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On the Shores of Preveli

The quintessential element to summer holidays were always, at least to me, going to the beach. I adored the sun and sand, feeling the cool sea breeze on my face, enjoying the splashing of the waves as they playfully danced around me. I was always at home in the ocean. I always felt, therefore, that a summer without a trip to the beach was one that was wasted. Over the years, as I became more familiar with holidaying on Crete, I acquainted myself with many beautiful beaches, each a different experience, each new one more varied and wonderful than the last.

And then I visited Preveli.

A piece of Preveli

I had been to Preveli Beach once before, when I was very young. I remembered little, only that it had been a beautiful day and that I had not packed a swimsuit. I had walked around the area for a little while with my family before turning right around and leaving, promising one day to revisit it. I had only a faint impression of what the place looked like, and how to get there, but I longed to one day go back. Something about it called to me, perhaps that it was unfinished business, a beach I had left unexplored. Or maybe I was just restless in the villa and wanted to travel somewhere out of my comfort zone. I spoke about going with my family, and we made arrangements to visit the beach, though the discussion was met with some slight protest.

“Preveli? You really want to go to Preveli?”

“Yes. Why not?”

“Well…it’s not for the faint of heart.”

“I’ve been to a beach before. How bad can it be?”

“You’ll have to wear comfortable shoes, and pack water-“

“It’s settled then. We’ll be up by 9. See you then.”

Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the tone of the discussion before embarking on this journey, but I was filled with the impetuousness of my youth. I had my sights set on this small adventure, and I would see this beach if my life depended on it.

The view on the road to Preveli

Getting to Preveli Beach is not, well, a day at the beach. Though it is a beautiful and popular destination for locals and tourists alike, is not easy to reach. It is a bit of a drive to the south side of the island, full of winding roads and looming cliffs. It is beautiful, however, and we stopped along the way to take pictures of these rockfaces. It seemed like a good start to the day, setting the tone for one of a peaceful, albeit long, drive. The parking lot is on a cliffside, and to reach the cove below one must traverse down a large flight of winding, stone cut, and often uneven stairs. They are carved from the side of the cliff and are lined not only with large pebbles but a blanket of brambles that blow onto it from the mountainside. It is advisable that one, before making this journey, wear thick walking shoes, as flimsy sandals or rubber flip-flops will not protect your feet very well. You can guess which shoes that I, in my infinite wisdom, wore.

The path narrowed and widened seemingly at random, and as the hot sun beat down upon our little band, some of our party questioned the worthiness of this hike in relation to the beach visit. The beauty of the sea below, however, could not be denied, and we hurried on with the hope that once we reached the bottom we would be refreshed by the sea air. I pretended I was like the old heroes I’d read about in myths, climbing down chasms to explore new worlds and face new gods or monsters, and it made the climb down much more exciting, (and distracted me from all the thorns my flip-flops had embedded in them, at any rate). Once we carefully rounded the last corner, and carefully maneuvered our way down to the shore, we all agreed it was worth the work. Here, in the shade of the palm forest, the Great River (or Megas Potamos) meets the Aegean. The river is cold and biting like ice, but you must cross the small tributary to get to the sea. The ocean isn’t much warmer, but from it you can look back onto the shore, marveling at the Theophrastus palm grove that makes you wonder if you haven’t stumbled upon the Nile River, and aren’t staying in Crete at all. In fact, once I worked up the nerve to submerge myself into that icy river and swim along its banks, I felt as if I had indeed traveled to another place, another time. I kept an eye out for crocodiles, though of course there were none. Around the bend, the river kept on flowing, but I did not follow it any farther. I climbed out onto the bank, shivering, and walked back to where my family had settled on the beach.

It was then that I noticed the geese.

How could you not notice?

