Friday, 22 June 2018

Another holiday in Crete
comes to an end. But
was this the real Crete?

A table for two in a quiet corner of Georgioupoli (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Crete is the top holiday destination for European travellers this year and Greece is the second country of choice after Spain, according to holiday bookings made through TUI, the largest leisure, travel and tourism company in the world.

Three of the five most popular destinations for Germans are found in Greece: Crete, Rhodes and Kos. The other most popular holiday regions include Majorca and Antalya.

Greece is also very popular among Northern Europeans. For Norwegians, Swedes, Danes and Finns, Greece is the number one holiday destination. The same is the case for Austrians, who have a particular preference for Crete and Rhodes, with both destinations ranking first and second in the Austrian top five.

Two of us are just back in Ireland have spent two weeks in Crete, one in Platanes, on the east of Rethymnon, and the second in Georgioupoli, a resort half-way between Rethymnon and Chania.

I have known Crete since 1988, when I first stayed in Rethymnon for three weeks, and have returned there constantly. But I have also travelled extensively throughout Greece over the past three decades, for work, holidays and church reasons. This was our fourth time in Greece within 12 months, but there is always something new to see and do each time.

This was my first time to stay in Georgioupoli (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

This was my first time to stay in Georgioupoli, and we decided to stay there because of a pleasant experience during a brief visit last year. But we still had some reservations, even as we arrived at our hotel.

It was an ‘all-inclusive’ package for that week, and for the first-time ever I wondered whether we were doing something wrong. Greek people know only too well about the economic and cultural problems ‘all-inclusive’ holidays create. In response to news of the TUI survey results, one person in Crete posted on a social media site:

‘What I see here in Crete is that most tourists stay inside the all-inclusive hotels and don’t go out to discover the real Cretan way of life and Cretan tastes. We … hear [of] millions of arrivals but he only see thousands of them …’

We certainly did not want to stay inside an all-inclusive hotel for the week, and we wanted to continue discovering ‘the real Cretan way of life and Cretan tastes.’

Indeed, we moved out of Georgioupoli regularly throughout that week, visiting Hora Sfakion and Frangokastello on the south coast, Chania and the only-surviving synagogue in Crete, crossing through gorges and across the White Mountains, and visiting monasteries, churches, villages and olive groves in the rural areas beside Georgioupoli.

Seen on one of the many daily walks on the beaches of Georgioupoli (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

But I also had a second reservation about Georgioupoli. It was first transformed from a small fishing village into a resort at the end of the Ottoman era when Prince George, the High Commissioner of Crete, built a lodge here and had a grand design that would turn the place into the ‘Brighton of Greece.’

If I wanted a holiday in Brighton, or Clacton, Morecombe, Margate, or Weston-super-Mare, I could have gone to England and enjoyed evening strolls along the promenade or on the pier, or paddling up a river in small boat.

Would Georgioupoli be a resort catering only for package tourists, or could I find a flavour of the authentic Greece, the authentic Crete, without exaggerating the authenticity of my finds?

On the final day, as we strolled around Georgioupoli, I realised how much we had come to like this place.

A scene from an Indian move? Or a reminder of suppers in an upper room? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

For much of this second week, the thunderstorms rolled in at mid-day, the skies burst open, and heavy rains fell. We found ourselves seeking shelter in small caf├ęs and tavernas, enjoying the colourful gardens and the grapes and flowers hanging from balconies, and appreciating the quiet corners throughout the town.

A riverside taverna had a balcony area that hangs directly over the river – like a scene from an Indian move … or perhaps even a reminder of suppers in an upper room.

Most spectacular of all was the Church of Analipsi, the parish church with its walls covered in traditional, Byzantine-style frescoes and a dome with a majestic Pantocrator. As we said our farewells here and gave thanks for this week and for much more, I knew we had truly engaged with the spirit of Greece.

I am back in the rectory in Askeaton this evening, preparing for the Diocesan Synod in Limerick tomorrow [23 June 2018] and for three service on Sunday in Castletown, Rathkeale and Askeaton, including a Baptism, the Eucharist and Choral Evensong with the choir of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick.

The Pantocrator in the Dome of the Church of Analipsi in Georgioupoli (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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