If you have not me personally you may not know of my undying love of the island of Crete but I am about to announce it to the world. Crete is hands down my favorite island in Europe. When people think islands in Europe I am not sure that Crete is always a top contender but I absolutely love it. From beautiful beaches, one of the most stunning bays in all the world, hiking the Samaria Gorge, the food and the sites I would happily live here; actually one of my goals is to save enough money to buy property on this island. Crete is my dream home.
There is so much to do on Crete and the people who visit just Chania or Heraklion and Knossos miss out on all the island has to offer. When I first visited Crete I actually spent a month there studying (there is a reason I chose to study Classical Archaeology); we were based in Rethymno, the third largest city on Crete. It is exactly ½ way between Chania and Heraklion so it makes a great base for exploring the island. Rethymno is an amazing place because the beach is right there, there is great food in the town and you can really see the different influences on this city. There are Turkish buildings, a Venetian fortress and there is also WWII history as well.
One of the coolest things I did while in Crete was hike the Samaria Gorge (I am not really a hiker but I survived). This hike was 16 kilometers or 10 miles long. We started by descendingand walking down switchbacks for about an hour and then finally the trail leveled out. From there it was just a straight shot through the gorge, accompanied with dizzy heights of stone surrounding us and wild Cretan mountain goats leaping nimbly across the stone. When you finally exit the gorge there is still a 3km walk to the town of Agia Roumeli which is a small town almost completely cut off from the rest of Crete. It is accessible only through the gorge and the ferry.
Crete is also famous for its archaeology and perhaps the most well known site is the city of Knossos, dating back to 1700 BC, and it is considered the oldest city in Europe. Knossos is an interesting site however, because when it was excavated by Sir Arthur Evans in the late 1800s not only did he dig it up but he also decided to redecorate. Sir Arthur Evans certainly used his imagination when he reconstructed the palace to some degree and what you see at the site it not necessarily accurate or even ancient. Knossos is not my favorite site in Crete simply for this fact. (Archaeology Snob obviously) There are so many wonderful Minoan ruins all over Crete to visit instead. My favorite is Phaistos which is located in Southern Crete and while it is not necessarily as impressive as Knossos, the ruins are real and do date back to 1700 BC, so considering what is left that is rather impressive.
Crete also has wonderful beaches and the Bay of Balos is considered one of the most beautiful bays in the world. Unfortunately I have not seen it myself due to extenuating circumstances involving an allergic reaction (not mine!) but all my friends informed me that I missed out. Just another reason to go back!
Crete also has fantastic food; they are famous for that Mediterranean diet that allows them all to have insanely long lives. Perhaps my favorite dish from Crete is Dakos. Dakos is a salad comprised of a barley husk that has been saturated in tomatoes and olive oil and then topped with feta and oregano. I miss that meal so much!
Crete is my dream, whenever people talk about Europe I find someway to bring Crete up. It is just such a fantastic island and if you have a chance you should not hesitate to go. Spend a month there, rent a car and drive the island, it will be worth it, I promise!