I was not one to be sentimental about heritage when I was a child.

This was, more or less, by design. My family wanted me to concentrate more on the present than the past, except of course when it came to the study of historical personages who did things of note. I wrote family tree projects with the cold lens of an academic, and the idea of ancestry became so far removed from me that it was more like examining the history of a stranger rather than analyzing myself. I was a mutt, without a past, without roots, without ancestors. For the most part this was not an issue, and my love of history was no less strong.
Which brings me to the grand epiphany I experienced in the Archaeological Museum of Crete.

There is a reason why this museum is on every “Best Thing to See in Crete” article in existence; it is home to antiquities of the most unique nature. It is one of the oldest museums in Greece, home to collections that began before the formal construction of the museum. The Archaeological Museum contains artifacts from every pivotal evolution for the Minoan people spanning the last 5,500 years, neatly placed into 12 expansive rooms on the first floor alone.

The Minoans were the first real civilization on the island of Crete, emerging from the neolithic population that first inhabited it. They were the Bronze Age powerhouse, with a formidable navy, a rich artistic tradition that went through several evolutions, and a complex and intricate religious system that archaeologists are still unearthing new details about. They were the epicenter of trade, connecting the Hellenic peoples of mainland Greece with Cyprus, Egypt, Syria, Anatolia, and Mesopotamia. They weren’t just the first inhabitants of Crete, they were Crete.

Upon entering the museum on a hot July afternoon, I found myself taken by the sudden weight of how old the Minoan civilization truly is. I have been to this museum many times before, but something about this visit struck me as particularly meaningful. The stone basins that they used for ritual cleaning, the delicate golden jewelry that is carefully displayed, even the little clay bulls all on display, were made by human hands so long ago I could not completely wrap my head around it.

I forgot to breathe as I stared at the famous Bee pendant, which was unearthed at the archaeological site of Malia in 1930. It is an intricate depiction of two bees (or wasps), each curved to form a semi-circle, meeting at their heads and stingers respectively. Three gold orbs hang from each wing and their connected stingers, and a circle of gold (perhaps meant to symbolize a fruit) sits between them. The piece is beautiful, and time was clearly spent carefully accounting for each detail in the textured wings and bodies of the bees. The realization that this was made by human hands, loving, careful hands, hit me like a train. Who had worn this pendant? Whose hands first undid the clasp and hooked it about their neck? Was it a gift? A purchase? A tribute to a ruler? ‘Who were you?’ I wondered, looking at every piece of jewelry that lined the glass cases.

Then there was the Phaistos disc, discovered at the Phaistos palace ruin in 1908. It is an unassuming object, a dull brown circle with a diameter not much bigger than my outstretched hand, (5.9 inches to be exact). It’s not in the cases that line the walls, but on its own encased pedestal in the center of one of the rooms. On each side of the disc, etched symbols follow a spiral pattern into the center of the disc, forty-five pictorial signs that are repeated and grouped in sixty-one different segments, on both sides of the disc. Is it a song? A hymn? A spell? Perhaps we will never learn the truth, as the disc is written in Linear A, and is still being deciphered. The placard on the pedestal dates the Phaistos disc to the early 17th Century BC. Yet again I found myself confronted with the almost uncomfortable fact of time, and simultaneously, how a human hand had carefully and expertly shaped and carved this little mystery.

Perhaps my favorite thing about the Archaeological Museum of Crete is how much art it showcases. There is something so intrinsically human about being an artist, and I think it is a testament to the Minoans that so much of their art has survived. A marvelous sculpture of bull-jumpers mid-leap represents the first time that art depicted motion in a three-dimensional space. I wondered if the artist knew they were the first, or if they had, like all artists, assumed someone had beaten them to it.

