Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Discovering the Real Crete

As someone who, perhaps rather pretentiously, likes to think of themselves as a traveller rather than just a serial tourist, I thought that the hugely popular Greek island of Crete would be far too conventional a destination for me.

In my mind’s eye it was full of loved-up couples oiling each other up on the beach and screaming British kids at half term. I’ll admit it - I was a backpacking snob. Although I love the Greek Islands, I had written this particular isle off as beneath me before I had even set foot on it. And I couldn’t have been more wrong!

Despite being the largest and most populated of the Greek islands, Crete offered an experience unlike any I have ever had before, as do all my favourite destinations.

The hugely varied landscape gives you crystal-clear swimmable seas, magnificent mountain ranges and tranquil locations alike. The fantastic culture means that whether you’re sipping a Greek coffee on a roadside in the mountains, witnessing the pure spectacle of a rural Greek wedding, or boogying the night away at a beach-bar, you feel part of something truly special.

Are you after a quiet rural retreat? Head for the hills, or for one of the remote villages along the southern shoreline and experience a slice of Cretan life which has seen little-change in the last century.

I started my trip to Crete with a few days on the north coast, which is perfect if you’re looking for sun, sea and relaxation. The perfect stretches of sand cannot be rivalled, in my view, anywhere else in the Mediterranean.

What about visiting Balos Lagoon, a little piece of paradise situated on the rugged, unspoiled north-west coast of Crete? The perfect place to really embrace your surroundings, Balos Lagoon was even visited by Prince Charles and Princess Diana on their private yacht many moons ago. And they had the right idea – a yacht or boat is the ideal way to get to this little lagoon, surrounded only by moon-white sand and craggy cliffs. Boats leave Kastelli-Kissamos daily or, if you’re feeling adventurous, you could charter your own! Many a fisherman would be happy to oblige.

The sea is shallow and warm, and millions of pinkish crushed shells are visible beneath the water’s crystalline surface. I visted Balos Lagoon out of season, in the early morning, before the boats all arrived. I had heard it can get pretty busy during the day, especially between July and August, so plan your day accordingly, depending on what your priorities are.

The Iraklio region is the place to head if you’re looking for a party destination, and can be great value for money if you’re prepared to suck it up (maybe I should have) and do the tourist thing. You can always try Very Cheap Holidays - it does what it says on the tin – offering a range of cheap holidays to Crete, for instance; if you’re after something a little more bohemian then you could end your trip to Crete with a stay at Skites.  This laidback, friendly retreat close to Mount Athos, offers a remote setting to discover the historic monasteries of the region from, as well as to relax on the rocky beach, take a boat trip and enjoy delicious, authentic cuisine.

This was definitely my favourite part of Crete, but who’s to say what will be yours? The only way to find out is to go and discover it for on your own.

This is a PR collaboration written and presented by the wonderful people of Very Cheap Holidays.