My love affair with Crete
Thirty years ago, I took a trip to a Greek island which would change me forever.
I went to Crete for just a couple of months, for a chance to breathe my own air and take a well-earned rest from the hustle of city life thousands of miles away. Little did I know then, the impact this island would have on me, my life and my future.
You see I fell in love and had a glorious affair – one which continues today.
I fell in love with Crete.
No stranger to Greece, I had previously travelled to other islands which I had explored and adored, but nowhere captured my heart like Crete. As soon as I set foot on her ancient soil I knew I had come home. I felt at peace. I took off my suit of armour and embraced all she offered, and despite her ‘newness’ and not speaking a word of Greek, it was all so familiar.
I first knew something magical was about to happen when I arrived by boat from Santorini. The early morning gleamed golden orange as a pomegranate sun crept over the horizon… the Sea of Crete was like glass and the air was peppered with the scent of warm sage, oregano and thyme (which I discovered grows wild on the hillsides). I was already in a state of sensory overload for I could smell the island when she was a mere dot on the landscape.
It was about five thirty in the morning and the sleepy fishing village of Agios Nikolaos was quaint, quiet and peaceful. Well-fed cats stretched idly on the cobbled streets as they performed their morning ablutions, oblivious of the odd Vesper or car which carefully manoeuvred their way around them, often by mounting the footpath.
Brightly coloured caïques (kai-e-keys, Greek fishing boats) clung to the foreshore as a cheerful fisherman tended his yellow net and fresh bounty…the fish in the bay were plentiful and it had been a good morning. A lone heron sat on the prow eating tidbits and the smell of the fisherman’s Assos cigarette was strangely alluring.
Heading up the hill in search of coffee and a cheese pie, a church bell pealed out over terracotta roofs sending a plume of doves into the air. A couple of elderly women in black walked arm-in-arm past me. They had to be sisters. Their blue eyes dancing as they nodded and murmured “Kali mera” (good morning). I was struck by how friendly and happy they were despite the hour.
I arrived at the square which was, in fact, a roundabout and spied a jovial chap who looked like an extra from Zorba The Greek opening his cafe.
“Kali mera, welcome. You want coffee, fresh orange juice, cheese pie?” he shouted in excellent English.
Grinning, I sat at a table – he’d read my mind. A large glass of the sweetest orange juice I’d ever tasted arrived with a flourish, followed by a cup of piping hot Greek coffee and delicious tiropita (cheese pie) made with local Cretan cheese. Bliss.
His name was Yiannis and he was a never-ending source of information, anecdotes, contacts and help. He directed me to a house on the hill where I could find board and lodgings (the owner was a relative), and to the best swimming spot some ten minutes away.
Desperate for an early morning swim I headed for the bay where the mountains beyond reflected an extraordinary shade of mauve in the pellucid, peacock-coloured waters. Determined not to create ripples on the millpond I ventured into the warm and swam for ages towards the mountains across the way. Buoyant in her saltiness, I could clearly see the bottom as I watched an octopus silently glide around the rocks and what looked like pottery sherds from antiquity.
Flipping over, I floated and watched a heron circle overhead a couple of times before heading into the blue as I pondered on the last couple of hours, since arriving by boat at dawn. I realised that I had experienced something deeply visceral. A feeling of complete happiness, of peace, of joy, and that despite not consciously looking for it – I had found my spiritual home.
Much has changed over the years. It’s no longer a sleepy fishing village. It’s grown into a thriving town with ATMs, more tourists, more cars and bikes, more shops, more life and where even the shepherds have mobile phones.
And in 1996 my daughter was born there.
Today in summer, the air is still peppered with fresh, warm sage, thyme and oregano which still grows wild on the hillsides.
The caïques still head out every morning and bring in their catch of the day.
A lone heron is still fed breakfast daily.
The coffee and the pies seem even better than before, and I still swim in the same spot and flip over and float for hours.
And the water is still crystal clear and the colour of a peacock.
I still love these simple things and they are what make life so perfect.
Today I share these Cretan joys, by taking small two-week culinary and cultural tours across the island.
So if you’re feeling jaded, in need of an escape to recharge, rest, enjoy good food, friends, and new experiences, why don’t you join me?
Crete changes people, and I have yet to meet anyone who is not captivated by all she has to offer, and who doesn’t vow to return.
I have a couple of spots left for my tour in September 2019.
