Crete is the largest, southernmost and most populous of the Greek Islands. It has amazing variety. Mountains, rolling hills covered with olive groves and over 1000km of beautiful coastline. It boasts Europe's only palm-tree forest beach. There are large tourist resorts, small fishing villages, remote settlements and cities which have been inhabited for almost 8000 years.
As Jason Dundas discovered, whether you go to Crete for the sea and sun, culture and traditions, or any other reason, you won't be disappointed. Don't be put off that it attracts almost a quarter of Greece's tourists. It's a big island and there are plenty of places for independent travellers to venture and discover quiet beaches and mountain villages.
Crete is 260km long and 56km wide and offers one of the best road trips in the entire Mediterranean. However, if you decide to drive yourself around, be aware that it's not a Sunday afternoon experience. Apart from driving on the side of the road Australians aren't accustomed to, locals aren't all that fastidious about obeying road rules.
Famous for its Venetian fort, Rethymnon has the added bonus of 12km of sandy beach. Built between the larger cities of Iraklion and Hania, it is one of the best-preserved towns of the Renaissance. It has the oriental features of the Turkish period with Renaissance-style Venetian architecture.
On the north-western coast of Crete, Chania is a good place to kick off. It's divided into old town and modern city and has a beautiful Egyptian lighthouse, Turkish mosque, charming old architecture and its backstreets have a good vibe. In fact, Chania is actually Venetian and was once surrounded by Venetian fortifications dating to 1538. The eastern and western parts have survived.
So, what you find all in one place is modern, Venetian, Turkish and traditional Greek all in perfect harmony in winding cobblestoned streets. There are archaeological sites, villages, churches, caves, gorges and beaches with warm sand or colourful pebbles. Absolutely something for everyone.
Nightlife isn't hard to find. There are lots of modern bars some right on a beach and nightclubs with a wide range of music.
Everyone loves a market and the covered Chania Municipal Market in the centre of town has been running since 1913. Farmers arrive with their produce and set up in the cross-shaped area and sell their meat, seafood, fruit and vegetables. The public gardens next to the market are ideal for some shade and tranquillity.
This beautiful 22 suite 17th-century Venetian palazzo is in the heart of Chania. The preserved historical mansion is opulent and wonderfully old world. It's set around a courtyard of pebbled mosaic, marble terraces, stone arches and giant cactus. Just the place for enjoying breakfast. Choose Cretan specialties, organic and homemade food.
Palace of Knossos
Just outside of Crete's biggest city, Heraklion, is the island's most important site: the Palace of Knossos. The Bronze Age site represents the Minoan civilisation and culture and is a maze of workrooms, living spaces and storerooms. It was inhabited for several thousand years beginning with a Neolithic settlement some time in the seventh millennium BC. It was abandoned in 1375 BC after its destruction, marking the end of Minoan civilisation.
British archaeologist Arthur Evans excavated the site in 1900 and restored large parts of the palace so it is possible today to appreciate its 20,000 square metres of grandeur.
There's so much to see on Crete and be ready for friendly locals who are right into food, singing and dancing.
The island of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea, an hour's flight from Athens.
Greece & Mediterranean Travel Centre has eight-day Crete Self-Drive holidays from $652 per person twin-share. They include seven nights' accommodation, breakfast each day and car hire.
The Palace of Knossos is open from 8am to 7pm between June and October and 8am to 3pm between November to May. Admission is around $9.
Prices correct at August 12, 2010.
For further information
Greece and Mediterranean Travel Centre
Suite 2, 644 Botany Road
Ph: (02) 9313 4633 or 1300 661 666
Fax: (02) 9313 4475
9 Theofanus Street
Ph: +30 28219 87400
Fax: +30 28210 96500
Greek Historical Sites
Visas: Australian passport holders do not require a visa to enter Greece.
Electricity: 220V at 50Hz electricity. Two- and three-point plugs are used.
Time zone: GMT +3.
Currency: The euro.
International dialling code: +30.
Travellers should be "in date" for the standard Australia and New Zealand immunisation schedules. Depending on the time of year of travel and exact destination, other health precautions and preventions may be recommended and are best discussed with your doctor. For further information, visit www.smartraveller.gov.au