I suppose I should have noticed them sooner, but I was enraptured with the water and didn’t think to look around the land any longer than it took me to lay my towel down. But the thing about geese is that they’ll get you to notice them eventually. Loud, honking, and larger than I expected geese to be, these wild birds roamed up and down the shore approaching anyone who looked remotely like they could have food on them. Most of these beachgoers did, in fact, as there was a convenient café located off to the side of the beach. The geese that frequented (or perhaps, haunted?) these shores were not afraid of anyone, as they seemed to have learned long ago that if they did not get what they wanted by begging and through their own admittedly cute appearance, they would get it by force. Perhaps the gaggle of geese worries you, potential beachgoer? Don’t be worried. These comical little mafiosos aren’t really any bother, and most people tend to ignore their honking.

On their way to steal some food

In a strange way, it seems to add to the charm of the liminal space that is Preveli Beach. It sits on the border of what you’d expect to see of Crete and what it would look like in a dreamscape, a land that isn’t entirely rooted in reality and yet you find your feet buried in its sand. And if you find that you’re ready and able to make the long climb back up the stairs, think of yourself as Orpheus, climbing the long and winding stairway to return to the real world, where reality and dream are divided in a way that you are used to. Only this time, I encourage you to turn around, to look back, to look behind at one of the most beautiful seascapes nature has dreamt up. Marvel at how far you’ve come. Then keep climbing. You only have a thousand more steps to go before you reach the top.

A view from the top

By Katarina Kapetanakis

Colossal: A Journey into Rhodes

Up until this point we have exclusively shared with you the wonders of the island of Crete, highlighting its people and surroundings. We’re still committed to sharing our love of the island with you, but today’s post is going to be a little different. Today, we welcome another Grecian island into the fold of the Wine Dark Sea family, the beautiful Rhodes, and with it our newest immersive property…Lemuria Manor.

Gardens at Lemuria Manor

Rhodes does not feel like the Greece you read about in your history books. It’s not Athens, bleached white and regal, the acropolis looming over the city like a sentinel. It isn’t Crete, a wild and lively island with a looseness and excitement that one could associate with a party of dryads and satyrs. No, Rhodes is a strange blend of a medieval world and a garden paradise. It is a land that transcends antiquity and plunges its visitors into a medieval world of Templar Knights and giants of stone that served as a gateway to an ancient kingdom. But you wouldn’t know that from your first impressions of the island. Driving from the airport to the old city feels almost as if you’re driving through a high-end beach town: towering hotels that mirror the mountains behind them, reflecting sunlight into the waves below. The beach is usually busy, packed with sunbathing tourists, and the water looks far away and close all at the same time. But once the taxi drops you off in front of St. John’s Gate, and you look over the wooden bridge that leads into a massive stone fortress, you begin to wonder whether you’re actually in Greece.

It’s a wonder, you think to yourself as you pass through the massive stone gate and walk down cobbled streets that have not changed in hundreds of years. The roads are narrow, the byways narrower still, and it almost feels as if you’ve entered a labyrinth with nothing but the sound of your own footsteps for company. The silence does not last; the sounds of shopkeepers haggling with tourists, the music of street performers, and the hustle and bustle of life permeate every stone and corner of the town. The scents of delicacies float down from the cafes, and suddenly you’re confronted with the most lively and vibrant colors that shops and nature have to offer. You’ve made it to the heart of the Old City. And what a city! Date palms loom over your head, yellows, browns and greens are everywhere, and the most beautiful colored glass lamps and carpets seem to adorn every corner. At the heart is a mosque, a remnant from Greece’s time under Turkish rule, where a tower topped with the strangest spires loom above you.

It is a short three-minute walk from this very square that you find yourself staying. From the outside, the building is hidden by a large stone wall, where only vines and flowers are visible. But upon turning a key, you unlock a path into a garden paradise, a private Eden where the hustle and bustle of the town is shut out. Nestled in the garden is Lemuria Manor, itself is a piece of history that has stood since templars themselves roamed the island, that proves to be a blend of elegance and modern convenience, and upon entering you are overwhelmed by a feeling of homecoming. You wonder if perhaps it is the city embracing you with open arms. You wander its halls and wonder what secrets a place like this holds, what histories it could share with you. It is an insight into the city in its own way.

