Crete. After a week in Rhodes we took the one hour Sky Express flight to Heraklion on Crete. Keeping our flight delay record intact, we sit on the runway for an hour waiting for clearance on Crete. We are met by our fav car rental company, Byron , and the same young guy who met us at the ferry port last year. Once again we get a woefully underpowered Fiat 500 Cabriolet but we know just how much fun it is when you roll the roof back all the way in the sunshine.
We drive the excellent highway an hour to the Elounda Peninsula Resort. This is an enormous property with three different resorts/residences but it has been around for a long time. Even being upgraded to a two level suite with its own pool didn’t mask the years completely. But, never complain about a suite upgrade and I won’t.
We hung around exploring the property the first day and then drove into Elounda Village for dinner. Nice little town. We chose The Ferryman (photos below) for dinner where barefoot chef Yiannis Baxevenis serves regional cuisine the old Greek way. Bread made from carob and barley, sheep’s milk ice cream and a big pot of goat stew simmering on a wood fire all day. Excellent food and, as usual in Greece, a charming host.
The next morning it’s golf on the resorts 9 hole course followed by tennis. I believe the resort provides the worlds oldest tennis balls, so dead they barely make it over the net with even the mightiest stroke. That night we had dinner at Koh, the resorts Asian fusion restaurant. At the end of a point with a glass floor the lapping waters are lit by underwater lights. Pretty gorgeous, food not bad but certainly the most expensive Asian fare we’ve ever had. Enough of Elounda, we check out and go back to the village and to ‘The Ferryman‘ for a great lunch. This time, inside out souvlaki with the thin grilled pork wrapped around the other ingredients. Interesting, different and typical of Yiannis.
It is just a 10 minute drive to Agios Nicholaos and our 3rd airbnb of the trip. Given how bad the first two were we are a bit anxious but, finally we hit the jackpot. Splash is owned by Marianthi and her husband Theadoros. It is immaculate and her attention to every detail amazing. Lovely little hand written messages on grey tags advise where everything is. She leaves us croissants, fresh bread, Nespresso capsules, fresh milk, homemade jams, wine and a bottle of Raki. The internet is out and Theadoros comes down from their 2nd floor flat, fiddles with it, phones a guy and has it fixed within an hour. Finally, a place that exceeds expectations.
About 100 metres away is one of the best restaurants in Agios Nicholas, Piato. Again, like The Ferryman, their claim to fame is real Cretan food from old recipes, but, it's a bright, fresh and very busy setting. They find us a table without a reservation and the food is excellent. The tuna carpaccio is almost a meal in itself. The owner apologises for the table too close to the kitchen but we vow to come back, with a reservation next time. The next day we revisit one of our favourites, The Crete Golf Club. The only 18 hole course on Crete, it is gorgeous. The fairways, the greens, the clubhouse and the best cheeseburgers on Crete (not as good as Time Out Lisbon but good). Ellen plays great but my slice is back. Chances of me matching my all time best score of 86 from last year fade.
The next day we decide to drive to the east but stop short at the little seaside village of Mochlos. It’s one of those tiny little places on the water that most people would miss. We recline on the chairs of the Rocks Cafe and watch the world go by, small world anyway. Ellen notices the restaurant next door has listed its daily special as gyros, her favourite. The Karpouzi Taverna doesn’t disappoint, they are great.
The next day we do complete the trek to Var via Sitia. Var has the only palm tree forest in Europe and a busy beach. Nice enough but too long a drive for what it is. This time we do make a reservation for dinner at ‘Piato‘ and get a front table. Lovely and the Greek Pinot Noir excellent.
Next morning it is golf again followed by an evening walk to the town square in Agios Nicholas. We find a busy restaurant named Karnagio. While we have just appetisers the main courses served around us are spectacular. Giant hunks of lamb hung from a rack at your table. Same with pork shoulder or souvlaki. It looks like a grilled meat construction site and we vow to come back with a better appetite.
Many years ago (like 20) I drove my rented open top Suzuki jeep (You want roof? Costs more.) to the little seaside village of Plakias. There is no coast road so you have to come down through the mountains and take one of roads that leads to one of the many gorges. The biggest is Samara but it is hiking only. I took Kourtalokio, shorter than I remember but beautiful none the less. Plakias has changed in 20 plus years. The horseshoe bay and beach look the same but a real town has grown up with sexy looking condos, shops and restaurants. We stop for a pretty decent pizza and take another gorge road home, a 3-plus hour drive that gets us home late in the evening. Drives like that make you wish the Fiat had another 50 horsepower.
