Crete Week: First Glimpses


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We’ve landed on Crete, the almost-southernmost island of Greece.

Morning View from Royal Mare
First morning seaside wake-up call.

We’ve just begun to explore the island and we thought you might like a taste – of the rivers of olive oil, the layers of history back to the ancients, and the Cretan people who are quite clearly a product of both.

Cretan Food

Fresh and fragrant is the name of the game with Cretan food. The island’s hills are covered with wild herbs such as sage, thyme, marjoram, even bay leaves (laurel). Olive oil, consumed at a staggering annual 25 liters per capita, is still very much a family business. And the temperate climate of the island means fresh vegetables and fruit for much of the year.

No wonder the traditional Cretan diet leans to health and long life. If what we ate on our first afternoon was any indication, we’re in for a treat.

Crete Food Lassithi
Cretan lunch beginnings: dolmades, dakos and fasolakia, and a mountain landscape backdrop.

Crete History

Crete evinces a deep history. From the mythological cave where Zeus was born, to its Minoan palaces, Roman cities, and Venetian forts, to the World War II cemetery, Crete’s contours and soil tell a story of a Mediterranean crossroads.

Minoan Ruins of Phaistos
Minoan Ruins at Phaistos. Talk about a beautiful setting.

Windmills are a symbol of clean energy today, but wind power is not especially new technology on the Greek island of Crete. In the late 15th century, the occupying Venetians began to use windmills on the edge of Crete's hillsides to grind wheat. To better catch the wind, they attached fabric-like sails on the blades.

Venetian windmills near Lassithi Plateau, Crete.
Fisheye view of Venetian windmills near Lassithi Plateau, Crete.

Today, after over 500 years of facing the elements, the sails are gone and the windmills that remain do so in various stages of disuse. In spite of all that, amidst the breeze, it's possible to imagine the two dozen windmills on the edge of the Lassithi Plateau in Seli Ampelou helping to churn out kilos of ground wheat.

The People of Crete

Although large areas of Crete are heavily developed with mass tourism, small villages are an easy drive away. Locals who’ve lived long drink coffee and while away the hours chatting — just as you might imagine they’ve done for ages.

Crete People Chatting
Village scene on Crete.

Life has not been easy for many and people are anxious regarding the current economic crisis, but that doesn’t put a halt to the sense of hospitality and humor that Cretan people bring to the table. When the people we've spoken to discuss the current financial crisis, I’m quick to note – not to diminish but perhaps to commiserate – that the crisis brews also in America and ultimately worldwide.

As I took this woman’s photograph, she asked for a copy and said with a chuckle in a fullness of a life well-lived, still enjoyed: “If I like the photograph maybe I’ll use it on my gravestone.”

Older Crete Woman
Like her sense of humor.

Coming Soon on Crete Week

In the coming days we’ll share visits to Crete’s main archeological draws of Knossos, Phaestos and Gortyn. We’re also hoping to hike through Samaria Gorge (weather permitting) and explore the areas in and around Chania and Rethymnon.

But for the moment, we take a lap with the locals, we share some bread and olive oil, and we get a sense of this big little island’s span of landscape, history and life.

Stay tuned.

Have you been to Crete? Do you have any suggestions for places to visit, local restaurants and awesome Cretan dishes to try?

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Disclosure: Our trip to Crete is supported by Visit Greece. Most but not all expenses have been paid for. As always, the opinions expressed here are entirely our own.
About Audrey Scott
Audrey Scott is a writer, storyteller, speaker and tourism development consultant. She aims to help turn people's fears into curiosity and connection. She harbors an obsession for artichokes and can bake a devastating pan of brownies. You can keep up with her adventures on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And you can learn more about her on the About Page and on LinkedIn.

20 thoughts on “Crete Week: First Glimpses”

  1. Wow, the view from your hotel room is spectacular! Looking forward to your blogs hot off the press on Crete!! I can believe it when you say people live long in Crete – their diet seems very healthy (although olive oil if overdone is not that healthy).

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  2. I’ve been to Europe many times but admit I don’t know much about Crete. Great overview on the food, history, and people there. For me, history has become something I am a lot more interested in now that I travel than I did when I was in school. I think it makes me appreciate a place so much more knowing where the people have come from.

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  3. Greece is by far my favorite place on Earth. The food is incredible and the Greek hospitality legendary. Looking forward to reading more!

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  4. Samaria Gorge on a donkey is a great experience!
    Crete is wonderful, and the food is fabulous.

    Enjoy!

    If you get time, perhaps you could travel on to Cyprus and the middle east, as the weather is still usually great over the winter, by north european and north american standards anyway.

    Best Wishes

    Jackie

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  5. Whoa guys Crete looks lovely!

    Not sure about those old ladies though. They look like they’d give my scruffy self a proper old ear-bashing!

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  6. I have a high school classmate who is on a Mediterranean cruise stopping in Crete right now. I sent her a link to your website.

