How you see more by staying with a family…
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A holiday in Greece conjures images of lazy afternoons on sun-soaked beaches, followed by alcohol-fuelled nights in clubs and bars. Few young travellers would list riding a donkey up a Cretan mountain – to visit the cave where Zeus was allegedly born – as part of their ideal week in the Mediterranean. However, this was one of many things I experienced in Crete that I could never have done on a typical holiday, as I went at the invitation of a Greek friend. Opportunities to visit new countries rarely present themselves hand-in-hand with free accommodation and a friend to show you around, but if they do, they are not to be missed.
Living with a Greek family instead of paying for a hotel meant I was fully immersed in the Mediterranean lifestyle. Although my first morning in Crete began much as I had anticipated, with swimming and sunbathing, lunch was a family affair on the flat roof of the house. We sat down to lamb and lemon potatoes cooked in a wood oven; absolutely delicious. Thanks to my friend’s translating skills, conversation around the table flowed in spite of the language barrier and I was welcomed heartily into the family.
Food, family and friends, I quickly realised, are central to Greek culture. I was introduced to countless relatives and repeatedly unable to finish my meals – think My Big Fat Greek Wedding! Even when we travelled further inland to the Lasithi plateau, we encountered family acquaintances. Lasithi has a completely different landscape to the North coast of Crete, with high mountains encircling miles of flat farmland. It was here that I was lifted on to a donkey – with no warning – and taken up a steep, stony track to the Cave of Dikti. This was mildly nerve-racking, particularly since the only English my donkey’s guide knew was “you OK?”. Nevertheless, spectacular views made up for the bumpy ascent and it was pleasant to cool down amongst stalagmites and stalactites.
I also visited Rethymno, a coastal town with quaint, shop-filled alleys; and ancient Knossos, where legend places the labyrinth that held the Minotaur. I felt privileged to spend an evening in the charming house of my friend’s grandparents, as this, along with the rest of my week, gave an insight into the island’s fascinating culture that could never have been matched had I travelled to Crete with British friends.
Written by Jemma Saunders
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