A sneak peek of Lemuria Manor

But you do not linger there for long, and you set off again to the square, throwing yourself into the midst of the hustle and bustle of the city. You are heading to the great stone palace of the Grand Master, the leader of the Templar Knights, the looming stone structure that towers above the square. Long ago, knights held residence on this great island, a stopover before the knights marched on towards the crusades. There’s an energy here that is palpable, as it draws in tourists by the thousands to gaze upon its magnificent halls. You step into a large stone courtyard with staircases that look like they could have been part of an Escher drawing, angular, precise, almost beautifully dividing the empty space created by the archways it passes. Statues grace the walls, of great philosophers and kings, keeping watch over the crowds. Inside the palace are gorgeous stone walls, alabaster floors with inlaid mosaics, with tapestries and religious icons hanging reverently on the wall. This palace is a work of art, a fortress on the outside while its inside suggests a certain European elegance. It is a wonder, that a castle such as this, that looks as if it was carved out of the very island itself, could be so elegant inside.

Of course, any introduction to Rhodes is incomplete without addressing the Colossus, the famed statue that once straddled the harbor. Alas, the statue does not exist today, and to visit the site is to pay homage to a grave. The only thing left of the statue are remnants of the pedestals it stood upon, and a broken weatherworn foot. Talks have circulated in local governments of rebuilding the statue, but if you’re curious to see the original site, take a walk to the harbor. Try to fathom something taller than even the statue of liberty holding its own torch alight, beckoning traders and visitors alike to the ancient island.

Rhodes is more magnificent than a single post can capture, as are all the islands in the Aegean. But stay tuned. The beauty of Rhodes will be covered more extensively in coming posts, and you won’t want to miss your chance to explore it.

By Katarina Kapetanakis

Work of Art: An Island’s Celebration of Life

Whenever I travel, I like to take a day or so to visit the museums of the place I’m staying in. I always thought places like art museums hold the best of what humanity has to offer, and art museums that highlight the respective culture of the town or country is even more special. And in the case of Crete, it shows just how important art has always been and always will be to the Cretan people.

It’s true, Crete is not known for being an artist colony. Perhaps it should be. Towns like Rethymno and Chania have elegant artist workshops tucked away in their alleys and byways, often covered in flowering trellises with their art hanging on door-frames and windows. From the brightest colors in hyper realistic paintings of the sea, or paintings of olive trees done in an impressionist style, or stunning charcoal works of boats in harbors, these hidden gems line the walls and are stacked upon tables for those willing to look through the vast number of artworks. Sometimes you can catch the artist in their work, electric fans whirring above them, the smell of cigarette smoke wafting through their open windows and into the street. A still life all its own unfolds before you, and if you’re smart, you’ll walk away with one of these paintings or pastels or charcoal drawings that serve as a better representation of that magnificent island than any photo ever could.

The Dolphin Fresco of Knossos

These artists are continuing a long history of Cretan art. Visit the archaeological museums in Heraklion and you will see, the people on this island have been connected to art since the Minoans ruled the island. Frescoes were the most prevalent examples, such as the dolphin fresco that once adorned the wall of the Queen’s Megaron, private apartments at the palace of Knossos. It hangs now in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, where the rich blues and uncanny fluidity of them entrance visitors from all around the globe. How did this fresco come to be so blue, you wonder? Historians may be puzzled, as the color was so unusual for the late Bronze age, but any artist could tell you how and why: the island inspires bright and vibrant colors, it inspires movement, it inspires life in its art. If you doubt me, take a look at the Bull-Leaping Fresco in the first floor of the museum, a work of art that, like the Dolphin fresco, used to adorn the palace walls at Knossos. A charging, angry reddish-brown bull with horns of gold is framed against a sky-blue background, as three men take the animal by its horns and catapult themselves over it, gracefully somersaulting over his back as the bull rages on. Grace in the face of certain peril, captured in all its wondrous fluidity and color. It is life in motion, captured forever in stucco.

The Bull-Leaping Fresco

Life in Crete is vibrant. It is loud, always in motion, and always colorful. Perhaps that is why the art style has always reflected as such. It is unique, and even if Crete hasn’t been acknowledged as a haven for artists, those who come here with no expectation leave here marveling at the beauty of the world around them…as seen through Cretan eyes. It is a celebration of life.

