Work worries seemed a distant memory as Mum and I sipped champagne on our flight out to Heraklion, Crete and any remnants of stress were washed away as we were bathed in warm sunlight stepping off the plane. We had booked this trip some 10 months previous and I couldn’t believe we were finally there. I had of course had a failed trip to Crete a few years earlier due to issues with my eye but finally I had made it. We had both left our husbands to fend for themselves for the week which I guess means Weatherspoon’s and local take away’s saw a rise in their profits!
Crete is one of the largest of the Greek islands and also the only one which could support itself without tourism – predominantly due to its olive harvest. Weather in early May in Crete is generally good with temperatures in the early twenties. We enjoyed unprecedented temperatures and one day the mercury hit 32 degrees; however our final two days were cooler with a north-westerly wind sweeping in.
Our hotel, the Mirabella in Agios Nikolaos was a 4* plus and it really was stunning with infinity pools; one of which had a swim up bar, a spa and a private beach area. It would have been rude not to spoil ourselves at the onsite spa. We sat in the sauna and then relaxed in the Jacuzzi. I then had a hot stones massage which I have wanted to try for ages and Mum had a neck, back and shoulder massage. Prior to going into the treatment rooms we were directed to changing rooms where we were supposed to take everything off and then put on this horrid pair of paper knickers and a towel round us. Our therapists then met us and Mum had a male therapist – I don’t think I would have been comfortable with that but she obviously was as she fell asleep during the massage! The hot stones were extremely relaxing and I felt all my tensions slip away.
On our last morning we even had champagne for breakfast – very indulgent, whilst being serenaded by a gorgeous saxophonist. As part of our all- inclusive deal – we were entitled to one night at the a la carte restaurant. This was a 5 course meal so we were thoroughly stuffed when we left there.
We could have spent the whole time sunning ourselves but judging by my sunburn – it’s probably a good job we didn’t. We got out and about quite a bit and immersed ourselves in the island’s culture and history of which its inhabitants are extremely proud, as well as enjoying some pampering and relaxation.
Crete and indeed the Palace of Knossos which we visited, was the centre of the Minoan people who are believed to be one of the earliest European civilisations. The ruins of Knossos were discovered by a British man in 1900 and he spent time reconstructing parts of it which is the cause of controversy among historians. It was a baking hot day as we were guided around the ruins by a very knowledgeable but over talkative guide. The visit was followed by free time in Heraklion and culminated in a visit to the Archaeological museum there which was intended to cement our knowledge of the Minoan people. I’m afraid museums of this kind are not really my thing – if you’ve seen one pot, you have seen them all, and so Mum and I sneaked off shopping after showing our face at the museum – what rebels we are!
One of the main reasons we had chosen Crete for our holiday was to visit the island of Spinalonga. The island was originally used as a fortress in Venetian times but was used as a leper colony from 1903-1957 and was one of the last leper colonies in Europe. It has been uninhabited ever since. This sort of history is far more interesting to me as it is relatively recent whereas it is hard to visualise Minoan history which is thousands of years ago. Spinalonga was made infamous by the author Victoria Hislop who wrote the book ‘The Island’; a novel based around a fictional family’s experience with leprosy. I reread this whilst away and having now seen the colony – the story was even more captivating for me. We also had free time in Elounda where we relaxed on the beach and enjoyed a Greek lunch.
The highlight of the trip was a 4 x 4 jeep ride up into the mountains to the Lassithi Plateau. As we drove up the rough tracks, our driver pointed out to us herbs that grow naturally, tree climbing goats and vultures. We had a hearty BBQ lunch as part of the trip and then burnt it off with a trip to the Dikteon cave in which legend has it Zeus was born. To reach the cave we had to climb a rocky path for 800m and then descend 250 steps. You could have opted to pay for a donkey but we were warned that these animals are not terribly well cared for, so not to fund it.
The driver of the jeep was an expat but so knowledgeable about the many customs of Crete and the Greek people in general. Some of the things that particularly fascinated me were the small churches left at sites of road crashes as a way of ensuring the souls of the dead go to heaven or thanking God if they survived. They are also placed by fields to thank the God for a good harvest.
Another terribly romantic custom is that if a woman loses her husband, she wears black for the rest of her life and if a man loses his wife he grows a beard as a sign of mourning. The day was finished with a visit to Krasi to see the oldest Plane Tree in Crete which is believed to be 2400 years old. It is thought to be the tree of Zeus. The tree is said to be a tree of fertility that will never die. Opposite the tree is a Venetian spring where washing would have been done.
Mum and I also visited a local olive farm which was right near our hotel. The farm had been in the owner’s family for years and he took us through the original process for making the oil and also showed us what else he produced including Raki and pottery. We then tasted the olive oil he had made by completely traditional methods apart from the grinding which was done by hand rather than by the donkey, who he keeps just as a pet. We also sampled honey and Raki. Raki is used as a bit of a cure all by Cretans and is often served at the end of a meal. Mum and I both tried it but neither of us were impressed. I purchased some olive oil from there and some sundried tomatoes.
I usually like to add to my shoe collection whilst away but sadly on this trip, this was not meant to be. The first pair I liked in Heraklion were out of stock in my size and another gorgeous pair in Agios Nikolaos were out of my price range at €265! I did however make a few fashion investments apart from buying the usual holiday toot.
Every jeweller we walked past on the island, attracted us to the window with a beautiful blue stone, which is more stunning than any I have seen before. I couldn’t resist these earrings from a jeweller in the hotel and what was even better was the guy knocked €9 off the price, however he then waved at me every time I walked past his shop for the rest of the trip – either he had a thing for me or was trying to entice me back to spend more.
I found this gorgeous blue clutch in the market at Agios Nikolaos and couldn’t resist it. I thought the gold embellishment looked vaguely similar to that of a Mulberry bag with the tree. Getting shoes in the right shade to match will most likely prove an impossible task but I think you could pair it with navy or black shoes.
An eco zoo park where they showed how they traditionally made textiles and pottery brought me to a gorgeous cream pashmina which I know I will accessorize lots with in the coming summer months being that England has slightly cooler evenings than Crete.
This bracelet which I found in a shop in Heraklion incorporates a well known Greek pattern and sets off any outfit a treat.
Of course before I went and at the airport I used the holiday as an excuse to expand my wardrobe and went a little crazy with beach wear – now I just need another holiday to get my wear out of it!
I also got Mum to test out a hairstyle I had seen a video for on Facebook and I will attempt to explain how to perfect it.
- Tie hair into a high ponytail
- Place a pencil or chopstick through the hair above the ponytail
- Split the ponytail in two
- Take a piece from one section to use as the third section of the plait but pass it over the pencil/chopstick before plaiting it in
- Continue taking a piece as the third piece from alternate sides each time
- When you have no more hair, continue with a traditional plait and fix with a band
- Clip the end of the plait beneath the pony tail with a Kirby grip
- Pull the pencil/chopstick out
The week went by in a flash and before we knew it we were heading back to the cooler climate of good old England. I certainly fell in love with Crete and would love to visit again and it was so lovely to spend quality time with my Mum who is also my best friend. I only hope if I have a daughter, my bond with her will be as strong. Love you always Mum.