Just next to this statue is the famous bull-jumper fresco, depicting three jumpers, two female and one male, participating in the sport. One woman grabs the deadly horns of the charging bull, preparing to propel herself into the somersault. Her eyes shine with the confidence of an expert sportswoman, cautious but unafraid. The man is halfway through his leap, his hands spring boarding off the bull’s mighty back, his body moving on autopilot. The second woman stands behind the bull, arms outstretched in triumph, having just completed her leap. The bull remains forever in his forward momentum, ever charging, his brown and white coat standing out vividly against the bright blue background of the fresco. Out of all the frescos that once called the Palace of Knossos home only to reside in this museum, I think this is the most beautiful. There is a triumphant nature to it, not a mastery of nature but perhaps a mastery of the self; total control over one’s body is the only way to survive a bull-jump.

Only two rooms later, I found myself staring at the ‘Ring of Minos,’ a small golden ring engraved with the Minoan Epiphany Cycle. Dating somewhere between 1450 and 1400 BC, the golden ring depicts the Goddess, the primary deity that was worshipped by the Minoans for the majority of their existence. She exists in three forms: hovering in the air, on a platform that is also holding Horns of Consecration (which visitors of Knossos will recognize as the giant statue of Bull’s Horns that faces the mountains), and rowing a boat beneath a fruit tree. The goddess, and by default the Minoans, have dominion over air, land, and sea, and all who beheld the ring were meant to recognize this as fact.

When I first laid eyes on the ring, I was suddenly met with a fierce rush of emotion, and tears threatened to escape my eyes. I was taken aback by this. Though beautiful, the ring is quite small, and not the only ring on display in the case. But something about it touched me, and I was forced to quit the area before I embarrassed myself. When I visited the museum again a month later with a friend who had never been before, I was surprised to feel the wave of emotion flow over me again. Once again I left to explore the other artifacts as I let the feeling pass. I never figured out the reason why I was so affected. Maybe I don’t need to.

But perhaps the most striking thing about this museum is how much of the collection revolves around death as much as life. A sizeable portion of the museum is devoted to the Minoans’ burial practices, showcasing how they evolved as their civilization progressed. Jars specifically made to hold anointing oils for burial, tools to carry out burial ceremonies, and funerary reliefs reveal insights into how the Minoans cared for their dead. I was particularly struck by the examples of several Protopalatial, Neopalatial, and Final Palatial tombs, especially the large clay pots that housed skeletal remains of what was once a fellow human being. There is something to be said about the way a civilization cares for its dead. The Minoans, in most stages of their existence, took great care and reverence in burials. Staring at the visible skeleton that was laid to rest in one such great jar, I felt it spoke great volumes that, thousands of years later, evidence of this care still remains. I was one of thousands who came before that followed in the grand tradition of paying my respects to the noble dead.

I could write a book on all the wonders held by this museum. Several people already have. I could talk of the Snake Goddess, of the bull heads, the toys, or the effigies. I could go blue in the face exalting the historical importance of the collection in the cold and clinical academic context. Better men and women than I have long since beaten me to it. I have been to this museum several times in my life, but walking through those rooms on that hot July day, it finally became real to me that the Minoans did not exist in an abstract. The Minoan people filled their days with creating art, raising families, honoring their gods, waging war. They led the way of commerce in the Mediterranean and created a civilization rich with an art and culture worth remembering. They built homes and palaces, storefronts and temples. They built a life. Like I’m trying to. Like you, most likely, are trying to.

I still do not feel any strong ancestral tie. I do not feel as if I ‘belong’ in any place or among any people specifically. I don’t expect that to change, and I don’t know if I need it to. But what I feel instead is the commonality that spans across millennia to connect us as human beings attempting to turn our little lives into something worthy of remembrance.

And that is a tie I will cherish forever.

By Katarina Kapetanakis

I have been writing for Wine Dark Sea Villas for almost two years now, and I am shocked to discover that I have not written about the city of Chania in all that time. I’m flabbergasted. Surely, I thought to myself as I scrolled through old entries, I would have written about Chania? Crete’s oldest port city, its original capital, my first real introduction to Cretan life…surely I would have written about this beautiful town by now. Sadly, I have been remiss in my duties as vacation raconteur, a mistake that I wish to rectify immediately.

