Have you ever thought to spend your wintertime in South Crete? If not, then maybe it is your perfect option for this winter!
Crete is a unique destination offering different pleasures in every season. Unlike several other tourist places of the country, Crete has thousands of permanent residents living and working in cities and villages during the winter. As for the winter, it is a great opportunity to get to know the place in its original form, without its summer tourist!
South Crete – where winter seems like springtime
For me, the best part of winter is the green appearance of Crete – it’s just amazing to see how the entire island transforms quickly when the first heavy rain showers fall in late autumn. Only a few days later, the first green comes through the previously dry soil and gives Crete this amazingly lush look. It won’t be long before the first flowers of winter start to bloom and you feel like spring is paramount. Bees and butterflies buzz from flower to flower everywhere, the migratory birds that hibernate on Crete in winter sing cheerfully from the trees and the air is wonderfully clear!
The first snowfall on the mountains usually falls in late November, early December, and then you will experience what makes winter here in Crete – mild climate, everything is green and blooming and the mountains look majestic with the white snow cap.
The temperature usually doesn’t go lower than +10. But here is a thing: Don’t trust the thermometer. Because of the high humidity, it often feels much colder during winter. So, be sure to have warm clothes in your luggage.
Although it looks like spring, some days it feels like winter. Even in South Crete, the winter is not to be underestimated, when the wind blows down from the snow-capped mountains, it is time for a thick jacket, hat, and scarf. There is hardly ever any snow on the coasts, but the wind can be icy!
Crete in winter is an island of contrast. One day you have a crazy storm with thunder and lightning, and the very next day it’s so warm and sunny that you can drink your coffee at the seaside, or even have a swim.
If you live in the mountains, some days you will wake up in a snowy landscape that looks simply beautiful. I love to go to the mountains for playing with snowballs and then enjoy hot mountain tea and traditional food in one of the taverns. Unfortunately not this winter, as the gastronomy is also closed on Crete, but we hope for better times.
If you are planning to spend your winter in Crete, make sure that your accommodation has heating, a fireplace, or at least good air conditioning, because the nights are cold and it is incredibly cozy to spend the long evenings in front of the log fire. Here you find some holiday rentals in South Crete which are perfect for your winter holidays.
I love the wintertime in Crete, nature is blooming, the places are cozy and it’s time to harvest olives and oranges. You can spend days reading, hiking, or helping the locals pick up winter fruits. In the evening people sit at the fireplaces and enjoy the calm mood of the winter season.
Here is, what I like to do during the Wintertime in South Crete?
1. Walking and hiking
Yes, you are right, one of the main reasons I prefer to hike in winter is the heat! Not that I stop exploring the mountains in the summer, but some hikes are much more relaxed with 20 degrees and some sunshine. The vegetation in winter is also different, it is just wonderful to stroll through the lush greens and take a break, surrounded by orchids, irises, or crocuses.
The rivers and gorges in Crete are filled with water in winter and thousands of waterfalls on the island bring back life! One of my favorites is the Ambas waterfall in the Asterousia mountains, which is one of the highest in Crete.
The gorges of southern Crete are accessible in winter, but it is always important to check the weather report – rain or snow can be very dangerous, especially in the gorges! They’re made of water so you can imagine how full the rivers can be.
Fortunately, we have many sunny days in southern Crete and I have many opportunities for hiking in the Asterousia Mountains or on the southern plank of the Psilorotis.
2. Enjoy the almost empty beaches
The beautiful beaches of South Crete like Komos, Afrathias, and Kokkinos Pyrgos almost completely empty and waiting just for you. Swimming is quite bearable throughout the year, as the temperature does not easily fall below 14 ° C. The seas are often calm, as the summer winds have abated. Even a visit the beach for playing rackets or sunbathing or take long winter walks. I also like to combine a swim with a short hike to Red Beach, Vathi, or Agiofarango.
3. Winter Sports in South Crete
Crete is dressed in her white cloak and it is the best period for lovers of snow sports! Alpine skiing and snow climbing are only two of the things you can do until early spring during your winter holidays in Crete.
