- Treasure island
- Coast life
- Minoans, myths and moustaches
The birthplace of Minoan civilisation was bound to be beautiful, cultured and rich in history; the island’s Riviera-rivalling beaches, mysterious caves and deeply traditional, hospitable locals are unexpected extras.
Thankfully Theseus killed off the Minotaur (murderous King Minos came to a sticky end not long after), so there’s no reason not to come to this poet-inspiring island. One look at the landscape and it’s clear why it’s the stuff of legends: milky white stretches of sand, dramatic canyons, deep gorges, verdant olive groves, wild flowers, ancient towns and hilltop villages. The imprint of the island’s varied cultured custodians remains today; Minoan palaces sit side by side with Ottoman mosques and Byzantine monasteries and the ruins at Knossos, Malia, Zakros and Phaistos will impress even the most reluctant of historians.
Island life is coloured by centuries-old traditions and values. Cretan men are very proud of their moustakia (moustaches), cultivating sweeping wings above their lips that East London hipsters would kill for. Equally distinctive is the sariki: a black scarf knotted around the head, worn in the mountain villages and by ceremonial dancers. Finally, look out for handmade stivania – leather boots designed for the mountainous terrain, made by master craftsmen.
- Flagging down a taxi in the mountains might prove irksome; ask your hotel to book cabs for you.
- Tipping culture
- Add 10–12 per cent to your restaurant bill in change – if you use a card, the staff won't reap the benefit. Also, should a Cretan take you out, don't insist on paying the bill; what may seem polite may be perceived as rude.
- Siesta and fiesta
- Banks are open 8am–2.30pm Monday–Thursday; 8am–2pm on Friday. When the island heats up, Cretans take a siesta between 3–5pm, meaning lots of shops close then too.
- Packing tips
- An insatiable appetite for facing the tenacious taverna owners; a good map of Crete, binoculars and an Ariadne-style ball of string for navigating the rural roads.
- Recommended reads
- Go highbrow with a copy of Erotokritos by Vitsentzos Kornaros. This 17th-century romantic poem focuses on two lovers, and is widely viewed as a Cretan literary masterpiece. For a more modern (best selling) read try The Island by Victoria Hislop, in which a daughter’s quest to know more about her mother leads her to Crete and the island of Spinalonga, a former leper colony. From lepers to laughs – You are Here by Steven Horsfall features men behaving badly: four likely lads travel to Crete from Britain to try their luck with the ladies.
- Expect the freshest of food and a hands-on approach (literally). To blend in when eating out, order a selection of dishes all at once, put everything in the centre of the table and eat your feast with your fingers.
- Regional specialities
- Try rabbit or beef stifado (stew), boiled goat, lamb chops and meat cooked on the ofto (barbecue); vegetarians should sample dakos (barley rusk soaked in olive oil and scattered with tomato, olives and feta cheese) and stamnagathi (wild greens). Plenty of restaurants serve succulent seafood; try kohli (snails) seasoned with vinegar and rosemary and fresh fish simply dressed with lemon and olive oil. The Cretans turn out delicious cheeses – graviera is mild and nutty, made from sheep’s milk (make like a local and eat it with a pinch of thyme and a drizzle of honey).
- Euro (€).
- Time zone
- Dialling codes
- Greece: +30; Crete: +30
- Do go/don't go
- Crete has a long high season – from mid April to October. The island sizzles and simmers in June and July, with temperatures above 40 degrees, so avoid these months if you're no sun worshipper.
Don't go home without...
getting your five dailies; a task which will be made more than easy by the bounty of fruit and vegetable grown all over the island. Be sure to try some freshly squeezed orange juice from one of the roadside stalls.