In Crete, food is more than just a necessity, it’s a way of life. Wherever you stay on the island, you’ll be spoilt for choice whenever mealtimes come around, so be sure to pack your appetite. Rustic, rich and flavourful, traditional Cretan cuisine combines delicate herbs and dressings with free range meats and freshly caught seafood. As with the majority of Mediterranean cooking, the exact ingredients used will vary depending on the season, but whatever time of year you visit, be sure to sample the local olive oil – it’s some of the best in the world.
Away from the main tourist track, pay a visit to one of the island’s many hidden villages for a real insight into Cretan culture. Spend an afternoon watching the locals at work making traditional handicrafts, stopping off at a kafeneia (coffee house) for refreshments. If you’re lucky, you might catch a group of musicians taking part in a jam session. Stringed wooden instruments such as the lyre are often used to accompany traditional folk dances, as well as pan pipes and aulos, a type of flute.
Greece is full of ancient architecture and Crete is no different. There’s the evocative Palace of Knossos which was first discovered in 1878 and excavated again in 1900 by British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans. Situated in a 1930s Bauhaus building, Heraklion Archaeological Museum is another highlight, and is one of the largest historical museums in Greece. Spanning across two storeys, the collection includes over 5,000 artefacts, dating as far back as the Neolithic period.
Rethymno, Crete’s Venetian-Ottoman quarter, is one of Crete’s most enchanting areas. If you’re in the mood for culture, there’s a Paleontological Museum, an Archaeological Museum, and a Museum of Contemporary Art, as well as a Historical and Folk Art Museum, housed inside a beautiful 17thcentury Venetian mansion. When you’ve got your culture fix, head to the harbour for a relaxing evening stroll, before enjoying a drink at one of the waterside tavernas.
One of the biggest and most important museums in Greece, Herkalion Archaeological museum is a must for any holiday to Crete. Its extensive collection features over 5,500 artefacts from Cretan history and prehistory, spanning from the Neolithic period to Roman times. Built between 1937 and 1940, the two storey museum houses no less than 27 galleries, including exhibitions of traditional Minoan art, sculpture and artefacts.
With a host of fascinating museums, a beautiful Venetian harbour, and an impressive 15th century fortress, Rethymno is an absolute delight and a must for ay first-time visit to Crete. Spend some time exploring the Archaeological Museum and Paleontological Museum – keep an eye out for the fossilised skeleton of a dwarf Cretan elephant – before paying a visit to Agios Spyridon Church. Situated behind the fortress, built right into the cliff, this tiny Byzantine chapel is about as atmospheric as it gets.
A former leper colony, Spinalonga Island is a truly fascinating site. Because of its remote location off the northern tip of the peninsula, the island was used as a quarantine zone during the 1900s, when as many as 1,000 sufferers were housed there in squalid living conditions. Although the last patient left the island in 1957, today, the area remains a popular tourist attraction thanks to its prominence in Victoria Hislop’s 2005 bestseller, The Island. To get there, catch the ferry from Elounda to Dante’s Gate, and make your way through the 20-metre-long tunnel on to the ruins of the main hospital site, disinfection room and cemetery.
When you book a holiday to Crete, be sure to take advantage of the many local specialities on offer. The island is filled with traditional eateries and tavernas, each with their own delicacies to try. Hearty pre-cooked stews and casseroles (mayirefta) are part of the Cretan staple diet – the most popular being moussaka, pastitsio (layered macaroni and minced lamb) and yemista (stuffed roasted vegetables). Orektika (appetisers cooked to order) are typically served hot or cold, and popular dishes include melitzanosalata, a dip made from roasted aubergine and locally produced olive oil, lightly fried whitebait, and tzatziki, a fragrant combination of yoghurt, herbs and garlic.
In the summer, temperatures in Crete are usually in the mid-high 30s, with around 12 hours of sunshine each day and little or no rainfall. During the spring and autumn, the weather will be cooler, so expect anything from late teens to temperatures in the mid-20s.
If you are a British citizen, you don’t need a visa to enter Greece but you must have a valid passport. For the latest information on European travel regulations, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/greece/entry-requirements.
In Crete, the currency is the Euro (EUR).
The main langauge spoken in Crete is Greek.