What more can you ask of an artist?

Life in Color

By Katarina Kapetanakis

Matala Beach: How to Live For Today

Beautiful beaches are not at all unusual on the island of Crete. The whole coastline is a widely varied, but exceedingly beautiful paradise. From seaside fishing towns with tiny sandy shores, to imposing jagged rocks that loom over you as you take a dip in their coves, Crete’s beaches are a marvel to those seeking a vacation that is out of the ordinary. However, if you’re new to the island, picking a beach to go to can be a bit like playing roulette: you’re never sure what kind of beach you’re going to get until you arrive at the water’s edge. And if you aren’t accustomed to relaxing, you may not know where to go or how to do it. Let’s say you want something refreshing, something totally out of the ordinary. Something so unique and out of your usual comfort zone that you simply must experience it for yourself. So, come with us. Take a drive down, (or rather, up and down) the coastal highways of the island. Ninety minutes or so from the Wine Dark Sea villas, waits an adventure to another part of the island, a beach that, for many, acts not only as an escape to nature, but as a portal to another time…

Matala beach.

Pass through the bucolic mountainside dotted with ubiquitous olive groves, and several small villages. After several minutes you reach the pass leading to Matala beach. As you approach, you drive through a single boulevard entrance into the village, you find yourself face to face…to face…to face…with a giant dead tree that has been carved into multiple faces. It’s mystical, almost like it belongs in some popular fantasy franchise, though you’re not sure you know which one now. It sticks out, and yet, you can’t help but think that perhaps it’s perfect for the bizarre yet calming energy Matala gives off. It’s a message, you see: non-conformism rules this tiny beach town, uniqueness is king, and there are nothing but good vibes ahead of you. The motto of the village is plastered right on a seaside cliff, painted there decades ago when the town was a hippie paradise: Live for Today. You’re going to like it here, you think, as you approach the beach.

A strange town centerpiece

After walking down the hill from where you’ve parked your car just at the edge of the beach, take a look around. You’ll notice almost immediately discovers the cove of that dot the rock wall, and you can’t help but feel a sense of intrigue. Approach the worker selling tickets to these caves, and they’ll be happy to tell you: they are Roman catacombs, dotting the cliffs and intersecting with each other like a honey comb, and they are open to the public. Take some time, explore these caves. Marvel at the sound of the waves washing over the tombs of those closer to the ocean. Wonder what it would be like to be buried at a place as peaceful as this. Take some photos for posterity.

When you finish, exit the caves and take a moment to gaze into the water below. Note the incredible crystal blue color. Let yourself get excited: Matala beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and as you can see, the multitude of people already on the beach and enjoying the water agree with you. But take a moment to breathe it all in, the water, the caves, the painted cliffside. The energy, the mythos of it all, is infectious. You can’t help but picture Jason and his Argonauts trying to escape the bronze automaton Talos, stepping over the beach towards the Argo. The incredible invocation of mythology is palpable in the air. Let it infect you. Let the line between history and mythology be blurred. Then jump into the beautiful wine dark sea, and let the water wash over you. You will be cold, temporarily, but the clearness of the water combined with the alien world that shines just below the surface, of rocks and fish and ruins, will warm you with excitement. Explore it all. Soak it in. After all, you can’t find beaches like this at home. Swim out. Swim far. Climb some rocks, jump off of them. Feel alive.

A coastline dotted with caves. Can you make them out?

A swim in the cool Aegean waters will refresh the soul as one allows the bright sky and hot sun to renew the body with with its life giving energy, but a day at the beach brings hunger. You’re in luck, though. Tavernas are scattered all over the beach, overhanging the dramatic land forms, which allows for all the senses to be fed. Music echoes out from porches overlooking the sea, and smells seep out from the verandas to lure you into their restaurant. Pick the one that enchants you the most, the one that smells the most delicious. Take your seat on one of the blue chairs at a blue table, overlooking the blue Aegean, and allow the wind to kiss your sun warmed face. The joy of eating a Greek salad, with feta cheese and copious tomatoes, drenched in olive oil, while listening to the lapping waves on the beach, 20 feet from your table, is a joy worth remembering for a lifetime. And of course, the varieties of seafood offered hit the spot: you can’t help but consider this a perfect day. Like most tavernas on Crete, don’t expect to eat without making friends with the waiter or the owner, who usually feels compelled to come by and say hello and ask about ones’ trip and origins. Enjoy a dessert of watermelon, at owner’s insistence, the perfect refreshing sweet for a refreshing day. Share a drink or three of Raki, the Cretan “grappa” drink made from grape skins. It’s strong, so one must be moderate if driving. Sitting and watching the lights and colors change in the sky as the meal progresses, is a memory not soon forgotten.

