This summer was my first time in Crete, and I think it’s safe to say it’s my favorite Greek island so far. My boyfriend and I have had a running joke the last month or so about how we’re just going to pack up and move to Crete (with Chicago winter on the way I’m willing to move sooner than later). The first thing that immediately stood out to me upon arrival was that the island is GREEN. Coming from the Cyclades, which are considered dry islands, seeing greenery was a pleasant surprise. The landscape in Crete is unlike any other Greek island that I’ve been to. Mountains, canyons, palm trees, farms, just beauty all around. The island is also not as windy as the Cyclades islands, so the likelihood of getting what I call “sand blasted” (this occurs when the wind is so strong that it causes the sand to lift up off the ground and into your eyes, mouth, hair, etc.) is slim to none. Outside of all that, the food and people in Crete were by far the most memorable. Cretan food is known to be the best of the Greek cuisine, and after experiencing it, I see what the hype is all about. The locals on the island were so welcoming and hospitable, always offering a shot of Raki (the Cretan Spirit made from the residue of a wine-press) and fresh fruits for you to enjoy. Warning: Raki is insanely strong, and it’s rude to not finish it (yep – you gotta suck it up). I was lucky enough to spend time in two of the larger cities on the island, Rethymno and Chania.
We loved Arkoudaina Garden so much, we ate there two nights in a row. It’s a bit of a hike out in the middle of nowhere, but I promise it’s worth it. A little taverna built on a farm, not only will you get to enjoy the excellent food, but you’ll get to hang out with the farm animals as well (if you want to). Just ask George, the owner, and he’ll introduce you to his horse, Marco, and all the other little animals that he has out in the back. Such an amazing experience!
Crete actually has a ton of Italian influence, and the Italian food on the island is not to be missed. Head to dinner (or lunch, or any meal really – pasta knows no time limits), at Don Rosario. It’s in a weird spot off a major road, but don’t let that discourage you from going. The owner is an Italian from Sicily, so you know you’re getting the real deal.
The nightlight is extremely lively in both Rethymno and Chania, so there are a variety of options depending on what you’re in the mood for. For a night out in Chania Town, Safe as Milk Bar is a great spot with delicious cocktails. Kibar is another place I loved – it’s a monastery turned into a bar, super cool. In Rethymno, I highly recommend having a cocktail at Entasis.
We stayed in the old town at Rethymno, so the majority of the shopping I did was at the market. You’ll find great deals on jewelry, fur, and leather goods here (Good to know: it’s cheaper than Athens, and they have the same items you’ll find at the Athens flea). In Chania, I’d recommend heading to the old town and walking around the beautiful, Venetian inspired streets. There you’ll find Georgina Skalidi, a Greek designer who makes handbags in unique shapes, sizes & textures, and Ekaterini for handmade jewelry.
Preveli has to be the most unbelievable beach I’ve ever seen. The beach is at the cusp of where a creek meets the sea, and there is a path you can walk up along the creek amidst a palm tree forest. I was lucky enough to spend my last day on the islands at this beach. On your way to the beach, stop at the Moni Preveli Monastery to soak in the scenery and have a spiritual moment.
Head to Elafonisi beach to experience pinkish-beige sand and maybe spot a sea turtle or two (if that’s not reason enough, it’s also rated one of the top 25 beaches in the world). Other must-see beaches include Falassarna and Plakias.
Take a walk around the Old Port in Chania, it’s incredibly charming and super lively in the summer, with restaurants and bars packed with people enjoying the beautiful views of the historical buildings facing the sea.