Posts Tagged ‘Crete’

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Ikaria

January 20, 2013

Ikaria MapI have finally found the special Greek island I would like to retire to which is in the north-east Aegean. Both my best friend and my mother sent me the article written by the Daily Mail journalist Jan Moir, about Ikaria so I believe this is the Greek omen I have been waiting for –  there must be something in the fact that two people who know me better than most others thought of me when they read it.

I have therefore done a little research on Ikaria.  Located off the coast of Turkey, close to Samos where, strangely enough, I almost bought a share in a property a couple of years ago. Apparently the people live until more than 100 and are happy drinkers and some even still smoke!

Back to Ikaria – in Jan Moir’s words “the people live longer and better than almost anywhere else on the planet.”  Well, that’s a good enough start for me!

People on Ikaria regularly reach the age of 90 with two and a half times the frequency of Americans. Ikarian men, in particular, are four times as likely to reach 90, and are often in better health than their foreign counterparts.
It is said that Ikarians also suffer less depression and a quarter of the rate of dementia. ‘On Ikaria, they stay sharp to the end,’

It comes as no surprise to me that locals and experts agree that the most important keys to Ikarian longevity and good health are diet, exercise and wine, which us Grecophiles have known particularly about the island of Crete for some time.  We Brits could do worse than to take some advice from Greek islanders who are said to be some of the healthiest people in the world.

Ikarian wine, made from a mixture of red and white grapes, does not contain any additives or sulphites, but has a very high alcohol content of 16 per cent and sometimes even 18 per cent — this just gets better!  On Ikaria it is usually drunk in small but convivial measures, and never without food.  (Greeks are more sensible about their drinking habits than elsewhere in the West).  Please Waitrose, can you get your act together so that I can order some online!

A typical Ikarian breakfast is tea (made with wild herbs), bread with local honey, (bought by me in large quantities when in Greece to combat nasty winter colds in miserable UK winters), olives and cheese. Elsewhere in Greece the tea is swapped for strong Greek coffee and most of the Greeks I know only have a cigarette or two for breakfast.  The main meal of the day on Ikaria, like on other islands, is lunch: typically vegetables with pulses or beans, wine (of course) and bread – a must everywhere in Greece, followed by a siesta. The light evening meal on Ikaria is apparently similar to breakfast.

Horta, a generic name for a selection of wild plants picked from the hillsides is a well known dish all over Greece – usually boiled and dressed with olive oil and lemon or sometimes used in salads.

The island’s capital 

Agios Kirykos (Άγιος Κήρυκος) Its population was 3,243 at the last census, and its land area is 74.745 km². It is the administrative capital of Ikaria and includes the island of Fourni.

The municipal unit shares the island of Ikaria with the municipal units of Evdilos and Raches; of the three, it is the largest in population and smallest in land area.

It was named after St. Kirykos , the youngest martyr of the Eastern Orthodox Church, who suffered death at the age of three in Asia Minor. The Cathedral Church of the town is devoted to him. Agios Kirykos is famous for hosting the annual International Chess Tournament, “Ikaros”, each July.

As with most other Greek islands, Ikaria boasts its own archaeological museum, a traditional square, and a stadium (in Patela), which hosted the 10th Pan-Aegean Games.  It also hosts the statue of Skepsi (thinking woman), the altar of the flame for the Aerathletic international IKARIADA Games and the Lefkada Annunciation medieval monastery.

Hotels

Swimming Pool - Cavos Bay Hotel, Ikaria

There are a few small hotels offering pools right by the sea. Check the Trip Adviser site to see what others have said.

Ikaria offers an excellent diversity of beaches to suit everyone. From remote sandy beaches where you are unlikely to encounter anything except pure nature, to cosmopolitan beaches with amenities.The clarity  of the shallows surrounding Ikaria are unparalleled. The sea surrounding  Ikaria ranks amongst the cleanest in the world. Ikaria’s most popular sandy beaches are predominantly located on the North side of the island and on the South side the beaches are less crowded.

Music and dancing are major forms of entertainment on Ikaria, and figure prominantly in the lives of Ikarians. Throughout the year Ikarians host baptisms, weddings, parties and religious festivals where one can listen and dance to live traditional Ikarian Music.

Ikariotiko

While in Ikaria don’t miss the chance to experience firsthand the “Ikariotiko” (traditional dance of Ikaria) by attending one of the many Panagiria (Saints’ Days/Feasts) which take place during the summer. In the meantime you can get a taste of Ikarian Music by clicking here.

