Greeking Food tour
Greeking Food tour

How To Spend 9 Perfect Days In Heraklion (Crete Visit Guide)

Oct 2, 2019 @

sea view crete stalis hotel
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A Crete visit guide just for you. Our amazing visit to Greece was divided into two parts. The first was spent in Athens. The other part we spent on the island of Crete, and specifically Heraklion. This Crete visit guide will cover how we spent a wonderful and utterly relaxing holiday by combining luxury with budget to make for a complete itinerary.

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Our previous thought had been to visit Santorini because that seems to be the most popular island in Greece, another one we’ve read one “must visit before dying”.

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Once again, I scoffed at the mass mentality and chose not to. I might change my mind in the future, but l doubt it. Crete turned out to be exactly what we needed and we were very pleased with our selection. If you’re thinking about a Greek holiday, here’s why you should definitely consider Crete.

vitamin sea and sun resort crete view as part of the Crete visit guide
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Our view from the room terrace area. Wonderful, it was easy to ignore the side view construction 🙂

Crete Visit Guide for 9 Awesome Days in Heraklion:

We decided on Crete because Federico wanted to get some sun and beach time. He loves the water and could spend all day at the beach. I, of course am not so enthusiastic about all that. I can float in the water now, but certainly not a swimmer.

I leaned towards a cultural experience. Crete gave us a combination of both, so l split our vacation into a luxury budget experience, spending our first 5 days in an all-inclusive hotel and the other 4 at an absolutely amazing AirBnB accommodation. Win-Win situation.

Where is Crete?:

Crete is located in the Eastern Mediterranean. It is the largest of the Greek islands. Some of the other popular places in Crete include Chania and Agios Nikolaus.

Related Reading: All-Inclusive Maldives Resort Experience

Getting to Crete from Athens:

In addition to an overnight ferry (journey time about 9 hours which we felt was just too long), you can take a 40 minute flight from Athens. We flew with Volotea Airlines, a company that sucked balls and one l would never fly again. Not only were the flights delayed for over 3 hours each way, there was absolutely no communication with us, no announcements were made.

Everyone waiting in the line at the gate with nary a word. Once the grumbling grew to a crescendo, they then told us the flight was delayed for unknown reasons and new departure time forthcoming in “30 mins”, which then turned into “50 mins etc, so basically we waited at the airport for about three hours to take a 40 minute plane ride.

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On the way back, it was the same story, this time due to weather, yet all the other airlines like Aegean which was going to Athens as well, took off on time. The tickets weren’t cheap either! To really give me the finger, they sent me a survey where l gave a one star review with details and 2 days later, I got an email thanking me for the “glowing” review. I could only laugh!!! There are also direct flights from European hubs like London to Heraklion with airlines such as EasyJet and British Airways.

Getting around Heraklion Crete:

Our preferred mode was walking, which is one of the reasons we picked the old center to stay. Nothing was more than a 20 minute walk (when not lost 🙂 ). Other times, we took the bus at a cost of €1.50 per person, including to the airport and to Knossos Palace. Very efficient and run from 7AM till 11PM daily every 10 minutes or so. I think every 20 minutes on weekends.

The buses take take you to nearby villages like Stalis cost €4 and leave from the central bus station. You can also take taxis, but l can not vouch for the honesty of the drivers. They will approach you with a flat-fee offer, so l advise knowing how much it should cost if you take that route. We saw a couple of official taxi stands that displayed costs to other parts of the island, so that is another option.

Crete guide: sea view crete man with thumbs up
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Visit Crete and enjoy one of the best warm waters and views.

Where to stay in Crete:

We chose Heraklion, the capital as our base because we wanted an adult environment as opposed to “party” villages and Stalis seemed to fulfill that requirement. Stalida (Stalis) is about 30 km from Heraklion center and is a lively village with a sandy beach and plenty of restaurants and bars on a kilometer length strip.

Since our flight arrived late at night ( 1AM as opposed to the original time of 8:45PM) , we had Rideways pick us up from the airport, in an E class Benz no less, at a cost of €40. Totally worth it and a luxurious treat. We did however depart from Stalis on the regular bus at a cost of €4 per person, and it drops you off right at the central bus station of Heraklion.