Crete is Europe’s most surprising skiing destination. A community of ski mountaineers is driving an alternative model of tourism on Crete, shifting the focus from its sandy beaches to its snow-capped peaks. Cretans, as well as residents and visitors, are ready to pick up their skis climb up to a still unspoiled Crete in the heart of the Island.
The pioneers of this “tourism revolution” are a group of mountaineers who have been organizing Europe’s southernmost ski tour, Pierra Creta, for five years, in which 200 people, including 58 foreigners from a total of 11 different countries, took part.
Lovers of surfing and kite surfing can find some very good water spots to practice their sport. Especially in winter, the waves in Afrathias and Kokkinos Pyros offer ideal conditions for surfing and attack each year more water sports fans.
4. The season of wild herbs and eatable plants
This is really a highlight to me! Picking wild herbs and plants and preparing Horta and other Cretan specialties is just great! Of course, you should know, what to pick – there are plenty of different greens all over the fields. I had the luck to have an introduction from my friend Lambros, who knows a lot about the Cretan vegetation and when / where to find what. This day we found wild asparagus and we had a delicious omelet with asparagus together after our walk.
You want to know more about Cretan herbs and eatable plants? Coming soon 🙂
5. Harvesting time – Olives and Oranges
From November the Cretans turn to their fields and gather their olive and orange harvests. Nearly every Cretan family owns at least one olive grove on the island. Weekends are often spent away from the towns as people head for their ‘horio’ (village) to gather their olives, or to visit relatives. Some start very early, others wait until February, depending on the quality of the olive and whether you want to harvest particularly rich oil. You can find out more about the olive harvest and how you can take part in it here.
Although Crete is famous for its olive oil, Cretan oranges are another well-known product of the Cretan land with exceptional nutritional qualities. I just like the way the groves look, with the orange spots everywhere, and during the harvesting time is from December until May I enjoy a glass of fresh orange juice every day!
6. Archaeological places and museums
One of the greatest advantages of winter in Crete is that you can visit archaeological sites and museums without the queues and tourist crowds. In addition, it is not that hot and you can relax and drift through the excavations.
In addition to the palace of Phaistos, Agia Triada, and Gortyna, I especially recommend the museums of Heraklion and Knossos.
The opening times of the archaeological sites and museums in the Heraklion region and further information can be found here.
7. Cretan cuisine – famous winter dishes
In Summertime, I often don’t feel like cooking, it’s too warm and I prefer to sit in one of my favorite taverns or in a kafenion.
However, in wintertime, it is different and I have time and appetite to try some of the Cretan recipes. I have to say that Cretan cooking is really fun and, of course delicious! Since I eat (as good as) vegetarian, the winter with the many fresh herbs and crunchy vegetables suits me very well and so I buy something fresh every day at the greengrocer or go to the fields myself to pick wild greens. It is also the time of the legumes and so I like to cook Fasolada, a soup with white beans and lentil soup, Fava or black-eyed peas with Horta.
A delicious fish soup, Prasorizo or Lahanodolmades should not be missing either. Yes, of course, there are also very tasty dishes with meat and I like to eat a piece of goat Antikrosto every now and then, which is probably the classic in winter. You can find my favorite winder recipes here.
8. Winter Festivals and Events
A number of festivals take place during the winter & spring months in Crete and it starts with Christmas and New Year festivities, followed by the Epiphany on 06.01, the Holy Blessing of the Waters.
In late winter, the Apokries – the carnival season – run for three weeks, ending in a party atmosphere, carnival parades, and masked balls.
Clean Monday is marked by Lenten picnics and kite flying, it is one of my favorite days, families and friends come together and it is the first occasion of the year for a picnic by the sea or in the green fields.
March 25th marks Greek Independence Day, and it’s also coincidentally a major religious Orthodox holiday – Annunciation Day. Independence Day is marked by school and military parades throughout Greece & Crete.
Greek Easter is celebrated with many local customs and traditions, it is arguably the most important time of the year and best to be experienced in one of the no villages.
In addition to all of these things, I always like to visit Heraklion in winter for a breath of city air. Or stay at home and read a good book on rainy days…