Cretan stairs

Kalimera! We’re just back from a sun-drenched, chilled-out week on the Greek island of Crete; a spontaneous, late-minute booking that was exactly what we needed.

One of the things that struck me the most about Crete was the effortless beauty in everything, and the radiant, kaleidoscopic colour to be found everywhere across the island;  every shade of blue, from the cerulean and turquoise of the sea, which changed constantly as the sun rose, radiated and then began to set…

Agios Nicolaos

sea tide

Ocean tide at night

To the cobalt-blue of doors, shutters and windows, and the paintbox of shades found in every village street

Cretan doorway

Cretan shutters

Cretan doorways

In Agios Nicolaos and Elounda every corner and side street revealed new surprises,  from a beautiful mosaic which covered the entire wall of a kids store, to endless inviting spots to sip a coffee (or a chilled glass of rosé)  …so we did.

Many times.

Mosaic in Agioa Nicolaos, CreteCafe in Agios Nicolaos Crete

Restaurant in Elounda in Crete

We ate freshly-caught sardines, octopus (strung on washing lines in the harbours to dry!),  salty, crumbling local cheeses, olives and roasted peppers.  Small plates that slipped down a treat so that all moderation was lost.  No matter.  We visited a local co-operative that produces olive oil for all the local villages; most families own small groves of trees and bring their harvest each year to be processed for oil.  Alex the owner told Harry that the rite of passage for each boy in becoming a man is the moment he plants his own olive tree; he was enchanted. We tasted the oils as you might do wine, learning to distinguish between the buttery, peppery, citrussy and smooth tastes of each.  Harry was the expert in no time, developing an impressive palate.

A sombre, arresting highlight of the week was a visit to Spinalonga, an island made famous a few years ago by this novel, which was home to a leper colony for around fifty years at the start of the last century.  Within days of a leprosy diagnosis, you would be sent to Spinalonga – children and adults alike, usually travelling alone – for the rest of your life.  Spinalonga was haunting and beautiful; the streets seemed to still echo with life and memories.

Spinalonga Island, Crete

New arrivals would enter through a tunnel known as Dante’s gate (below), not knowing what they would find on the other side of this one-way trip into a new world, having left everything behind.

Dante's Gate, Spinalonga Island

We visited at the end of the day and had the island almost to ourselves, bathed in the fading light.

spinalonga1 spinalonga chapel

Days in Crete were exceptionally hot, and surprisingly windy; in July and August the Etesian winds are at their peak, blowing across the island with such a force that it feels like facing into a hairdryer for hours on end. We heard a lovely local saying;  ’the wind sleeps with his wife at night’, retreating and fading at sunset.  In the late afternoons we’d settle in the shade, out of the sun and wind, and Harry and I had a go at painting the sea…

I’d brought a travel set of paints with us and a palette and pack of blank watercolour postcards, thinking we might make use of them.  We mixed up the paints and used a piece of sea sponge to create waves and foam;

paint1 paint2

I poured some hotel-room shower gel into a cup and squeezed in some paint, blowing with a straw to create bubbles so we could experiment with foamy effects.  Messy but brilliant fun.  Then for a final touch, we cut out sardine shapes from tissue paper and glued them over the top, for a collage of all-things Crete to send home in the mail…

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Efharisto, Crete!  Thank you for a wonderful week of sunshine and new adventures.  We will be back.

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