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Trip Report Crete Holiday

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I recently visited the Island of Crete and spent most of my ten days there in the southern part of the island, which is less touristy and you can still get the proper Greece feeling.

The food was great, the taste, the flavor, the familial touch it had, the grandmother cooking in old pots and pans like everyone has seen in the countryside, the mother and her daughters giving us bigger portions just because we had fun struggling to understand each other, them not knowing English, while their language being Greek to us...

The scenery that although monotonous at first glance, kept changing at every turn on the ever so winding roads, twisting in hair pins so wild that even at 10 km/h the car seemed to be speeding, and then the sudden glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea, with its heavenly blue hues coming up suddenly between two mountains in front of us, or at a sudden turn that would see us above the cliffs and the sea...

And the picturesque scattered villages on the mountain slopes, or the occasional and isolated house on the rocky mountains...

And then the olive oil, heavenly tasting olive oil, in which we dipped the yellow and beautifully flavoured corn bread to make sure we leave not a single drop of it after we finished our greek salad.

The coffees, the greek yoghurt with honey and walnuts, the fresh orange juices, the empty beaches, which although rocky, made for nice scenery and we could still enjoy the water and the setting.

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    Day One

    On our way to Crete we had a stopover in Athens.
    Even as we landed there we knew this was an entirely different place and culture.

    We had almost 2 hours before our departure to Heraklion. We were looking for a place to smoke, so we asked an airport officer about it. He told us to just go out the door and smoke outside.

    He said "Don't worry. Everybody smokes in Greece..."

    Our holiday had just begun.

    Once outside a warm breeze welcomed us. People were queuing for food and drinks, some were eating, some were smoking, some were just waiting.

    The flight to Heraklion was a quick one. The airport came suddenly from the Sea of Crete beneath us.
    We got off the plane. It was windy. Very windy. So windy that we could see the waves breaking onto the edge of the airport track.

    The rented car was waiting for us in the parking lot.
    We tried to get onto the road to Agia Galini, our holiday destination, but we just couldn't find our way around to get onto it.
    One of our smart phones stepped in to help and guided us for the rest of the way.

    The scenery was amazing, with rocky hills, olive orchards and bush, with the occasional glimpse of the sea.

    In one of the villages along the way we bought some vegetables and locally made olive oil. The prices were dirt cheap.

    We reached our hotel, checked in, and off we were on the streets of this pretty village, looking for food.

    We took on a couple of streets with a string of shops and restaurants, all brimming with tourists. The tables were lined up along the narrow streets, each restaurant with its own atmosphere, its own distinctive touch.

    We finally decided where to stop and inquired about vegetarian food. The waitress mentioned an array of yummy options, but they were all starters.

    Then she said "we also have pizza!"
    Knowing that I have a penchant for this Italian export, everyone turned their heads towards me.
    However, I didn’t want to have pizza in Greece.
    "Do you have dolmades?" I asked the waitress, and she said yes.

    We sat down and enjoyed the mosaic of Greek food that was placed on our table.
    At the end of the meal they gave us some raki, a locally made strong fiery drink.

    Later we went to a bar and ended our first night in Crete with a nice cocktail under a green leafy ceiling provided by a big tree, with jazzy music in the background.

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    Day Two

    In the morning we sat on the balcony of our hotel room and enjoyed the splendid views of the sea, the mountains and the quiet streets at that time of day.

    We then made a very nice salad with the vegetables bought the day before. The olive oil tasted yummy and had a nice strong flavour.

    Soon we left for Spili, a small town on the side of a mountain.

    As we drove on the winding roads of Crete, we were enthralled by the beautiful scenery at every turn, bush, rocks, white villages and isolated houses scattered here and there.

    We browsed through the colourful shops and bought some souvenirs.
    Then we spotted a terrace overlooking the street and had a delicious thick creamy, locally made Greek yoghurt with honey and walnuts.
    It was so yummy that we asked for another one.

    Then we walked on some winding narrow streets with quaint houses and a big rocky mountain in the background.

