The island of Crete is pretty much a very small country within the boundaries of Greece, rather than an actual Greek island. It may not be the country’s largest island, but this has not stopped it from being by far Greece’s most fascinating and diverse one.
Crete has been a staple of history in the region since before recorder history, with the ruins of the Minoan palace of Knossos being an intriguing attraction, till late in medieval times, evidenced by the Venetian fortresses of Rethymo. The island is also home to both old mosques, as well as Byzantine monasteries and even to the cave that is the legendary birthplace of Zeus, Crete has been a part of both history and myth for as long as people have been sailing the waters in the region.
Crete is also home to the port of Hania which is one of the country’s most evocative cities, and its capital, Iraklio is Greece’s fifth largest city.
The island is renowned around the world for its natural beauty and diverse landscape, featuring mountain ranges dotted with caves and split with dramatic gorges that make their way out to sea. A very rugged interior is interspersed with large plateaus and fertile plains, the island offering both beaches as well as Europe’s only palm-tree forest beach on its east coast.
Crete’s inhabitants are quite special themselves as well, a very hospitable and proud people who still maintain their ancient culture and customs, especially when it comes to their strong musical traditions. This means that while you’ll surely see four-wheel-cars around the place, you’ll also see shepherds tending their flocks, you’ll see men in their traditional garb, and mountain villages unaffected by the tourism which can be found on the coast or on the mainland.
The island attracts about a quarter of the entire country’s tourists, and that’s a lot of tourists mind you, which means that its north coast has been pretty much overrun with hotels and touristy things. Thankfully the island is large enough to allow for the more adventurous traveler to strike off on his or her own and find a nice quiet settlement.