Please continue. I love viewing your life viscerally. Maybe one day I’ll turn up at Kingsford Smith ready to start my adventure and renew our wonderful friendship in the country that stole your heart.
I first worked in Crete as area manager (rep etc.)for Olympic Holidays
A virtual paradise.Aghios Nikolaos was then the setting for the UK series “Who pays the ferryman”
Oh, Gosh Michael – what a fabulous time to be working in Crete – particularly Agios Nikolaos – and yes it was the setting for “Who Pays The Ferryman” – which was what turned Crete and Agios Nikolaos into the next big holiday destination. It remains today. Lucky you to be there at that time. Happy memories.
I can’t wait to experience Crete with you this year Fran ????♀️???
Thank you, Colleen… I look forward to that day when I can show you Crete. Keep the dream alive and I will as well. xx
Thank you Steph. Me too it’s going to be such fun. Counting down the days… xx
I first worked in Crete as area manager (rep etc.)for Olympic Holidays
A virtual paradise.Aghios was then the setting for the UK series “Who pays the ferryman”
Wish I could describe the island as you do.
I live in Athens and visit Sitia and Molyvos most years.
Congratulation on this enthralling series
I shall pass it on
Thank you so much, Michael – I’m so thrilled that my writing resonates with you. Maybe meet you in Crete one day.
This beautifully written piece explains your attraction and love for Crete. I can’t wait to see if it captivates my heart in the same way .. I think it just might ..
Thank you Carol – I think it just might and you’ll return again and it will live in your dreams. xx
We have recently moved to skopelos from south africa and are toying with the idea of oerhaps buying in crete. Arevthe winters awfully cold.Very keen to join a tour with you.Regards ,Janet
Hi Jan – Crete is actually warmer than the other islands in winter – though it can be windy and wet. If you need more information on my tours send me an email with your email address and I will get back to you. My email is: [email protected]
I have just returned from Europe – last night! Sadly I have not visited Crete. But as a reader / viewer of your wonderful posts over a long period, I have been able to enjoy and learn from your magic. Thank you for this opportunity.
I loved your photos and stories about your magical trips to Crete. I have to go to UK this June (it will be my last visit) but I have tacked on a 5 day visit to Verona to 3 operas in the Veneto (always on my bucket list). I would love to visit Crete, there is something about the Mediterranean and Aegean islands that creeps into the soul. My lovely travel agent is Greek and is talking about taking a tiny group to her island at the end of this year – perhaps I could ‘do’ Crete as well! Here’s hoping.
You have the same poetic soul as your mother!
Lots of love Bobbie
Crete is so authentically beautiful filled with so much history and culture and also the home of the oldest palace in the world. I
I can feel that love is have for Crete, I would love to visit… please keep writing and letting others know of your experiences…thank you…xx my name is Sonia 🙂
Hi Sonia – thank you so much for your wonderful comments. So pleased my writing resonates with you – I shall certainly keep writing – please sign up for my newsletters and posts. Maybe one day we will meet in Crete – who knows? F xx
I like you went to crete with my boy friend we are both widowed and decided to travel when we were fit and able we stayed in stalis for two weeks in october last year and i just cant stop thinking about it i loved it so much like it was home from home we live in the North of Ireland county Armagh and Tyrone respectively it was such an experience we are going back this year in october i would love more insight into your guided tour and is it suitable for disabled travellers that cant walk too far also flying from Belfast
Hi Deirdre – how fabulous that you had such a wonderful time – it sounds like you’ve been bitten by Crete! I’d love to talk to you some more about my tours and would love you to send me an email with your questions so that I can answer them in full. I can certainly modify my tour to accommodate those unable to walk far – I just need more details from you, My email is [email protected]
I look forward to hearing from you
Your explanation of Agios Nikolaos is simply bang on. I too moved from the U.K. to Crete in 2001 for the exact same reasons you describe, and now live about 5 mins away from Agios Nikolaos so maybe we have bumped into each other at some time without realizing it. I have only just found your blog but will continue to follow you. Good luck with your travels.
Hi Rita – how lovely to be in touch and we definitely have to meet next time I’m in Crete – in September. Please send me your details so we can catch up – my email is [email protected]
Hi. I visited Crete this past summer after many years. It is truly a paradise and I can’t wait to return. It’s a magical place. The people are embracing and hospitable and the beaches are magnificent! I could go on and on.
Cathy, you have nailed Crete in your comments! It truly is a magical place. Are you Cretan by any chance? Your surname would indicate so. Happy travels back to Crete whenever that may be.