Visiting Greece’s biggest isle in winter (and learning how to cook like a local)
- Crete is a giant of a Mediterranean island – and the southernmost part of Greece
- Its location makes for mild winters, and palatable temperatures during February
- Chania, its second city, is a perfect holiday base, with restaurants open all year
Biking through ghostly seaside resorts along the northern coast of Crete, it’s clear that finding somewhere for coffee might be something of a challenge.
We’ve timed our trip deliberately out of season to explore the largest and most populous of the Greek islands without doing battle with crowds or heat.
We’ve packed a picnic, and cycling inland through mountain villages and towns, we find there are places to idle over a hot glass of tea as the locals do.
As the most southerly of the Greek islands, the weather is mild enough in winter to make exploration a charm rather than a chore, with temperatures around 14C and plenty of sunshine.
We base ourselves in Chania, a 14th-century Venetian harbour-town crowned by a beautifully preserved lighthouse. As Crete’s ‘second city’, there are plenty of places open all year round, and the port is rimmed with bars and restaurants.
There are no direct winter flights, so we travel via Athens, with a pitstop at the magnificent Grande Bretagne hotel in Syntagma Square, which overlooks the Greek parliament.
From here, we take a 40-minute flight to Crete, checking into the Casa Delfino, a thoughtfully restored boutique hotel, housed in a former Venetian mansion near the sea front.
As well as cycling, we take a hair-raising drive through Therisso Gorge, where mountain goats have even less road sense than tourists in hire cars.
Crete is a richly fertile island. A fact we really appreciate after enjoying a glorious one-day cookery workshop on an olive farm — called, well, The Olive Farm — in the hills above Chania. It sprawls across acres of agriculture, where trees and bushes hang heavy with carob and avocados.
Visitors can try cheese-making, olive and grape harvesting or local wine tasting. By the wood-lit stove, we learn how to make traditional Greek dishes such as tzatziki and chestnut and olive stew, and talk to the owner, Valia Avgoustidi, about the island’s food culture.
Yes, you get the odd bit of rain — but when that happens, we simply dip into a museum, such as the Maritime Museum of Crete, in Chania.
The island might be a magnet for tourists in high season but, go in winter, and you’ll have it to yourself.