Crete is a paradise on Earth, people say. But you may also find it to be a dull and mediocre holiday destination where hotels rub against one another. The following tips, which are based on our many trips to Crete will help you discover the best of Crete and avoid tourist traps.
1. Here is the principal rule: Visit the inner parts of the island!
The biggest treasures are to be found further inland! The best parts of Crete are hidden away from the coast and the main roads. Leave the big roads and drive the small ones. Prefer the smaller roads over the big ones. Only here will you find the villages painted in white with the scent of oranges in the air. Here, the old ladies sweep the yards and the old men sit in the tavernas watching the world go by. Here, inside of the island, you can find meadows full of flowers and stunning gorges.
Since public transportation is not the best on Crete, going inland on the island means that you will need a car. Good news is that a rental car is quite affordable.
2. Avoid staying in the big hotels – especially the ones near the highways.
A line of hotels along the highway at the northern coast is one of our least favourite places on the island. However, these hotels are likely to be sold to you in a package tour. Instead, look for the small family owned hotels, Airbnbs or HOME AWAY.
3. Try to meet the locals!
The Cretans are the best of Crete – they are the friendliest and most hospitable people in the world. They will make your stay on the island memorable at the very least. Or even show what a wonderful place a world full of warm-hearted people may be.
Just one of many examples: On the day of Easter 2013 we went to the Arkadi monastery for the late night Easter service. After the service, we were invited for breakfast at the monastery canteen. Afterwards, a family suggested that we should stay at their place for the rest of the night (as we didn´t have any hotel booked). To top that, they invited us to dine with the other part of their family in the afternoon.
Generally, during the Easter Season of 2013, we gained a couple of kilos. Exploring the small villages further inland, we were frequently offered to try some Easter pastry from the old ladies we saw in their yards.
4. Go to those beaches you need to make an effort to find and get to!
A friendly owner of a family-run hotel or your Airbnb is sure to provide you with tips about great small beaches nearby. Many great beaches on Crete are still unknown to tourists!
5. Avoid the main season to discover the best of Crete!
The best months to travel to Crete are April – May, and October. But Crete is beautiful in any season and every season has something special to offer: fields of blossoming poppies in April or the pomegranate and olive harvest in November. It may be as warm as 20°C (68°F) even in January, so there is no need to go with the flocks. Off-season, you will get better prices. The hotels that are packed in July will be empty as will be the beaches otherwise occupied with parasols, chez-longs and people. Off-season, you will have even the busiest beaches like Elafonissi and Balos to yourself.
6. Visit some of the old churches!
A chapel with 500-year-old washed frescoes on the top of a hill with a spectacular view is a place you will enjoy – and surely you could take some great pictures there.
7. An important tip for wine lovers: Visit the vineyards and get some bottles for the duration of your stay!
The wine you may sample at the vineyards is above all possible praise. But do not buy local wine at a supermarket or in your traditional Cretan homestay. It tends to have a specific sweet taste one needs to accustom to. We gave the local wine from the supermarkets “yet another try” a great many times and each time it let us down. Once, we asked the owner of a grocery shop if he can recommend a good wine. He exclaimed: “Sure! A wine from my village!” and pulled a plastic 10-litre canister out from under his desk. We couldn´t offend him with our suspicion about the taste of that vine and with resignation let him fill us a 2L water bottle from his canister. You already know how this story ended 😉
Armed with these 7 great tips, you can set out on the road! In the next post, we will suggest some travel itineraries for the western and eastern part of the island so that you do not miss the best of Crete!