The island of Crete in Greece is probably my favorite place on earth.
Even in late October, the weather was divine. It was so warm, that I could even swim in the ocean.
I stayed at a bed and breakfast just outside of Heraklion. So close to the bustling city, I felt like I was in a Grecian version of paradise…there were rolling hills, olive groves, and beautiful views of the blue-green ocean to the north. Grape vines hung from trellises outside of most houses. The air smelled fresh, of sea and earth.
I spent a lot of time writing while I was on the island. It was an inspiring place to relax and boil some creative juices! An excerpt from my journal:
“I’m sitting on a deck chair, looking out over a view of olive trees, scattered houses, and the Mediterranean. In the distance lies ‘Dragon Island,’ a fairly large, deserted island where the water is so salty, you can float there like you would in the Dead Sea.
I’ve been here since about 5:30 am. I woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep. It’s ok, though- I went to bed very early. I didn’t feel like I needed more sleep. So I stumbled out here in the dark, grabbed a book and a flashlight, and sat for hours in the light wind.
When I first wandered out here, dogs and cats barked and shrieked in the distance. Roosters crowed, somewhere. It felt like a rural jungle, the farms were alive and breathing morning sounds. It felt peaceful. It also felt active.
I am alone. But I am not lonely.”
I think the magical thing about Crete is the feeling of being completely surrounded by nature, but not feeling isolated from people. People in Crete are friendly and talkative–they’re eager to help people in need. Twice, we ran into sticky situations, and both times we were saved by the sweetest strangers. Without even speaking the same language, people helped us find our way. It was inspiring!
Don’t let me fool you, though – Crete isn’t a big, lonely island with just a few helpful neighbors. During the summer, the island is HOPPIN’. Our bed and breakfast hosts took us to a city just east of our location, and it looked like a deserted party town! It was full of funky restaurants all along the beach, with colorful and crazy shops and pristine beaches.
I only had ten days on the island, and I wish I had more! Here are a few of my favorite things to do and places to visit on the island:
Rethymno: Visit the charming city of Rethymno! My travel buddy and I took a two-hour bus to get to the city from our location – and the bus ride was glorious. Comfortable, fairly cheap, and we saw so much of the mountains and the sea on our way there. The city is more popular during the summer, so we saw a deserted version! There are cute restaurants, plenty of fun markets, lots of artsy boutiques, and of course, historical sites.
Avdou: A tiny village nestled in a valley, surrounded by mountains, this is a lovely spot to really feel like you’re in a traditional Greek village. The winding streets, the old, crazy houses, and the beautiful cemetery make you feel like you’re in a movie. On top of that, the place is also pretty busy during the summer – it’s a tourist-friendly place, but it’s still authentic to its roots.
Beaches: Plenty of beaches around the island to really fall in love with! The water was delightful in October – I can only imagine what it would be like in July. Swimming in the ocean is one of my favorite things to do, and Crete is probably one of my favorite places to do it!
Markets: There are plenty of markets around Greece, so trying local herbs and produce is easy! The markets tend to be huge, and are run on a weekly basis. I went to a market just outside of Heraklion, and picked up some lovely herbs and teas that are native only to Crete. This is also a way to get some inexpensive, local olive oil or raki! (Locals will insist that Cretan olive oil is the best in the world–and they are not just saying that out of pride). Great place to buy gifts for friends or yourself.
As for being vegan, since I went to the island during the off-season, most restaurants were closed or only open a couple hours a day. It was just easier for me to cook at our bed and breakfast.
Olives, olive oil, pita, hummus, fresh produce, delicious wine – there is plenty of Greek food to choose from that’s safe for vegans. However, if you’re not interested in cooking for yourself, here is a list of different veg-friendly restaurants on the island!
Ortakia (Amisou 11, Karterou, Heraklion): A mostly vegan coffeeshop / restaurant!
Soul Kitchen (Katexaki and Xeimaras, Rethymno): Mostly vegan and organic restaurant!
To Stachi (5 Defkalionos St, Chania): Vegetarian restaurant, vegan friendly!
If you end up going to Greece, bring your creative outlet, your swimsuit, and your sense of adventure. You’ll have a fantastic time!
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Photo: Abbie Zulock