Our trip to Rethymno (pronounced “reh-thim-no”) was our first trip to the island of Crete. Previously, we’d visited Santorini, Mykonos, Paros, and Rhodes. Every island is similar but different. I love it.
At 3,219 sq mi / 8,336 sq km, Crete is more than double the size of the second largest island, Euboea. Not heard of Euboea? Same.
Euboea is separated from the Greek mainland by a narrow straight and is considered part of the mainland even though it is technically an island.
When we compare Greek islands, as we typically think of them – isolated out in the middle of the sea – then Crete is a monster compared to the third and fourth largest islands, Lesbos and Rhodes, respectively.
|Island||Sq mi||Sq km|
The first thing you notice when looking at a map of Crete is that it is a long and skinny island with three main towns: Chania, Rethymno, and Heraklion. All three towns are located on the north shore of the island and connected by a national “highway”.
What you can’t quite gather from the map is the geography of the island. It is mountainous! I don’t normally think of the Greek islands when I think of hiking destinations but Crete is definitely a hiking destination.
The table below compares the highest elevation point for the same six islands plus Whistler Mountain for the wow factor.
|Island||Highest elevation (ft)||Highest elevation (m)|
Crete’s undesirable shape, mountainous terrain, and lack of a proper highway system mean that you need to decide on what you’d like to do during your time on the island before you choose where you will stay. As an example, if you plan to hike Samaria Gorge, it’s best to stay in Chania versus Heraklion or even Rethymno to minimize driving time.
Why did we choose Rethymno?
Earlier this year, and blissfully unaware of what was about to happen, we booked a trip to Chania for May 2020. That trip was postponed to May 2021 due to the pandemic.
Not wanting to stay in Chania twice, we focused on finding accommodation in Rethymno this time ’round.
We agreed that a hotel in Rethymno was not a good match for us this trip and that we’d rather have our own space to continue to be Alone Together, even if that meant a 15-minute car journey to pick up essentials and/or get a coffee.
This resulted in us renting a private villa nestled in an olive grove. It was as dreamy as it sounds. More details on our experience staying at Vera Natura II can be found here.
Rethymno, and Crete in general, was like stepping back in time to pre-coronavirus times. There were very few, if any, active cases of coronavirus on the island, and aside from the occasional bottle of hand sanitizer and seeing people in shops with face coverings, it felt normal. Like old times. The good old times.
Mask-wearing compliance, when required, was 99.9%. The only time I saw someone in a shop without a face covering was at one of the local supermarkets near our villa. Restaurant and cafe workers were required to wear face coverings and, in our experience, they were 100% compliant.
We drove to Rethymno daily for coffee and essentials. The drive time from the villa to the marina parking lot near Rethymno’s old town was about 15 minutes. The marina parking lot is the biggest and cheapest lot in Rethymno and it’s close to the old town, fortress, and Venetian Harbor. It’s a no-brainer to park at the marina and continue your journey on foot.
There are a few upsides of traveling during a pandemic, one of which is the lack of tourists.
Another upside is that we often found free street parking along Rethymno Beach. Speaking of the beach, it was sparsely populated. Not only were there no issues finding on-street parking, but there were also no issues finding a sun lounger.
Restaurants, cafes, and bars were nearly empty, even at peak times. It was nice to be able to get a table whenever and wherever we wanted but it was sad at the same time.
Our excursions to Rethymno were generally “in and out” meaning we went there with a goal, usually espresso, and when that goal was met, we hustled back to our villa for pool time.
When in Rethymno, we stayed in and around the old town. The old town is exactly what you’d expect of an old town in Greece. Lots of narrow alleys and old men playing cards like they have done for the past 50 years.
On our last full day in Crete, I realized that I had only taken photos of olive oil, watermelon, and our pool so we braved the heat and strolled around the old town for about 45 minutes taking photographs.
Situated above the old town is a fortress built by Venetians in the 16th century. It’s open to the public but we did not venture up the stairs to check out it because we were not wearing sunscreen (and already feeling sunburnt) and pool time was calling our names. It was also incredibly hot.
Our last stop on our mini Rethymno walkabout was to the Venetian Harbor. It’s a tiny harbor lined by restaurants and bars. I imagine it’s a lovely place to day drink.
We enjoyed our time in Crete and the biggest realization I had is that the island is underrated. It’s got so much to offer – beaches, hiking, wineries, big towns, cute old towns, and tiny villages like this one where we at dinner one night in the village’s square.
Eat, drink, and shop recommendations
Finally, a few recommendations for Rethymno.
|Business name||Business type|
|Expert||Electronics and appliances (e.g. portable speaker)|
|Ta Souvlakia Tou Gagani||Restaurant; best meal we had during our holiday|
|Barrio – The Neighborhood Cafe||Restaurant/coffee shop/brunch|
|The Bankery||Restaurant/coffee shop/brunch|
|Cul de Sac||Restaurant/coffee shop/brunch; best espresso we had during our holiday|
|Baywich||Sandwich shop and bar on the beach (minimum spend for use of their sun loungers); still dreaming of this place|
|The Leaky Cauldron||Restaurant; located a few minutes’ drive from Vera Natura|
|Taverna Raeti||Restaurant; located near Rethymno beach, don’t let the touristy location and lack of ambiance turn you off – the food is great|
|Taverna Fantastiko||Restaurant; best sunset view of Rethymno from high up on the ridge|