Crete is the largest of the Greek islands, 160 miles (258 kilometres) long and up to 38 miles (61 kilometres) wide. It is believed that Crete was settled before 7000 BC and the Neolithic period. Archaeology enthusiasts can visit the underground Neolithic remains of Festos and Knossos which was the largest Neolithic settlement in Europe. The following Bronze period brought the Minoan civilization, thought to be Europe’s first advanced civilisation, and the legendary King Minos. The palace of Knossos outside Crete's main city Heraklion, is believed to have been the center of Minoan civilization between 3000-1400 BC. It was in these years that the island’s significant development took place making it a centre for marine, trading and art.
Crete’s position between East and West, between Europe and the Sahara, has shaped its geography and its wildlife. The land is varied as mountain ranges rise to more than 8,000 feet, while Europe’s deepest gorge winds for twelve miles through rock walls at times 1,000 feet high. Long sandy beaches, clear blue sea surrounding the island and the picturesque limestone mountains topped with snow until late spring, provide the perfect Mediterranean mixture for all tastes in a holiday.
Crete is a very popular destination for walkers and hikers all year round and it is the southern end of the European E4 hiking route that starts from the Pyrenees. Western Crete is known for its walks and cycling, and it is also here that you can experience the traditional lifestyles of shepherds, olive growers, beekeepers, vintners and fishermen. A tour is recommended to get the most from a visit to the famous Samaria gorge, Europe’s longest gorge at 18 kilometres in length. In Eastern Crete, April is an excellent time for bird watchers and botanists, as well as autumn when the migrating birds are returning to Africa. Far Eastern Crete is said to be the least visited area of the island, and dominated by the Thripti Mountains and the highlands of the Ziros Moors with its thriving shepherd communities. The further East one goes, the more gentle the hills become and it is used as an important agricultural area for bananas, olive trees, vineyards and vegetables throughout the year. The centrally located area around the town of Heraklion is desirable if you are simply seeking the ease of an inclusive beach resort holiday. There are plenty of packages to the four and five star hotels in this area, a short distance from the international airport and with the most connections to the UK.
Known to be one of the healthiest in the world, the Cretan diet consists of fresh fish, fruit, vegetables, cheese, honey, its “sacred” olive oil and of course the popular local wines. When dining in the wide range of casual tavernas, you’ll find the familiar Greek dishes such as moussaka, calamari, yoghurt and honey, but also Cretan culinary traditions such as vegetable pies and mountain lamb. In the larger towns it is also possible to find a choice of international restaurants serving Italian, Chinese and Moroccan amongst other ethnic cuisines.
The island of Crete offers a warm Mediterranean hospitality for all types of leisure interests including beach holidays, walking, hiking, cycling and water sports, set amongst an archaeological history that was truly part of the cradle of western civilisation. Evidence of the richness of Crete’s history can be seen throughout the island in the diversity of the remains of Minoan palaces, Byzantine churches, the towns of Chania and Rethymno with their beautiful Venetian buildings and Turkish minarets.
HOW TO GET THERE
Two airports service Crete: Heraklion and Chania (Hania). Most flights from the UK go to Heraklion, and there are many tour operators offering good value charter flights leaving from London Gatwick, Birmingham, Manchester and other UK airports. Discount airline Easyjet flies to both Heraklion and Chania airports.
From North America, regularly scheduled airlines can be used to connect to charter carriers in the UK or other major European cities.
From Athens' port to Crete, sailing takes about 9 hours on standard ferries (ANEK) and 6 hours by high speed ferry to Heraklion (Minoan Lines) or to Chania (Hellenic Seaways).