The Isle of Crete


One week and a half ago I took a time-out from all my activities here in Israel and went with my wife to a 5-day vacation in the Isle of Crete, Greece.

As we usually do, we decided to do all by ourselves. The flying tickets were withdrawn from my mileage at Continental, the hotel and the car rental from the Internet, and let me tell you, due to the end of the season proximity we could get very good deals there.

We decided to take a trip to know the place, the people, the views, so a bus group would really not fit the objectives. And I must say that at the end the option for the rental car and travelling by ourselves proved to be a great option.

Some details after the break.

Let's begin with the flights: due to their pertinence to Star Alliance, we flew with Aegean, one of the greek companies. Flights were very good, with brand new Airbus planes, very good and pleasant service, and very organized check-ins and boardings. So, five stars. The only pity is that they don't fly directly from Israel to Crete, and you need to fly to Athens and then come back to Heraklion.

First experience in the island: the rental car. Rentals from the Internet there usually get you to meet small companies. Those don't have booths in the airport, but their representatives wait with a sign with your name at the door, so when you arrive and exit the airport door, you see them waiting for you.

This is the car we rented. We took the smallest possible size, which is more comfortable on some narrow streets of some villages. It was a very new and well treated Hyundai i10.

When getting the car with Union rentals, we asked where we should look for them in order to return the car at the airport (since they did not have a booth). "No", the lady said, "you are returning the car too late, nobody will be here. Just put the car in this parking space and throw the key inside this place. You are receiving the car with half a tank full, please take care of leaving it at the same condition", she completed, pointing to a small hole on the wall of a small aluminium booth at the parking lot. That was our first impression of the people, the way they are open and trust other people will be as honest with them as they are. A great first impression to have in the beginning of the first trip to a place.

Crete is a long island, with a long line of sea shores in the North and in the South. Curiously, most tourism there is done along the North shore, from east to west and back. Not many tourists get to the South shore.

So we began from the North. Out of the airport we were already in our way to the Knossos Archeological site, which tells us a little of the story of the Minoan people who lived in Crete.

A tour of approximately one hour, with a guide that wasn't so helpful and made us wish we would have decided to go inside by ourselves and without the guide. But then, we were already there. Anyway, nothing he explained (and it wasn't much) was not written in the area, so you can as well give up the guide.

From there, we travelled to Hersonissos and near there the village where our hotel was placed, Koutouloufari. We found a nice small country hotel for a really nice price. The hotel was called Galaxy Villas.

Here is the view of the main building from the pool area. The hotel is divided in small vilas with 2-4 apartments in each. It is very simple, and very comfortable, and their manager George makes you feel at home immediately.

Food

You can get all kinds of food in Crete. Local typical food, fast food (but we haven't seen McDonald's, only local fast food), and different cuisines (mainly french and chinese), besides many cafes and pubs. Price is not a symbol for quality, so the best way to choose is to look for the place with the biggest number of people in it.

In the first night we ate at a local restaurant in Koutouloufari, in the second night at a fast-food at Port Hersonissou. For the third night, Saturday, we reserved a special activity, a local and very typical Taverna called "Lemonies" at Old Hersonissos, which is mostly frequented by local people or strangers living in Crete. Not a touristic place:

Here we are, me and my wife with the host and owner of the taverna, Yorgos (in the middle). He makes you feel like he is inviting you into his own home. On Saturdays they have live music, typical dancing, a real party. We stayed there from 20:15 and until later than 1:30 at night. An experience I will never forget.

At the 4th night we ate at a restaurant at Aghios Nikolaos. Nice, but nothing special. Fifth and last night was already at the airport.

Places to visit

As I said before, most of the tourism is done at the North side of the island, so we also began from there.

At our first morning we took off to visit Chania, at the Western side of the North shore.

This is the old venetian port at Chania. A beautiful site to visit, and just a pity that we had quite a bit of rain on this day.

The Chania leather market at the old city.

The rebuilt ancient synagogue of Chania.

One of the beautiful shores we see from the road to Chania.

On our second day, we took the opposite direction: East to Aghios Nikolaus. There we visited Aghios Nikolaus, Elounda, Placka, Malia, and Neapolis.

This is the view from the port of Aghios Nikolaos. Aghios Nikolaos has been in my opinion the most beautiful place we visited, and surely the one we enjoyed most, up to the point that we returned there for a second time. We had the option to take the cruise to Spinalonga, an island nearby but decided not to do so due to the vast amount of time it would take and the fact that we had different opinions about the cruise, some good and some not so good.

Looking at Aghios Nikolaus from the cliffs in the way to Elounda.

Third day was Sunday, a day in which mostly everything is closed there. We decided to do something different on this day: to travel to Heraklion for some minutes, and from there Southwards to Zaros, Mires, Assimi, Pirgos, Vianos, Myrtos and Ierapetra, and then back to Aghios Nikolaos and Hersonissos. At the map above you will be able to see the whole circuit of the round-trip.

The view above is the view of the sea from the heights on which lies the road from Vianos to Myrtos. This is one of the most beautiful mountain roads I have ever seen, and in some places it doesn't stay much behind the views of the Alps.

This is Myrtos, a beautiful small village which has very little to do with tourism but still has tourists in very small hotels and sitting at the cafes and restaurants  in front of the seashore.

At the Eastern extreme of the Myrtos beach, sitting by himself, we could find Yanni, the drunk fisherman, a really colorful character. He is Romanian, lives in Crete for 5 years, and every day sits there, fishing for surviving and drinking for fun. That water bottle near him has anything but water. We spent some 15 minutes chatting with the guy and it was interesting to hear his stories.

This is one of the bays in the way from Ierapetra to Aghios Nikolaus. Another taste of Paradise for everyone looking for it.

Last day was saved to Rethymno.

Rethymno is a touristic city around 70 Km from Heraklion, with a beautiful seashore, nice hotels, and a pictorial old Venetian town. We spent most of the day there, but during this day also visited Fodele (the birthplace of the artist El Greco), Lygaria Beach and Aghios Pelagias.

Driving/Riding

Driving there is also an experience. It begins by the fact that at the moment we leave the main national roads, roads are a little narrow and not always well conserved. Secondly, the roads cross villages in their middle, and at the villages the streets can barely make space for one car going in one direction. And there are two directions in the road. So be careful.

Additional to that, driving law is not exactly a law there, it is more of a recommendation. Half of the population drives extremely slow, the other half has no patience and drives extremely fast. Put this together with narrow roads, and we definitely have a problem. But Cretans solved that easily. Whoever drives slow drives with two wheels in the shoulder of the road, so the fast drivers can overtake them more easily; and they do, and it doesn't matter if you have a full line in the center of the road or not. So on the other side, if you see two cars in parallel coming in your direction, you also put your two right wheels in the shoulder, so there would be space for three cars.... easy, isn't it? Well, sometimes quite frightening as well.

Everybody there rides motorcycles and scooters. Usually it is easy to recognize among the motorcycles and scooters who are the tourists and who are the locals: tourists are the ones that wear helmets.

I must say that the island seems to be Riders Paradise. With beaches and mountains, it provides the kind of experience that most riders want to have.

In summary, I hope you have enjoyed this article. I tried to show that I had a lot of fun there, and I have already taken a decision: I will be back to Crete.

Just that for my next time there, instead of flying, I am thinking of taking a ferry together with my Burgman. See you there!