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This year Greek Islands are even more appealing

August 12, 2010

Looking out of my window at the rain on a decidely cold August day, I am glad I went to Crete this summer – despite a couple of days when the petrol stations were closed.   The lack of other tourists made this July a very special time to be in Greece – we even had the beach to ourselves one lunchtime and always managed to sit at the best tables next to the shimmering water in our favourite tavernas.

One of special note is Ergospasio in Elounda.  Co-owners Kostas and Dimitris have done a marvellous job converting the old Carob Factory.  A three-storey stone structure set at the water’s edge features some very beautiful touches; pashminas for the ladies when the wind gets up in the evening, their own Ergospasio label wine, and this year’s addition, a gorgeous and talented singer and guitarist singing in Greek and English.  There is even a little washing line (complete with pegs) where the boys hang their baby squid to dry as soon as it reaches dry land!

Waterside_Table_ErgospasioCrete will always hold a special place in my heart but this year more than any other I felt so fortunate to be able to enjoy all it has to offer with so few people around.

The locals had time for a chat to catch up, even the usually bustling fishing town of Aghios Nikolaos had an almost serene atmosphere as we enjoyed our last morning’s breakfast next to the harbour.  I’m pleased to report that the sea is still as crystal clear as ever it was (and the waiters as chirpy).

So if you haven’t been away and are looking for a relaxing break before the kids go back to school, I would thoroughly recommend this island, reputedly the birthplace of Zeus.

If the beach is not for you there are so many other places to see on Crete, centre of the Minoan civilisation and steeped in so much history.  My favourites are the archealogical site at Knossos (where the first flushing toilet was invented), Vai Beach (the palm tree beach where the original Bounty ad was filmed), The Samaria Gorge (simply breath-taking scenery).  You can even take an excursion to stunning  Santorini to experience the most amazing sunset I have ever seen,  not forgetting of course the pretty little island of Spinalonga, which was a leper colony up until the late 1950’s and whose history inspired Victoria Hislop to write “the Island.”

boat in Elounda Bayclick for The Greek House video

Read more from The Greek House Blog

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time-to-think-about-remote-greek-islands/
should-we-feel-sorry-for-the-greeks/
sailing-in-the-ionian/
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What to do on the island of Crete

June 29, 2010

What to do on Crete
If you are lucky enough to be visiting the rugged and spectacular island of Crete this summer you might find it interesting to read about a few of the extraordinary trips which are worth taking time out from the beach for:

If you’re staying on the eastern side of this magical island it is relatively easy for you to get to any of the following – either by local bus (they have air-con these days and the possibility of you coming across a live chicken is relatively remote) – or by taxi or car:

Knossos CreteKnossos – Interesting Fact:  The Minoan Palace of Knossos housed the first ever flushing toilet (although you wouldn’t think so judging by the lack of progress since).

Bottomless Lake at Agios NikolaosAgios Nikolaos – Interesting Fact:   The lake around which this bustling fishing harbour is built is bottomless and was the location for the BBC TV series “The Lotus Eaters” during the early 70’s.   The series derived its title from the Lotus Eaters of Greek Mythology – those who ate the fruit of the Lotus tree lost the desire to return home …. hmmm… sounds somehow familiar.

The Bounty Advert Beach on Crete

Vai Beach – Interesting Fact:  Surrounded by natural palms, Vai  is  Where the original Bounty Bar advert was filmed.

Island of SpinalongaSpinalonga – Interesting Fact:  Spinalonga was a leper colony up until the late 1950s.  This special but somewhat eerie island with it’s battlements and ruins draws you back time and again.  Also the inspiration for the book by Victoria Hislop, The Island.  If you have read The Island you may be interested to know that there is a filmset in the village of Pano (upper) Elounda where the Greeks are making the book into a film.

If you are staying on the western side of Crete, in the Chania region, the following trips really are worth making if want to make the most of your visit – assuming of course you have the energy to leave the beach and your sunbed for a while!

Longest Gorge in Europe Samaria GorgeSamaria Gorge – Interesting Fact:   The longest Gorge in Europe,
Samaria starts at an altitude of 1,250m and you complete the walk from the Omalos plateau to Agia Roumeli where you can dive into the Libyan Sea for a very welcome cool down.  The walk takes between 4 and 7 hours.  If you don’t fancy a 16km round trip, there is also “lazy way” – from Agia Roumeli to the Iron Gates and back which takes in around an hour of non-challenging terrain.

