this is not just another Greek Island............... this is Crete
.....It’s a very special eclectic mix of ancient sites and monasteries, spectacular mountains and gorges, long sandy beaches and tiny secluded bays, beautiful harbours, elegant buildings, and traditional villages. Its people are fiercely proud of their history of stoic resistance to the many invasions which, together with centuries of surviving harsh living conditions, have formed their characters. They are warm and welcoming to strangers, but unforgiving and implacable enemies. If you smile and attempt the simplest of Greek words, you may be rewarded with the renowned generous Cretan hospitality.
Your holiday can be anything you want. The mountain villages are still much as they were in the past, except that behind the often dilapidated, crumbling walls you may hear the rumble of a washing machine and certainly glimpse the colourful glow of a TV set. But in the plateia, the men still gather in the kafeneion and argue at the top of their voices about anything from Yianni’s new car to the state of the olive harvest, sounding as if they are about to start WW3. Alternatively, the beaches are many and varied, Some are deserted, some have water sports and restaurants.
This is the “Mega Nissi” - the Great Island of ancient times. Homer called it "hospitable, handsome, and fertile", and wrote “Out in the dark blue sea there lies a land called Crete, a rich and lovely land, washed by the waves on every side”. Home of the legendary Minotaur and the Palaces of Knossos, Phaestos, Gortys and Malia (amongst others, possibly still to be discovered), you will still see the faces depicted in the Knossos frescos as you watch the present day Greeks in the evening ‘volta’ around Chania harbour.
Simply driving on the highways of the Apokoronas will be a delightful experience. The roads are lined with dense oleander of many colours and hues, tall thickets of bamboo, and in Spring backed by soaring, snow-capped mountain ranges.
Crete has produced many famous artists and writers, the best known outside Greece being El Greco, was born the Cretan Domenico Theotokopoulos who left the island but the rugged landscape was surely in his mind’s eye when he painted.
The author Kazantzakis, whose books are key to understanding Cretan and Greek character was a proud Cretan. Part of the film ‘Zorba the Greek’ was set in a village near Villa Eleni.
The musician Mikis Theodorakis is of Cretan descent, and Nana Mouskouri was born in Chania.
Traces of the history of WW2 are to be found in many villages of Western Crete. There is an Allied Military cemetery at Souda, and the German equivalent is further west at Maleme, scene of the airborne invasion. The attack forced the evacuation of Allied troops, who first had to cross the intimidating White Mountains to reach the south coast at Chora Sfakion.The book “The Cretan Runner” by Psychoundakis is a vivid account of the resistance and this harrowing feat of endurance. If history interests you, there is a selection of relevant books at Villa Eleni.
The film “Ill Met by Moonlight” featured the capture of General Kreipe by British special forces and fearsome island partisans.
The most famous politician from the island was Venizelos. A revolutionary turned statesman, he became Prime Minister and charismatic leader of Greece in the early C20th. Just as well known in Crete is the leader of the 1770 uprising against the Ottomans, Daskalogiannis, who was skinned alive for his part in the rebellion. In true stoic and courageous Cretan fashion, he is reported to have suffered this fate in silence.
Towns within easy reach of Douliana are Chania and Rethymnon. Both are a fascinating mix of shady, labyrinthine alleys winding between Venetian houses. In Chania, some of the houses still bear the scars of WW2 shells, others are upmarket hotels. Each town has a picturesque harbour where you can relax over a leisurely meal or a simple Greek salad. Further afield a visit to Heraklion Museum and Minoan Knossos is a worthwhile day out for ‘rocks and pots’ enthusiasts.
Arthur Miller, a committed Hellenophile, had a love of Crete above all other parts of Greece. In “The Colossus of Maroussi”, he says
“Crete is something else. Crete is a cradle, an instrument, a vibrating test tube in which a volcanic experiment has been performed. Crete can hush the mind, still the bubble of thought.”
A holiday on this amazing island will reward you with history, beauty and relaxing experiences in equal measure, and like many others before you, you may find that Crete’s special magic will “still the bubble of thought” and capture your heart. As it did ours many years go.