Crete is not only Greece’s largest island – it is a culture unto itself. Proudly Greek, Crete has distilled both the character and the beauty of Greece to the elemental essentials. The landscape is by turns both unbelievably lush and thrillingly rugged, and the coastline is dotted with enchanting cosmopolitan beaches and hidden rocky coves. The people have the same uncompromising qualities of their landscape; they are hospitable, dignified, and famously brave and bold. The cuisine is unique in all of Greece, the very expression of the extraordinary landscape – an edible celebration of Cretan life. Even in history Crete offers a twist to the Greek story. Where the Golden Age of Athens is the apex of the ancient history of Greece, in Crete it is the exotic and mysterious Minoan civilization, a Bronze Age culture which was enjoying its peak over a thousand years before the Parthenon was built. This was a fitting place for Zeus to be born – not one but two famous caves vie for the title of birthplace of the king of the gods.
This is an island that offers an extraordinary variety of experience of every kind – adventure, cuisine, luxury, beach life, and history and culture. In fact, the cultural treasures of Crete are famous throughout the world, starting with the must-see Knossos where the world of the Minoans is brought so vividly to life. This grand island was courted and conquered by many civilizations since. Roman ruins, Byzantine monuments, Ottoman mosques, gloriously romantic Venetian fortresses, loggias, and fountains, and beautiful works of the Cretan Renaissance.
For an active holiday filled with adrenaline and awe, Crete offers both mountain tops and subterranean marvels (Crete is a famous caving destination – one of its many surprising secrets). A world famous hike introduces you to just one of many glorious Cretan gorges. Some of Greece’s (and therefore the world’s) most beautiful beaches are in Crete, including secret lagoons, protected islands teeming with unique fauna and flora, and the largest natural palm forest of Europe. The diving here – in pristine waters teeming with sea-life – is excellent.
Lovers of fine dining and culinary adventure will adore this island, with its distinctive culinary heritage and local dishes. So will oenophiles – Crete abounds in vineyards, some of which have been instrumental in reviving ancient grapes. But wine is perhaps not the island’s most famous product – that honor goes to the rich, fragrant green oil from the silvery olive groves, many with ancient trees.
For the most fascinating experience of Crete, the less explored eastern region of Lasithi is a marvellous choice. The nature is unparalleled, from the glorious Mirabello Bay to the pristine secret paradise of Chryssi island. Lasithi rewards the adventurous visitor as much as it rewards the seeker of luxury – this quiet and more remote section of the island is famous for having some of Greece’s most elegant resorts.
“There is a kind of flame in Crete – let us call it “soul” – something more powerful than either life or death. There is pride, obstinacy, valor, and together with these something else inexpressible and imponderable, something which makes you rejoice that you are a human being, and at the same time tremble.”
– Nikos Kazantzakis
12 Facts You Didn’t Know about Crete
Greek traditional customs to see in Crete:
After the grape harvest, the villages of Crete are filled with festivity. The grape marc – leavings of skins and seeds from the wine pressing – is fermented and then distilled to make Crete’s famous spirit Tsikoudia. Very often, stills are rented out in shifts, so every family or group of friends can distill their own bath, enjoying an informal party in the process.
About that tsikoudia – offering a small glass of tsikoudia is standard gesture of hospitality at any time of the day, even before noon. In the morning, usually just one shot will do to satisfy your host.