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Our Hotel in Heraklion: Vitamin Sea and Sun Resort

vitamin sea and sun resort view stalis crete visit guide to lodging
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Visit Heraklion: View from Vitamin Sea and Sun Resort, Stalis. We enjoyed ourselves.

There are lots of hotels in Crete to stay at, with different price points. I chose the appropriately named Vitamin Sea and Sun Resort in Heraklion for our all-inclusive stay. I think Crete holidays all-inclusive hotels are the best way to go because it’s nice not to worry about meals and drinks during your visit 🙂 . Vitamin Sea and Sun seems to be a new addition to Stalis Hotel. It has about 30 rooms and what l really loved was that it had a sliver of beach just for the guests.

How many days in Heraklion?

We found 5 days to be the perfect length of time in Heraklion. During our stay, Federico got to enjoy the beach while l sat under the umbrella and caught up with reading, thanks to my trusty Kindle. All the rooms have a side view of the sea and a balcony, but the better views are on the first and second floors, so ask for that.

The meals were served buffet style at a nearby restaurant and the food was really good. Breakfast was my favorite, lots on offer, not just “continental breakfast” crap. Give me pancakes, something non-existent in Valencia. Beer was also on tap and you could get it yourself. Stalis is a very popular destination for Europeans and the receptionist who checked us in said l was the first American they’ve ever had in the hotel! Imagine that!

main restaurant stalis
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Buffet meals at the main dining restaurant. It felt like being back in boarding school where you resided in your “house” and came together for meals. Think Harry Potter and Hogwarts. All images of hotel room and restaurant from the hotel website..can’t find mine.

Find Best Priced Heraklion Hotels Here

I must admit that after 4 nights, I was a bit bored with the menu because it became repetitive, for instance the sauce would remain the same, but pasta would change. We were however impressed with the quality of the pasta and food in general, including traditional Greek food like we had on our Athens food tour. I think we made a great choice and believe we stayed at one of the best hotels in Heraklion.

Whenever Federico was sunning and l didn’t join in, I was at a Thai massage place that was just around the corner 🙂 . Massages, pedicure, manicure ..yes..yes..and yes! I definitely recommend Stalis if you’re looking for a relaxing holiday.

Where not to stay in Crete if you’re looking for a relaxing holiday? Malia and Hersonissos are the party towns. Stalis is right in the middle and perfect for mature people. The World Cup was going on during our stay, so it was fun watching with people from all over the world in the communal bar.

vitamin sea and sun resort crete room
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We had a nice big room with big screen TV and the most ridiculously efficient air conditioner.

 

shower vitamin sea and sun
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The shower pressure and look was great though.

What I didn’t love about our hotel in Crete:

  • The bathroom shower drainage. The bathroom is gorgeous, the rain shower awesome. For some unknown reason, the shower has the tiniest slit for drainage. This means that the water just flows out towards the main  drain in the bathroom, and l think it was by design which sucked. You are walking on wet floor the rest of the time, to use the sink or toilet until they clean the room and mop. Insane!
  • The partial side sea view from the terrace is nice, but unfortunately the frontal view is of an old abandoned apartment building and foundation dug for a new building. I told you this island reminded me of Malta which would be exactly the same. The front of the building is used, but not the rear. Pretty ugly, but not a deal breaker. I had to remind Federico where it was while editing because we both kind of forgot about it after the first day.

 

Would I recommend Vitamin Sea and Sun Resort in Stalis?

vitamin sea and sun stalis crete poolside view to sea
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Hotel Vitamin Sea and Sun Kreta: It was a great place to stay overall. The staff was friendly, the food good, beach front access and plenty of beds and umbrellas plus nibbles without having to go to the main hall. We actually had lunch a couple of times poolside.

If you’re looking for “American standard” luxury accommodation, my answer would be no. This is more of an affordable luxury hotel that would be 3 stars in the U.S. The standards in Europe are a little different from what l’ve seen on our travels.

