Friday, 14 June 2013

Finding a taste of summer in Crete

Al Fresco by the sea
The largest of the Greek Islands, Crete, is my new 'must go again' place to visit and it really was a welcome escape from the unseasonally cool damp shores of England.  I hadn't been to Greece for a number of years so it was lovely to go back and be reminded how warm and friendly the people are. The food was fabulously fresh and surprisingly cheap given the financial troubles that have plagued the country in the last couple of years.

Macaris Suites and Spa
We flew Easyjet from Gatwick to Heraklion and then transferred from there to Rethymnon, an old 16th century Venetian town which was about an hour's drive away. We stayed just outside in the foothills at the Macaris Suites and Spa. It was a perfect spot, peaceful and quiet and just 10 minutes walk from the centre of town. It was a nice time of year to go .. a week after the half term school holidays but not yet at peak season. The weather too was also my idea of perfection.  Sunny and warm (around 28C max 18C min) but not as hot as it would definitely be in high summer! 

The spa
The spa at the hotel is special, a beautiful welcoming indoor plunge pool and jacuzzi is what you see from the other side of the glass facade. Once inside you notice the calm and serene atmosphere and there are many treatments available. The hammam is a gorgeous mosaic room perfect for a cleanse after a workout at the gym upstairs.

Most of our time was spent lazing around the pool as well as little jaunts into the beautiful old town which has lovely restaurants and shops. We also took an excursion to the far south west side of the island to visit the small island of Elafonisi. It is a protected nature reserve and to access it you have to walk or swim the short distance through the shallow turquoise blue water. The tour was a three hour trip each way (with a stop for refreshments) but so worth it! We spent four hours at the beach making it a long but very enjoyable day. Our guide was exceptionally good and had a vast knowledge of the whole of Crete and especially this region.

As we approached the first thing you notice is how unspoiled it is.  There are no resorts or permanent structures (yet!) although there is a kiosk selling drinks and light snacks. There are also toilets and showers but virtually nothing else.  You can rent sun loungers under umbrellas for 7 Euros per pair but there is absolutely nothing of the kind on Elefonisi itself and never will be. We waded over to the island (a good workout for the legs) and were stunned by the beauty of it. The waters are myriad blues ranging from the lightest turquoise to indigo and the sand ivory with pink tinges caused by the coral reef nearby. As you walk further down the beach black rocks emerge from the shallows and the larger grains of sand are black so blend in with the beach to give an unusual hue. Be aware though in high season we were informed up to 10,000 people visit per day!!

There is so much more to Crete and I want to go back and explore again, taking in the magnificent gorges, architecture and beaches on other parts of the island. 

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