Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands.
Here, the visitor can admire the remnants of brilliant civilizations ( Crete was once the center of the Minoan civilization (c. 2700–1420 BC), which is currently regarded as the earliest recorded civilization in Europe ), explore glorious beaches, impressive mountainscapes, fertile valleys and steep gorges, and become part of the island’s rich gastronomic culture.
History oozes out of every orifice of this ancient island – whether strolling around the old Venetian town of Chania with its magnificent fortress and lighthouse standing guard over the bay, or exploring the beautiful nearby port of Souda, with its marvellous Archaeological Museum housed in a 16th-century Venetian church and its endless side streets overflowing with craft shops and eclectic architecture reflecting myriad epochs.
Also, you can take a cultural safari around the Palace of Knossos, with its colourful frescoes, famous architecture and Minoan antiquities. Or head back even further in time, to Idaion Antro – the cave where, according to mythology, Zeus spent his childhood.
The extraordinary Cretaquarium, home to hundreds of marine species, opens up a wealth of other oceanic mysteries and marvels.
One of the most famous places to see on Crete is the Samaria Gorge, Europe’s largest gorge. This National Park is 18kms long with unbelievable natural beauty. The walk through Samaria National Park is 13 km long, but one has to walk another three kilometres to Agia Roumeli from the park exit, making the hike 16 km long. The most famous part of the gorge is the stretch known as the Gates (or, albeit incorrectly, as “Iron Gates”), where the sides of the gorge close in to a width of only four meters and soar up to a height of almost 300 meters (1,000 feet). The gorge is open for hiking from May through October.
And if that all sound far too active, there’s always the island’s endless array of sands, from Falassarna in the west to Vai in the east, complete with its exotic forest of rusling palm trees.
At Chania, you can bike through Venetian architecture to colourful markets awash with the natural bounty of Crete – a kaleidoscopic array of virgin olive oils, fruits, meats, vegetables and legumes. Or, for the ultimate cultural immersion, there is Rethymno’s colourful carnival.
Every year in Rethymno, for almost a whole month, the city plays host to a succession of fun-filled celebrations, bringing together locals and visitors who participate in this carnival because they love to enjoy every moment of their lives. You will see groups of people sitting together in traditional cafés (kafeneia) drinking “tsikoudiá” (raki), tasting Cretan titbits and thinking up “mantinádes” (folk couplet songs) on the spot.
The whole town becomes one big party; people work together in order to organise all the festivities that take place in Rethymno and the surrounding areas. The most important work is done by volunteers, people of all ages who freely contribute their efforts and come up with ever more innovative ideas for the festivities because of their passion for the city’s carnival. Each year the carnival celebrations has a different theme, the element on which the main theatrical act of the dance groups will be based.
What you can not avoid when visiting Crete is the Greek traditional cuisine. Tzatziki, Suvlaki or Gyros, are just a part of the menu on which the list is, of course, the famous Greek salad. There is a great chance you will eat it every day because it will be the best Greek salad you’ve ever tried.