The largest (fifth largest in the Mediterranean Sea) and southernmost island in Greece is none other than Crete. Crete’s most famous author, Nikos Kazantzakis, wrote Zorba the Greek. His words: “The mystery of Crete runs deep. Whoever sets foot on this island senses a mysterious force coursing warmly and beneficently through their veins, sensing their soul beginning to grow.”
Crete is long and narrow, from east to west only 160 miles, and a width of 7.5 to 37 miles. The administrative center is Heraklion. The island is home to roughly 600,000 people.
As you might guess, the service sector, aka tourism is the largest portion of the GDP. Only a third of Crete’s land can be cultivated, with olives, grapes, vegetables and fruit grown here. Due to overfishing, fishing is focused on local needs rather than exporting.
If you recall your Greek mythology, you remember that the Palace of Knossus was once the center of the Minoan civilization. And the Heraklion Archaeology Museum covers 5500 years of Cretan (is that polite or politically correct?) history. Speaking of Heraklion, it is home to ancient Cretan vineyards, which as been producing wine for over 4000 years!
Chania is the largest city and known for its local charm, Agora marketplace, and harbor. Crete’s most famous national park is Samaria Gorge. And can you believe there is a former leper colony on Spinalonga Island? The island was the scene of Arab raids, Venetian conquering, and Ottoman occupation.
But for me, Crete is best known for its taverns, which provide affordable options for lunch and dinner. In fact, it is the quintessential Crete experience according to my friends. The very best is Gramboussa on the extreme northwest coast. Most are family owned, and feature homemade bread.
Speaking of food, bougatsa is also popular on Crete. The phyllo dough is filled with cheese or custard, then topped honey, sugar, or cinnamon, and paired with a cup of strong Greek coffee. Cretan raki is also something else to try here. After the winemaming season, people distill tsikoudia, a high alcohol volume drink, often served with appetizers before dinner, or with fruit and yogurt as a dessert.
So, I will fly to Crete from Thessaloniki, with a stop in Athens to change planes.