This year I have been fortunate enough to spend 9 months living on the Greek island of Crete. This island is stunning and life on the island is quite an eye-opening experience. I stayed in a small village called Alcala; in which aside from a number of large hotels was pretty remote and mainly comprised of a handful of Greek tavernas, grocery stores and very quaint population. The mix of tradition and modern life in Crete was astounding; and over time you just start to expect the unexpected.
Such as, whilst sipping on a drink at your local cocktail bar then ….wait a minute what’s that noise? Oh its just the local farmers in full traditional wears marching down the road on a horse and cart.
Or, omg what time is it? That cannot be my alarm…..Oh no, its the early morning Chicken sellers. Yes live Chickens being sold from the back of a truck via an extremely load tannoy around 7am.
You also see a great number of traditional Greek widows. These incredibly intriguing ladies are dressed in black head to toe; this being to mark respect and mourning for their late partner. You will find these ladies everywhere working extremely hard farming and fruit selling daily with no sign of slowing down way in to their 80s….This, right alongside the modern day teenager casually walking on by with their smartphones, designer bags & trainers.
The contrast is quite striking.
However as a city girl I cant help but drawn to shopping, food and (as you cannot find them in London) beaches. Aside from the afore mentioned traditions Crete has a lot of modern day culture in the main towns and cities. Heraklion the capital of the island has the best shopping along with Chania and Agios Nikalous; though as a whole fashion shopping on this island is pretty limited in my opinion. Saying that as a beauty junkie the sight of Mac and Sephora stores in the capital definitely kept me occupied; and if you haven’t heard of the Hondas centre before it is definitely worth a peak for all your beauty buys.
Food. I love food; and I have to say my biggest food revelation in Crete was Cheese Saganaki. Omg I drawl even thinking about it. This is a traditional Cretan fried cheese. Ok sounds abit strange but if you get a chance to visit the island please, please, please try it. You can find it in many Cretan tavernas across the island and each family/taverna having their own signature style incorporating cheese type and various accompaniments. I personally found the sesame seed coated variety with a drizzle of homemade honey to be my favourite.
Gyros is another must try and really popular food in Crete. You can pick this up pretty much anywhere and anytime at pretty affordable prices. Options tend to be Chicken or Lamb in Souvlaki or standard Gyros style; which I can best describe as similar to ‘Doner kebab’.
Cretans are amazing at creating mouth-watering salads…. As you could imagine, with the copious amount of olive oil and fresh produce on offer. They can also whip up some amazing meat dishes my favourite being Kleftiko. This slow cooked lamb dish offers a mixture of meat chunks and hearty veg in a rich tomato based sauce; topped with feta cheese. Yum!
In terms of beaches Crete has plenty. I was based in the municipality of Heraklion which is quite central in location. The best beaches were situated on either the east or west coast which could be up to a 4hour drive away. As a result I wasn’t able to visit them all. However of those I was able explore; the beaches of Chrissi Island and Matala stood out a mile.
Matala due to its hippy-cool vibe attracting many to its annual beach festivals and for its chilled out vibe. Matala is a small laid back town full of artists and creative types. The beach itself is set between a huge roman cemetery on the east and a laid back reggae bar & restaurant on the west, both built into the surrounding cliffs.
Chrissi island is essentially a deserted island just off the south coast of Crete. You reach there by small charter boats and are then free to explore. This island was incredible, with some of the clearest waters I’ve seen. This island can get really busy so I would avoid it during peak summer months.
Crete has been a great home for me this year and has provided me with many lasting memories. I have loved the mix of old and new and found it to be a very safe and friendly place. My overall verdict of the island is that. It is definitely worth a visit. Though hiring a car is a must, as it is actually quite a large island and many places of interest are quite spread out. There is a high number of stray dogs and cats on the island as many do not see them as pets; so if these animals bother you I would recommend you avoid the smaller towns. The airport at Heraklion is awful so when departing either book the airport lounge or wait as long as you possibly can before going into the departure lounge. There is absolutely nothing there.
Next year I will be heading to the Canary Islands in Spain to live in Tenerife.
I cannot wait.
Sun, Sea and Sangria here I come!