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? Me neither so I researched it.
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 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.
What you don’t quite gather from the map is the geography of the island. It is mountainous and has the longest gorge in Europe! 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.
Vera Natura Villas
We booked an eight-night stay with Vera Natura Villas. Vera Natura is located to the east of Rethymno near the tiny village of Adele. Nearby, there’s a local taverna, a fast-ish food type of restaurant, a Lidl supermarket, and two local supermarkets (nothing “super” about them but they get the job done).
Vera Natura Villas consists of two identical villas located next door to one another in the middle of an olive grove with views of the mountains and the sea. We were not expecting a view of anything so our 180° view was a pleasant surprise!
Each villa is a standalone three-bedroom house with a fully fenced yard and private pool. The properties are marketed by ThinkVilla but the villa owners were hands-on and we contacted them with any issues or requests that we had.
The villas are named Vera Natura I and Vera Natura II (our villa). And though they are identical, there are two minor differences that make Vera Natura I a more desirable property than Vera Natura II.
First, the driveways of both villas are very narrow (only slightly wider than our Fiat Panda). They require a skilled driver like myself to navigate. The angle of Vera Natura I’s driveway makes getting into the driveway a bit easier than Vera Natura II’s driveway. Getting out of the driveway is a non-issue because there is a turnaround at the back of each property so you can leave the property just as you entered, driving forward. (Don’t even attempt reversing in or out of the driveways.)
Second, Vera Natura I sits higher on the hill than Vera Natura II. This means that guests of Vera Natura have a bird’s eye view of Vera Natura I’s pool and veranda areas. This is not a deal-breaker but if you have the option, opt for the villa higher on the hill.
The villas are brand-spanking-new and the owners are still working out the kinks. It took four years to build the villas and they were completed in February 2020, just in time for the European coronavirus outbreak!
As mentioned in the prior post, the gracious owners met us at the property. On the table were two bottles of wine, a bottle of raki, and a 1.5-liter bottle of olive oil that was freshly pressed from their farm. I died a little inside when I saw the olive oil.
The wife instructed us to use the tiny glasses for the raki and the husband put his hand on the top of the oil bottle and said, “Text me if you need more. I will bring it right away.”
I smiled and thought, “I would need to bathe in olive oil in order to need more of it over the course of seven days.” I love Greece so much!
We used the olive oil every day and this is how much remained when we checked out of the villa.
With the priority announcements (wine and olive oil) out of the way, they provided us with a tour of the villa, gave us quick tutorials where needed, and said their goodbyes. The husband said he would be back in a couple of days to check the pool chemicals. Under new guidelines, the pool chemicals have to be checked on a more frequent basis to ensure it doesn’t become a breeding ground for coronavirus.
The pool guidelines were not the only change we noticed. There were other things that were not normal but to some extent, expected given everything that is going on.
For example, the remotes for the air conditioning units (super strong!) and TV were wrapped in plastic. At first, we thought this was like the Fiat Panda wrapping but realized that this wrapping was not to be removed. It was a protective barrier so that the area between the buttons didn’t become a breeding ground for the virus.
Another change was with pantry staples. The wine, olive oil, and raki were the only ingestibles at the villa, though it is questionable whether raki should be ingested. Raki tastes a little bit like Sambuca and is just as dangerous alcohol-wise. It’s served after every meal alongside pieces of fruit (peaches, watermelon). It’s meant to be taken as a shot followed by eating the piece of fruit, similar to tequila and lime. It’s an acquired taste, I’ll leave it at that.
Protip: If a Greek person offers you “their grandfather’s water”, it’s raki so proceed with caution.
Under new guidelines, there can be no sharing of food across villa stays, so any pantry staples that are left behind by guests must be removed at check-out. This meant that we had to buy salt, pepper, sugar (for poolside mojitos!), and other standard foodstuffs.
Partly because the property is new and partly because of coronavirus, there were limited dishes, flatware, utensils, and cooking things (pots, pans, mixing bowls, baking sheets, etc.). The biggest problem was that there were no food storage containers.
We were told upfront that the guidelines were to minimize the number of things guests touch so for our party of two, the cupboards were stocked with four place settings (4 plates, 4 bowls, etc.). This was not enough dishes for two people who were sometimes eating three meals a day at the villa. The dishwasher ran constantly as I laid on my sunlounger drinking my weight in Rose and rehydrating with plates-upon-plates of watermelon.
In keeping with the new normal of “less is more”, the kitchen also lacked things like plastic storage film, aluminum foil, baggies, etc. We had to buy all of these supplies whilst there.
Finally, almost all decorative items (throw pillows, knick-knacks, books, etc.) had been removed from the property to minimize the spread through touch.
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.
It fascinates me as to how some countries immediately accepted face coverings as the new normal and other countries are still politicizing the issue. In my head, the Greek government said, “Face coverings are now required in shops.” And the residents all said, “OK” and that was the end of it.
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 really 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.
One upside of traveling during a pandemic is that there was a lack of tourists.
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. Tourism has clearly been hit hard.
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 stuck in and around the old town. The old town is exactly what you’d expect of an old town in Greece. Loads of narrow alleys and old men sitting on chairs and playing cards like they have done together for the past 40 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.
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; excellent quinoa salad|
|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|
|Taverna Fantastiko||Restaurant; best sunset view of Rethymno from high up on the ridge|