If however, you’re looking for good value accommodation and are not too snooty, this is a good place to chill. For $115 per night, we got access to a little private beach, pool with unlimited beer and wine and 3 meals a day for 2 people! That is pretty damn good in my opinion. You can click here to find great hotels in Stalis.

heraklion harbor with boats
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Heraklion harbor. Water so clear it looked fake, not oil sleeked like we had at the marina in Malta.

Our 5 days in Stalis actually went by fast, and soon we were on our way to spend 4 nights in the Old Center of Heraklion. First impression of Heraklion? Malta. It reminds us so much of our former home. It’s not a surprise considering the history of both places. I really enjoyed our time here and definitely want to go back at some point.

We stayed at an excellent AirBnB lodging, one of the best we’ve stayed at up to date. Our hostess was so sweet. She picked us up from the central bus station, had some concentrate organic lemonade for us (which lasted our whole visit), as well as a delicious home baked cake loaf that we demolished pretty quickly :-). I so totally recommend this gem of a place that was walking distance to everywhere.

airbnb room bed heraklion
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Our lovely room at the apartment for our 4 night stay in Heraklion Old Center.

 

kitchen living room combo
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AirBnB image of the living area with hidden kitchen.

 

living room of airbnb heraklion
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The living room of the flat. It was perfectly perfect in every way! AirBnB image.

If you’re one of the 13 people left in the world who hasn’t tried AirBnB :-), feel free to use our link to get a little $29 discount on your first lodging. One tip, make sure you have a battery pack for your phone because we used Google maps a lot.

The little winding streets are so confusing, Lord help you if you’re stuck in the maze like we were when we forgot it :-). We walked around in circles for a long time in the heat during siesta till we finally found a kind soul who walked us back to the house. She was a local, but even she was confused..haha!

me at knossos palace crete
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Ready to explore Knossos Palace in the heat! Comfy shoes, hat and cold water in my bag


Crete Visit Guide For Best Things To Do In Heraklion Crete:

During our stay in Heraklion, we visited

Knossos Palace of the Minoans:

knossos palace building crete visit guide
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Crete visit guide: visit Knossos Palace, a labor of love for a certain British man over a 30 year period. Great visit!

 

knossos palace ruins on crete visit guide
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The ruins reminded me of Santiponce in Seville.

The largest Bronze age archeological site in Crete. An amazing experience and one l will write about separately. Heavily restored palace of the Minoans, it is a must-visit in Heraklion in my opinion. Located about 2 miles outside of the city center, it is well worth a trip. The first settlement is considered to be around 7000BC, with the first palace dating back to 1900BC. Very impressive. You can find the full writeup on this Knossos post.

Archeological Museum:

how to spend 9 perfect days in heraklion - crete visit guide
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Some of these vases date back to 7000BC. They put them back together nicely.

 

crete visit guide heraklion gold jewelry
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Pure 24k gold even way back then was worn by royalty, all “procured” from Africa of course

Wow! Located in the center, in Eleftherias Square, this museum that is spread out over two floors houses a lot of the artifacts discovered at Knossos Palace. Most of the pieces are from the Minoan era, but the Romans are represented too. We had thought we would be there for about an hour, but instead it was closer to 3.5 hours. I would imagine if you were a Minoan history nut, you could spend all day there.

The museum was crowded, but definitely worth visiting because it was easy to work your way in between the tour groups and get up close to the various items. We bought a Knossos Palace and Archeological museum combination ticket for l think €16 each and it was money well spent. The building was converted from an old power station. I love it when they re-purpose buildings.

Venetian Loggia:

city hall crete
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City Hall Heraklion. Very cute and small one, but nice to see.

This two story Venetian mansion was completed in 1628. It is currently the city hall, but it used to be a meeting place for noblemen of Crete. You can pop in for a quick look. The offices were closed when we visited, but l’m not sure if it’s open to the public at any time.

Koules Fortress: (Castello a Mare)

koules fortress crete heraklion - crete visit guide things to do
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We saw it but did not explore. Next time 🙂

 

16th century fortress. It is at the front of the old port. It was built by the Republic of Venice, a maritime republic in Northeast Italy. Old ships were sunk with stone and sunk to form the platform for the fortress. You can climb to the top for a great view of the city for €2.