    One of the cafes had a spring water fountain right there, next to one of the tables. The water was coming out through the mouth of a lion.
    We liked its setting on the side of the street, so we sat down for a coffee.
    The waiter took an empty bottle, filled it up from the mouth of the lion and put it on our table.
    It was cold and refreshing.

    Later that night we went for a stroll through the village. We browsed a few shops along the lively narrow streets, bought some souvenirs and had dinner at a nice terrace overlooking the sea.

    We had dolmades, aubergines, zucchini, grilled capsicum, greek fried cheese (Saganaki).
    The waitress brought us a small bottle of raki.

    On the way back to the hotel we stopped for a cocktail at one of the bars down the street.

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    You lunched beside the famous Spili Lion Fountains! Built by Venetians, there are 19 of them & 6 additional Fountain heads -- and the water comes straight from the snow mass at the top of Mt. Psiloritis, so it's untouched by chemicals, crystal clear, pure -- Nectar of the gods. You know how good it is, you see locals coming & filling gallon jugs for home use. Lucky you, I hope you filled your travel water bottles!

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    DAY THREE

    We were unceremoniously woken up by a loud voice on a street under our balcony. The male voice was rambling on and on and on, as if involved in a fight with someone. Then, in between shouts he’d play a few notes on a violin. Was he trying to teach a stubborn student how to play the violin?

    We had our morning coffee on the balcony and left on a day trip to explore some other areas on the island.

    Our first stop was at Agios Pavlos, a small beach guarded by high cliffs. We chilled in the beautiful clear blue water.
    After a while we climbed to the top of the cliffs and from there we had magnificent views over the Mediterranean Sea.

    Then we went to Trio Petra, where we refreshed ourselves with fresh orange juice and a double portion of Greek yoghurt with honey and walnuts, on a terrace high up on a cliff overlooking the beautiful sea, which was displaying for us a wide palette of blue hues.

    We then went down on the beach and chilled in the sea waves. The water was shallow for a long distance from the shore. As I was walking on the rocky bottom, I reached a wide stone platform and I stopped on it.

    Then all of a sudden I felt something soft circling my ankle. I pulled my leg instinctively and I looked down.
    To my huge surprise, I saw a beautiful cuttlefish, with long orange tentacles (about 20 cm long) and a big round whitish head chasing my legs. In cracks nearby I saw more tentacles coming out, and I realized that the sea creature was protecting his territory and family.

    We sat down on the shore with our legs in the water and after a while we went to the Trio Petra Beach nearby.
    There was a tavern on the beach and had very cheap food: cheese filled mushrooms, capsicum and tomato filled with rice and vegetables, oven baked vegetables in tomato sauce, grilled eggplant.

    We returned to Agia Galini later in the evening and we went for a walk to browse the shops for souvenirs.
    At one of the tables of a bar, there was a man talking loudly to another. A violin was leant against the wall. We recognized the voice and saw who was the man we had heard in the morning. He was still rambling on!

    We sat down at a table down the main eat street and had some food and drinks.
    At the end we were offered the ever present raki and sliced watermelon. On the house.

    Later that night we popped a bottle of champagne on our balcony. The popping sound was loud in the silence of the night, while the cork hit the ceiling and ricocheted outside on the street.

    As if reacting to this, two stray cats started to chase each other with loud miaows.

    On a dimly lit balcony in the quaint village of Agia Galini, someone was having a small celebration late into the night.

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    DAY FOUR

    After a relaxing morning enjoying the views from our balcony, we went on another exploratory day trip.

    We drove through a canyon, high vertical walls on either side of the road, and found a parking lot where we stopped.
    Where we were was a huge opening, and we had amazing views of the vertical walls and the gorge underneath.

    The strong winds that are sweeping the island, blowing away hats and hair styles, were even stronger there, and we were struggling to take photos.

    As we were beginning to feel hungry, we reached Taverna Despina, a shaded place with big tree branches that provided a soothing, cooling shade, a kind of village kitchen, using their own olive oil.
    Far away on the horizon we caught a glimpse of the pale blue sea.

    We had a delicious Greek salad made with tomatoes, white cabbage, cucumber, capsicum and olives, a thick squarish slice of feta cheese on top, sprinkled with herbs.
    We added the olive oil and dug in.
    To complement it, we ordered a home style omelet with hand cut potatoes.

