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Beyond the beach in Crete

Crete is a much loved destination for families, couples and solo travelers alike. Famed for its long, sweeping beaches, delicious cuisine and unique heritage, the hidden gems of this Med favorite are often overlooked. Europe expert, Emma, heads beyond the island’s beaches to discover the real Crete.

Crete is a fascinating island with so much to offer besides the beautiful beaches with which it is most commonly associated. During my most recent visit to Greece’s largest island, my eyes were opened to some of Crete’s many other treasures, and I was inspired to return to delve deeper into the lesser known side of Crete. What follows are just three of my favorite new discoveries.

Olive oil

Olive oil production forms a huge part of the Cretan way of life and economy and has done for centuries. Today, Crete is the world’s fifth largest producer of this healthy oil, but besides commercial production for international export, many local people grow their own trees and produce their own oil which they proudly distribute and sell amongst their own communities. The Cretan climate is perfect for olive growth, and the olive oil industry on the island goes back for centuries. Enhance your knowledge of this traditional Cretan practice further by taking our Cretan village tour, during which your guide will explain the full production process and you will have the opportunity to taste different fresh local varieties.

The gorges of Crete’s White Mountains

Being situated close to a tectonic boundary, Crete is an extremely mountainous island. The largest, and most spectacular range are the White Mountains, so called for their whitish tinge acquired from the limestone from which they are made and the snow which covers their peaks during the winter months. Over 50 gorges wind their way through the mountains, all waiting to be explored. The most well-known is the Samaria Gorge, a spectacular 17km gorge about an hour’s drive from Chania and Domes Noruz. If you are reasonably fit and up for a day away from the beach and pool, then I would highly recommend this fantastic excursion. After spending about 2 hours descending into the gorge, you will walk for a further four hours through this breathtaking natural geological feature where you can admire a variety of unique rock formations, and hopefully catch a glimpse of one of Crete’s indigenous goat or eagle species. The abandoned village of Samaria is also located in the gorge, and you can spend some time exploring the buildings and streets of this traditional historic community. Upon completing the hike, catch the passenger ferry an hour along the coast, before meeting your driver again for your return drive home.

Cretan history and culture

Crete has a mixed and fascinating history which has seen it occupied by Minoans, Venetians, Turks and Greeks. The heritage of each of these civilizations can be seen in the architecture and ruins scattered around the island. A stroll through Chania old town will take you past buildings with both Venetian and Turkish influence, and will inevitably lead you to the harbor walls at the waterfront, from where the ruins of the original ancient city walls are clearly visible. The modern architecture of Domes Noruz has taken inspiration from this history, and has based elements of its design on the old Venetian style.

As part of our Cretan village tour, your guide will explore elements of this history further as you view a section of an ancient Minoan settlement wall, as well as the ruins of several Turkish fortresses. You will also visit a beautiful old monastery, dating from the 1600s, and get an insight into local daily life as you visit the home of an artist and ceramicist, and enjoy a delicious lunch at a family run taverna overlooking the mountains.

There is no doubt that Crete is full of many more hidden treasures, besides those which I have briefly described here. It is a destination not only with beautiful beaches and clear waters, but also with stunning mountains, unique wildlife, welcoming people, and a fascinating history. There is so much on offer that is just waiting to be explored. One visit is certainly not enough!

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