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  7. I love the first image, whoa! what a place for an ideal breakfast. I love such places and just dream of being there someday. I think Crete is a fun place to be. Thanks for this information.

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  8. A place or country’s food tells a great deal about their culture and way of life. After reading your post about Grecian food I had a renewed appreciation of their food. I love how olive oil flows in their country. Olive oil is not only a tasty food ingredient but it has amazing medicinal uses as well.

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  9. Crete is such a beautiful place – I was in Chania earlier this year and I loved the old town there (and the resort of Gerani). Your pictures bring back fond memories of a great holiday!

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  10. @Sutapa: We arrived at our hotel at 2 AM, so we had no idea about the view. It was such a wonderful surprise in the morning to pull open the curtains to see what you see above!

    Cretans are very serious about their cuisine and their olive oil. We had many conversations about how the health benefits of olive oil really has a lot to do with the quality. Low acidity (e.g. 0.3-0.8) olive oil supposedly helps break down cholesterol and food, but lower quality olive oil does less so. But of course, everything in moderation…even with olive oil 🙂

    @Jeremy: Before this trip, we didn’t know much about Crete either except for the beach vacations we used to see advertised at travel agents. After this trip, we realize there is so much more to the island. Like you, we appreciate the history and culture much more now, especially as it’s changing in so many places.

    @Jackie: We weren’t able to go into Samaria Gorge, but we did stand on its edge and peak in. Beautiful!

    We won’t be able to get to Cyrprus this year, but we are headed to the Middle East for the next 2-3 weeks (Iran). We like avoiding winter 🙂

    @Christine: Greek (and Cretan) hospitality is pretty incredible. We left with a backpack full of gifts people kept giving us along the way! Really wonderful.

    @Pooja: Thanks! Glad you enjoyed this!

    @Will: These old ladies look tough, but they have a light side to them. But, they still might give you an old ear-bashing just to have some fun 🙂

    @Joan: Just wait until we start writing about Cretan food and everything else we saw during the week. Than you’ll really want to book a flight!!

    @Erik: Ugh, sorry about that weather! We did have rain on our first 2 days in Crete (supposedly there are only 60 rain days/year), but then it was beautiful after that. I’d highly recommend going in mid-October – not many tourists and the weather is still warm.

    @Pete: Thanks for passing on the link! How did your friend enjoy the stop in Crete? Many Mediterranean cruises do stop off for a day on Crete to see Knossos or one of the towns like Rethymno or Chania.

    @Azeem: It is a pretty nice breakfast view!

    @Henry: The top photo was taken at Royal Mare resort just outside of Heraklion.

    @Aubrey: Food is a great way to learn about the culture of a place. You can tell how important olive oil is to Cretan food by all the olive trees all over the island.

    @Clive: Thanks for the information on Heraklion! We had a morning in the city of Heraklion – got to visit a local market, see the demonstrations and try a few local food specialties.

    @Andrea: We were surprised by how physically beautiful Crete was. I don’t feel our photos do it justice – hills upon hills that then fall into the sea. Chania is lovely – we spent a couple of nights there.

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  11. Crete is the most wonderful island in Greece as well as Mykonos too, in my opinion.. The food in Crete is great, thank you for sharing this because I am planning on visiting Crete next summer!

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  12. Crete is one of our favourite places to spend a holiday, and if you hire a car and explore the island you can find plenty of great places off-the-beaten-track. Take a trip to Aghia Pelagia, where the beaches are incredible and the seafood is to die for.

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  13. @Adrian: We’ll be talking more about Crete in detail in the next few weeks, but your suggestion of renting a car on Crete to explore it independently is a good one.

    @Stella: Enjoy the food on Crete. It is definitely something special.

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  14. My husband and I love Crete so much that, over the years, we have bought 2 houses there. Sadly, we now have to sell one of them, so that we can pay off our UK mortgage. It’s especially sad, as it was named after our granddaughter (see website).

    However, we plan to continue to visit Crete twice a year for as long as possible. Our favourite part of Crete is the Chania area, in NW Crete – and Chania itself is a really lovely city, with a wonderful covered market and plenty of fabulous tavernas just off the beaten track. Two, in particular, are in Kondilaki street (parallel to Halidon street). Ela is in a very old converted factory (sounds odd but it’s very beautiful) – and Xani – our absolute favourite, is just off Kondilaki street, opposite the old Jewish synagogue (which has a sad history). If you visit Xani, please say hello from Franky and Bernard to Dimitris and Margi. We especially recommend their avocado and orange salad, followed by chicken with prunes – both delicious! Their slow-cooked lamb and goat dishes and local wine are excellent too.

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  15. @Franky: We spent a couple of days in the Chania area and really enjoyed it as well. The town itself is nice, as are the hills and area just outside. We found the food on Crete to be excellent – such fresh ingredients! Glad to hear you are still able to visit Crete twice a year to enjoy the island!

    Reply

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