    As we finished the salad we dipped in the home made yummy tasting yellowish corn bread that we were served, and tasted with it the gloriously flavoured olive oil.

    We continued the drive and stopped at a tavern by a lake, with tables set on the pebbles in the dark shade under the trees and had fresh orange juice.

    Not far from there was Preveli beach, at the foot of some tall, almost vertical cliffs, with a river coming out from under the palm trees to create a splendid view from above.

    We continued to Plakias, a small town on the coast.
    After we shopped for souvenirs, we found a nice café overlooking the sea, and we had ice cream, cakes and coffees.

    Later that night, on the way back, we stopped in Spili to buy groceries.
    We bought some vegetables for greek salad, then we bought a yummy looking pretzel with sesame seeds, tasted it and we liked it, so we bought a few more and then another one on top.
    We asked the sales lady which bread was yummy, she showed it to us and we bought two loafs.

    We wanted cheese for our salad and thought of goats or sheep. We looked at the cheeses but couldn't understand what was written on the labels.
    I looked at the other dairy products and found sheep yoghurt. I showed it to the lady and she said "behehe behehe!".

    There we had the language barrier sorted!
    I pointed to the cheeses and said "behehe!" We had a good laugh and the lady gave us the "behehe!" cheese and we were ready to pay. She then gave us one extra loaf of bread for free.

    For the salad we wanted to have some chips too, so we checked out a family restaurant across the street. There was a family working together, a grandma, a mother and two or three young girls.

    With hardly a few words of English spoken by them, mixed with lots of giggles, we managed to place an order for five portions of chips to take away and coffees to have while we waited.
    They made the chips one portion at a time in a classic frying pan. The portions were big.

    We got home late at night, had the salad and the chips (still hot), then sleep conquered all of us and we had to call it a night by 1am. Or maybe later. Probably later.

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    What a lovely descriptive story, thanks for sharing it. It makes me so happy when I read people finding, enjoying, loving these tiny segments of life in Crete. So you went to Triopetra & Agios Pavlos, to Plakias & Spili, some of the really super 'away from the crowds' places. Do add more of your experiences, please!

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    DAY FIVE

    It was very hot during our holiday in Crete, so this day we decided to linger in and around Agia Galini and just relax.

    We went to the statues of Icarus and Dedalus, visited the cave where there’s a small and nice folk art museum, then indulged in cocktails, food, browsing the shops and buying more souvenirs and olive oil to take home.


    DAY SIX

    It was very hot and all morning we stayed in the shade of our balcony.

    We left around midday and drove to another area of the South Cretan coast.
    We took a side road that ended at the top of a cliff right above the sea.
    There was Nikos Tavern, where we had a greek cheese omelet and soothed our eyes in the wide expanse of the blue below.

    When they visited Crete six years ago my brother and his wife had a very nice experience at Mylos Tavern, where the owner was very friendly and treated them with warm, family style hospitality.
    So there we went from the top of the cliffs above the sea, inland past Mires on the road to Heraklion, until we reached Mylos Tavern.

    That was a joyful reunion between my brother and the owner. My brother showed Mylos the photo he took six years before. The joy was filling up the place.

    The entire yard was under a ceiling of grapevines and we sat down at one of the tables there, enjoying the shade, looking at the grapes hanging above our heads.
    The owner picked a big tray of grapes for us.

    We had coffees and 4 small bottles of lemonade. When we finished, the owner filled the empty bottles with raki and gave them to us.

    There was a bit of sadness in the air when we left, however the joy of having met such people made us feel happy and all of us had big smiles on our faces.
    We said our farewells to Mylos and drove to Matala.

    What a nice surprise this town was!
    There were lots of colourful shops, cafes and restaurants, a flower power theme throughout the town, with drawings on pavements and messages on walls.

    We first chilled in the water, rubbing our feet in the coarse sand on the bottom of the sea for a nice foot massage.
    From the water we were looking at the long row of bars and restaurants facing the beach.

    Then it was time for a different chill out session, so we went to the Smile Bar on a terrace right above the beach. We had cocktails watching the sunset.

