Crete, I have discovered since visiting in early June, has a similar surface area to Corsica (around 8,400 square metres) albeit arranged in a rather different shape, but double the population at around 625,000. Crete, in the eastern Med, is Greece’s largest island with a terrain ranging from sandy beaches to rocky hillsides (and sometimes rocky beaches and sandy hillsides where the abundant olive trees and herbs stuggle to find purchase. Then you have the White Mountains, whose highest peak is Mount Ida, home to the Ideon Cave, which, according to Greek mythology, was the birthplace of Zeus. This information brought back vague recollections from school of Greek myths and legends – one of the subjects I actually enjoyed studying – entirely down to the enthusiasm of dotty Miss Dewhurst, who doubled as our history teacher but also taught basket weaving, macramé and knitting – she would dive headlong into the store cupboard after raffia and wool – we wondered if she would ever reappear!
We were in Crete for a week as tourists and our accommodation was at the north eastern end of the island between two small fishing ports – one called Elounda (alternative spellings abound! – the one thing I learnt about Greek is that in the transliteration from the Greek alphabet to ours several ways to spell things emerge – all acceptable – this happens too with maps – a bit disconcerting! everything!) and the other called Plaka.
Our hotel was built into a ridiculously steep hillside (par for the course on this island, given its topography – it’s ‘build on a slope or don’t build!’) and at first glance the conglomeration of little apartments and hotel rooms was stark – all stone walls, harsh angles and 45 degree tarmac slopes.
Thankfully, if you wanted to go out and explore, an ‘eco’ golf buggy (note the solar panels!) could be summoned to drop you at roadside level or likewise on your way back, a little man, who seemed to live in a box at the bottom of the driveway, would pop out and summon the indefatigable ‘Super Mario’, driver of said buggy who whizzed tirelessly up and down these giddying slopes all day. (I think he’d been cloned!)
Our room was on the second level and there were more of the same above us. If you took the trouble to walk up the daunting steps in between the buildings and look down towards the sea it became obvious that the architects had incorporated many flower beds and pockets of earth, as well as gardens on the flat roofs around the complex, so far from being stark and barren as I first thought, these softened the harsh effect of the stone walls and added strong colour and such variety of form – beautiful shrubs and trees shimmering in the Greek sunshine.
Our hotel featured a stunning infinity pool with a beautiful view of the sea and the private beach where you could take a dip in the warm, clear water of the Med – so inviting when you are used to the cold grey Atlantic of home! There were also several little chapels in the hotel grounds (maybe so that you could pray you would make it back up those impossible slopes to the bar!)
We hired a car for the weekend to explore further afield – we travelled up into the mountains, which were alive with the sound of millions of cicadas, we came across a tiny monastery, selling the ubiquitous olive oil based soap, seen in every tourist outlet and made with every fragrance you can think of – in fact the place is afloat on olive oil – in the food, of course, but also in cosmetics and toiletries, I wouldn’t be surprised if the cars run on it too!
A week is not long enough to see this beautiful island – maybe I should have done a Shirley Valentine – and just refused to come home! I was tempted!