A vacation on an island? In the Mediterranean? In the winter?? Yes, yes, and YES. Although it’s probably not for you if you just want to lie on a hot beach or lounge by a swimming pool the whole time. Or if you love crowds, lots of action and nightclubs full of partying patrons, then sizzling summer is the time to visit Crete. The summer heat is perfect for indulging in anything that involves activities in or on the water and you won’t want to venture too far away from it. But as beautiful the water is, there is so much more just beyond the beaches and the time to discover these things is during the off-season.
If you’re looking for a chance to really get to know the island, explore, taste and experience at a leisurely, relaxed and deliciously sublime pace, then make your reservations for November through May. With the cooler temps and fewer visitors, the island breathes with a different rhythm and a more interesting medley of colors, sounds and scents.
When a winter storm sets down over the island it usually brings violent winds, sideways rain and dramatic lightning but the storms are short-lived and reap the most amazing views of snow-covered mountains, double rainbows over the sea and a crashing symphony of chaotic surf. And when the sun reappears, it’s the perfect time to get out and hike, bike, camp or beach-comb.
One of our favorite biking areas is around the area of Stylos, a little village located just east of Hania near the popular beach resorts of Kalives and Almyrides. We usually park at a friend’s farm and bike on a secluded dirt road that follows the river and weaves in and out of orange and olive groves. Taking the paved road also leads us on a hilly ascent to out of the way villages above the coast and we always marvel at how much more we see and experience on the saddle of a bicycle as opposed to the seat of a car.
There are so many amazing hikes on this island it’s hard to know where to begin. Our favorites include the day hikes of Irini Gorge and the ridge above Meskla. For shorter versions with different sights we like the area around ancient Polyrinia and the monastery hikes to Agia Kyriaki or Agia Gouverneto.
Camping on an empty beach is pure magic and this year we ventured west with friends to Falasarna for a short overnight camp. We shared our site with a friendly cat, set up two small tents and enjoyed a quick dinner while watching the sunset over the water. Later that evening, with the campfire crackling in front of us and the waves gently breaking behind us, we stayed up much later than anticipated. How do you tear yourself away from those moments?! The next morning we rose early to get some nice photos before packing up and leaving nothing behind except our footprints.
Simply put, Crete is an island with so many diverse attractions, it’s a shame that most visitors don’t venture any farther than the nearest beach bar in the summer and don’t even think of coming to Crete in the off-season.
But my favorite time of year is when the bright green clover carpets the landscape and the wild thyme blooms. The herds of sheep and goats provide a constant lullaby of tinkling bells and sad bleating. The skies are painted with storm clouds and rainbows. The empty beaches sport virgin sands and collections of shells washed up from the recent storm. These things and a bottle of good wine or hot cocoa shared between friends in front of a warm fire makes you believe that there’s nothing “off” about the off-season on Crete.