    Matala has a nice shopping atmosphere too, so we browsed the shops for souvenirs.
    We bought a few table cloth sets and pillow cases from a family owned shop. To conclude the deal, the lady gave us a kitchen towel for free and filled up the glasses with raki for each of us to drink.

    Happier with every minute after so many shots of raki and cocktails, we left Matala and looked for a tavern along the road, as we were feeling hungry.

    We stopped at Ilios, where we had potatoes omelet and a greek salad. The food was yummy, like everywhere we ate before in Crete.
    The owner was a very nice person, he sat down to chat with us, and at the end he gave us a shot of raki to drink with him.

    Everywhere you eat in Crete you get a free platter of fruit and a free shot of raki at the end of your meal.
    There is no way you end your day other than merry.

    During the conversation with him, we found out that he had been a chef before settling there. We talked about various dishes and agreed with him to come there again next day, and he’ll cook lentils specially for us.
    He’d have to go to the market and buy the ingredients, as that was not an item on the menu.

    We said our farewells and late in the night we drove back to the hotel.

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    DAY SEVEN

    As the previous day we didn't have enough time to spend in Matala, and because we liked the town so much, we decided to go there again and explore it.

    We indulged in amazing views at every turn of the road, sweeping views across the land, olive orchards with mountains in the background, or the beautiful blue of the sea appearing between the mountains.

    We first stopped at Varela's Wine House for coffee and orange juice.
    We sat at a table in the shaded courtyard. We had a look inside and the interior was decorated in old homey style, with old pots and plates, old photos, warm, family atmosphere.

    When we arrived in Matala we left the car in the parking lot and began to browse the shops, while at the same time looking for a nice place to have a refreshment.

    We found a restaurant with a shaded courtyard, so we sat down at a table there. We ordered greek yoghurt with honey and walnuts, a delicious local treat that we couldn't get enough of.

    After that we explored some more shops and bought more souvenirs: beautiful table cloth sets and pillow cases, all with Cretan patterns.

    We were feeling thirsty again, so we walked among the bars and restaurants on a path going along the side of the mountain, past the beach, and ending somewhere on the rocks above the water.

    It was a lively and entertaining atmosphere, bars and restaurants with colourful signs and decorations, tables set along the path above the sea.

    We had cocktails at Marinero and watched the sunset.
    On the way back to the car we bought some more souvenirs.

    The previous night the owner of Ilios Tavern told us that he would cook a lentils dish for us, so we stopped there for dinner.

    We arrived there just after 9 o’clock in the evening.
    We sat down at a table and the owner came to us. We greeted each other, then he asked us if we wanted lentils.
    We said we wanted some omelet and greek salad, pretending that we ignored our special request we had made to him the night before, to buy lentils and cook them specially for us.

    He said “as you like”, and proceeded to prepare our (new) order.
    We burst into laughter and he realized we were joking and laughed with us.

    He brought us the lentils stew in heavy clay plates and it was delicious. It had a mix of garlic, ginger, onions, and lots more, and the flavour was amazing.
    We finished it in no time, but he had some more left in the pot.

    We wanted seconds, so he came with the big pot to the table and just put the rest of it in our plates, a healthy portion for each of us.

    We ate it all, then he brought some raki to share with us.
    We chatted over raki, coffee and cigarettes till late in the night.

    When we arrived at the hotel we enjoyed the night's cool air on the balcony, watching the moonlit sea for a little while.

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    DAY EIGHT

    After a relaxing morning with fresh orange juice and a coffee on our balcony, we drove up in the mountains to Zaros.

    As the hairpinning road took us higher up the mountains, the views were more and more amazing. The mountains were forming a majestic backdrop for the plateaus below, square patches of olive orchards, sudden glimpses of the blue sea, scattered houses on the rocky slopes, goats and sheep balancing themselves with amazing ease on those rocks to reach for their food.

    Our first stop was at Platanias Tavern. The tables were in the shade of big trees, so we sat down and had greek coffee.

    We continued our drive up and finally reached Zaros.

    We walked the narrow streets of this village, bought souvenirs and sat down at Sinantisi cafe. We were served greek coffee in colourful cups and we also had lemonade.
    A spring water fountain was right there, so we drank from it. The water from Zaros is also available in shops.

