If you think Crete, don’t be put off by what you may see about big all inclusive hotels on the beach, crowds of youngsters partying into the early hours, and lots and lots of coach tours. There is, unfortunately, all of that.
But in the west of the island, away from the big towns of Chania and Rethymno, there is a different world. In our first visit here, nearly ten years ago, we couldn’t believe driving along the coast, then coming across the most amazingly fertile and green region. Turns out this is the Apokoronas, spreading out over 50 villages from east of the city of Chania towards west of Rethymno and stretching from the foothills of the White Mountains to the Mediterranean sea.
Crete is like no other island in the Mediterranean, juxtaposing vivid blue seas and high mountains. There are deep rocky gorges and weather scarred hilltops where you can see the silky grey olive groves march up otherwise barren hillsides in regimented lines. On the lower slopes orchards of orange trees vivid oranges and yellows contrast with the deep green foliage. And their heady scent is just intoxicating – a joy to walk in!
There are walks ranging from a couple of hours stroll on the flat to a full day out climbing tracks into the foothills of the White Mountains. We climbed from the tiny village of Kares into a quite magical experience climbing around a headland to come across the stone shelters used by shepherds (mitatas) and later a simple pretty white washed chapel nestling amongst rocks commanding views right across the plain to the sea. The best time to visit is in the spring, when you’ll be overwhelmed by the colour and extravagance of the range of flowers. You’ll be able to see eagles, buzzards and hawks lazily patrolling overhead – really a paradise for bird watchers.
History goes back a long time here – it can send a shiver down your spine to stand amongst massive stone blocks fashioned and assembled into a palace by the Minoans 5000 years ago. At Aptera, amongst these ruins there are wonderfully preserved underground Roman cisterns and a Turkish fort commanding the entrance to Souda Bay. There’s a beautiful Roman mosaic casually visible from the road near Almyrida, and carefully excavated ruins well displayed in Chania.
In the villages, particularly away from the coast, there are places where time seems to have stood still ,where there are remnants of a lifestyle long discarded by busy northern Europeans. We love sitting in the shade of mulberry trees in the dusty village square in Fres in hot summer sun, sitting for hours with a coffee or glass of wine, or taking a simple meal at Pissas, a taverna in Stylos. Cretan cooking combines fresh local produce with aromatic herbs in recipes handed down over generations. In the traditional tavern you can still visit the kitchen take in the enticing smells, and peep under the lids of huge saucepans to see what’s on offer.
Many holiday makers come to Crete for the wonderful exquisitely blue Mediterranean sea and the beautiful sandy beaches. But there is a huge chunk of experience, which some would say is the more rewarding and important, that is away from all that.
At Panokosmos – “on top of the world” in Greek – high in the foothills of the White Mountains, you can sample this wonderful island in an exclusive, luxurious, one of a kind bed and breakfast. Its unique location, with spectacular panoramic views of mountains, gorges and the sea offers an “away from it all” experience.
For more information go to www.panokosmos.com