Return to Crete
After nearly 20 years, our author relives her childhood holidays on Crete and rediscovers a world-class destination.
It’s been close to 20 years since I last set foot on the island. In considerably smaller shoes.
2017 gave me the opportunity to return to a much beloved summer destination, the island of Crete in Greece. I had very fond and happy memories of two summers spent on Crete when I was in primary school – summers that I had not forgotten, despite first travelling there at the tender age of four.
And so as my husband and I packed our bags for Crete, it was with a great sense of anticipation and yet... trepidation. What if the Crete of my dog-eared photographs and golden memories didn’t match up to the Crete of today? Could the island still delight me as an adult as it once had as a child? I was about to find out...
From Rainy Days...
One of the facts that I remembered quite clearly was the Cretan sunshine. Uninterrupted, unrelenting, constant sunshine. That may be true for summer holidaymakers to Crete, but this time I had chosen to travel in the shoulder season, arriving in the late spring, and as we touched down in Heraklion the cabin doors opened to cooler weather and, yes, spring showers.
...to Incredible Warmth
But even if I’d discovered that the Cretan temperatures can take a seasonal dip, the warmth of its people had in no way diminished. My husband and I were genuinely taken aback by the personal welcome that awaited in our Corissia hotel.
Jannis, the smiling face of customer services and a veritable encyclopaedia of the island, awaited us with freshly pressed orange juice and the unlimited gift of his time.
We were personally shown to our room in the Corissia Harmony Hotel and introduced to all of its features (air conditioning, satellite TV and…mood lighting!) before being guided around all the public areas of the hotel. And the rain? It would be over by tomorrow, we were assured. But for now, Jannis called us a car so that we wouldn’t get our feet wet on the 2-minute walk to the waterfront!
At first I wondered if we had somehow signed up for special treatment. That was, until Jannis saw a couple coming out of the restaurant and offered them our barely used car as a free ride back to their hotel. We quickly fell into conversation with other guests who expressed equal wonderment at this unusual, but very personal take on customer service.
The Personal Touch
As a child it was the unconditional kindness and interest of the Cretan people that delighted me. Waiters who stopped to chat with a five-year-old; little old ladies dressed in black by the roadside, who happily shared the nuts and fruits from their gardens with passers-by; elderly gentlemen in the taverns who sat with children on their laps as they regaled onlookers with tales from their past.
I was delighted to see that Crete has entered the new millennium without losing the treasures of its past. Less than a 10-minute drive from Georgioupolis took us up into the mountains, where the old men still played cards and sipped coffee in the shade of the traditional kafenion. It felt like stepping back in time. If anything, Crete has recovered more of its past in the last twenty years, with recent excavations, such as those at the ancient city of Aptera, unearthing previously unseen treasures from the most ancient western civilisation.
Within days it became clear that as visitors to Crete, and guests to Corissia, my husband and I were anything but anonymous. The staff would ask with genuine interest about our day, our plans, our pastimes, and happily offer suggestions and recommendations. The team at Corissia engaged enthusiastically with everyone – whether old or young. We were pleasantly amused to see a waiter give a small child in a pram a high five, only to notice his parents were speaking German, and then quickly change it to a “High Fünf!”
World Class Beaches
As a child, you are simply grateful for the opportunity to scrunch the sand beneath your toes, splash in the waves, construct gravity-defying castles and build waterways and dams for hours on end. This endless outdoor entertainment complex known as the “seaside” is something parents are eternally grateful for too!
As an adult, and a travel writer, I’ve come to see the beaches of Crete with whole new eyes. I have been to top beaches in Australia and New Zealand, cruised the US coast and chilled on the white sands of Thailand, and I can say that, for me, the Cretan coast is unsurpassed.
For a start, there’s the sheer variety: white sand, golden sand, pebble and gravel; wild, roaring surf worthy of a Caspar David Friedrich seascape; shallow, glistening lagoons like the unbroken surface of a mirror. I’ve experienced water on Crete so clear, that you could gaze straight through the wave as it broke on the shore and see the fuchsia-pink algae and sea-life floating behind it, as if it were an aquarium with walls made of water.
It seems I am not alone in my admiration of the Cretan coast. TripAdvisor released the results of its Best Beaches in the World Traveller’s Choice Awards in 2017, and Elafonissi Beach in the province of Chania, with its stunning turquoise waters and unearthly pinkish sands, has been voted as one of the Top 10 beaches in the world.
I remembered the roads on Crete being “great fun” when I was little. My husband discovered this joy for himself, as he hurtled along at 50 km/h, feeling like a rally driver. The twisting serpentines up and down Crete’s incredible mountains don’t allow you to drive much faster – but you will have no desire to, as you drink in the unparalleled views of the stunning natural surroundings. The landscape changes with the altitude, layering the scenery like a photo montage as you drive up from the coast. On the northern shore of Chania province, where we were staying, bare, snow-streaked peaks descend to form rocky cliffs, giving way to varying swathes of vegetation – pine forests, olive groves, orchards, farmland – all of which culminate in the distant sparkle of the sea.
The defining moment for me was standing beneath the towering Jurassic limestone walls of the longest gorge in Europe, the Samaria Gorge, my ears full of the frothing babble from the crystal-clear stream beside me, my eyes filled with the ruddy complexion of the contorted walls, the fresh green of the spring pines and splashes of pink oleander, and realising that what I was witnessing was world class. Truly world class.
A World Class Destination
Crete has often been praised as a world-class destination. Its history stretches back to the dawn of western civilisation. Its people combine an unparalleled warmth and hospitality with a deep respect for tradition. Its culture thrives in its authenticity, combing a traditional way of life and genuine hospitality with natural, organic foods. There are world-class beaches to lounge on, breathtaking mountains to retreat to, and an exquisite climate which, thanks to the spring rains that we experienced, carpets the island in lush, verdant vegetation, whilst promising the summer holidaymakers uninterrupted sunshine.
In the Lap of Luxury
We were able to enjoy all of this in the lap of absolute luxury. A 4*+ hotel right by the seaside in Georgioupolis, with an exquisite restaurant, salt and sweet water pools, a park, spa, rooftop bar and beach service. Not to mention a customer service director called Jannis. I never once saw him behind a desk. He was always too engaged in talking to people. Because that’s something else the Cretan people love – giving gifts. And the greatest gift they bestow on you lavishly is their time.
There’s a second gift Crete and the Corissia Hotels have given to me. Fabulous new memories.
Κρήτη, εις το επανιδείν!
A passionate traveller, linguist and writer, Sarah has visited over 20 countries around the globe. She loves immersing herself in new cultures, learning the language, and getting to know the local people.
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