Springtime is perhaps the best season to spend a holiday on Crete island: the temperature is pleasantly-mild, there are not many tourists, and nature brings about its most spectacular floral landscapes in hundreds of colorful shades of blossoms and green. Traditions play an essential part every spring on the island. If you want a season to remember, visit Crete in springtime. Here are five things you can do:
1. Celebrate Easter on Crete island
Easter is the most important religious holiday in the Greek Orthodox Church’s eyes, and Cretans take it seriously. It begins with forty days of fasting and prayer before Easter. It continues with a pious commemoration of Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross for the sins of humankind, followed by vibrant celebrations all over the island. When you visit Crete for Easter, here are some of the things you could do:
- Taste traditional Lenten food consumed by Cretans in the 40 days of fasting before Easter.
- Observe a liturgy in a Greek Orthodox Church in one of Crete’s rustic villages on Good Friday.
- Join the midnight service to celebrate Christ’s resurrection on Holy Saturday (to Easter Sunday) to light a candle from the Eternal Light brought to Crete from Jerusalem. Listen to the church bells and ships’ horns sounding joyously right after midnight when the priests all over the island chant with unshaken belief: “Christos Anesti” (Christ is risen).
- Come Easter Sunday, enjoy fantastic family celebrations with Cretan food, wine, and raki. Cretans roast a whole lamb or goat (as a symbol of the Lamb of God – Ἀμνὸς τοῦ Θεοῦ):
“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” – John 1:29
The main dish is often accompanied by a rich display of Cretan mezedes including tzatziki, dolmades, fava, seasonal salads, horta, roasted potatoes, kalitsounia (sweet cheese pies), and red-dyed eggs, where the red is a symbol for the blood Christ shed for the sins of the world.
2. Discover seasonal Cretan cuisine
Traditional Cretan cooking follows the rules of the land, counting on the availability of seasonal produce to enrich the table with the best this island has to offer. There’s an abundance of wild greens and fresh herbs in springtime, ideal for a healthy diet after the mild Cretan winters. The yiayiades and pappoúdes get busy foraging horta (wild greens) like fennel, chicory, and dandelion to set at the table the fresh taste of spring.
- Horta: To cook dandelion like the Cretans, you must trim and wash the leaves, fill a large stockpot with water, bring to a boil, add a pinch of salt, then toss the greens in and cook until the stems are nice and tender. Drain in a colander, then season with salt, lemon juice, and quality olive oil – all to taste. Serve at room temperature or refrigerated.
- Avronies: Springtime is also when you will find an abundance of wild asparagus (avronies – aβρονιές) on the island. Since it’s a wild green, it’s unlikely you will find it in occidental markets. But you can try the alternative recipe with green asparagus tips at home. On Crete, try this dish in spring: avronies omelet. Boil 100 grams of wild asparagus until tender, drain, and set aside. In a non-stick pan, preheat a drizzle of quality olive oil, add a small onion (finely chopped) and saute until tender. Tip in the avronies and stir it. Beat an egg and pour it over. Cook just like an omelet, on both sides.
3. Take a horseback ride on the beach
A favorite pastime for many Cretans, horseback rides on the beach in springtime appeal to tourists. Some horse farm stables may open late in April or May, but you will find that the largest ones keep their doors open to hippophiles and equestrians year-round. You can ride in the countryside or opt for a romantic ride on the beach: since no tourists are sunbathing in springtime, you can enjoy the beauty of the coastline in its full glory.
4. Walking or hiking in the countryside
From mid-April until mid-May, Crete experiences an explosion of colorful blossoms from the sea’s shores all the way up to its rugged mountain foothills. If you are on the island on May 1st, join the locals in the hills for their wreath festival, when they gather to collect wildflowers, then celebrate the day making wreaths and dining with the family. Or go to the beach to fly a kite.
If you miss Labor Day (May 1st), you can still enjoy the countryside on a hike or leisurely walk: gorges, vineyards, olive groves, and citrus orchards are particularly awe-inspiring in spring. Or, you may be interested in exploring a village. Some of the most beautiful include Loutro, Krasi, Mochols, Therisso, Thronos, Vryses, Margarites, Argyroupoli, and the list goes on. Alternatively, you could explore – on foot – Crete’s most beautiful towns. Chania and Agios Nikolaos are postcard-pretty, but if you cannot make it out of Heraklion, get lost in the old city center or walk on the promenade to the Koules fortress that dominates the Venetian harbor.
5. Birdwatching on Crete island
Birding is another pastime you will enjoy when you visit Crete in springtime. To fully enjoy the experience, you must travel to some of the island’s lesser populated areas. Here are some of the best spots to observe Crete’s birds:
- Lake Kournas: A mountainous freshwater lake (the only one of its kind on the island), Lake Kournas is in Chania regional unit’s Apokoronas municipality. You can observe the most common birds here include eared grebe (Podiceps nigricollis), warblers, and wild ducks.
- Frangokastello: All along the coast here, in the south of Crete, you can see an abundance of birds. You can grab a spot by the Venetian port and watch out for western black-eared wheatears (Oenanthe hispanica) and wrynecks (genus Jynx). On the plains, you can see common little bitterns (Ixobrychus minutus) and other herons, marsh harriers (Circus aeruginosus), wood sandpipers (Tringa glareola) and other waders, red-rumped swallows (Cecropis daurica), blackbirds, sparrows, and many other birds.
- Lefka Ori: In the White Mountains, birdwatchers can look forward to seeing birds of prey like eagles, vultures, and buzzards.
- Mount Koutroulis: This is where you can see the endangered bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus).
- Potami Dam Lake: Come here for grey herons (Ardea cinerea), squacco herons (Ardeola ralloides), wild ducks, and other medium-sized waterfowl types.
- Gouves Lagoon: This is the ideal habitat for migratory birds. You can observe the greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) here in the springtime. Among the other birds favoring the area, you will see black-winged stilts (Himantopus himantopus), northern wheatears (Oenanthe oenanthe), woodchat shrikes (Lanius senator), and garganeys (Spatula querquedula).
So, choose spring to visit Crete for a fresh appreciation of the island where Zeus himself was born and raised.