Daydaloo Street:

daydaloo street heraklion in our crete visit guide
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Shopping with views. Not bad at all.


Main shopping area of Heraklion with lots of high street stores. There are also stores to buy souvenirs on the side streets, picked up some handmade jewelry for a friend at a great price :-). This whole part of town really reminded me of Valletta in Malta, only wider streets and cleaner.

Food in Heraklion: Crete visit guide to awesome food!

kastella heraklion menu and dessert
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Kastella – great views and food.

 

calamari plate heraklion crete visit guide
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He’s been grilling his calamari just like this since we came back 🙂

We ate well and the prices were very reasonable. Federico had been craving calamari, which for some reason we couldn’t find anywhere in Stalida, even when we wanted to eat something other than the buffet at the hotel. Not sure why that was. I understand that it might be way too costly as an all you can eat buffet option (they would be in the poor house), but we assumed the local restaurants would have it on the menu..but noooo! He got his fill in Heraklion though.

He particularly enjoyed it a restaurant called Kastella which was recommended by our host. It was so good, we went back again before we left. My shrimp was okay, but l didn’t love it because l hate having to peel the shell. We were given dessert and Raki (digestive liquor) for free too, and they were so, so good. For about €13 each, it was a great deal. The views were also spectacular.

 

Crete visit guide to food: gyros plate crete heraklion
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Crete visit guide to food! The best gyros l’ve ever had. I didn’t even touch the potatoes because it was a big portion.

At an eatery in the center called Granary Brunch Point, we had the best Gyros Heraklion. We both love gyros, and this one was insanely good. If you find it, order the gyros and you won’t be disappointed. Apart from these two places, we just picked random hole in the wall places that looked good to eat at and weren’t disappointed.

sea view from Kastella restaurant Crete
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Kastella restaurant view.

Wrap up of our Crete visit guide:

Our thoughts on Heraklion, Crete:

4 thumbs up! We both loved Heraklion and would definitely like to go back. The sea is beautiful, the prices are affordable and the people are quite nice, what’s not to love? Perhaps next time, we might explore Chania in addition to more of Heraklion.

Will we ever get to Santorini and see this magical sunset everyone seems to go on about? Maybe, but I’m betting it’s the same sunset that can be seen throughout the Aegean, and we’re kind of past the puppy eyed honeymoon phase that requires you to join the throngs as opposed to finding sexy little getaway spots like Crete which combines our love for comfort, romance and food!! :-). Crete might not have that wow factor of Santorini, but it is indeed a beautiful and special place. Hopefully this Crete visit guide helps sway you.



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Have you been to Greece? If yes, what were your favorite places? If not, would you care to visit?

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30 thoughts on “How To Spend 9 Perfect Days In Heraklion (Crete Visit Guide)”

  1. Beautiful images Kemkem. Walking and busing sounds about perfect to me. Definitely right up my alley. As for Crete itself I would dig the feel there after spending a month in Cyprus. Desert clime, history back to hallowed antiquity, fascinating stuff.

    Reply
    • Thanks Ryan! I can definitely see Crete being very similar to Cyprus, another place we have been meaning to get to :-). A month must have been heavenly, the history for sure is amazing. I wish l’d gotten as excited back in school about history..haha! It’s fun actually seeing these places :-).

      Reply
  2. I’ve been to Athens but not Crete – definitely on my list after reading this! Great photos, descriptions and report of your time spent there!

    Reply
    • We like Athens a lot too and hopefully, we’ll get to explore more islands like Crete in the future. Thanks so much for reading and for the nice comment :-). Hope you get there soon.

      Reply
  3. Thank you so much for this lovely review; I am saving it all and we just might duplicate your trip, including the calamari and restaurant. Hoping to go next April-May before the summer crowds.

    Reply
    • I think my plan from now until forever is to try and beat the holiday crowds :-). Very wise decision on your part. Nothing but raves for the calamari and the restaurant, such friendly people too. Happy to hear the post will be of good use to you, we couldn’t have been happier with how it went.

