Renowned for its beautiful beaches, charming villages and rugged interior terrain, the island of Crete draws nearly one quarter of all visitors to Greece. Crete's coastline boasts close to 100 miles of beaches - sandy and mostly developed along the northern coast; quieter, more pebbly but less tourist-driven along the south.
Although beautiful beaches abound, one of the most popular stretches of sand is Rethimno, nestled along the center of the island's northern coast. The wide, sandy beach and palm-lined promenade offer visitors a place to relax after exploring the town's tangle of streets, which wind through aging buildings tinged with Turkish and Venetian influences. With minarets, mosques and a Venetian fortezza, the old town has managed to remain virtually untouched amid massive development on its outskirts.
Rethimno's town beach is ideal if you want to stay close to the action, but for cleaner water and less-crowded sand it's best to head out of town and explore the province of the same name. In the north, try Bali Beach, a fishing village turned resort that has retained much of its charm. On the south coast, Ayia Galini beach and Plakias have grown into mini-resorts, but exploring the rest of the coast will yield no end of small, secluded beaches.
Regular flights connect Athens with the towns of Hania, Iraklion and Sitia on Crete. Iraklion is also connected via direct flights with many European cities and by charter flights during the summer. On the island, the best way to get around is by renting a car or taking a bus.
The northern coast of Rethimno enjoys a warm, dry Mediterranean climate with hot summers and relatively mild winters. Average temperatures range from 53 F (12 C) in January to 80 F (27 C) in July. April through October is considered tourist season in the north, with the hottest months being July and August. If you plan to do much walking or hiking, April and May are better months to visit. November through February tends to be the rainiest time. The southern coast is milder with less temperature fluctuation. Most resorts are open year-round.
As with most Greek cuisine, Cretan food tends to be simple, wholesome and robust rather than complex and sophisticated. A home-cooked meal might include fesolada (bean soup), loukanika (spicy sausage), dolmades (stuffed grape or cabbage leaves) or keftedes (lamb meatballs). Crete is also known for its full-bodied wine and coarse grape liquor called raki.
The Hellenic police force has developed a tourism police branch specially trained to aid tourists. Look for a tourism police shoulder badge or call the 24-hour emergency telephone line by dialing 171 from anywhere in Greece.
While you are there
Be sure to visit the Fortezza, which offers a spectacular view of the city and sea. Built in 1573 by the Venetians, it is now open year-round for visitors.
To fake that you've been there
Talk about the night you drank too much raki while hanging out at Galero - a popular Cafe by the Rimondi fountain.
Linking for a better vacation
Crete Tournet offers geographic, historical and practical information for visitors interested in learning more about Crete. The Greek National Tourism Organization also offers useful information.