A Gay Traveller on Crete, Greece: Traveler and writer Tim Mitchel sent this first hand report from Greece’s largest Mediterranean island
By Tim Mitchell
Special report to GlobalGayz.com
Say ‘Greece’ to most gay men and they will immediately say ‘Mykonos’, even if they haven’t been there. But of course Mykonos is not Greece any more than Greece consists only of Mykonos! Savvy gay travellers realised a long time ago that there are other islands to visit and many of them have discovered that Crete has more to offer than just the gay (often mixed) scene that you find on Mykonos.
Best to start with a little more about Crete; the place, so diving straight in with a few statistics. Crete is the largest Greek island (and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean; map left), it’s a long narrow island over 150 miles long, but less than 50 miles wide at the widest point, and has an area of some 3,000 square miles, compare this to Mykonos which has an area of around 30 square miles and already you can see that we are dealing with more than just a few beaches!
To put this in perspective, the US state of Delaware is about 2,500 square miles and has a population of just under a million. Crete on the other hand has a population of over 600,000, a lot of goats, and several million olive trees.
Each year the island of Crete welcomes over 2,000,000 visitors and travelling around the island in high season it is easy to see that Crete has its share of the ‘six percent’, and with a population that size there is guaranteed to be quite a resident gay population too. Some of these are not actually Greek but foreigners, like me, who have made their home here. Mykonos has around 1,000,000 visitors each year, not all gay, and a population of about 9,000.
For visitors of all kinds Crete has much to offer, some stunning scenery in the shape of rugged mountains, green and fertile plains and plateaus, small hill villages where you will still see people in traditional clothing which is their everyday wear, numerous idyllic beaches, some of the freshest food you will find anywhere in the World, (the salad we eat at night was likely growing in the ground that morning), and quite a lot of wine. In fact visitors from France, where they seem to know a bit about wine, often discard clothing and fill their baggage with Cretan wine to take back to France.
Exploring the island is not a ‘one day out’ experience, I have lived here for 9 nine years and there are still places that I have not visited. I know that 150 miles by 50 miles doesn’t sound very big, but bear in mind that many roads are full of hairpin bends and sometimes steep hills, with a few goats thrown in for good measure, and a visitor soon finds out why we are never in a hurry here to get anywhere. Even the road signage can be a point of interest with some place name signs full of bullet-holes, and spellings that differ both in the Latin character version and the Greek.
So what about the gay scene?
Of course there is a gay scene, and like all of Greece it is discreet, but that doesn’t mean we are all in the closet. Like any other country, a native or visitor must respect the religious and moral views on Crete, which is also renowned for hospitality. Few are actually interested in others’ sexuality. Locals mostly want to know where you come from, what you do for a living, are you married, do you rent or own you home, how much did you pay for it, or how much rent you pay, how much you earn (I have been asked that!), and even where your family originally came from. In a country where family ties are strong and family history is important, if you can say that you can trace your family back 500 years they will be really interested.
For the busiest LGBT nightlife head to the area east of Heraklion to Hersonissos and Malia. These are probably the most cosmopolitan (and noisiest–very popular with vacationing hetero students) areas on the island and is home to the newly opened (2012) gay bar Roze Maandagclose to the Beach Road in the centre of Hersonissos.
If you find the busiest areas a bit naff (inferior and lacking style), as many visitors do, then head up the hill to the nearby villages of Pano Hersonissos and Koutouloufari where you will find some very gay friendly restaurants and also Vinnie’s Garden where they serve arguably the best mojito ( a traditional Cuban cocktail) In Greece!
Hersonissos also has one of the best known nudist beaches on the island (photo left) , it is not specifically gay, but most days it is only men, and is an excellent place to meet other travellers and indeed, a few locals. Around the island many of the beaches such as Kalives, Kommos, Agia Fotia, Vai, and Georgioupouis also have nudist sections and some discreet cruising too.
Also near Hersonissos is a gay guesthouse, Villa Ralfa , which has been running since 2004, and a new addition last year, a gay run hotel at Anisarras, called Home Hotel, where, depending on the clientele that week, they run pool parties and BBQ’s for the local and visiting gay population.
All around Crete there is a wide range of accommodation from ‘5 star’ resort hotels with gyms, beauty salons, health spas, and restaurants serving Tex Mex food, to locally owned, family run, apartment blocks often with as few as 10 apartments. To experience true Cretan hospitality you really need to stay in the smaller places usually with less than about 25 rooms, the larger ‘all- inclusive’ places can be very comfortable (and expensive), but they are also rather ‘anonymous’, and some of them have a policy of not allowing same sex couples to have a room with a double bed!
Yes, it is wrong but that’s their policy and it is not going to change overnight. But you will not see much of Crete from the inside of a resort hotel no matter how many stars, or Tex Mex restaurants it has.
Smaller apartments/hotels have been letting rooms to people of the same sex since the package tour industry started, mainly because it is not unusual for 4, 5, or even 6 guys (or girls) to be holidaying together and invariably to fit this number of people into one apartment means that two of them will have to share a double bed!
I suggest you book direct with the hotel and ask for an apartment because this will more than likely have a bedroom with a double bed for the parents and ‘sofa beds’ in the lounge for the children. (If you haven’t got any children, you do have a double bed!) There is a LGBT website for home exchange: Home Around the World as well as a LGBT accommodations site: Purple Roofs. Also see GlobalGayz accommodations page.
As an added plus, although many of these are Greek owned, you quite often find the owner’s wife is not Greek and from a country that is more used to gay people than the Greeks are. And such is Cretan hospitality that if you stay in the same place two years in a row you almost become part of the family.