Saturday, 3 July 2010

Back in Crete after almost 10 years

A charming side street in Koutouloufári ... back for the first time since 2001

Patrick Comerford

I have arrived back in Crete after an absence of nine years. During the 1980s and 1990s, I spent weeks on end, summer-after-summer, first in Réthymnon on the mid-western coast of northern Crete, and then in Piskopianó, east of Hersónisos, but close enough Iráklion, the capital.

The last time I stayed in Crete was in 2001. Now I’m back again on this beautiful island, having arrived late last night. This is the island where Zeus was born; the home of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth; this is where Daedalus tried to teach Ikaros to fly; this is home of icon writers like Mikhailis Damaskinos and El Greco; this is the birthplace of the politician Eleftherios Venizelos, the writer like Nikos Kazantzakis and the composer Mikis Theodorakis; this is the adopted home of the Irish composer and musician Ross Daly. This is an island of inspiration, roamnce and steely determination and independence.

I am staying in Koutouloufári, which is close to Piskopianó. This is a small traditional hillside village of only 600 residents, but each summer it is thronged by tourists, especially in these months of July and August.

Koutouloufari has an abundance of tavernas and gift shops catering for the tourists. But there are also great views from Koutouloufari out across the Aegean Sea. Lively, popular and over-developed Hersónisos is about 2 km away, at the bottom of the hill. But for holiday-makers in Hersónisos, Koutouloufári is a good village to escape the wilder sides of nightlife, a romantic location for a moonlit dinner.

The view from balcony in the Astra Village Apartments in Koutouloufári, where there are breathtaking views of both the Aegean Sea and the Cretan Mountains (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

I am staying at the Astra Village Apartments, previously known as the Ikaros Royal Apartments. These family-run apartments are set on the side of a hill, with breath-taking view of the sea and towards the mountains of Crete.

Koutouloufári is roughly half way between Iráklion (32 km) and Aghios Nikhólaos (34 km). So during the coming week I may visit the museums of Iráklion or the former “leper colony” of Spinalónga. There may be visits too to Réthymnon, the Minoan Palace at Knossos and the traditional villages around Archanes.

But I’ve taken some good reading with me too, including the poems of Cavafy and Victoria Hislop’s The Island (2005), which was hailed by one reviewer as “the new Captain Corelli’s Mandolin,” and was a Number 1 bestseller in Britain.

And I’m also looking forward to Greek coffee, retsina, early morning swims, walks on the beaches of Crete, visiting some Byzantine monasteries and some long, lazy, late dinners in Koutouloufári and in the neighbouring villages of Piskopianó and Old Hersónisos.