For those seeing autumn sun, Greek islands are a popular choice for the obvious reason – the weather is good through September and all the way through half-term, as the earth takes its time to cool from the scorching heat of summer. Of course the Greek islands are all a world apart from each other, but I’ve always come back to Crete. Some islands are full of Marks & Spencer and ‘authentic’ restaurants with laminated menus in English offering endless plates of tasteless mezze and the smaller, more far flung islands have oodles of charm but they can be a complete pain to get to, as can finding anything there once you’ve arrived.
Parts of Crete are overdeveloped and unattractive, but Chania is still 100% charming. Pretty hills are peppered with olive groves and little villages run down to the sea- the mountains can be a fearsome place though and people are protective of their property – there are stories of estate agents turning up to claim land, and mysteriously never making it home, which is all the better for guests to the region, who still find its natural beauty undisturbed.
Gavalochori, located in the Vamos municipality of the Apokoronas region, is a traditional small Cretan village dating back to the 11th century. You think these places no longer exist but it does: warm pink and cream stone houses cluster together next to tumbledown old walls, the central square has a wonderful bakery at the bottom, and a very good little taverna sells beautifully made local food and cooling glasses Mythos. There are a few tiny shops and a local museum, indeed the place is brimming with history, with both Roman and Venetian ruins within walking distance. Old men spend their days watching the sleepy world go past the little square, drinking coffee and vast armies of miniature kittens can be found playing by the side of the road. The sea is only a few minutes by car: you can see it sparkling in the distance from the top of the village. Most of all, it’s peaceful (when the locals aren’t having a party). The local residents are fiercely patriotic and religious – celebrations for weddings and saints’ days can end in a joyful chorus of kalashnakovs into the sky at late hours – but also hugely welcoming. The local red wine (not on the menu) is delicious and the stifado at the Gavalianos Kafenes, where they have a great terrace for outdoor dining, and fantastic live music, is a reward for a day’s kicking back in the sun.
Many interesting walks exist around the village and the other nearby villages are worth exploring by car, including Vamos which is a flagship for sustainable tourism – and organic produce – in the area.
The Olive Press is part of a renovated old complex of buildings which also serves as a holiday home for the owners’ family, who themselves come every year. They have links back to the village and are keen to preserve the character of the place, while providing a secluded, traditional and beautiful holiday home for those looking for some peace and quiet near to the beach.
This very pretty house has been brilliantly, but simply, modernised. It sleeps four with a master bedroom at the top of the house and another double room on the first floor which leads out to a terrace with magnificent views – just the place to see the sun set.
The ground floor is an open plan sitting room/kitchen with a cosy sitting area and large dining table, although we mostly chose to eat outside under the olive trees, surrounded by the sights, sounds and smells of the local area. It’s easy to buy local produce to cook, or just as easy to wander down to the Taverna.
For beachlovers, Almyridia is only four kilometers – there are good restaurants and further shops down there too – while Chania itself is an easy drive. The owners are charming and helpful and do their utmost to make sure you have a good time – particularly if they are also staying at the house when you’re there.
A perfect Mediterranean getaway, far from stuffy hotel restaurants and televisions showing football in beach bars, The Olive Press comes highly recommended for anyone who loves Greek Islands and Crete.
** Find out more about The Olive Press in Gavalochori