Naturists and Naturalists - Vacations in Southern Crete

by : Wendy Palmer

Crete, the largest of the Greek Islands, is sometimes described as a mass tourist resort. It is true that there are several north coast resorts on Crete that can be found in the brochures of practically every package tour company. But Crete is a very big island with many unspoilt holiday resorts for tourists who prefer a quieter vacation, enjoying beautiful scenery and glimpses of traditional Cretan culture.Both of Crete's international airports are situated on the north coast and two high mountain ranges running east-west, form a natural barrier to mass tourism reaching the south coast. In the southwest corner of the island, the highest mountains drop steeply to the coastal area, making any serious development of these remote communities impossible. Indeed, the mountains drop so steeply here that some of the villages can only be accessed by sea.This area of Crete is known as the Sfakia region. It lays at the foot the White Mountain range. These mountains have more than a hundred peaks, with eighty reaching to over 6500 feet and the highest ones towering to nearly eight thousand feet. Europe's longest gorge, the Samaria, can be found amongst them, along with several others that are less well known but are every bit as picturesque and dramatic to explore.To get to the Sfakia region, most people fly to Chania airport and travel by road over a mountain pass to Chora Sfakion. However, my best travel tipis to check out the cost of flights to Nikos Kazantzakis Airport in Heraklion before deciding which airport to fly to. I have always found that it is possible to make substantial savings by flying there instead of to Chania and the road journey to Chora Sfakion is not really all that much further.There are a couple of family run hotels, self catering apartments, studios and village rooms providing accommodations at competitive rates in and around Chora Sfakion but we have always stayed at the beautiful naturist hotel a mile to the east in Vritomartis. If you dare to bare this is one of the few places in Greece where nudity is officially allowed. The whole of the hotel grounds are clothes optional and the area around the pool is designated as naturist only. The nearest beach is only a five minute walk away and is also clothes optional. The area is so remote, that many guests don't even bother dressing for the walk.For naturalists the Sfakia region provides plenty of opportunities to spot unique Cretan flora and fauna which includes the Kri Kri, a species of wild goat, indigenous to and only found on Crete. Dolphins, whales and turtles can often be seen in the clear coastal waters whilst Bonelli's Eagle and the Griffon Vulture may be seen circling in the blue skies above.For walkers, the gorges and mountains provide challenges ranging from relaxing hikes to demanding treks. The most famous walk is of course the Samaria Gorge and although it is very much worth undertaking, you may be put off by the crowds of tourists that descend it nearly every day. They arrive by the coach-load from all over the island because the excursion is number one on every tour operators "must-sell" list. Its worth putting up with the crowds however because once you have hiked a few hundred metres from the start of the walk, you will find plenty of spaces between you and the other walkers for the remaining 16 kilometres. The scenery is magnificent all the way down to the shore of the Lybian sea at Agia Roumeli from where you get a boat back to Chora Sfakion.The smaller gorges of Imbros and Aradena are much less likely to be afflicted by hoards of other tourists. Imbros is an easy half day hike and its finish is situated very near to Vritomartis, making it a good choice for naturists who want to put their shorts and hiking boots on just for a change. Aradena is more of a challenge but not much further away. A good head for heights is needed on one of the sections where a little scrambling is involved.For history lovers, the region has much to reveal about the Battle for Crete during the second world war and it is definitely worth reading the book of this name by Nikos Kazantzakis as a prelude to your vacation. The mountain villages were famous for their fierce resistance fighters where you will find the occasional statue or monument erected in memory of a local hero.So, if you are the sort of person who loves dramatic, picturesque scenery, secluded beaches with crystal clear waters, remote mountain villages where traditional culture still remains; this part of Crete is definitely for you. If you happen to be a naturist as well as a naturalist, my travel tip is to book your vacation at the Vritomartis hotel. If you prefer to hide some parts of your body from the hot Cretan sun, head for the accommodations in Chora Sfakion instead. If you want to stay somewhere that is even more remote, hop on a boat at Chora Sfakion to take you to the next coastal village which is called Loutro. Although there is no way of reaching Loutro by road, it does have some pretty holiday apartments, several secluded beaches that nestle in coves at the foot of cliffs and donkey tracks and paths that lead up into the mountains and along the coast.Wherever you decide to stay in this region of southern Crete you will almost certainly enjoy good weather. However, a fierce wind, blowing from the north and known as the Meltemi, funnels down through the mountain gorges and hits the southern shores with some force. It is usually at its strongest from mid July to late August, making Europe's most southerly sun seem a little cooler than it would otherwise be. If you don't like being wind blastedFree Web Content, avoid this time of the year.