A proud seaside taverna

Explore the village corners and shops where every angle and corner is a painting or photograph waiting to be made. Bright colors and flowers evoke the age of “Flower Power”, and you learn that Matala was and still is a hippie town. Perhaps this is contrary to the way you live most of your life, but here and now you can’t help but wonder what it would be like to be a carefree flower child. Someone tells you that John Lennon once camped out in the catacombs you visited at the start of the day; consider how the history of this place is so alive, and how it has been a place of peace and beauty since the dawn of antiquity. Let it amaze you. Buy a colorful t-shirt with a fun hippie print on it, a memory of the time that you let yourself be completely free. Perhaps grab another drink at one of the colorful bars in the town square. Leather goods and trinkets hang everywhere and saturate the sights on a village walk. Let yourself be tempted to try the ‘fish spa,’ where visitors place their feet in tanks of small fish that nibble away at your dead skin. Maybe succumb to the temptation. After all, if there was a place to try new things, to live to your absolute freest, well….you’ve come to the right place.

A perfectly framed Aegean sea beckons

 

By Katarina Kapetanakis

First Impressions: How Your First Meal Sets the Stage for Your Vacation

It begins when you disembark. You step off the plane, or the ship, that you’ve been on for several hours now. Maybe you’re lucky, and you’re only two, maybe three hours away. Maybe you’ve caught a casual four-hour flight, and you’re looking forward to a nice three-to-four-day weekend away. Maybe you’ve just gotten off an agonizing seven or nine-hour flight and your legs are cramped, your eyes are dry, and despite (or perhaps because of) the airline’s attempt at bringing you a decent breakfast, you’re desperate to get off the plane and to find something that satisfies you. But, and odds are you’re in this predicament, you may be forced to wait for another few hours in an airport on the mainland, waiting for your connecting flight that will take you to what you hope will be an island paradise. Perhaps you grab a coffee, ignoring the rumbling in your stomach. Maybe you even cave and grab a pastry. You pray that something will be open by the time you land in Crete, because anything, anything¸ is better than dry, overcooked airport food.  Next to you, backpacking teenagers sit slumped in their seats, snoring slightly. You wonder if they’ll be seated next to you on the next flight. You hope they won’t be. Once you’re on the plane, the caramel you’re given by the flight attendant only seems to remind you of how absolutely starved you are.

The view from Meteora

But from the moment you step outside of the airport doors and set foot on the island of Crete, things start to look up.  A friendly face, a representative of the company you’ve booked with, has come to take you to your villa. They seem enthusiastic, despite the time, and their attentiveness warms you. Maybe you make small talk, about the flight, about the island, about the villa itself. But you can’t quite focus on it. You’re just wondering when it’s appropriate to ask: Where’s a good place to get some dinner? When you finally get up the nerve, (or maybe you’ve gotten lucky and your new friend on the island has broached the subject themselves), you’re happy to know that, in your case, your villa is right next to a wonderful taverna that your new friend knows very, very well.

The taverna is called Meteora, named after the mountain range on the mainland that holds some of the world’s most spectacular monasteries. The name is appropriate, as this restaurant is nestled on the side of a mountain, overlooking the sparkling lights of Heraklion down below you. You’re seated on the balcony, listening to the sounds of the ocean, of the music playing through the speakers, and if you’re not mistaken you can even catch the faint braying of a donkey. “From the church below. They have a donkey,” you’re told, and you smile at the image of a local priest riding to his church on his steed. The owner, Tasos, greets you warmly. He’s a great big bear of a man, tall and bearded, and simply exuding friendliness. He knows you’re staying in the villa next door, and he’s happy to welcome you. You’re overwhelmed by all the choices on the menu, he can tell. So, he brings you the best of everything.

