We’ve lived in several different short-term homes since arriving in Crete. So we were really looking forward to finally moving into our permanent base. Our first stop was ten days in a lovely apartment in the centre of Chania – down by the harbour – a couple of minutes walk into the Old Town. We had a rooftop terrace and so had amazing panoramic views of the city, the sea, and the mountains. Chania is a great town full of restaurants, nice shops, and a very picturesque Venetian harbour. And the added bonus is that you are also within walking distance of a beach.
The next stop was a ground floor apartment a little outside town – the idea being that we wanted to have a look at as many areas as we could before we settled on one for the year. Here we had a decent sized garden for Lenny and incredibly hospitable Airbnb hosts who lived above us. They too had a dog and this made Lenny a very happy little man – he finally had a playmate. We were regularly presented with oranges and lemons from our hosts’ trees as well as baked Cretan goods.
By this stage we had found our home but we couldn’t move in for a couple of weeks and so we decided to head to the east of the island for a ‘holiday’. We spent a week in Agios Nikolaos, about four hours from Chania, and it was fabulous. The Minos Beach Resort Hotel offered small intimate bungalows by the sea. There is definitely something suspect about the idea of the private beach but in this case I put my ethical qualms to one side as I enjoyed the gorgeous feeling of waking up to sunshine and calm blue water outside my door.
After a week of this heavenly luxury we travelled back to Chania. This time we chose a place in Akrotiri – about 40 minutes from the city centre. We had discovered this area during one of our house hunting trips. Although a large portion of Akrotiri is not very beautiful – it is quite built up with newly constructed holiday homes – we found a very quiet spot beside a picturesque bay with a single taverna (restaurant). I imagine that this was the kind of place that Kazantzakis had in mind when writing Zorba the Greek (As it turned out, the beach where the movie was filmed is a 10 minute drive from here!). Lenny had the run of the grounds as there were very few others around. It seems so surprising that May is still low season in Crete because we had such good weather it felt like the middle of summer! The one major problem with Akrotiri is its proximity to the naval base. Every morning fighter jets roar past your window. The noise is really quite astounding and I’m not sure that you’d ever really get used to it.
And finally, we arrived at our new home! We were very lucky to get this place. A friend of a friend had a friend with a house to rent… It is in a small mountain village called Afrata. The village has two tavernas, a mini market, a church and not much else. Less than five minutes drive down the hill is a quiet pebble beach. It’s a 30 minute drive into the centre of Chania and so while we’re out in the wilds, we are still not totally isolated.
First impressions? When we walked up the windy little street (and I wondered when we first arrived how we’d ever get the car up it) we passed a number of houses built practically on top of each other, some with whitewashed walls. We climbed a few steps into a lovely little courtyard which had a typical vine canopy and several lemon trees. There to greet us was a little old lady dressed in the traditional black of old Cretan times. She lives in a tiny apartment on the ground floor and the house was her marital home. She is what the Greeks call a “Ya-ya”. It’s a nickname (but not derogatory) and Frank thinks that it’s used because these old ladies spend a lot of time sitting outside their houses saying ‘Ya sas’ (hello) to everyone who passes by. She is constantly baking and happily we are regularly presented with plates of cakes and biscuits. Someday soon I will have to bake for her and hope that I manage not to insult her with my efforts!
Anyway, back to first impressions. We climbed the stairs to our front door on the first floor. Inside you arrive in a small but well equipped kitchen. You quickly skip past this and up two steps through an archway as you are drawn to both the the beautiful old features of the living room with it’s exposed stone and high ceiling and also to the sunny terrace through glass doors at the end of the room. The terrace is the house’s standout feature and was the deal maker when we decided to take the house. The views of the mountains and the sea are unbeatable. The sound of the goat bells in the distance is the icing on the cake – food for the soul.
All the rooms are on different levels so you need to quickly get used to the steps – one steep step from terrace to living room; two steps into kitchen; one step down to bathroom and a further step down into our bedroom. I like these quirky features – the house is 200 years old after all. We have two other balconies and so have a choice of views and sun spots. Speaking of ancient and quirky, we discovered that the old gramophone in the living room actually works! And we’ve got some old ragtime records to dance along to!
Because we are in an small village, we quickly got to know some of our neighbours. Litsa owns the best taverna in the area (she comes in at #1 on TripAdvisor for the Kolymbari area). She is a fantastic cook and also makes jewelry during the quiet winter months. If you are passing by the area, Litsa’s is definitely worth a visit for a leisurely lunch or dinner spent watching night fall over the Bay of Chania.
I really feel we are getting the authentic Cretan experience living here. More so than had we decided to live in Chania town, which was the original plan. My favorite time of day is the morning – getting up early, having a quick breakfast, walking down the rocky gorge to the beach with Frank and Lenny, going for a swim, and walking back up the hill for a second breakfast. As the summer rolls in (from June onwards) we will have to get up earlier and earlier because the mornings will be getting hotter and hotter, and that hill will seem steeper and steeper!
Having said that I love living in the countryside, I still really look forward to my shopping expeditions into Chania – that hasn’t changed about me! Not yet anyway!