Chania has roots that stretch all the way back to the days of the ancient Minoans, the original inhabitants of Crete. Back then, it was known as Kydonia, the source for the word quince, (which is appropriate, considering the prevalence of the fruit). One myth establishes that the ancient city-state was founded by Cydon, a son of Hermes (or Apollo, depending on who you ask), and his wife Akakallis, who was the daughter of King Minos. Another myth states Minos himself was the founder of this powerful port. Archaeologists are still excavating parts of the old town, and have determined that this ancient city-state (for all major cities on the island were self-governing seats of power) was not only an important center for trade, but was also constantly at war with other city-states like Aptera, Phalasarna, and Polyrrinia. Kydonia even has a small appearance in Homer’s Odyssey, though the mention is quite brief.

By 69 B.C., Kydonia had been conquered by the Roman consul Caecilius Metellus, though it was allowed to operate as an independent city-state. Fast forward a few hundred years and we find Kydonia renamed Al Hanim (Arabic for ‘the inn’), during a period known as the Rule of Arabs, once the island itself was conquered and the previous Byzantine rulers were ousted. In 961 AD, the city was reclaimed by the Byzantines, and renamed the city once more to the Greek ‘Chania’. The name has stuck, despite a temporary change under Venetian rule to the Latin ‘Cydonia.’ Since then, the city has changed hands multiple times, from the Venetians to the Ottomans, from them to the native Greeks, to a brief occupation by the Nazis during World War II, and finally, back into the permanent hands of the Cretans, though the capital of Crete was moved to Heraklion in 1971 after thousands of years of turmoil. I’ve done my best to condense a rich history for the sake of clarity, but I highly encourage readers to look into the fascinating and extensive history of this beautiful port city.


Of course, my own history with this city also has its twists and turns, and my impressions of the place have led to a deepening appreciation for Chania, its people, and its impact on the island of Crete. Every time I visit, I make sure to pay at least one visit to the city. You can never actually park close to the old parts of town, (unless you’re extraordinarily lucky, that is), but the parking garages that lie just outside the borders aren’t too far away to stroll leisurely into town. You may be tempted to visit the beaches there, with soft sand and clear blue water, with strange and curious ruins dotting the coast line and the road leading into the town, the Necropolis of Chania. The path is a straight-forward, uncomplicated one into the heart of the town, where vine-covered trellises grant much-appreciated shade to restaurants. Though the smell of the food might beckon you to stay, as it most certainly does to me whenever I go, I recommend that you take one of the alleyways down to the pier before you eat. There’s time to eat later.

Pick any one of the alleyways that presents itself. As long as it leads downward, you’re going the right way. Wonderful shops line both sides of the street, from the more touristy beach shops and ice cream stores, to the markets and stores that sell gorgeous and intricately painted wooden religious iconography in the orthodox style. Maybe you’ll pick up a set of komboloi, unique to you, that you can flip over your hand as you stare out over the harbor and out into the open sea beyond. It’s perfect for that kind of meditation, after all.

The harbor itself is lined with shops and tavernas of all kinds, though perhaps it is best not to dine at these particular tavernas that tend to overcharge visitors who come from the cruise ships, knowing they have no time to wander the city streets. Once you’ve decided to eat, you’re better off at one of the delicious tavernas you passed on your way down to the harbor. There are more novelty shops along this road, perfect for finding just the right gift for that friend or relative you’ve left behind. You can’t go wrong with a postcard. But the best thing about the harbor is the beautiful crystalline water, a blue-green window into another world where colorful fish often swim amongst the rocks. There are glass-bottomed boat tours that you can take for a leisurely two-hour excursion, and even a submarine ride that can show you the ocean in ways the average tourist has probably not seen before. In all the years I’ve visited, I’ve never taken either voyage, but one day I hope to.


