Palekastro, Crete

Believe me when I say that I didn’t think places like this still existed. Landscape shaped over thousands of years rich with history dating back to Minoan times and local hospitality that seems undeterred by what’s going on elsewhere in the world.

A 3-hour drive will take you through some of Iraklion’s outskirts before sending you into arguably one of the most spectacular journeys I’ve ever experienced. As the road winds up into the mountains you notice the landscape turning greener and more rugged. Towns become villages some perched precariously on hilltops offering sublime photo opportunities and worthy places for a quick pit-stop. As the road snakes through the vast mountain range you begin to wonder what lays at the end that makes this drive so worthy to windsurfers, ramblers and eco-tourists year-in-year-out.

As you drop out of the mountains you are once again greeted by the infamous Azure colours of the Mediterranean and it is here that you literally start smelling your holiday. A short drive further and countryside suddenly becomes vastly populated with olive trees, as far as the eye can see. This is the Itanos region covering 197 square kilometres with 2,500 inhabitants and diverse selection of endemic plants, wild gorges biodiverse in nature, archaeological treasures and vast sandy beaches among the loveliest in Greece.

 

BUT, what we’re really looking for is the wind and that it has in abundance. The Meltemi winds blow through this region during the summer months with impressive reliability. Palekastro village and its local beach Koeremenos boasts some of the most reliable winds in the Mediterranean with winds blowing daily between F5-7.

 

At the heart of this operation lies Freak Windsurf Station run by Austrian windsurf fanatic Hannes Unterweger. Now in its 8th year of operation and firmly on the EFPT tour, the centre houses approximately 80 boards and 150 sails from JP and NP. The equipment is replenished each year ensuring you’re on the latest kit. This is the only centre in the area so even during peak summer months, it rarely feels crowded on the water. With winds blowing cross-shore from left to right it's straight out to see into bump and jump conditions with flatter water on the inside ideal for freestyle and perfecting carve gybes. But what’s particularly attractive about this setup is the lack of development. Most of the land is occupied by olive groves and indigenous trees ensuring adequate provision of shade for non-partaking partners and children alike. There is a local taverna within 5 minutes walk that serves up the usual Greek delights including the catch of the day. For regular web users, this taverna also offers complimentary WIFI.

 

And as you head back to your villa or apartment at the end of another relaxing day you may opt to pop into Palekastro village for a cold drink and early dinner. This delightful village has a large church as its centrepiece and a square surrounded by quaint tavernas. Here you dine not with thousands of tourists but a blend of intrepid travellers and locals, some of the nicest you will ever meet.

 

But your holiday shouldn’t stop here.  A short drive north and you will encounter a rare palm forest somewhat freakish in nature. This forest meanders down a small valley onto a beach very much giving it a tropical feel and the chosen location for a recent Bounty advert. Nearby you will find the imposing Toplou Monastery, one of the largest and most important monasteries in Crete dating back to the 15th century.

Head south of Palekastro towards Zakros and you once again find yourself driving through the foothills of another spectacular mountain range with more quaint villages such as Lagada, Chochlakies and Azokeramos gracing its path. At the end of this lovely route, you are awarded Kato Zakros, one of the most enchanting spots in Crete. The peaceful landscape, the vast blue sea, the “Gorge of the Dead” running down to the seaside palace of King Minos, flood the mind and senses, taking you back to a past where everything is beautiful, untouched, unique. This is Palekastro, Crete.