On our flight to Heraklion from London, we were seated in the same row as a lady named Katharina, who was born and raised in Greece but now works a corporate job in London. She told us she was just about to quit her day job to open up a wellness and yoga retreat in Crete – isn’t that the dream?! My mum and I loved getting to know her and she took the time to write us out some suggestions of things to do during our stay on an Aegean Air napkin.
Despite vowing to keep the holiday very relaxed, my mum and I allocated ourselves one ‘exploration’ day – after all, we had a hire car and Crete is a relatively large island with loads to see.
Our first stop was Rethymno, which had been suggested by both Katharina and other friends of mine who had stayed there and recommended a visit. Coming into the town, it’s instantly a lot busier and more touristic than where we had been staying. The town is an old Venetian port, dominated by a ruined Fortress. We walked up the main street and, in the midday heat, picked up some pistachio and coconut gelato on the way.
After a wander around the main sights, we were keen to get some more sea views and hunt down our lunch destination, so we got back in the car and continued the drive. Our next stop was the village of Mirthios, on the way down to Plakias Beach. It was about a 40-minute drive and after a slightly-wrong turned-right turn, we ended up taking a longer, but far more scenic, route through the stunning Kourtaliotis Gorge.
After a few stops to admire the view and take a few photos, we wound our way through the mountain and parked in Mirthios Village. While the ‘village’ was just a couple of houses, it did have three tavernas to choose from – I know where Cretan priorities lie! Katharina couldn’t remember the name of the restaurant she recommended we visit, just the name of the man who ran it, so my mum ran into the only shop and asked them which was the ‘right’ taverna. Katharina had chosen well!
We sat down at Taverna Plateia to the most spectacular views across beautiful countryside and Plakias beach, with the Mediterranean sea sparkling at us.
We ordered a carafe of white wine (we stuck to the local house wine the whole trip, the quality varied but Cretan wine was generally quite nice) and flicked through the menu. I eventually chose the shrimp with vegetables and rice, while my mum ordered chicken with vegetables and rice, with a salad for us to share.
The food was incredible! The rice must be soaked in herbs before it was cooked in olive oil and/or butter; it was so tasty I could have ordered a bowl of it on its own. I was slightly nervous that my ‘shrimps’ would come out like the tiny shrivelled ones you get in UK supermarkets, but I was greeted with about eight huge king prawns, all perfectly cooked. My mum loved her chicken, and even our green salad was served in a delicious dressing that made me want to drink every last drop.
One of my favourite parts of eating out in Crete was that the restaurants always brought out complimentary dessert and digestifs at the end of your meal – what you’d get was always a surprise and at Taverna Plateia we were given a big plate of chilled melon and a small bottle of iced raki!
With the prospect of a swim awaiting us, we settled the bill and drove further down the mountain to Plakias Beach, which was much quieter than we expected. The sun was beating down, so we decided to make use the sunbeds and umbrellas laid out, and hopped along the scorching sand to the shady spots. As beautiful as the beach was, I have to say it wasn’t the most pleasant experience. There was a really strong and very hot onshore wind blowing, which whipped the sand into your face and skin. The sea was a welcome relief, but even that got too windy. We were told that the hot winds you get in this area come from the African desert, which makes sense given we were on the south coast of the island.
After a nice long swim we admitted defeat and headed back to our apartment in Lygaria. Opting to stay in rather than venture out again, we put together a selection of dishes for dinner: fresh anchovies, taramasalata, dolmades, Cretan cheese, olives, salad, crisps and crackers, and enjoyed the sunset together on our balcony, with plenty of icy cold local white wine in the fridge to keep us hydrated!