If you’re facing out towards the water, the right hand side of the pier is where an ancient and beautiful mosque lies, a remnant of the Ottoman occupation. On the left hand lies the War museum and the Nautical museum of Crete, both filled with impressive collections that will thrill history lovers. (There are, in fact, several worthwhile museums to visit in Chania, including but not limited to: the Archaeological Museum of Chania in Saint Francis Monastery, the Folklore Museum, the Municipal Art Gallery, the Byzantine/Post-Byzantine Collection, the House of Eleftherios Venizelos, and the Museum of Typography.) Of these museums, I can only really speak in great length about the War museum, a place I highly recommend for anyone who wants to learn more about the heroic Cretan resistance to Nazi occupation.

Explore the alleys leading up and away from the port. Don’t be too afraid of getting lost: you can always find your way back by heading downhill. Up in the twisting alleys, you’ll find art galleries and unique pieces, evidence of Chania’s growing artistic community. If you’re a photographer like me, you’ll find wonderful shots around every corner, from open doorways leading to vine-covered stone courtyards to cats resting in the shade, and if you want to find wonderful, handmade textiles, you’ve certainly come to the right place. Stick around the town for a night of music and fun, as there’s quite an indie scene that’s up and coming in Chania, not to mention the flourishing Jazz scene. (Don’t even get me started on native Cretan music, which you can find in abundance).

Chania has something for everyone, whether you simply want a fun day out in the sun, a day on a boat, an afternoon of exploring museums and shops, or culture. It is rich in a history that is palpable, architecture that entrances, and a people who have pride in their city. Though I’ve been remiss in sharing my love of this enchanting place, it’s better late than never.


By Katarina Kapetanakis

None of what happened that day would have occurred if my sister was not an artist.

My family was spending the summer on the island of Crete, and it was one of the few days we weren’t attempting to do something together. Something about the very concept of the Family Vacation necessitates that every second of every day while out and about must be spent with the group as a whole. This is all well and good, for the most part, up until the point where you’ve found it may be better to take a day to be individuals instead of a cohesive family unit, for the sake of the continued family’s cohesion. You could consider it a vacation from the vacation, if you so choose. My sister, the aforementioned artist, wanted to spend her day drawing and painting some of the landscape, a noble endeavor that required art supplies that she, alas, did not have on her. Not to worry, however: a cousin of ours who lived in Heraklion knew exactly where to go. Since this was the day we’d mutually agreed to split up and explore, the rest of our family did not tag along. But I was curious, and figured a walk around the city would do me good. I happen to believe one cannot be bored in a city, and right when one believes there is nothing new left to experience, you stumble across a happy accident.

“It’s just down this street, until you hit the traffic lights. Then turn left. You cannot miss it, it’s, maybe, two blocks? Yes, two blocks away,” our cousin told us, and abruptly drove off, leaving us to our own devices. It seemed simple enough; go forward until you spot the traffic light. How hard could it be?

Well, as it turns out, it was very hard. There wasn’t a traffic light to be seen.

This was a pretty interesting corner, though.

I wanted to take a couple exploratory turns, every so often, but my sister, (a stickler for directions), wanted to keep going in the general direction of ‘straight,’ much to our misfortune. You see, for those who don’t know how the roads that are next to the city center work, they tend to ‘fan’ out, leading perambulators in a diagonal direction away from the center of town. We didn’t find out until we hit the coast, but the part of the coast that has large, Venetian walls showing the line of demarcation between the city and the rest of Crete. A happy accident in its own right, considering I had never seen the walls up close before, (unless you count quickly driving past them). You’d think that this would be the point where we’d want to turn back, and just retrace our steps? Well…

“Well, we’ve hit the coast. The road just loops around to the harbor. We can grab coffee there. Want to just do that?”

“Yeah, okay.”


