If you missed the onslaught of Instagram posts that I pushed out last week, then you may not know that I’ve just returned from a holiday in Crete. It’d been a good few years since we’d last taken a beach break so, earlier this year, my boyfriend and I booked a stay at a self-catering villa complex set in the mountains (though just off the shore) of East Crete, near Hersonissos.
For my first time visiting Greece, or any of its islands, I know I made the right choice. Crete is just gorgeous – full of warm hearted and welcoming people; blessed with beautiful weather, colourful flowers and breathtaking views of the sea. Complete relaxation was our main priority for the holiday, and Crete certainly stepped up to the plate.
As part of my attempts to combat the post-vacay blues, as well as to share my experience with you all, I thought I’d post some photos here, and talk a little about our trip.
WHERE WE STAYED
The villa complex was situated on the doorstep of the adorable village of Koutouloufari, which was basically a sequence of 30-odd restaurants, or tavernas, one after the other. We were a short walk away from the nearest beach which, though small, was quiet enough to not feel too crowded.
The beaches in the area were mostly decked out with sun beds and umbrellas, and managed by hotels and restaurants on the promenade. Renting the beds and umbrellas was pretty cheap, so we did that most mornings, getting to the beach around 9.30am to bag a nice spot with enough shade to keep us from burning, close enough to the sea to run in for a cooling dip.
During our stay, we indulged in the wonderful Mediterranean culture of siestas (afternoon naps), which was just as well, because we were completely wiped out after the steep uphill walk back to the apartment from the beach.
After a little rest in our room (mostly spent on the balcony playing Yatzy), we would relocate to the main pool on the complex to laze in the sun and splash about in the water before heading out to the village for drinks and dinner.
WHAT WE ATE
I spoke recently of my desire to move towards a Vegan diet, so I felt a little bad about not sticking to that during the holiday. I resolved to cut myself some slack before committing, though, because where else to eat feta cheese than in Greece?
The Vegetarian food served at the tavernas in Koutouloufari and further afield by the beach was truly impressive. Nothing felt like an afterthought; some restaurants even boasted of Vegan options and Vegetarian menus. I stuck mostly to salads – one particular pomegranate and walnut affair was divine – as well as starter plates of dolmades, garlic bread and grilled vegetable skewers. My boyfriend (currently a Pescatarian but also aiming to adapt to a mostly Vegan diet) ordered fish most nights, and thoroughly enjoyed the fresh, local catches served up.
I just can’t talk about eating in Crete without mentioning the service, which was pretty incredible. Waiters at the tavernas – accustomed to the same guests returning yearly – were funny, familiar, and generous, in a completely natural way, with no hidden agenda. Meals were often succeeded by complimentary desserts and aperitifs served in miniature carafes; most notably Raki, or “holy water” as one waiter referred to it, which gave a little buzz and segued nicely into a siesta, particularly after a light lunchtime salad.
To briefly return to the subject of desserts, I need to tell you all about the orange filo pastry cake we tried at one particular taverna we visited twice, The Alchemist. We’d read about the restaurant, and its famous orange cake, online, so were pretty excited to try it. Never before has a cake so readily melted on my tongue, its moist form yielding in my mouth. What I’m trying to say is Christ, that was one good cake.
WHAT I WORE
It may sound trivial, but a big part of staving off my travelling anxieties was to plan my holiday wardrobe, and buy some nice new dresses and pieces to wear on different days and for different occasions. I set about planning for beach days and dinners, and ended up with just the right amount of clothing for the 7-day trip. Hurrah!
Most of my wardrobe came from my favourite store, Monki, and H&M, and there were a few things thrown in that I already had, though I gave away most of my summer clothes during a cleaning frenzy recently.
One of my main requirements was to not need to wear a bra, because bras bloody suck, and I won’t be pressured into wearing one on holiday, haha. I bought a very comfortable white bandeau, and wore that under dresses, for going to pre-meal cocktails and dinners. A lot of the time, I fell back on the casual style I’m most comfortable in, wearing laid back shorts and vest top ensembles and my trusty H&M midi dress.
Perhaps my most extravagant (though, not really) clothing purchases were my three bikinis. I bought the first one – a crop-top style, black and white striped piece- in Topshop, just after we’d booked the trip. The other two I picked up at the same time in TK Maxx, because I just could not choose one. First world problems or what?
Though I was already aware of the situation with stray and feral animals in many Mediterranean locales, I found myself shocked by the amount of cats we encountered around the village and surrounding area. Seeing skinny, wounded strays stalking around was upsetting; spotting a kitten sunbathing precariously on one of the village’s winding roads (it was later moved by some passers-by), however, really broke my heart.
Fortunately, the locals seemed to tolerate, and even enjoy, the company of their feline companions. Stray cats were left to wonder around the tavernas to the “ooohs” and “awwws” of the tourists (I may have discretely dropped a morsel from my plate once or twice). I was also relieved to see water bowls dotted around on street corners, further proving the compassion of the Cretan people towards the feral animal population.
I’ll be doing some more reading around organisations working to help stray and feral cats and dogs in Greece, before choosing one to donate to in future.
Oh, Crete. From your tasty food and ice cold beer to your warm waters and warmer locals, you really were a fabulous host. May we one day meet again.
Have you been to Crete? Let me know what your trip was like in a comment!