Greek islands: Head south to find the real Crete

Greek islands: Head south to find the real Crete

For most visitors to Crete, holidays on the island are about the more developed north coast – Heraklion, Rethymnon and Aghios Nikolaos spring to mind.

But Crete has much more than the packed beaches, busy bars and touristy restaurants that have come to characterise the northeast.

Crete is one of the largest Greek islands, and offers amazing landscapes, sandy beaches and spectacular ruins – it’s the ideal holiday destination for those who want an authentic taste of Greece.

Thomas Cook and Manos product manager Richard Spratt points to Almirida as an example of a resort offering a quieter, traditional Greek experience.

“With just a couple of beachside tavernas, this pretty resort combines an unhurried pace of life with rural Mediterranean charm. After a Greek feast, the only thing to do is to sit back, take it easy with a glass of ouzo and listen to the waves lapping the shore.”

Escape to the snowy White Mountains (‘Lefka Ori‘) that run along the spine of the island and rise in the west or take a boat trip on the island’s only freshwater lake at Kournas. Or lose yourself in the 10 mile-long Samarian Gorge, one of Europe’s greatest natural wonders and part of the Samarian National Park.

If you want to get away from it all, head west towards Chania or towards the town and villages of the south coast that don’t connect easily with the highways and are therefore less crowded in summer.

This means you’re likely to get that secluded spot on the beach or stumble across a traditional taverna where egg and chips don’t feature on the menu.

The east also offers untouched beauty. Sitia, the main town on the eastern edge of the island, has a Latin feel to it, perhaps because so many Italians populate it in summer, but it never feels too touristy.

Kato Zakros on the extreme east coast is a group of small tavernas, some renting out rooms, around the quiet beach, which makes for a relaxing break.

Islands of Greece sales and marketing manager Zoe Cornwall said: “Kato Zakros is unspoilt because it has only a minor road to get you there, resulting in a lovely place to stay. There are some great walking routes and ruins to explore – the Palace of Zakros is fascinating.”

Cornwall also recommends Paleohora on the other side of the south coast. “The beach is wonderful, the harbour is a great place to hang out and you are away from the hustle and bustle with small tavernas serving authentic Cretan food.”

However, while the area holds the charms of an undiscovered hideaway, this isn’t reflected in the accommodation you can find there. Both First Choice and Thomson have a fantastic offering for this summer.

First Choice offers family activity holidays at the Atlantica Creta Paradise, with refurbished facilities and a great beachfront location, while Thomson features the Minoa Palace as a one of its key Platinum properties in Crete.

Thomson and First Choice general manager for short and mid-haul product Alex Loftus said. “Everybody I know who has come back from the Chania region of Crete has done so with a glowing report and a tan to match.

“While the history, culture and great beaches on offer are what you’d associate with Crete, Chania has the added attraction of being off the beaten track.”

Olympic Holidays is reporting strong sales for Crete this summer, with clients showing interest in the quieter spots with luxury accommodation.

Commercial director Photis Lambrianides said: “Elounda has a superb location in the east of the island, away from the busy resorts. It has developed its own luxury infrastructure and is the resort the others follow.”

He added: “Crete is different to the other Greek islands. Being considerably larger, it’s easy to get away from the crowds and there’s lots for culture lovers on an island steeped in history.”

Lambrianides recommends the Porto Platanias Beach Hotel in Chania. This westerly town has historically seen little action from developers as it is some distance to the main archaeological sites and its beaches are pebbly rather than sandy. But if you are more solace seeker than sandcastle maker, this is the place to go.

The majestic mountains take your breath away and strolling along the unpopulated beach can make you feel pleased you didn’t book a two-week package in overflowing Aghios Nikolaos.

Cosmos Tourama’s itinerary satisfies those wanting the best of both worlds. Its Leisurely Crete trip includes four nights in Aghios Nikolaos and Rethymnon and the sights at Knossos and Heraklion museum.

It also takes clients to Chania and Crete’s only lake, Lake Kournas, set in the hill slopes near Yioryoupoli outside Rethymnon.

The tour also visits Lassithi Plateau, set inland off the eastern coast and accessed via quiet Neapoli, and famous for its white clothed windmills that irrigate the plain.

Sunvil has various locations for solace seekers, away from the main tourist areas. Director Dudley der Parthog said: “The village of Panormos to the east, 20 minutes past Rethymnon, offers an off-the-beaten-track escape – it has a traditional Greek village atmosphere but foreign tourism is still low key and there is only one hotel.

“To the southwest, across the mountains from Chania, lies Loutro, accessible only by boat or foot. It’s exceptionally pretty and guarded by steep mountains. We also offer Mochlos and Istron on the east coast.”

So the next time a client says they’ve done Crete, don’t move on. The chances are, they haven’t done Crete properly at all.

Crete photos from flickr
More photos or video tagged with Crete on Flickr

Sample product

Olympic Holidays offers seven nights in Panormos in June from £571, twin-share, at the self-catering Idili apartments. The price includes return flights from Gatwick and transfers. Tel: 0844 499 44498

Cosmos Tourama‘s Leisurely Crete package leads in at £635 for eight days’ half-board. The price includes return flights from Gatwick, Birmingham or Manchester. Tel: 0871 423 84728

Manos offers seven nights at the three-star Almirida Beach hotel in Almirida from £443, twin-share, bed and breakfast. The price includes flights from Gatwick on May 5. Tel: 01273 427 0008

First Choice offers seven nights’all-inclusive at the Sun Creta Paradise from £1,068, twin-share, departing from Gatwick on the May 12.  Tel: 0871 200 44558


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