I flew in Heraklion (the “capital town”) from Athens, I booked a motorbike and a hotel there and went around the island trying to reach all its highlights. I failed that specific goal, more on that later.
Exploring the island with the motorbike is a good idea for the reasons that are very clear to you, if you already are a rider. Not much so maybe, if you are not familiar with that means of transportation, and I will try to outline the pros and cons of that approach.
Crete is an amazing place for several reasons: it’s an island which is big enough to be able to support itself with its own produce; it’s a paradise if you want to eat local, since you get everything: the fish, the vegetables, the herbs, the dairy products and meat of any kind. You got the beaches, but also any kind of rocky place; you got mountains, high enough to still have plenty of snow in March; you got the gorges, which unlock many interesting trekking ideas; and of course, the history and the archeology, spread over literally everywhere.
All of the above are then finally wrapped in the welcoming, warm hands of the people living there. Kind, curious and very friendly.
So what it is like to visit a place like that completely off-season, as I did? Let’s make a list of factoids and findings;
- People fly to Heraklion because it’s in the middle of the island and they can decide to go around autonomously, primarily by booking a car; in my opinion, Heraklion itself is worth a visit just for the Archeological Museum, which is truly amazing. You would spend at most 2 or 3 hours in there though since it’s not extremely big. The rest of the city is really nothing special, but the very nice Crete Aquarium is quite close and worth a visit; if you are in Heraklion on a Saturday morning don’t forget to visit the farmer’s market and if you want to have dinner as a local person can enjoy, try Triaina
- The roads are tricky. I don’t know about driving there with a car, but if you drive a motorbike you got to be very careful; in average the roads are not that bad, but you can easily find a pothole in the middle of a curve which means that you cannot really relax and just enjoy the view. The roads are also quite tiring, on a motorbike: lots of curves, ups and downs; you travel into an ever changing scenery, going down to the sea level and up to the hills, down again and up to the next mountain pass. Did I mention the landslides? Well this year, due to the unusually heavy rains of the past weeks, you could encounter a landslide on the side of the road every single km; this creates two problems for you: risk of gravel on the tarmac (aaargh!) and closed secondary roads. You’ll also encounter many (many!) automatic speed controls and it’s quite difficult to understand which one is the actual limit at that point… are those machines all active, though? I surely hope not 😉.
Distances, from Heraklion, are all a matter of 2 or 3 hours (one way) but when driving a motorbike and not wanting to drive after sunset this range limits a bit the places you can visit without driving all day long; that’s also the reason why I didn’t reach all the points of interest I was planning to
- The most beautiful town to visit, or stay in, is Chania. Narrow streets, lot of plants and flowers, colorful buildings and houses, many restaurants and a spacious, long walk along its port. The extreme West is also the part of the island which has the most beautiful beaches (the most famous being Balos); I have also found many other interesting places on the East, of course: I have liked the harsh and wild extreme East, the countless palms on Vai Beach and the amazing countryside of the central area, between Heraklion and Pirgos; at the beginning of the Spring the countryside is flourishing with small yellow flowers that apparently love to grow just under the olive trees and the in the middle of the vineyards: what a show!
- March is not probably the right moment to take the motorbike yet. It’s still too chilly and if the sun is not shining on you, you’ll lose body warmth very quickly and the situation will soon get an uncomfortable turn; this unless of course you have a good jacket to protect you– which I didn’t have 😬; on the plus side, you get to chose whichever motorbike you prefer since not many people are renting them and maybe even strike a good price (I payed 350€ for 7 days from a local renter). Mine was a Suzuky V-Strom 650, which apparently is one of the favorites in the island: it’s easy to drive and very comfortable. Off-season also means that a lot of villages, the economy of which is 100% fueled by tourism, are still ghost-towns and you’ll find there just the people working on setting up everything for the start of the season. If you are lucky one or two restaurants are already open and they will make it the perfect spot for the lunch pause!
At the end of the vacations I came up with the perfect plan for my next visit in Crete:
- End of May, mid-June; the weather is already beach-friendly and the produce is at the verge of their best
- Take an apartment with a kitchen and cook yourself the amazing things you’ll find at the super market or the farmer’s market
- The area is around Chania, maybe not in the city itself but in a village nearby so that it would be easier to find an apartment very close to a beach
- Car or motorbike is up to you of course :)