Sometimes the longest journeys hold the greatest rewards.
What a great quote. I can’t quite remember who said it, although I have a fancy it might have been Sally from ‘Home and Away’ about twenty years ago! Still, no truer a phrase could be spoken about the journey, to the jewel that is Greece.
Greece may feel like a stretch from any part of Europe, least of all UK, although a reward, this captivating country most certainly is. From mainland, to the Peloponnese, to its islands. So much diversity.
We loved our excursion around the Peloponnese thumb on the eastern board, with our convoy buddies from Follow our Motorhome, although after a lovely month travelling together, a Cretan adventure was awaiting us and a visit from my mummy. So with bitter sweet departures, we left Nafplio and headed towards Piraeus. Now, after two ferries that have taken us from Spain to Greece, you could be forgiven for thinking we’d had enough of these water taxis, although when taking Anek Lines ferries, it is a joy not an endurance. Not only is the boarding effortless, the ferries themselves are great, the staff wonderful and an upgrade to a cabin simple and cost effective. In total we paid €400 for our sailing to Heraklion, which included our Early Booking Discount – booking before 28 February, which is worth having if you can do it early enough. We used the guys from Paleologos for our ferry connections. You can email Aria at firstname.lastname@example.org
There are other ports from which you can reach Crete, such as Gythio in the Peloponnese, although they hadn’t released their timetable by the time I wanted to book. So Piraeus it was, and actually, it was very easy to get to. The port disembarkation points are very well signposted and the Crete ferry is at Gate 3.
After 10 hours, we arrived on the island and despite a four day retreat at the Blue Palace Hotel, on the east coast in 2010, we really felt like it was a brand new experience for us. Leaving Heraklion, which I have to admit, is not pretty, we headed for the hills to a wild camp spot someone had pinned – I tried really hard to love it. Given that I measure my love for a place by how many tears I shed, there was no shedding on our arrival day. I comfort myself in the knowledge though that an uncharacteristic change in the weather and my travel weariness didn’t help matters and certainly added their shade to my first impressions.
It just wasn’t working for me, even in the mountains! The wild spot disappointed us, as it turned out to be a car park in a wine-region town, where the buses manoeuvred and so with wild abandon and a curious spirit, we headed for a reservoir we’d seen on the map. Alas our attempts were thwarted as the sat nav routed us through roads that Scoobie would simply not fit through. So with frustrated hearts, we decided to head for the campsite that we were due to call home for the first half of my mum’s visit.
Now we have been seriously spoilt with our wild camping and even the sites we’ve visited on mainland Greece, with so many spots reaching our Top 10 list. So I think expectations were high as we stepped onto Cretan soil. Although because there are not too many motorhomes who have headed out this far (certainly in comparison to other parts of Europe), recommended wild spots are hard to come by and there are only 15 campsites on the Island.
Camping Sisi, on the northern coast, 45 minutes east of Heraklion, is actually a little gem, once I’d got over my tiredness tantrum. It’s a rustic site that actually needs some investment, although comes with views to die for, with a picture-postcard setting sun and a fantastic over-sized swimming pool, all for €20 per night. It’s a fifteen minute walk into Sisi town, which is a cute, if not a tad touristy, with restaurants hugging the cliff edge waiting to entice you with their fish delights.
What stands out to me more and more as we begin grounding ourselves in the Cretan way of life, is how this island appeals to every sense and every type of interest. From hikers to cyclists, artists, botanists and historians and perhaps even the odd geologist and ornithologist to boot.
How can I begin to convey to you what we have experienced so far? Well let’s give it a go.
As a starting point, Imagine if you will the azure blue seas that protectively surround the island, hypnotising you with their sparkle from the glistening sun and that wave with white horses in the infamous afternoon winds. Picture rolling hills dwarfed by snow capped mountains, offering a tapestry of grapevines and olive trees that would feel at home in the heart of Tuscany. Secret alluvial plateaus hidden behind the mountain’s border reveal an authentic Cretan culture that is steeped in agriculture mastery with vegetables and fruits aplenty for the eager cook. See in your mind’s eye diverse rock formations along the coast, deeply penetrating caves that go far into the earth’s core and see how rivers carve their way through the 30 gorges that lure into their midst giving you a taste of a geological history where volcanoes ruled the land. Now get the smell of toffee as you walk along the coastal paths taking you back to a childhood memory that is combined with wild sage, thyme and mint that grow in abundance along the verges. In May, spring is still dominant and she offers the artist a kaleidoscope of colours that somehow seem to outdo the rainbow’s spectrum; with fuchsia pink and white oleander that frame even the National Road, making a stretch of tarmac look beautiful; cornflower blue blossoms that grow like weeds and purple trees that look like they should live in Japan. Yellow broom dots the hills, breaking up the greenness of the olives and red hibiscus throw their passionate hue to the keen photographer. And we cannot forget the craggy granite outcrops that are home to the chapels and monasteries calling their flock to take the pilgrimage up the mountain to worship underneath the blanket sky. And at last the inference of mythical and ancient times that will intrigue every historian as they seek to discover their lineage and ancestral core, whether through the gods or through the Minoans who carved their very existence into the countryside and our very own modern civilisation.
Each day we explore, we see and feel a new wave of love and appreciation for this stunning island that I feel will seriously challenge my superlatives and most definitely puts a question mark over the quote,
‘You only get one chance to make a first impression’
We are learning how to navigate its regions and challenging roads, being selective about our choice of exploration. As our first week comes and goes with the speed of a diving hawk, we are starting to unwrap the secret joys of our very own treasure island and what it offers our curious, adventurous spirits. So stay tuned to our Cretan Series of blogs and the ebook, which will closely follow, as we share its delights to entice you to journey south towards its shores.