AS the birthplace of Zeus in ancient myth, Crete has a haul of treasures from its storied past.
But the island’s most precious historical hand-me-downs are not in its museums but its tavernas.
From goat-cheese pie to lamb with wild greens and red mullet swimming in olive oil, the food on Crete is worthy of the gods themselves.
If we have whet your appetite for a big, fat Greek holiday on the nation’s largest island, read on to find out why Crete should be your next holiday hotspot.
The classic sight
Walk the historic Imbros Gorge, through which Allied troops marched to escape the island in 1941.
Shorter and more accessible than the better-known Samaria Gorge, this two-and-a-half-hour hike boasts spectacular views and some very narrow passages.
Walkable all year round, the gorge starts below the village of Imbros, descending 600 metres on a mostly simple path suitable for older kids.
The wow moment
Staying on the popular northern coast?
Then set your GPS for the fishing village of Hora Sfakia for a breathtaking mountain drive to the island’s secluded southern beaches.
Make this day-trip in spring and you will climb into the Sfakia mountains through a riot of colour as the rugged terrain comes into flower, before dropping down ear-popping switchbacks on the sheer southern coast.
Don’t be put off by bullet holes in the road signs.
The proud people of Sfakia have famously never been fully occupied by a foreign power.
Finally at peace, street furniture now takes the brunt of their martial spirit and great aim.
The top tour
Once in Hora Sfakia, take a taxi boat or private hire with Taxi Boat Sfakia (deligiannislines.com) along the coast to beaches and caves only accessible by water.
Don’t miss Sweet Water Beach, named for the fresh springwater found just below the pebbles.
It can’t be accessed by road, so the beach is never crowded.
A cultural fix
Learn the secrets of authentic Cretan cooking with a class in the courtyard of an old olive press.
Run by Koula Barydakis, author of the cookbook Foods Of Crete, in the village of Vamos (vamosvillage.gr), you will cook up an incredible five-course, al fresco feast.
Favourites include courgette fritters, tzatziki, white bean soup, tomatoes with feta cheese, egg noodles with walnuts and basil and lamb in wine sauce.
There are always lots of leftovers — perfect if you are self-catering.
The fun neighbourhood
Head to the streets around the church of Saint Titos in Heraklion for the island’s best bars.
Dish Cafe Bar Restaurant has been serving up cocktails, coffee and brunch for more than a decade in one of the most beautiful squares.
Head chef Yannis Kornaro will impress with a modern selection of Mediterranean dishes before the DJs serve up a party atmosphere enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.
The great outdoors
For a beach off the beaten track, try Balos on the Gramvousa Peninsula.
This stunning stretch of sand along a peaceful lagoon has nowhere to buy food or drink, so be sure to bring a picnic and pack your umbrella for shade.
A fantastic feast
Accessed via winding mountain roads with sections washed away in rockslides, you will want to take your time reaching Dounias restaurant.
Just as well, then, the motto there is “slow-cooked food”.
Owner Stelios Trilirakis brings each dish alive with his infectious enthusiasm for his land and its rich bounty.
His family-run restaurant, boasting views over a valley of olive groves, has no menu.
Instead, they serve whatever is in season on Stelios’ farm and in the surrounding hills — always in a generous portions.
From braised lamb to goat’s cheese, potatoes and even snails, everything is freshly prepared and most of it slow-cooked on stone pots over the fire.
With the kids
At Aquaworld Aquarium & Reptile Rescue Centre, kids can get up close and personal with the chance to hold huge snakes and bond with Blondie the giant tortoise.
Most of the animals on display are rescued or were unwanted pets.
Entry is for £7 adults and teenagers and £3.50 for young kids.
Where to stay
The 5 star Abaton Island Resort & Spa opened in 2019 across 360 metres of stunning Cretan coastline, just 25 minutes from Heraklion Airport.
All straight edges, glass and infinity pools, the main restaurant and lobby feels like a cruise ship jutting into the Agean.
The interiors are cosier, with distressed wood and mismatched bed tiles set against white walls and marble stairs.
Some come with private plunge pools and most have stunning sea views.
The hotel’s five restaurants offer Cretan dishes land and sea, while a trendy Buddah Bar sets Asian fusion food to international DJing.
COVID: Holidays abroad are not permitted while we are still in lockdown.
GETTING/STAYING THERE: Seven nights’ B&B at the 5 star Abaton Island Resort & Spa is from £1,086pp, based on two sharing, including flights departing October 11 with free in-flight drinks and private hotel transfers at jet2holidays.com. See abaton.gr.
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