Crete is the largest Greek island and, arguably, one of the most famous. As the centre of the ancient Minoan civilisation, it’s been as a busy cultural centre since around 3,000BC. And today, its traditions, hospitable welcome and gorgeous climate continue to attract visitors from all around the world. Could you join them?
A unique island culture
Cretans are proud of their long history and unique traditions. Their distinctive dialect makes them immediately recognisable to other Greeks, for a start! The island was the birthplace of the Minoan civilisation, and later became one of the most important centres of both Venetian and Ottoman Greece. The Cretan School, a distinctive school of icon painting, inspired other artistic sons of the islands, including El Greco.
As a result of its storied past, there’s a wide variety of architectural styles. In the large cities, you’ll see unmistakably Italianate architecture: pastel buildings, large plazas and narrow streets. You could be forgiven for thinking you’re in the Ionian Islands, or even Italy itself! In the villages, you can find more traditional homes, typically whitewashed with red roofs. The occasional Ottoman influence can be seen, especially in public buildings.
The perfect spot for winter sun
What else attracts expats to Crete? Well, for one, the mild climate. At the time of writing, at the start of December, the island is still enjoying 19ºC/66ºF. That’s a big difference with the UK and Ireland. Around Ierapetra, in the southeast, you’ll find some of the sunniest spots in Greece. In fact, parts of this region of the island have a climate similar to North Africa. In Vai, for instance, you can find the largest natural palm forest in Europe.
And, you’ll be pleased to know, winter, such as it is, is short. Come April and temperatures are already through the 20 barrier. That lasts right through to November. However, if you miss the changing seasons, just head up to the White Mountains – you’ll find snow there most years.
Mainland conveniences and the island lifestyle
If you’re after the island lifestyle, but still want the convenience of larger towns, Crete could be for you. Unlike smaller islands that rely mainly on tourism, it has a number of bustling cities in Heraklion, Rethymno and Chania. Even if you don’t want to live in them yourself, being within driving distance is useful in terms of services, from hospitals to hypermarkets.
Nonetheless, Crete is still an island. As such, you’re never far from the beach. This could be the glorious sandy beaches of Chrissi Island, or the smaller coves along the northwest. The centre of the island, around the Lassithi Plateau, is perfect for walking and experiencing nature. Further west, the Samaria Gorge is one of the largest in Europe, and is popular for horse-riding and walking.
Where are the best areas to live?
Crete has a wealth of options for the savvy expat, from old, Venetian cities to relaxed, laid-back villages and modern resorts. Here are some of the best.
- Heraklion: Heraklion’s the capital of Crete and its largest city. It has picturesque harbour, with a Venetian fort and lots of cafés to enjoy the sun on. Lion’s Square is the main gathering point for locals, while the shopping centre has everything you need (including an M&S on Leoforos Dikeosinis Rd).
- Agios Nikolaos: Known to many Brits as ‘Ag Nik’, this is one of the major resorts on the island. You’ll find plenty of modern apartments and villas here to choose from, and English is widely spoken.
- Neapoli: On the impressive Lassithi Plateau, Neapoli is a strong contender for an inland choice. It’s still a working, local town, so fantastic for integrating into the Cretan community.
- Rethymno: Rethymno is one of the prettiest towns in Crete, and is the gateway to West Crete’s unspoilt, mountainous countryside. It’s a small city (or a large town), but still enjoys access to a long, sandy beach.
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