I continually confuse Cyprus and Crete, and how could I not? They’re both Greek islands of nearly identical size and shape, they have remarkably similar geography, and they both start with ‘C’. Honestly, the biggest difference between the two islands is that Cypriots are adamant about how staunchly Greek they are and Cretans are adamant about how staunchly non-Greek they are. Fine, I’ll honor whatever heritage Cyprus and Crete want to claim since both islands are so freaking magical and delicious, but really…. come on, they are pretty similar.
Jeff and I visited Crete a few years ago and were delighted to have two-weeks on this trip to visit some of Crete’s lesser explored nooks and crannies. Basically every part of Crete that isn’t a beach is a lesser explored nook and cranny so we had a lot of ground to cover. We spent our first Cretan week right in the center of the island in the wee mountain village of Apostoli, which is the archetypical ideal of a wee mountain village. Apostoli has about 400 people, one taverna, one super old church, and a lot of cats. I never elucidated why but every day at 6:50 PM spooky and slightly insane sounding singing came out of the church, and went on for exactly 20 minutes. That was a highlight. The village streets were darling and steep, and we were able to pick figs and lemons for our brekky on evening walks. Yeah, it was ridiculous.
It can be hard to truly get a sense for life in a rural place since people tend to be old and reserved, but our wonderful AirBnb hosts went above and beyond in showing us life in their village. Manolis and Nopi (and their two sweet sons) took over the family farm about 5 years ago and now grow everything organically. They produce excellent honey, olive oil, fresh produce, eggs, and even offer orgone treatments (you might need to read about orgone here…). In the evenings the family spends time on their terrace chatting with their guests and taking in the incredible evening sky with their telescope (we saw a partial lunar eclipse!).
Adventures Around the Island
From Apostoli we made a day trip to the beachside town of Agios Nicholas, where we visited a working olive oil farm and took a cooking class. The cooking class was irrationally fun for me and we learned how to make the typical Cretan dishes of skioufihta, an egg-less pasta, and dakos, basically a Cretan bruschetta with ungodly amounts of olive oil. I may be over reaching here but I feel like the cooking instructor was impressed with my pasta rolling skills. I take such things very seriously. We also discovered a new cheese which has changed my life – fresh mizithra. In the US we only have aged mizithra (which Cretans call anthotiro), but in Crete they have a creamy, soft, slightly sweet mizithra that you can eat with honey or fruit, and it is heavenly. Sadly, this cheese pretty much only exists on Crete so we had to eat enough in two weeks to last a lifetime (which I nearly succeeded at).
We also made a visit to Rethymnon, a Venetian walled city that we had stayed in during our last visit. Ostensibly we made the trip to show the Rethymnon to my sister Callie and her friend Sabah, but really it was just an excuse for a pilgrimage to a restaurant called Prima Plora. Several years ago we had an immensely memorable meal at Prima Plora and both Jeff and I were hell-bend on recreating it. This type of nostalgic food pilgrimage is an almost certain recipe for disappointment, but we were delighted to find that Prima Plora is just as exquisite as we remember. So, so good!!!
The Palace of Knossos
Since this was our second trip to Crete, we decided it was time to finally see the biggest (non-beach) tourist attraction in Crete – the Palace of Knossos. Built between 1700 ad 1400 BC, the palace was the main cultural and religious center for Minoan Crete. Legend has it that Knossos was the home of the mythical King Minos, and the site of the labyrinth built to contain the Minotaur. This is a lot of myth for any archeological site to stand up to, but I have to say honestly that the Palace of Knossos sucked. Big time. The entrance fee was expensive (even with an ill-gotten student discount) and the site was just plain weird. There was pretty much no description of the Minoan culture or functional relevance of the palace, and the frescos have been fancifully restored, to put it politely. I’ve since read a bit about the site’s archeologist, Sir Arthur Evans, and his 1900 ‘restoration’ of the temple has been described as “archaeological delinquency”. I agree. It was bad.
Last hurrah for Apostoli
Every few nights our Airbnb hosts Manolis and Nopi would come around and tell us about a festival in a nearby village with food and musical performances. This, on paper, sounds awesome, until you find out that said festivals begin at 10:00 or 10:30 PM and most people stay until 2:00 AM. How Greek farmers can survive on such a schedule is one of the greatest mysteries of our travels. We made it to exactly one such festival (after a disco nap) in the nearby village of Kastamonitsa. There was free food, drink, and the place was packed since the performer was a famous lyra player in in Crete. Amazingly it wasn’t just young people at these late-night festivals but whole families – babies, kids, super old people – who all stayed out until the wee hours of the morning. After putting in a good effort, Jeff and I finally headed home at 11:30. Manolis stayed until 2:00 AM. Wow.
After a thoroughly delightful stay in rural Crete, we headed to our next destination – the town of Ierapetra on Crete’s southern coast on the Libyan Sea.