There is certainly something to be said for shoulder season travel. You do risk less than perfect weather and maybe everything won’t quite be open yet for the season, but the trade off is getting to have beautiful beaches like this to yourself! We think it’s worth it, what about you?
This year we spent our Easter holiday in Crete, the largest of the Greek islands. Since Crete is so large and has a year round population, you can really visit any time of year. Many hotels and restaurants do shut down, however, for two or three months in the winter. Our hotel had just opened for the season that week and generally Easter is known as the start of the shoulder season. While we did see tourists milling about in some of the towns, it was very quiet on the island and at the beaches. A great time to visit, in our opinion!
Where to Stay
I don’t normally lead with accommodations, but in our case our stay definitely made the whole trip. Eleonas Country Village is a family run property with 20 stone cottages surrounding a lovely pool that is heated in the spring and fall. There is a taverna that serves authentic and delicious Cretan food and the staff at Eleonas is just wonderful. There’s also a playground and indoor play area. Our kids were in heaven and it allowed us to have long, leisurely dinners every night! Eleonas is located in the mountains of Southern Crete, near the small village of Zaros…it’s quiet and perfect for families! There are hikes nearby including an easy one from the hotel to a small, picturesque lake and beautiful beaches are a short 30 minute drive away. This is in no way sponsored, just our own opinion and we’d highly recommend the place!
The hike to Lake Zaros is short, but you can continue on various trails from here if you’re up for more hiking. In the summer there is a little taverna where you can eat fresh caught trout from the lake!
What to Do
1) Visit the ruins at Phaistos
Visit the ruins of the Minoan palace of Phaistos, with some ruins dating back to Neolithic times. The history here is mind boggling and we must have taken our kids at just the right moment of being fed, not tired, etc., because they were super impressed by these ruins and had fun imagining the details of the former palace. It was only about 25 minutes to get here from Eleonas Country Village.
2) Visit the Town of Rethymno
Rethymno is the third largest town in Crete, located between Heraklion and Chania. It has a charming old town with Venetian and Ottoman influences and plenty of nearby beaches to choose from. Don’t miss the stunning views from the fortress! When we were there we could see snow capped mountains in the distance, including the highest peak on Crete, Psiloritis.
3) Hit the Beach
Crete is a big island with lots of beaches so you are really spoiled for choice here. The beauty of visiting in the off peak season is that you will have some of these gorgeous beaches practically all to yourself!
Since we were staying in the south of the island, we mostly ventured to beaches on that side, set on the Libyan Sea. Our favorite was Matala, a beach made famous in the ’60’s by the hippies who lived in the cliff side caves. In the height of summer, we wouldn’t have ventured here because it’s a small beach and tourists are brought in by the bus load. But in the off season, it’s blissfully quiet and gorgeous!
We also really loved the nearby Kommos Beach. Even though we went on a cool and cloudy day, it was still beautiful! There are ruins just next to this beach that are not open to the public, but you can still get a glimpse of them through the fencing.
We also found a random beach to stop at in Heraklion before our flight and it was a great way to spend our last hours on the island. We could have stayed for another week at least just to explore more of these beautiful beaches!
4) Visit a Cretan Farm
Our visit to the Kamihis Farm in Zaros was arranged through our hotel and was one of the highlights of our trip to Crete. The morning started with donkey rides and helping out a bit around the farm followed by visiting the animals, milking a goat, and then a cooking lesson where the kids learned to make traditional goat cheese pies. We ended the morning with a tasty lunch of eggs the kids helped collect and other foods straight from the farm as well as goat cheese from the goat we just milked and those yummy goat cheese pies. And of course raki. Always raki after a meal everywhere you go in Crete! Raki is a distilled alcohol made from grapes, similar to grappa in Italy, and everyone on the island seems to make their own version.
Needless to say, this was such a fun experience for the kids and for us too! The family was so kind and welcoming to their farm and we loved getting to see the traditional way of life in Crete, which is a very agricultural island.
5) Visit Knossos
Since our boys enjoyed the ruins of Phaistos so much, we thought we should also check out Knossos, the ancient center of Minoan civilization that thrived for nearly two thousand years. We decided to do a guided tour to learn a bit about what we were seeing, but unfortunately we didn’t have the best guide. The kids were not nearly as interested this time around, but we still enjoyed checking out this amazing piece of history. If you go, I’d recommend either just taking your own information (we had a write up about it in our Greek Islands guide book) or doing a bit of research on tours to ensure that you get a good one!
Crete is such a big island that there’s obviously tons to see and do, but we had a pretty amazing time on our off peak season trip! Even just driving to our different destinations was enjoyable because of the pretty scenery. It’s certainly a beautiful place and we are so glad we got the chance to explore it a bit! Have you been to Crete? What are your favorite things to see and do on the island?