Last November we went to Crete for a wedding so we had a chance to wander around and bask in the last rays of sunshine of the year. Coming from a chilly and Christmassy London, Crete felt like paradise. The plane circles around one side of the island just before you land and it’s an incredibly exhilarating experience to fly so low above water. We arrived a day after the end of the season and it was interesting to see the island without its many tourists. If you are after a relaxed getaway and happy in 20-ish degrees then Crete is a great (and affordable) destination.
Upon landing we rushed to the car rental office to beat our friends to it. We managed to get a VW Golf from Goldcar (through a third party website) for about 30 euros for our whole trip (the full price should have been double but the gentleman at the office was nice enough not to charge us the typical hidden fee). Upon reuniting with our friends we set for our accommodation. Although the road from Heraklion to Agios Nikolaos is a highway it winds like a snake hugging the mountains. It might have been one of the most satisfying drives of my life. Maybe because there were no speed cameras around – not that we were going above the speed limit anyway…
The island of Crete has many beautiful spots but we stayed in Agios Nikolaos, a gorgeous coastal town with a picturesque harbour. In all honesty, it looked more stunning in the pictures I came across on Pinterest but if you are in the marina you won’t get the same views as it’s pretty flat. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a lovely town with a very relaxed atmosphere and plenty of restaurants around the harbour where you can just sit and watch the day slowly pass by. Once we got bored of doing just that, we had a wander around the main street for some window shopping and got lost in the quieter yet surprisingly beautiful side streets.
The nature is truly stunning all around the island, even within the residential areas.
Head inland for the places with a more youthful vibe. Yes.
Crystal blue sea
In November the breeze is gentle and the sun is shy but warm enough for an energetic swim in the sea followed by an iced coffee on the beach. It’s by far one of the most tranquil beaches I’ve ever been to, stunningly surrounded in the distance by rugged mountains.
Crystal clear blue waters allow you to catch a glimpse of the tiny fish swimming around in banks before they rush away. Once in a while you’ll see a white boat (or even a luxury yacht) lazily floating in the distance. I don’t know about you guys but those fish scared the crap out of me.
There are also a couple of famous pink beaches so make sure you go see them if you have time.
On one of the days we went to the Knossos Palace – where the Minotaur’s legend was born – which is about a stone throw away from Heraklion. I will admit – I had no expectations when we went there however I found it quite enjoyable; it’s hard to grasp just how advanced the Minoans were as a civilisation. We booked the English tour – which you should do too or otherwise those lumps of rocks will make no sense.
The rugged desert landscape sits in stark in contrast with the surrounding deep-blue sea, making Crete a truly breathtaking island. If you’re not of the active bunch or if you travel out of season like us then hiring a car and driving around is a great way to pass the time. Otherwise it’s a hiker’s paradise with many unspoilt trails to choose from. Some treks are closed off season, including the popular Samaria Gorge so it’s worth checking before you book your flights.
Other ways to pass the time
Crete relies on tourism so there are plenty of activities to cater for everyone most of which unfortunately don’t run off season. Out of the ones that caught my eye were various types of yoga classes and even yoga retreats, horse riding and elaborate spa packages.
Finding good vegetarian food was shockingly difficult. I’ve been told that Crete is self-sustainable so winter means there are no veggies and most dishes are fish based. But I wasn’t about to give up that easily and after endless google searches and going from place to place, I did find some yummy food. Here‘s a list of dishes that are luckily meat free.
In the mornings we went to Milo Bakery for their fresh out of the oven pastries and iced Greek coffee. For breakfast on the go of my favourite was the Spanakopita (spinach pie) or creamy Greek yogurt with nuts and honey. On other days we had the Dakos which is similar to a bruschetta but uniquely Cretan.
I had a few delicious meals at Karnagio (ironically it’s a restaurant known for its meat dishes) but I made my own by ordering a variety of different meze. I really enjoyed Gigantes (white giant beans in tomato sauce, so soft they melt in your mouth), Melitzanosalata (aubergine dip) and the bitter Stamnagathi salad (wild chicory that grows mainly in Crete). I had a souvlaki which was served to me on a suspended skewer above a plate of chips and mushrooms allowing the meat juice to drip onto the side. It was the best presented dish I’ve ever had. I can’t find the pictures I took of it but some kindred spirit posted one here. The other great thing about the restaurant was that we got a plate of fruits on the house at the end of our dinner. I also had a really good Kleftiko – if you’re not vegetarian definitely give it a try.
For dessert, we tried the sweet, honey soaked Diples (Fried Turnovers), Kataif, Baklava or Kaltsoúnia. Crete takes great pride in it’s olive oil and thyme honey, both of which are locally sourced and found in most of their pastries.
If I were to go back to Crete I would definitely go towards the end of the season but earlier than November so that I could still enjoy the calmness after the hot summer but could also try more of the delicious Greek cuisine.
Have you been to Crete or any of the gorgeous Greek islands? What are your favourite things about them?