In all our drives we are struck by the rough beauty of Crete. Every turn is another stunning vista of mountains or pure blue water or both. The Greeks have planted big Oleander bushes all along the highways and their pink and white blossoms cascade over the roadway brushing against the car door. Then there are the people. Everywhere you go you are greeted with smiles; waiters come and sit with you and buy you drinks, shopkeepers go out of their way to proudly explain where they source their goods, people smile and tip their hats. Yeah, we are tourists with money but we are in France too and there they treat you like cattle. Not everyone for sure but the trend line is not exactly positive.
Greece is pretty much broke. Their EU membership allowed them to borrow money and accumulate debt that is almost impossible to service. And, Greeks don’t like paying taxes so they largely don’t. The austerity government of Tspiris was just defeated and the new guys look like they want to spend again. That dog won’t hunt. Greece has a retirement visa program very similar to Malaysia but relying on property purchase versus fixed deposit. For a 250,000 Euro property purchase you get 5 year, renewable residency, no tax on foreign sourced income and access to 26 EU countries. You do have to factor in the 24 % VAT, highest in Europe, but it is a place to consider.
Wednesday is market day in Agios Nicholas. Dozens and dozens of stalls selling enormous tomatoes, piles of garlic, giant artichokes and home made feta cheese. We sample hard cheese that is excellent but that big hunk was left in the fridge in France much to our dismay.
Once again we drive to Mochlos to check out a charming little store we saw last time. In fact, it is the only charming little store (Chez Cecile) in Mochlos. Cecile is French and chose this tiny spot for its laid back vibe. She rents rooms upstairs but the shop is the attraction. Lovely scarves, dresses, tableware, carvings, art. Most of her things are designed and made in Greece even if the label says otherwise (some weird law she has to abide by). Ellen buys a dress, I buy a fish sculpture and Cecile directs us to Taverna Ta Kochillia, her favourite lunch place 100 metres away. An excellent choice.
On the way back we stop at an ancient Minoan ruin dating back to approximately 3500 years. Gournia is not giant Knossos but something much smaller. It was a village that made pottery and brass. The houses were two and three story but made of mud brick long gone, only the foundations remain. Situated on a hill looking over the sea it must have been a good life, hard but good.
Our last full day is golf again. This time a full 18 holes preceded by a lesson for me to cure my slice. Coach Hendrik is Dutch and a very good coach he is. As we work out the slice, he tapes my swing and has me put Calloway branded stickers on my driver face that the ball leaves an impression on when you hit it. Clearly I’m hitting off the heel and therefore too close to the ball time and time again. He moves me back a few inches at a time until the impression is in the middle of the club face. He also has me dropping my right shoulder and teaches me how to release the club earlier. Slice cured. For the moment anyway.
We return to Agios Nicholaos for dinner and know we must try the meat fest at Karnagio. Our waiter recommends the pork shoulder, slow baked for hours and served hanging upright from a steel rig. It is massive, we take most of it home and on to France the next morning where we nibble on it for two days.
The days on Crete go by too fast. The people, the food, the wine, the history are unforgettable. The island is big, big enough to offer many options; the sexy resorts of the north coast and the larger cities, museums, etc. Or, the south coast’s endless beaches, tiny villages (ok, some not quite so tiny anymore) and always the pure blue seas that match the sky. Perfect.
Crete Where & What
Byron - a car rental company in Crete. Highly recommended.
Elounda Peninsula Resort is an enormous property with three different resorts/residences.
The Ferryman is where barefoot chef Yiannis Baxevenis adds artistic flair to regional cuisine. Excellent food, beautiful view of Elounda Bay and, as usual in Greece, a charming host.
Koh Asian fusion restaurant in Elounda Resort. Gorgeous setting with fusion Asian fare but expensive.
Fresco Eatery is on the main square beside the clock tower and dishes up inexpensive and fantastic gyros!
Piato their claim to fame is homemade Cretan food from old recipes with a twist. The venue is bright, fresh and very busy setting. The tuna carpaccio is almost a meal in itself.
Karnagio While we have just appetisers the main courses served around us are spectacular. Giant hunks
The Crete Golf Club is the only 18 hole course on Crete. Gorgeous fairways, greens and a lovely clubhouse with the best cheeseburgers.
Splash on the first floor of a low rise apartment building across from Ammoundi Beach Club is immaculate and thoughtfully designed. Highly recommended.
Gournia an ancient Minoan lies on a small hill, a few hundred metres from the Gulf of Mirabello just outside of Agios Nicholoas.
Chez Cecile a charming shop with clothing, jewellery and home decor exquisitely curated by its French owner Cecile. She has converted the rooms above her shop to a bed & breakfast, with rooms around $50 USD a night.
Taverna Ta Kochillia is Cecile’s favourite lunch spot, about 100 metres from her shop. An excellent choice. Ask for Cecile’s wine.
Rocks Cafe is a perfect place for a drink and wonderful views.
Karpouzi Taverna is a local taverna. Their gyros doesn’t disappoint.