Suddenly your table is covered in plates, a feast to end your day of fasting. Goat cheese paired with the sweetest of honeys. The Cretan version of bruschetta, a lovely compliment to your white wine that you sip like water. Dolmades, or stuffed grape leaves, are small but packed with flavor. “His mother, she makes them,” your friend tells you, and points to Tasos. It’s a family affair at Meteora, with his mother helping in the kitchen and his daughter helping him serve. You can’t quite understand all that’s being said, but you understand laughter, and smiles, and the toasts to your good health and good time. You cannot believe your luck when they finally present you with lamb, cooked to be so tender and flavorful you cannot believe you’ve ever eaten it any other way. It melts on your tongue. “Crete’s favorite vegetable,” Tasos jokes with you. They’re so flavorful, you’re told, because they spend all their days eating the wild mountain herbs. They flavor themselves, you think. It’s almost like they do Tasos’ job for him.

Crete’s favorite vegetable

Just when you think you can’t eat anymore, you’re presented with a plate of fresh fruit…and something else. Small, clear glass bottles full of a clear liquid. Water, you think, but no: it’s the drink of the gods. Raki, as you’re soon to learn, is a smooth but burning liquor to rival the alcohol content of American moonshine. But how delicious it is, and how warm you feel once you’ve had a couple sips of this ambrosia. And as you sit there, listening to music and happy chatter, that you’ve had quite possibly the warmest welcome as anyone could get.

There’s a comfort in finding your place in the warmth of a dish made with care, or dare I say love. For the people you meet, and I mean everyone on this island, they all put all the love that they have into all of the food that they make. And if your food is made with care, and if you’re met by the smiling face of people who love what they do and want to share the best of that with you, well then…what better way to say it?

Welcome to Crete.

By Katarina Kapetanakis

The Allure of Crete: An Introduction

If you looked the island of Crete up in an encyclopedia, or perhaps, looked it up on Wikipedia, it would tell you all about the physical makeup of the place. It would tell you that Crete is the largest island in Greece’s archipelago, and the 88th largest in the world. It would tell you the exact number of miles the span of the island covers from east to west, (160, or 260 km). It would tell you how many mountain ranges Crete has, (three main ones),  or how many gorges, valleys, and rivers cover the island, (almost too many to count). It could tell you the population, the general climate, the flag, every numerical, geographical, and statistical fact you could possibly dream up.

But it couldn’t tell you about the sight of those rolling mountains, dominating the horizon. It wouldn’t be able to tell you how the sunlight crowns the island, outlining it in gold with every sunrise and sunset. It wouldn’t be able to tell you how the wind sings to you through the gorges, through the olive groves, of the songs of ancient gods and man that once walked the earth. It wouldn’t be able to fill you with all the beauty and grace that Crete bestows upon its people every day.

Crete possesses sprawling forests, with gorgeous running streams of crystal clear water; dramatic cliffs that tower over the blue sea, fertile plateaus nestled between mountain ranges, deserts and incredible beaches. Exploring Crete is a labor of love which rewards the explorer with wonders for all his senses. The plant life is a diverse ecosystem that can sustain the knowledgeable with nutrition and food for life. The terrain is both imposing and dramatic but a hike among the craggy cliffs and footpaths will lead you into a meditative state reserved for only the holiest of churches. A walk in the Cretan countryside will soothe even the most frazzled of nerves.

Have we enticed you yet? Can you feel the dappled sunlight on your face as you walk through the olive groves? Feel the gravel under your feet as you trek through the gorge? Can you feel the cold kiss of the waves as they splash against your skin as you wade in its depths? Have you fallen in love with Crete yet? You will.

Welcome to the blog of Wine Dark Sea, where you’ll learn to love all aspects of this gorgeous island just as we have.

 

By Katarina Kapetanakis