And so, in silence, we began to follow the road, more or less, with no conception of how far we were walking. We lost the road several times, (please don’t ask us how, because we still aren’t exactly sure ourselves), following the paths that the stray dogs take to navigate the back-ways. It did make for interesting photography, I thought to myself, but I hadn’t expected the hike and so had neglected to bring my camera. It’s just as well. I have a feeling that if I’d lingered in some of those back alleys for too long, the mangy dogs would have been the least of my worries. But we plugged on, thinking north, always north, keep north, (although we were probably going east), when suddenly we’d found the sidewalk once more, and could see the faint outline of the harbor in the distance.

“Oh hey—isn’t this that museum we keep seeing as we drive in?” my sister asked, pointing up to the yellow building that we’d found ourselves in front of.

“It is,” I said. I didn’t bother asking if she wanted to go inside. It was the middle of summer, we’d brought no water with us, and we’d been walking for about an hour. Inside meant air conditioning, water, possibly somewhere to sit. We were going in. Almost immediately, however, we decided to forego the plan to hit the café first, as we quickly became distracted by the wealth of treasures in the museum.

Image by the Historical Museum of Crete via their website. Sadly I neglected to take a photo of the building myself.

For those who’ve never been to the Historical Museum of Crete, (not to be confused by the more well-known Archaeological Museum closer to the town’s center), you owe it to yourselves to pay it a visit. Museums have always held a special place in my heart, a place that both quiets and excites my mind. This museum was a fabulous treat for me; it began as a general history of the island, which has been host to various cultural influences and conquerors, as some of you probably know. It is a fascinating history, filled with political intrigue and real-life folk heroes. From the Minoan empire, to the conquering Greeks, to the invasion of the Venetians, Ottomans, the reclamation of the Cretan people, this museum takes you on a journey through it all. There is even a section of the museum dedicated to the resistance of the Cretans against the Nazis, and it filled me with joy and pride to see how brave these men and women were in their struggle to liberate their island. (On a personal note, I was especially prideful to find two of my ancestors listed as members of this resistance. My sister and I were able to share a moment that, I expect, is rare to museum goers: seeing personal history and global history collide).

One of the beautiful exhibits in this museum!

If history isn’t really your favorite subject, you shouldn’t worry. It also plays host to a large amount of art, including some of the most beautiful Byzantine iconography I’ve seen in a single collection. And if post-Byzantine is more your style, you should make a pilgrimage to this place for the sole reason that it is the only play to see the two works by the master El Greco on display on the entire island of Crete: The View of Mt. Sinai and The Monastery of St. Catherine (1570), and the Baptism of Christ (1567). Though he eventually settled in Spain, Domenicos Theotocopoulous (a.k.a. El Greco) was born in Heraklion, and to see him honored in this museum is something truly special. The museum also features a large collection of the works of Nikos Kazantzakis, perhaps one of the best-known Greek writers, (and a Cretan native). For those of you who are bibliophiles, make it a point to visit this part of the exhibit. Books I had never even heard of adorned the walls, correspondence between Kazantzakis and his wife or his friends lie still under a glass pane, and I couldn’t help but admire the covers of the various international editions that all had such beauty to them. It’s a special place for those who love literature and exploring new cultures and voices you may not know to seek out.

A bright road ahead


We soon received a phone call from our family, who were all now well-rested enough to regroup and take on the rest of the summer as a family unit. They asked us to meet them at Lion Square, not knowing of our small odyssey that had led us through the side ways and byways of the city. We got lucky, though; the museum was only about 500 feet away from the center. Upon spotting us, our family waved us over to them, where they were enjoying a lovely bougatsa at our favorite café.

“Did you find your art supplies?” our father asked.

My sister and I looked at each other before remembering our journey had an initial purpose that, in the excitement, we’d forgotten.

“No,” she told him, and smiled as she reached for a forkful of pastry. “But that’s alright. There’s always the next trip.”