      Reply
  4. We visited Crete on a Cruise of the Greek Islands, few years ago. I remember enjoying it a lot, we visited Knossos Palace. I would definitely like to go back there and explore it further. I think splitting your stay was a great idea😄

    Reply
    • I’m glad we split it too. Doing one or the other only would have been too much and someone would have been unhappy. This way, we both got to enjoy all the island had to offer. We hope to go back and visit some other spots we didn’t get to. It reminded me of Malta a lot as far as looks, but the feel was different :-).

      Reply
  5. Kem, great guide.I Pinned it for future reference. We haven’t been to Greece in years, and that was on a ship, so not nearly enough time in any one place. Crete sounds like a place I’d love to visit. The thing with Santorini is all those beautiful white homes, churches with blue domes, vibrant bougainvillea and water that is darker than midnight. As always, your photographs make me want to get up and go!

    Reply
    • Thanks Suzanne. Crete is definitely a great place to visit. I hear you about Santorini, but l’m positive l will be a bit disappointed with it because of all the hype. I also understand that it is only the same one blue church dome from what l’ve been reading. I’m sure it’s lovely, but it’s not a priority as l think there must be other unhyped places that are just as good. We might still go one day, a day trip there might be just fine, which we can do from Crete, so that would be nice.

      Reply
  6. We have friends who spent April in Crete (off-season and no crowds) and absolutely raved about it so your 4-thumbs up recommendation makes me want to pack a bag and go. I’ve never liked all-inclusive resorts, although the setting looks gorgeous, because part of the fun about travel to a new place is finding and trying out new restaurants and tucked away cafes. But I’m sold on your AirBnB place and loved the cute little hideaway kitchen. It looks like you made the most of your time in Heraklion, Crete and, thanks to you, it’s now on my must see list too! Anita

    Reply
    • I think l am sure of the fact that we will only be traveling off season..haha! It’s nice to have smaller crowds. Yep, if l could give it more thumbs, l would and l am glad your friends agree with us. I love doing things off the cuff, but you know, this was the second half of our just over a month away (Prague, Dresden,Vienna) and Athens just before, I was more than happy to slow down, do nothing and just envelope myself in the all-inclusive lifestyle. It was sort of a weird one in that you had to walk to the other buildings, so you essentially walk on the strip and we did get to sample the bars close by for cocktails, it wasn’t like you were shut in this compound. I would totally do it again. You would love Crete knowing you :-).

      Reply
  7. Wow, Heraklion looks so idyllic! I think I saw a beach chair with my name on it. And I love exploring ruins!

    Reply
    • Now that you mention it, I do see a chair with your name right on it! 🙂

      Reply
  8. Oh great because our timeshare is in Crete!!! My husband would love it better than Santorini. Also no longer in the puppy-eyed phase!

    Reply
    • Yeah, those poor suckers have so much hype to live up to :-). Fantastic that you have a timeshare so you can totally enjoy :-).

      Reply
  9. I just love that you said No to Santorini — so refreshing to see travelers keen to explore the lesser known towns and islands of heavily visited countries! Despite the horrendous flight getting there it sounds like it was a great decision to explore Heraklion, and of course, the gyros!

    Reply
    • I am running out of good blogs to read because l feel like so much is just regurgitated..same old blah blah place..same old love for it. I get that they are popular and lovely, but everything has exactly the same things to say and the posts are devoid of personality, but l understand that seems to be what people are searching for. You’re right, it was definitely worth the hell of the flights, we totally enjoyed it. Thanks for the comment and for reading.

      Reply
  10. Thanks for sharing such a comprehensive review of HERAKLION, a place that I had never heard of before! Nine days sure gives a nice opportunity to get a sense of a place and share your impressions with others. It’s now on my list of places I would like to visit.

    Reply
    • I think you would really like Heraklion. I was like..okay.. I can see how Zeus could be born here 🙂 . It was a nice place to visit, and as soon as we left, it went right back on the list of places we would like to re-visit, and discover the other side Chania next time.