    From there we drove up a narrow road to the lake.
    We parked and took in the views. The lake was in the middle of a forest surrounded by mountains. There were ducks and geese, as well as big trout floating lazily in the clear water.

    There was a tavern there, of course, Taverna Limni.
    We sat down at a table by a stone wall in the shade of the forest and we had splendid views of the lake.

    It was beautiful, cool, so relaxing.

    We had tzatziki, eggplant salad and potato and egg omelet.
    The omelet was big and thick.
    The food was just yummy and had amazing flavours.

    After we had our lunch we walked through the forest around the lake.

    It was late in the evening when we got back to Agia Galini.
    We went to the highest terrace, The Pantheon, and had cocktails at a table looking at the street and restaurants below, the sea sparkling in the moonlight right there in front of us.

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    DAY NINE

    Every day were amazed at the tastes and flavours that food on this rocky island has.

    We drove on long winding roads away from towns, we took in amazing views at every turn and we stopped many times to take another photo, and another, trying desperately to capture the size and magnificence of this landscape, the views that enchanted us, and then we ended up in a secluded spot with a couple of taverns in the natural shade of trees or grapevines, with glorious views over the sea or mountains.

    And then you order food and get the ultimate surprise in its taste and flavour, and of course we clear the plates.

    This day we drove to yet another such spot... on the winding roads of Crete.

    The road was long, very long, hairpins up through the mountains with sweeping views across the land until far, far away in the distance, where other mountains provided a beautiful backdrop.

    After yet another hairpin turn, we were taken by surprise when all of a sudden the expanse of the blue sea opened up in front of us.

    We found a spot to stop the car and went to the edge of the road. The sea was right under us, at the foot of the cliff. Big ships in the distance.
    Down to the right we saw Lentas.

    When we got close to it the road was forking and there were so many signs pointing in both directions, that would puzzle any newcomer. None of them said "Lentas", but all of them were pointing to various accommodations.

    We found it funny and took a photo.

    We parked the car and walked towards the beach. Lentas was a small village, a couple grocery shops and many taverns. We realized that it was a holiday spot, given the number of accommodation places too.

    We took a table at El Greco Tavern overlooking the beach.

    We had zucchini flowers (rice, carrots and zucchini rolled in small cabbage leafs), baked potatoes, spinach and cheese rolls, vegetable stew, rice and vegetables filled capsicum.

    The food was so yummy, with amazing taste and flavours.

    At the end we were offered raki. Although we didn't want it, the waiter insisted, so we each had a shot.

    The beach was calling us down below, so we chilled for a couple of hours. The water was pleasant and the weather just perfect.

    Before we left we had a coffee at a tavern on the beach.

    We got back to Agia Galini after 9 o'clock at night, had baklavas and galaktoboureko (greek cake) at a café before we returned to our hotel.

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    DAY TEN

    Last day of our Cretan holiday.
    We went on a morning stroll through Agia Galini, passed by the harbour, went to the cliffs, then visited Dedalus and Icarus Cave and statues.

    We went to one of the cafes facing the harbour and had greek yoghurt with honey and walnuts.

    We continued our exploration walk and found a restaurant with tables on the beach. We sat at a table under the shade of palm trees and had a coffee and fresh orange juice.
    Then we chilled in the water for almost one hour.
    We felt hungry so we ordered lunch: tomato soup, tzatziki, stuffed vine leaves.

    Later in the evening we drove to Spili, a town about 25 km away. A few days before we had food from a family restaurant where a grandmother, mother and daughter were working. We liked the homey service and the yummy food, served in big portions.

    We were quite hungry when we got there and the ladies recognized us and they were happy to see us again.

    We ordered chips, omelet and greek salad.
    The mother began to cut the potatoes and in the meantime made a fluffy omelet.
    The chips were fried in a frying pan and came one portion at a time, as and when they were ready.

    All the food tasted so good. The local olive oil played a big part in it.
    At the end the lady gave us fruits for free to take with us.

    We said our farewells and returned to Agia Galini just before midnight.

