10 things to do in Crete away from the crowds
Again, we know you’re planning to visit Knossos Palace and hike the Samaria Gorge. And you shouldn’t miss those—but prepare for throngs of tourists. Here are some of the best places to point yourself for less-crowded recreation.
1. Take a sunset cruise to Dia Island
Funny that in this first suggestion, we’re advising you to actually leave Crete. It’s only for an evening, though. Since Crete itself is so big, you may start to feel like you’re on a mainland, whereas most Greek vacations suggest island hopping and eating cheese at sea. So, here’s your chance: Voyage on a yacht to nearby Dia Island from Heraklion. There are chances to swim and snorkel as the skies turn pink and life stands still. Take a picture in your mind and with your camera. Toast to your god with the local “ya mas!” cheers. This memory will last forever. (If your schedule is taut, you can do the same thing in the morning or midday, too.)
2. Try the Southern Shore beaches
OK, your Googling will tell you to visit Elafonissi, Balos, and Tsoutsouras. They’re great, but the secret is out. Instead, try the less-visited southern shore of the island. (And note, the four Cretan regions, west to east, look a lot like their capital cities, save for the fourth: Chania, Rethymnon, Heraklion, and Lasithi.) For fewer folks and perfect beach days, get to Sougia, Loutro, or Gavdos in Chania; Preveli or Agios Pavlos in Rethymnon; Vathi, Martsalo, or Agios Nikitas in Heraklion; and lastly, Xerokambos or Chrysi in Lasithi.
3. Do a Cretan wine tasting
Crete has 70+ family-owned vineyards, and not a meal should go by without you sampling from their local selection. The island has a 4,000-year old winemaking history. We assume you have some brushing up to do on your sampling of varietals like vilana, vidiano, dafni, thrapsathiri, muscat of Spina, plyto, kotsifali, mantilari, liatiko, tsardana, and of course, romeiko. (Do you follow?) If not, get to one or more of the island’s vineyards, most of which are in Heraklion. May we recommend Douloufakis, Lyrarakis, and Sinadakis.