Crete: the largest of the stunning Greek islands, home to both fascinating ancient history and a massive array of holiday resorts. For a beachy, sun-soaked holiday, you really can’t do any better than this gorgeous island, combining both culture and traditional holidaymaker fun in one charming package.
Reading online that Stalis, our destination of choice, was described as a ‘village’ I was expecting a small resort with just enough places to explore, but I couldn’t have been more wrong: it was, in fact, a lively town packed with bars, restaurants and Greek tavernas lining the rugged beachfront. Endless golden stretches of sand dip around the coast to meet the surprisingly clear sea, and bars offer pleasingly cheap prices for sunbeds and a matchless view of the undulating hills silhouetted against the vividly blue cloudless skies. Everything is offered: from cheap cocktail deals to classy and stylish beach bars; from delicious pizza to conventional Greek fare. (I recommend feta cheese, and chicken souvlaki!) Freebies are offered with every meal – either fresh fruit, bread or a shot of your choice, the Greek staff members are always kind and willing to help in any way possible.
But as bustling as it is, it’s not exactly what you’d describe as a typical party place, so in search of even cheaper booze and teenagers falling over themselves on the street, we headed to Malia.
Malia probably needs no introduction as a resort in which people like to get very, very drunk – although at the beginning of June, it’s definitely quieter than most would prefer, it just makes those annoying PRs try even harder to seduce you with boozy offers. And for a quaint, peaceful and shockingly overlooked slice of traditional Greece, we headed to Malia’s old town – a short walk away from the busy main road, it’s a haven of picturesque tavernas, vibrant colours and cobblestoned lanes. Completely devoid of tourists – apart from us obviously – it seemed like an authentically quiet glimpse into Greek village life.
Out of the plethora of day trips offered – Santorini anyone? – we chose an excursion to Crete’s capital Heraklion and the ruins of the Minoan Palace at Knossos. Heraklion is a surprisingly energetic city (considering we arrived at 9.30am on a Saturday morning), its main streets dotted with local markets and ornate Venetian loggias, leading down to an imposing sixteenth century fortress and a glittering seafront framed by enough yachts to rival Monaco. We visited the Archaeological Museum, with an impressive collection of BC artefacts and paintings, ranging from five thousand year old vases to paintings rumoured to have magical properties.
Knossos, nestled in the Cretan hills, was a different story: only ruins remain of the first floor of what must have been a striking four-storey palace three thousand years ago. Although only a makeshift theatre, a few murals and a complex layout endure, there’s a real sense of history beneath the sandy walls as well as the pervading question of just exactly how people lived in such ancient, far-off days.
Visiting Crete is a perfect combination of all sorts of holidays. With plenty of culture, history and sunshine to go around, there’s the opportunity to choose a mix and match holiday whatever way you like. But only go for the two shots and two cocktails for five euros deals if you’re sure you can handle it. I have warned you.
Have you ever been to Crete? What did you think of it? I’d love to hear your thoughts – let me know in the comments below!