From sleepy mountain villages to quaint, vibrant towns; from long sandy beaches with crystalline seas, water sports, and beach-bar-boogie to secluded, rocky bays, steep gorges and ravines; from ancient monuments to byzantine monasteries; from museum-hopping to all night partying… In Crete, variety is, indeed, the spice of life.
Whether you are a nature lover or a history buff; an adrenaline junkie, a foodie or a party animal, you’ll find that life on Greece’s largest island, and Europe’s most southern post, is supremely exciting and never dull. In fact, you’ll be spoilt for choice; so read on for what you need to know especially if travelling to Crete for the first time.
When to go to Crete
Boasting a mild Mediterranean climate, with balmy temperatures and lots of sunshine throughout the year, Crete looks and feels gorgeous no matter the season. Beach fans travelling to Crete are advised to go between May and October (though most likely than not, one can still pleasantly swim in November); while lovers of nature and history aficionados should opt for late autumn or spring when the high season tourist hordes are absent.
Tip: Take some time off from the scorching summer heat on the coast by heading to a Cretan mountain village where temperatures would be about five degrees cooler.
How to get to Crete
By Air: From May through mid-October there are direct charter flights from most major European cities to Chania and Heraklion. Travelling to Crete from North America means that you’ll need to connect via a European gateway city, such as Paris, Amsterdam or Frankfurt and sometimes again in Athens. There is also a small airport in Sitia which receives a handful of domestic and summertime charter flights from northern Europe.
By Sea: As it is both convenient and scenic, lots of travellers opt to fly to Athens and then take the ferry from Piraeus, the port serving the Greek capital. There is at least one daily departure from Piraeus to Heraklion and Chania year-round and several per day in the summer. There are also ports in Sitia in the east and Kissamos in the west, which have slow-ferry routes. Crete is well connected to the other islands with frequent departures to (and from) the Cyclades -Santorini, Mykonos, Milos, Anafi, Paros, Naxos and Ios– as well as Kasos, Karpathos, Chalki and Rhodes in the Dodecanese. Moreover there’s direct service to Kythira and Gythio from Kissamos in western Crete.
Tip: In the high season, especially if you’re bringing a car, make sure to book well in advance.
How to move around Crete
By Car : The best way to explore Crete and her manifold delights, is by renting a car. Rental prices vary, but it should be something like 30 euros/day for a small car.
By Bus: Buses are quite easy to use and cheap in Crete. Distances though are long and bus trips can be taxing. Also buses don’t reach many of the smaller sites.
By Bicycle: Bicycles are gaining in popularity in Crete. They are available for rent in Chania, Heraklion or Rethymno -and a great way to discover these cities. Travel agencies are also putting together organised cycling tours around the island.
Tip: Depending on the bike, prices range from €10 to €30 per day, while weekly rentals are more economical.
Where to stay in Crete
Travelling to Crete is all about swimming -and playing- in postcard perfect beaches; exploring ancient ruins; strolling through beautiful old towns; sampling delicious food and wine; admiring -or engaging with- the striking landscape; partaking in age old rituals and making lifetime friends with the proud, welcoming locals.
So the best thing to do is base yourselves in a place that combines natural beauty with proximity to many of the attractions. Merely 9 klm west of the must visit, town of Chania, Agia Marina -Platanias is just that spot: A 20 km long, action packed, golden sandy beach with organised, well tended facilities and abundant water sports, it blends a luscious scenery with picturesque views over the island of Thodorou – the abode of the famous Cretan Kri-Kri – and a host of world class restaurants, quaint local tavernas as well as mythic nightlife.
This is the home of the Oscar Suites & Village: A family style, family run -cosy, albeit stylish green hotel– offering a wealth of accommodation options to suit different party sizes, preferences and needs: From the spacious studios, one or two bedroom apartments, all sporting private balconies with a garden, pool or mountain view, state of the art amenities, as well as fully equipped kitchenettes; to the luxurious sea view suite featuring its very own sizeable terrace with a Jacuzzi bathtub and breathtaking sea vistas; pure indulgence is what to expect at the Oscar Suites & Village.
Tip: Should you be travelling to Crete with your offspring, bear in mind that each one of the two swimming pools at the Oscar Suites & Village features a children’s pool on the side to keep younger guests happy and entertained. Which leaves you room to relax and unwind as you work on your tan, catch up on your reading or enjoy a cocktail -or two- at the pool bar, in-between laps.
What to do in Crete
A vibrant mosaic of enticing sights and smells, history, contemporary culture and age old traditions, Crete leaves none of its visitors untouched. There are so many things to see and do while travelling to Crete, and what follows is just a small sample.
- Visit Kournas lake to watch rare striped terrapins floating on the water.
- Wander through Chania’s old town, to trace back history in its Renaissance mansions, Turkish bathhouses, Venetian fortresses, and Byzantine remnants.
- Take a slice of Crete back home: Buy local gruyere at the municipal, shape crossed market in Chania (a magnificent site in its own right); or order your made to measure traditional stivania boots at the old town’s market district.
- Sample traditional meze (tapas) in one of Chania’s many taverns; or for more sophisticated, international fare try the culinary delights at the Valentino pasta & grill restaurant. Then you might as well dance off those calories on the sands (and the clubs) of Agia Marina- Platanias beach, a few meters away!
- Get a taste of real Cretan life by heading into the island’s mountainous villages. Untouched by mass development and tourism, these are the cornerstone of the unique Cretan culture and identity. Rub shoulders with the locals in cafeneia (coffee houses), listen to their stories, watch them as they go about their daily chores (tending to sheep is quite different from wearing a suit and a tie to your office!); look for musicians in impromptu live jams with folk instruments and if you’re lucky get invited into a traditional wedding or christening, to experience an all night dancing, eating and drinking fiesta.