South Eastern Crete Neos Kosmos
Crete: a personal journey of discovery
Crete is probably the biggest Greek holiday destination. Its three airports and innumerable direct flights from all over Europe mean that thousands of people get to visit its beaches and popular landmarks like Knossos and Spinalonga on a daily basis. The Cretan diet and its benefits are now well known the world over so being able to enjoy the island’s bounties, with a bottle or raki as a necessary ‘digéstif’, is one of the main reasons people come back year after year. Whether you like all-inclusive resorts, rental villas or boutique hotels, this island can provide for all your needs. From all-nighters in Hersonissos to 5* living in the Venetian mansions of Chania, from walking the Samaria gorge to absolute isolation in Gavdos, you can make what you will of your time off here.
My snapshot of Crete is a very personal one and I’m sure yours will be too. Therein lies the beauty of this place. After falling in love with the mountains here, which seemed so imposing when I first visited as a child, I have returned time and time again and discovered something new every time. What I always yearn for though is Cretan hospitality. The welcoming smiles, a yummy treat at the end of a meal and the stories of outlaw living regaled to me in village cafes. This past autumn I revisited some of my favourite corners of the island with some of our clients and was won over by an infamous village in the mountains south of Rethymno.
The South East part of Crete has always been a favourite. It takes that extra bit longer to get there and you can only really enjoy it by car so not everyone has the time or wants to get all Indiana Jones on their annual two weeks off. The journey to the village of Xerokabos, right on the corner of the island, is just stunning. After driving through what seems like a lunar landscape, you hit the top of the hill and what lies ahead is the most wonderful blue, as far as the eye can see. There isn’t much to the village other than beautiful sandy coves and some tavernas with rooms to let. The welcome you will receive though is the warmest it can be, the vegetables and meat grown and reared by the person serving you.
On the way back to Ierapetra, make sure you have enough time to stop in Koutsouras, a small village with a couple of the most well known tavernas in the Sitia region. Taverna Rovinsonas is probably in my top five in the whole of Greece. Situated in a picture postcard setting right on the water and decorated in a quirky but 100% Greek fashion, the food here is to die for and they simply can’t do enough for you. Absolute bliss.
The best part of my trip was finally visiting the infamous village of Anogia. A place of myth due to its male population being wiped out three times in recent history, most recently during the Second World War. Greeks know this place because of the ‘special’ relationship locals have with the police. What we wanted to see though was the monument to the fallen, a truly heartbreaking list of young men wiped out in their prime in the defence of their country’s freedom. What we got though was much more than that. We arrived on a warm, sleepy September afternoon and were the only tourists about. We got greeted by an eagle on our approach to the village, who kept entertaining us out of the window of the aptly name ‘Aetos’ taverna. Our lunch was cooked by the owner and his little grand son; both a perfect picture of the handsome Cretan men you expect to see in a place like this and what they cooked was just as special. We wandered further into the village and bumped into a group of older women coming out of church and some of their husbands who had opted for a coffee in the pretty square instead. So many amazing stories to tell, we could have stayed there for days just listening to them. We probably would have if we weren’t so keen to get a kilo or two of the amazing local cheese before the shopkeepers closed for the day!
As Greeks we spend so much time complaining about each other, about our politicians and the state of the world. It’s trips like this though that remind us why this place feels blessed in so many ways. What was wonderful to see though was that our guests from the UK felt just the same about what we had witnessed. In fact, they probably appreciated it more than we did because they came to it with open hearts and less baggage.
For trips like this in Crete or other parts of Greece, contact
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This article was first published in Australian newspaper Neos Kosmos on 18th May 2015. Reproduced with kind permission, all rights reserved.