In May of 2015, 80 Diapers Field Agents Mark and Cindy spent two weeks on the island of Crete with two of their grandchildren. They’ve shared their wisdom with us here so you can experience Crete to the fullest on your next trip.
We arrived in Crete excited to spend two weeks with our grandkids (3 years and 10 months old) while their parents led a University Study Abroad around Europe. We were booked in a rental home in the village of Archanes, a town up in the hills which rise sharply from the ocean. The Eliathos Residences are a group of small vacation homes perched on top of a hill and overlooking the whole island. We could see all the way to the ocean and the view was breathtaking. The whole compound is completely surrounded with olive groves and vineyards, and it feels magnificently isolated. It’s the perfect place to be with kids, because since you are surrounded with such beauty, you don’t have to go somewhere to BE somewhere. Just sitting outside your hotel feels like paradise.
Of course, that isolation can start to wear after a few days, and the long slog back up the hill is definitely not kid-friendly. Luckily the owners introduced us to Katarina’s taxi, which is your key to the whole island. Katarina, a lifelong resident of Archanes, will immediately befriend you and plug you in to everything happening in town. You become instant locals, and her knowledge will make the whole trip exponentially better. You will find out about every party, every festival, everything there is to do and see, and you’ll also find the best deals, the best beaches and the best food. This is especially important because Americans can’t rent cars on Crete without an international drivers license.
Speaking of food–Archanes is a food mecca for tourists from all over the world. Not many tourists venture here, but the ones who do are are mostly foodies. This meant we had some truly fantastic meals during our stay. Our most memorable meals were made by Chef Dmitri, a truly amazing chef and a total character. His cooking classes were incredible, and his theories on Greece and the Greeks (did you know the Greeks just *might* be descended from aliens?) will keep you entertained for hours. And his strawberry soup really could be the food of the Gods.
All the food on Crete was amazing, but our favorite food-related moment came when we were reading the menu to our three-year-old grandson. “You can have chicken, beef, lamb or kid.”
Before we realized what he might think of that list, he assumed a thoughtful expression, and asked, “Is it a weawy big kid? Cuz I think I could only eat a widdle kid.”
Lesson learned–if you don’t want to learn how comfortable your grandson is with hypothetical cannibalism, discuss the goat-meat aspects of Greek food before you arrive.
Our favorite day on Crete was spent at the Heraklion Museum. This was one of the most amazing museums we’ve ever been to, up there with the Louvre and the British Museum. The exhibits are riveting, and each artifact is so beautiful. The pottery looked both timeless and completely modern, the jewelry was mind-blowing, the statues were hauntingly real. You absolutely need to see this museum.
Equally fascinating was the ancient Minoan city of Knossos, rediscovered by archaeologists in the late 1800s. This was the political and cultural capital of the Minoan empire, and is believed to be the oldest city in Europe. In Greek myth, Knossos was the site of the famous Labyrinth, home of the Minotaur.
Part of the site was “reconstructed” in the early 1920’s to help tourists understand what it would have looked like. Though some people hate the new construction (concrete! an abomination!) we found it really helpful in imagining and understanding what the ancient city would have looked like.
Matala Beach, southwest of Heraklion, is more touristy but very beautiful. Off the beach are the famous caves, first created during Neolithic times. Since then they’ve been used as tombs, military outposts, hippie havens and now, tourist destinations.
Other favorite experiences were just driving around the island in the back of Katarina’s cab–stopping in tiny villages, exploring abandoned churches (Katarina knows the people with the keys!), discovering entire ghost towns that look like the residents just walked away in the middle of dinner and never looked back. (Our favorite and personal recommendation is the village known as Holy Ten or Ten Saints, named for ten famous Christian martyrs of the 3rd Century. Fascinating, beautiful and haunting.)
If you’re looking for a laid-back, old-world getaway without crowds, but with beaches, incredible food and fascinating history, Crete is the place for you.