A recent getaway to the island paradise of Crete proved to my friend Diana Abu-Zuaiter and I once and for all, always expect the unexpected, especially on Mediterranean gems. Crete, unlike another other place either of us have visited, made good on its reputation for hospitality instantly.
We began our wonderful Crete vacation in the capital city, Heraklion. Almost unexpectedly, we found not just you typical museum and artifact hunting ground here, but a great shopping and dining city on top of its sightseeing wonders. From the moment we landed at Nikos Kazantzakis airport Diana and I (below at Koules Fortress) were struck by how exceedingly friendly the Cretans are. At the counter, in the taxi, at the front door and front desk of our hotel, Lato Boutique Hotel, Heraklion might just be the most welcoming there is.
After checking in, and checking out our ultra chic room at Lato, we ventured out to discover Heraklion. Starting at the harbor, which our hotel hung out over quite literally, the Venetian Fortress set amid all the boats, and on the mesmerizing Cretan Sea, it called to us as I am sure it does most visitors. You can tell from our “selfie” extravaganza while on Crete, Diana and I were intent on exploration.
Back up the hill to Lato, and down the narrow streets to the pedestrian shopping zone, we visited two dozen chic little shops, partook of some of the local flavors, a gyro on the go with some fantastic feta, and after some moussaka and a ton of olives (the best ones are tiny Cretan ones), we surely put on some weight. But not fearing, we knew we’d walk it all off, Heraklion is very hilly.
One thing we can attest to, there’s nothing really typical about Crete’s capital, even the tourist shops are unique, uncommonly well priced, and chock full of ssouvenirs clothes, accessories, etc. etc. etc. After half a day, we were suitably worn down and ready for rejuvenation. And later we found just the place, right back at Lato, and on the rooftop at Herbs’ Garden restaurant (Diana’s main at right). MORE FOOD! Only this time of the gourmet variety. Chef Zinonas Christofidis creates real food art, to go splendidly with what has to be the city’s finest view. As you can tell from our “selfie-foodie” attempts, the restaurant is amazing. In fact everyone there was, from the hotel manager to the owner, whom we briefly met.
Downstairs to our crispy pillows (no pillow mints but tons of sweets and fruits) and we awoke to maybe Crete’s least mentioned magic, sunrise over the sea. After breakfast, we decided to check out Malia, which we’d heard so much about. A bus ride down the coast took us to, you guessed it, exactly the beach partying place you probably heard of too. Surprised again, we discovered Malia is all set up for English speakers, more great shops, restaurants, bars, and some usual beachy suspects too. So, sunbathing we went, after all this is one big reason we came.
And so this is how the first part of our Crete journey went. Heraklion is actually a perfect hub to see much of central Crete from. 15 minutes or half an hour east, south, or west, and there’s attractions from olive groves and tiny traditional villages, to some of the world’s nicest beaches and water-sports. We did not check out the archaeological points of interest this trip, as time did not permit. And this is one thing you’ll discover about Crete too. For an island, there’s just a world of things to see and do here. We used up much of our time lounging on the beach, shopping, or just enjoying local restaurants and bars.
I’ll reveal more about Rethymno, Chania, Hersonissos, and the far west of Crete in another post, but for now I hope the reader has caught a bit of the island’s charm, and a bit of our glee at experiencing this magical place.