Two weeks ago I was fortunate enough to spend a week on the beautiful Greek Island of Crete. We stayed on the West part of the island, in a little village 30 minutes West of Chania, called Gerani. I’m extremely fortunate in that I’ve had so many amazing family holidays, but on the plane back, we all agreed this one was right up there with the best.
Part of the reason why we enjoyed it so much was because of the hotel. We stayed at the Atlantica Caldra Creta Paradise and it was simply amazing. The staff couldn’t do enough for you and were always smiling and genuinely interested in the guests. We even had two terraces and our own pool!
When I stay somewhere I like to explore the area and especially go into the less commercialised parts of town to really get a feel for the place and culture. Since none of us wanted to drive (it just feels wrong driving on the right hand-side of the road) and attempt to navigate greek road signs, we went on the hunt for the next best alternative. We finally found out about the Little Fun Train and decided to book on for a trip. Although designed for tourists, we thought it was the best way to see the local area without having to drive.
We opted for the Western Adventure which took us through the villages of Maleme, Tavronitis, Rapaniana and Kolymbari. Sitting back on the train gave us time to appreciate the amazing scenary of the White Mountains and coast. I fell in love with the little shops covered in bright coloured flowers and the people dressed in black sat outside cafes catching up with friends and family. We even got a chance to see some glimpses of the “White Mountains” in the distance. The guide explained that the mountains are capped with snow until late June, but remain white even after the snow has melted due to their Limestone composition. Our first stop of the 3 & 1/2 hour trip was at Marathokefala in the mountains at the cave and church of Saint John which was breathtaking.
We then got back on the train and enjoyed the incredible views as we drove round the mountain villages. We eventually reached the village of Spilia, which our guide joked was known as Crete’s “Beverly Hills”. In the middle of nowhere on a Greek mountain with no one around us, our guide suddenly stopped the train and told us to follow her on foot up a narrow country road. A couple of metres up the road we stopped in front of one of Crete’s many olive fields. It was here our guide explained that this village was the home of the world’s oldest olive tree, aptly named “Olympia”. Branches of this tree were even used at recent Olympic Games including London! It’s crazy to think something so important is hidden away in a small mountain village. It hadn’t been made into a massive tourism attraction, and the character of the village had somehow been preserved. That’s what I discovered about Crete in generally, there’s hidden treasures around every corner.
Following our stop at “Olympia”, we got back on to our little train and headed further into the mountains. I felt like time had stopped and everything was much more relaxed up here. The very few people we saw seemed to be so relaxed and not rushing around like they are back home. Round every bend, the architecture was stunning and it got to the point where you couldn’t physically take pictures of everything. At our last stop of the trip we stopped at a local farmhouse to see how Raki is made. Sometimes called “firewater” you’re often given a shot of this after a meal if you go to a Greek restaurant. The farmer explained the process and to our shock said that when it’s first made it’s 100% proof, but then is thankfully reduced to 40%. The locals also rub it on their chests if they have a bad cough. Imagine what that does to your insides!
Finally we got back on to the train and headed back through the villages and into Gerani so we could find a nice restaurant for our evening meal. If you’re ever in this area of Crete, I’d definately recommend hoping on a tour. The trips focus on the villages and hidden side roads rather the more popular areas and aim to help the local economy rather than commercialise the area. Perfect if you want a flavor of the real Crete.
Next time I’ll show you the sights of Chania, possibly one the most beautiful cities ever.