When I think of the Greek islands I wonder how to capture their magical essence in the written form. It must be the combination of clear blue skies, bright sunlight, the surge of heat, the fragrant smell of olive trees and the wonderful aroma of Greek food that all make the weight lift immediately from my shoulders and stress just seems to dissipate! Those that are familiar with many of the Greek Islands all have their favourites and I have to admit that mine is Paxos. However, I have been to Crete at least three times and it is a stunning island.
The real magic of Greece began for me when I was a teenager with a backpack and I first visited the mainland and the Cyclades. The following year I drove through Europe to Piraeus and took the car ferry to Naxos where I lived for a few months. Since then Greece has become the country I return to time and time again. I now have my own teenage daughters who love it as much as I do and this summer we travelled to north-west Crete for a week with close friends to stay in Villa Kontis. The nearest seaside village is Georgioupolis – just a five minute drive away and there are plenty of shops and tavernas here together with an excellent supermarket called Ariadne (near the police station).
We preferred the beach at Almirida, a smaller resort, about a 20 minute drive from the villa on the main highway (exit Kalives). Here we often lazed the days away on the sandy beach playing bat and ball, enjoying the surf and eating lunch at the pretty seaside tavernas. The teenagers chose the taverna with the fit waiter and ordered souvlaki pitta every day!
The island of Crete is large compared to many of the Greek islands but it is very varied and probably has the biggest number of hair pin bends from North to South through the incredible mountain range from Chania to Paleochora. Samaria Gorge is found in this area and claims to be the longest gorge in Europe (16km). Due to the island’s very southerly location, the weather is usually good from April until the end of October.
On our first evening we took a five minute stroll to Maze which is a tiny hillside village of a few traditional stone houses and a sleepy square with a small church and one taverna. We were warmly welcomed by the taverna owner (Kostas) who served us some delicious fresh food including local lamb. Our parting gift from him was a huge bottle of red wine he had made using his own grapes. Also in this part of Crete in many of the tavernas, you would usually expect to be given a nightcap of raki (firewater!).We arrived at Villa Kontis which is in a very peaceful and secluded setting and were thrilled with the spacious villa and its beautifully kept gardens. The pool is larger than any I have seen at other properties and it is a delight to sit around and enjoy the sound of the cicadas and the odd grunting goat passing by. The style and ambience in this lovely stone house is relaxed and comfortable with very attractive furnishings. Outside we cooked on the large built-in barbecue, a treat to have this option for dinner when we did not always feel like getting in the car again.
Lastly, this villa has an excellent visitors book where guests have shared very useful information and ideas. Worth noting from my insert – if you visit Lake Kournas which is close by and famous for turtles, do not bother going during the daytime as we did not see even one turtle, apparently they come out in the evening!