      Reply
  11. Oh you are killing me with these posts! Crete was running neck and neck with the Peloponnese as our ex pat destination. Absolutely love that island! Our worst-flight-ever to it was on flythomascook.com with leg room in the seats that didn’t allow me to bend over and my knees touched the seat in front of me. I am just five feet tall. . .a shrimp, in other words. Never again. We have done the overnight ferries and booked a cabin – plenty of room, good twin beds, clean, no frills but it saved us a day of travel and we love Piraeus and also the ports in Crete. And so glad you bucked the mass mentality and didn’t ‘do’ Santorini. . .Greece has so many other spectacular places to see. (I liked your comment above — as I am feeling the same way about good blogs. These sponsored posts with ‘opinions are my own’ leave me wondering and trips are never always ‘that perfect’. Keep your honest commentary coming – I love reading your blog!)

    Reply
    • OMG, you had me cracking up at the shrimp bit..haha! It really gives me an accurate picture of what a tight space it must have been. I thought the low cost airlines were already tight, but that is insane! Wow! You had 2 excellent choices to choose from, and you couldn’t go wrong. I think we would consider a ferry the next time or fly Aegean as there are good reviews and l hadn’t really heard of them before. I am so disappointed that our most hated airlines are both Spanish, Iberia and this Volotea. Thanks so much for your kind comment about the blog. I just enjoy real stories and experiences and l am finding them harder and harder to find. Perfect is definitely hard to believe :-).

      Reply
  12. Your whole experience in Greece sounds amazing! The hotel looks really good and having a sea view – no matter if it’s frontal or not – is so much better. When you’re on holiday, nothing beats waking up and seeing the sea 🙂 That Daydaloo street is my favorite. As soon as I saw it, I immediately thought about living there 🙂 It happens often, hahaha.

    Regarding the buffet – you’ve been lucky to get such a sweet deal in Greece. We’ve just returned from an all inclusive stay in Bulgaria and even though the restaurant was a whole lot larger (since the place was huge with hundreds of rooms), the quality of the food was surprisingly low. I kept reading about tricks that all inclusive resorts use to keep the food costs low and I was able to spot most of them during our stay 🙂 Probably choosing a smaller hotel like yours is a better idea, since the waste is reduced and therefore the quality of the food can be increased. But I still believe that nothing can compare with the luxury of an otherwise affordable resort in Turkey. They are the kings of all inclusive in the area, in my opinion 🙂

    Not sure how I ended up from Crete to Turkey, but I did it 🙂 I am happy you guys had a great time in Greece!

    Reply
    • The whole holiday really was. I was very happy with the price of the hotel and yeah..you can’t beat the view, I’ll take it sideways :-). That’s funny you like that Daydalou, I can imagine that it is a pricey part of town though and the views of the sea must be stunning from some of those apartments. I wouldn’t mind living there either, especially with the reasonable prices. Haha! You were playing detective. I have yet to do all inclusive in Turkey, we stayed at a family hotel and only had breakfast provided, but it was really good. I bet you got a bang for your buck in Turkey. I guess it’s hard to come up with different things that can be cooked in really large quantities and will be equally pleasing to everyone, that’s why there’s a lot of pizza and pasta. I was really pleased that the trip worked out so well and we both got what we wanted.

      Reply
  13. Thx for the terrific post about Crete. I have always wanted to visit this island as I love the other Greek islands I have visited. Hopefully, one day soon … I will have the opportunity to check out Heraklion.

    Reply
    • Hi Doreen, I so plan on visiting more islands in Greece. I hope you get a chance to check out Crete, such a wonderful place that l look forward to seeing again. Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for the comment.

      Reply
  14. Nice. But don’t EVER even think of going to Santorini in the summer. At the best of times it’s crazy, but summer…
    I went back in 1987. Beautiful. But even then the Greek islands were packed in summer. Too much so. But have always heard good things about Crete.

    Reply
    • Not even in my wildest dreams would l dream of visiting Santorini in the summer! if at all. I was surprised at how much l enjoyed Crete. I can imagine how it must have looked back then compared to now. I saw a picture of people gathering for the sunset and it was insane how many hundreds of people :-).

      Reply
    • Thank you so much for reading and for the nice comment. Much appreciated :-).

      Reply

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