The islands of Greece are a heady mix of sun, sand, color and legend. They offer visitors a chance to escape the hectic tourist meccas of the mainland and relax in seclusion, and holiday makers may certainly choose to drowse peacefully in the sun. However, these islands are made for active holiday goers. Who could resist a sail across the electric blue of the Aegean Sea, or a brisk hike through a landscape dotted with windmillls? Most of the Greek islands offer visitors an array of outdoor activities such as hiking, horseback riding, sailing excursions, scuba diving or hiking through magical landscapes such as grottos, caves and mountain gorges.
The Island of Crete
Any holiday to the Greece islands should include the island of Crete. Crete is the island farthest south from the mainland and is Greece’s largest island. It offers visitors a diverse and breathtaking landscape, ranging from high, rugged mountains with deep gorges to flat, tranquil beaches. The water off Crete is deep blue and crystal-clear, perfect for snorkeling, diving, sailing or swimming. Active holidaymakers may hike or enjoy horseback rides through the island’s spectacular mountain ranges.
Crete boasts many picture-perfect beaches. The sandy beach at Itanos, called Vai, is home to a 2,000-year-old palm forest of more than 5,000 trees. Frangokastello Beach on the south coast is famous for its huge Venetian fortress, long beaches and good snorkeling. Elafonisi Beach is famous for its shallow, family-friendly waters and pinkish sand.
Active visitors may choose to hike through Crete’s breathtaking Samaria Gorge, near the town of Hania. This 11-mile walk takes visitors though Crete’s national forest and past abandoned settlements and fountains. The walk will take from between 4 ½ to 6 hours and may be a hot walk in the summer. The Cave of St. Sophia, located in the Topholia Gorge near the town of Chania, requires a rocky climb but rewards visitors with a refreshing break from the sun and legends of both piety and hair-raising crime.
Scuba and Sailing
Water sports such as scuba diving, snorkeling and boat excursions are readily available at most of the largest beaches. The waters off Crete are clear and bright blue and many beaches offer shallow water perfect for swimming. However, be aware that some beaches can be windy in the summer, which may make some water sports more adventurous than usual.
Best Times to Go
Crete’s high season is in the summer in the months of July and August, but this may not be the optimal time for a holiday to Greece, since it’s crowded most everywhere and the weather is very hot. May and June are better months for hikers, since it isn’t too crowded and the weather is good but not too hot. September and October can also be good months to visit, since the weather is still warm enough for some water sports and hiking.