Traditional stone guest houses go for €70 for room only.
Live the Village Life
In Heraklion Prefecture there are great selections for establishing a base to visit Crete’s most famous attractions. The first village that comes to mind is Agios Mironas, which sits on a mountain ride a few minutes outside the capital. This friendly little town offers breathtaking views of over 20 villages, the Cretan Sea, the island’s highest mountains, and what seems like a Garden of Eden of olive trees and vineyards beneath. The feature image of this report is looking off to one side of this ridge. The village is about 15 minutes from Amoudara Beach, with spas, tavernas, bars, and a lot more. And Heraklion’s center is only about 20 minutes away.
Situated in the center of the village, Traditional Cretan Houses created by a wonderful friend named Popi Ierapetriti, are the class act of refurbished Cretan stone houses. Listed as protected monuments by the Ministry of Culture, these lovingly restored buildings are furnished with the best authentic Cretan antiques and afford guests every modern convenience. Right across the street (more like an alley) you’ll find the remarkable Agios Mironas Church, which is right next door to two local markets, a restaurant, and down the street from all the village’s purveyors. The rooms here go for about €40 euro to €50 euro depending. One of the houses has a hammam, while others afford special views and eccentricities guests will appreciate. Seriously, this is the perfect place to branch out from on your return to Crete.
Crete Postcard Self Catering Bliss
Agia Pelagia, a few kilometers up the coast from Crete’s capital of Heraklion, is about as iconic a seaside getaway as you can imagine. Situated down a mountainside at a natural crescent-shaped harbor, the one-time fishing village is a favorite sun and sand Mecca for locals and newcomers these days. The best swimming spot ever, in my book, the tiny town has anything and everything beachcombers could ever want. Dozens of traditional Cretan taverns line the perfect beach, souvenir shops, car rental places, and the amazing Almyra Seaside Food & Cocktails is something out of a Bond flick. Our family’s favorite summer hangout.
For space and a base to dictate what you want your Crete experience to be, the classy new SeaScape Luxury Residences makes the most sense for people who want privacy with just the right touch of personal care from the owners. 30 steps from one of Greece’s nicest beaches, these chic apartments carry all the amenities you’d expect, and for very reasonable prices. You can expect to pay about €50 to €75 euro per night before the peak season starts.