By Katarina Kapetanakis 

To look at it now, you’d never know that Gortyn, or Gortyna, (or Gortys for that matter), was once the most prominent city in ancient Crete. In fact, from the outside, you wouldn’t think of it much except as a passing roadside attraction. I can’t say I took notice of it until I felt the car slowing down, and looking up I found myself in a parking lot that was most definitely not for the beach I thought we had been en route towards. I discovered, shortly, that though the place is unassuming from the outside, the archaeological site of Gortyna is not one to be missed.

Gortyna is now a small unassuming archaeological site that had been discovered in the later 1800s, but once it spanned so far and wide that it governed the whole southern-central part of Crete, including part of Rhethymnon. It was more important than even Knossos or Phaistos was at a time, and their Great Inscription, a summary of legal code that even today is considered advanced and complex, was a testament to their importance. Gortyna was a city of firsts, it seems: it was the first prosperous and powerful city in Crete during the Hellenistic era, the first Cretan city to fall under Roman rule, (including such updates as a new circular theater, a third agora, and a hippodrome), the first city to become an anchor to Christianity when Saint Titus preached there, and more. And  yet today, a stroll through the grounds of Gortyna is less a trip back in time than it is a wander through a ghost town, where nature seems to have reclaimed the land that once was a great metropolis. Giant lizards scurried in and out of cracks and crevices while cats lounged lazily in the sun, as usual in places they probably shouldn’t have been, and in the undergrowth the hum of the insects set the perfect soundtrack to my exploration. I had no idea the importance of the place at the time, as the placards and information cards were limited. But the site had a weight to it, the sort of calm one experiences when walking through a town that was once alive. The shadows from the columns of the ancient Odeon engulfed me and whispered to me questions of who else had stepped into their shade, who had walked these halls before I had. Who had walked these worn dirt roads before me? Had the people who had built these columns, once so tall, foreseen their toppling? Had they known people would hop on and off ledges, through phantom walls into rooms that no longer existed? I thought about that as I stood in the center of what used to be a house, or maybe a store. I was never to find out.

Despite not knowing a bit of the history of the place before visiting, the heat of the day and the surroundings lent itself to dreams of when the city was in its prime, and it was easy to slip into the fantasy of wandering the streets of a busy Grecian city as the theater across the way performed its latest epic drama. I had heard that it was here Europa was finally seduced by Zeus, after he had whisked her away, and the three great kings of Crete were conceived under a plane tree that still stands.  This fine line between myth and reality is so blurred in a place like Gortyna, where the facts are just obtuse enough to make one believe that anything was possible. So much was born in Gortyna: Roman influence, the root of Christianity in Crete and Greece…why not the royal sons of Zeus? Was it so impossible?

But of course, I haven’t even discussed their own unique wonder yet.

The most incredible part of Gortyna is the olive grove. I have never before had the pleasure of walking with trees that were there long before the existence of modern civilization. Trees that are some of the oldest in existence reside here, thick and worn and bent with age, but still strong and firm. Perhaps they’re a reflection of how the people age on Crete, growing stockier and more knobby, but never weaker, never less fascinating, never less beautiful. Imagine being able to reach out and touch a living thing that existed at a time when the ruins around you once stood tall. Imagine feeling the wind blowing through their leaves, the same wind that would have brushed against the faces of the ancient citizens, perhaps as they waited for the shops to open or a show to begin. Imagine placing your hand on the same bark that someone who existed before Christ himself placed his hand. It is a surreal and beautiful experience, this testament to living history. All at once you become a part of it, and a connection is forged between you and the rubble that surrounds you, the cicadas, the cats, the once great pillars and carved legal codes. All of it is connected and alive again, standing there in the olive grove.


A landscape reflected in its people is perhaps the most beautiful monument to civilization that stands today. I don’t think even the ruins would dispute this.

By Katarina Kapetanakis

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

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