With so much history, great food and beaches to explore, Greece’s largest island has been coveted by conquerors and visitors alike for millennia.
Where to stay
An hour from the airport city of Heraklion, the Iberostar Creta Marine (iberostar.com, from €100/night) is the all-inclusive hotel. It has a private beach and it’s ideally located to explore Northern Crete. Winding paths, palm trees and gardens break up the bungalows, giving the 4* hotel a much smaller feel than it deserves. It has three restaurants, four pools and spa.
What to do
I took advantage of Lottie Watersports’ proximity to take a boat tour of 10 nearby caves and beaches (lottiewatersports.com, €35 per person). Eerie by nature, the noise of waves crashing underwater made me think of Treasure Island and smugglers’ coves.
To get around, use taxi service Cretan Taxi (cretantaxi.com, €7 to Panormo, €24 to Rethymno). The driver will give you his card with his WhatsApp number on for easy return journey pick-up.
Panormo still feels like a quaint village; potted flowers and herbs fill every spare space, adding flashes of colour to pale stone buildings and paved roads. I enjoyed fresh mint tea with Cretan honey at Olive Tree (facebook.com/olivetrees.gr) and delicious stuffed vine leaves at Captain’s House (captainshouse.gr, cost €15 for two courses).
For a larger feel and more variety, I went to Rethymno. The old city was built by the Venetians between the 13th– 17th centuries. Most buildings are still old merchant houses with ornate doors and iron balconies. The Ottomans added minarets and domed rooves to older monasteries.
Through narrow back streets, an unassuming doorway opens to Mr George Hatziparashos’ traditional filo pastry bakery. A family establishment, they sell mainly raw pastry to cafes, but baklava is available for purchase (30 Vernardou, €5-10 per box).
No recommendations needed for restaurants. Just head to the harbour for seafood restaurants and a few metres inland for Greek tavernas and bakeries.
History and mythology are Northern Crete’s eternal appeal,. From when amateur archaeologist Arthur Evans began excavating the Palace of Knossos to today’s private guides (getyourguide.com, cost €140 for two people). The Heraklion Archaeology Museum (heraklionmuseum.gr, entry €10) boasts artefacts such as the Disc of Phaistos and the Harvester Vase, but I got a real sense of the scale of the civilisation at the Palace of Knossos (odysseus.culture.gr, entry €15), 5km south of Heraklion. I was astounded by how advanced the Minoans were in 4000BC, which has Europe’s oldest throne, first working toilet and colourful frescoes.
To hear more about the Palace of Knossos and the Greek myths, click here.