A page is insufficient to describe Crete. Crete – a tiny island to the south of Greece perhaps loses out in fame to Santorini – another Greek island highlighted in almost all popular media as one of the top 10 travel destinations in 2015. But that’s what makes Crete so special! The privacy it offers translates into an untainted virginity – with not many people to share the great beaches with.
A hospitality that makes you feel like a king. The sense of privacy you enjoy in beaches in the south of the island, and even in east, is something that I learnt draws even the likes of Leonardo di Caprio. The rule I followed in Crete was almost always avoid the big cities and go for the smaller ones – and enjoy a beach almost to yourself.
Among the beaches I went to, and would recommend – most would definitely be in south of the island where few go. I think it almost a must to have a car to reach these beaches and be ready to commute not the best roads to reach pristine beaches like the Preveli lake, Triopetra or Agious Pavlos.
But what stood out for me in Crete? For a history buff like me, certainly it was the Minoan civilization. I began my exploration with a visit to Knossos which is the largest archaeological site of the Minoan civilization – the Knossos palace, and is considered as Europe’s oldest city. My dialogue with the civilization began with a passionate Cretan tour guide, a woman in her early 50s, who said she was so proud to be associated with Europe’s oldest civilization that it motivated her to become a tour guide and even keep her hair curly – just like how fashionable Minoan women kept their hair at that time.
The tour guide also told us how her grand-father knew Sir Arthur Evans, who first undertook excavations in Knossos.
An equally riveting tale was how just before the Nazis came to occupy Crete in the second world war – Sir Arthur Evans had each artifact distributed among the various families around Knossos. So when the Germans asked him for the remains of the civilization, Sir Evans said that he had none – and they could search for themselves to find them. And as planned, the Nazis indeed found nothing! After the conclusion of the war, right after the Nazis left, families brought back each of the artifacts which are now restored either in Knosos or in the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion. The museum was naturally then my next destination. The museum has the best collection of Minoan art and civilization and stands among the greatest Greek museums in the world.
Another recommendation is to visit the hippie village of Matala. I remember this village as I heard the Indian sitar in the background of the waves, in a voice that blended Indian and English music almost naturally. Matala for me had everything: a beach, a unique identity and a history – for towards the end of the beach you can see caves that were created in the Neolithic age, where people lived. What’s interesting is that these caves were occupied by the hippies in the 1960s. I could almost appreciate their logic. The caves give you a great view of the sea, a seat under the moonlight and a sense of connection with the human civilization in a very serene way. The feeling I got was I am here in a cave – where people lived thousands of years ago, and were able to hear the soothing sounds of waves brushing past the beach. It made me feel so trivial yet part of something so bigger than me – nature and the realization of the triviality of one single life.
My Cretan trip ofcourse would be incomplete without the description of the Cretan cuisine. My favourite was the Cretan lamb slow cooked in grape leaves. Cretan lamb is a must try, especially given how succulent and tasty it is. Matala in particular, stands to be a fishing village and so a plate of fish is also something to indulge into. My last of Crete ended with a plate of Dakos (a dish made of Cretan bread, feta cheese, tomatoes and olive oil) and glass of white Cretan wine on the moonlight shores of Matala – debating whether it made sense to be a hippie after all or run to the concrete jungles of civilization to make a living.