    We then had a big but nice task ahead of us: packing and fitting the cans of Cretan olive oil that we bought there, in our already souvenir-full suitcases.

    We returned home with fond memories from Crete, and a desire to return.

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    What a thoughtful and interesting trip report and (although I am not one) certainly an answer to those vegetarians who wonder whether you can find enough delicious veggie fare in Greece! Those people don't realize that for centuries, as an occupied nation, Greece suffered enormous poverty (all the wealth siphoned off by Turks, Nazis etc), and for ordinary people, meat was only a "condiment" or for holidays. Much Greek cuisine consists of making vegetables delectable.. gemist (stuffed) tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, zucchin -- and savory veggie mixes of all kinds.

    In addition it appears you embraced the most important ingredient in a Greek stay -- the gift of time. You stopped to enjoy the moment ... strolling thru lanes, sitting to enjoy the seacape, lingering for conversations with taverna owners and their families, tasting their specialties. You learned the secret of an authentic stay in Greece... that for Greeks, hospitality is not a business, it is personal. And when you express honest enjoyment, a meal or an evening becomes one of shared pleasure.

    After this trip report, out of curiosity I skimmed through your report of a visit to the USA. I was dismayed that many of your destinations were the artificial worlds (Disneyland, Las Vegas, hollywood), but you were amazingly positive even about my country's most superficial aspects. And I'm glad that even in a packed 1-day, you found my own city, Philadelphia, to be charming. Your upbeat attitude and interest will make any trip a rewarding adventure for you... here's to many more!

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    Travelerjan,

    Thank you for your nice words and appreciation.

    I loved my holiday in Crete so much, that my brother and I are already thinking of going there again, but this time in a different area, however still away from the touristy north. We'll find another village, more to the east or west, but still on the southern side.

    I chose my destinations in the USA to cover most of my "dream list" since I was very young, some must do places for me.

    I was overwhelmed, and still am, at the thought of how much time I'd need to see all that I now want to see and feel in the USA.

    I want to return, and while some destinations I will repeat, or rather... continue (New York, Washington, Memphis), I will certainly explore other areas too.

    With that my first visit, it's like I only got a taste of the USA.
    With the tip of my tongue.

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    Good for you, planning more trips to Greece. It's addictive, right? And you are correct to stay away from the N.E. Coast because that's been taken over by the "package holiday" plague of concrete blockhouses, and (in places like Malia) illbred blockheads. Even more upscale locales like Ag Nik and Elounda are basically just "resorts" not the sort of spots where Real People live. So go west again.

    If u have a car, the farthest-West of all is worth a couple of nights -- Falassarna, just about the only waves you'll see in Greece (because the wind comes all the way from spain). Sunsets are stunning, seen from a patio atop the cliffs above the beach. A simple place, Petalida, owned by a family (parents & 4 kids in thier 20s)... they also have a fishingboat, and in their restaurant nightly they serve the day's catch. ...very simple, room rates about €35 double in May.

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    Love your enthusiasm for the little things you saw & experienced, those little things that hardly show up in the guide books but really made your holiday.

    A couple of ideas for your next trip. Perhaps along the South-West coast by ferry - have a look at Sougia, Hora Sfakia & Loutro (best out of high season as it is so very perfect that it is too full), maybe Agia Roumeli too.

    Or perhaps my region of Apokoronas - 20km East of Chania. It has a couple of little towns - Kalyves & Vrysses, 1 pretty, small friendly resort with tavernas all along the beach road, shallow sandy beach - Almyrida(again busier than the beach can cope with in July & August), & many many little pretty old villages - the villages nearer the sea are still traditional but have a little touch of tourism in the form of some holiday villas - such as Vamos, Gavalohori, Plaka, Kokkino Horio, Armenoi then if you go up towards the White Mountains things get rapidly non-touristic. Places like Fres, Samonas, Nippos & lots more (these 3 all have 1 very good taverna). Lots of little explorations in the region, beautiful scenery. Just ask if you want to know more!

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    Travelerjan and jwugg, great tips there, thank you!
    Will certainly keep them in mind for my next trip to Crete.

    The interaction with the locals and taking in that atmosphere...

    Sunsets, love them!

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