Chania war Museum Interesting Fact – designed by the Italian architect Makouzo.
The War Museum of Chania is located on the corner of I. Sfakianaki and Tzanakaki streets next to the Municipal Gardens. The building, built in 1870 was once the Italian Barracks.
The aim of the Museum is the collection, protection, conservation and exhibition of war artifacts and other items, mainly from 1821-1940 which covers most of the national wars and revolutions, including the participation of Cretan soldiers in the Macedonian Wars, the Balkan Wars, the Asia Minor Campaign, and the World Wars I and II and during the German occupation (1941-1945).

Naval Museum at Chania CreteChania Naval Museum Interesting Fact:  This beautiful building was used as a prison by the Turks and by the Nazis.
From ancient Greek mariners to World War Two heroes you will learn lots of interesting facts about the events that filled Crete’s poignant past.

Elafonisi Beach – Interesting Fact:  This amazing beach is home to som expert windsurfers windsurfers and even features pink sand!
I can honestly say having travelled throughout the Caribbean that this beach is top of my list and well worth the drive if you are staying in or close to Chania.

Elafonisi_Beach_Pink_Sand I hope you enjoy soaking up all that Crete has to offer as much as I do – Happy Holidays!

Read more from The Greek House blog:

souvlaki-greek-salad-patras-wine-what-could-be-better/
dodecanese-islands/
time-to-think-about-remote-greek-islands/
should-we-feel-sorry-for-the-greeks/
sailing-in-the-ionian/
greece-her-captivating-islands/

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Should we feel sorry for the Greeks?

May 27, 2010

The Greek House Blog

It’s a few weeks since I wrote about our wonderful sailing holiday in the Ionian.  Since then the poor old Greeks have been having a tough time and the younger generation are going to suffer, thanks to the antics of their seniors.

Elafonissis Beach Crete

When I lived in Crete in the 80’s we were paid around £50 a week and, try as we might, my colleagues and I hardly ever managed to spend this as our Greek friends were so generous and giving.  Unlike the Brits, it is in the Greek nature to share and share they did – in fact if you have visited Greece you will know how offended these warm and hospitable people can become if you even hint at offering to pay your way.  This is just one of the many reasons why we should all visit their beautiful country.  There is nowhere else on earth like Greece.  Instead of shrugging and adopting the attitude that “they have brought on their troubles themselves,” we should instead admire the way they have held on like grim death to their traditions and not allowed anyone or anything to change the beliefs which have made Greece such a fascinating and wonderful country.  A pity we didn’t follow their lead or our public services wouldn’t now be bursting at the seams, nor would we be facing some of the tax hikes which are sure to be coming our way any minute now.

However, I suppose we shouldn’t feel too sorry for them – at least the Greeks will always have one of their stunning 1400 islands to choose from when wanting to escape the heat of the Athenian summer!  Here are some you may not have heard of :

Gavdos Island

Gavdos Island near Crete

Gavdos island lies 22 miles off the south west coast of Crete, in the Libyan Sea and is the most southerly point in Europe. The island is inhabited by only around 40 people!  You can take the boat from Sfakia on the mainland, but be aware that apart from beautiful beaches with occasional tavernas and scented pine forests, there is evidence of  little else.

Spinalonga

Spinalonga Island Crete

In 1903 after Crete had become independent, all Turks were obliged to leave the island.  However, some of them living on the small island of Spinalonga just off the north-east coast of Crete declined to leave, as they were protected by the French navy, which had a base on Spinalonga.

The government therefore decided to scare them off by banishing all inhabitants who were sick with leprosy from the island of Crete to Spinalonga.  The lepers were known as “the untouchables,” because at that time their illness was incurable and contagious.  (Leprosy was thought to be a punishment from God).  Fearing contamination, the Turks fled from Spinalonga back to Turkey.  Spinalonga became a leper colony which existed until a cure was found  in 1950.  The colony closed down in 1957.  Since 1970 the island has been visited by tourists who take boats from nearby Plaka, Elounda and Agios Nikolaos.  A good read is The Island by Victoria Hislop.

Chrissi Island

Clear Sea at Chrissi IslandAlso known as Gaidouronisi, ‘Donkey Island’, lies 8 miles  to the south east of Crete.  This uninhabited island is 5km long, and only about 1 km wide.  It’s known for its sandy beaches and unspoilt beauty.  It takes around 50 minutes by boat from Ierapetra on the south coast of Crete. There is no accommodation – just one taverna, at Vougiou Mati where the boat comes in.

Balos-Gramvoussa

Balos to Gramvoussa Island

Tigani to Balos is the tip of the westernmost peninsula of Crete, is a paradise of turquoise lagoons and pure white sandy beaches.
It is accessible by boat or Jeep but be  aware the road leading to the beach is what you might describe as rough going!

See The Greek House website for more on Greece and the islands

Read more from the Greek House Blog

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