Best Islands to Live On: Crete, Greece

Why Crete? The largest of the Greek isles has been a popular expat destination for millennia, occupied variously by the Minoans, Byzantines, Romans, Venetians and Ottoman Turks. Crete's cultural history will still greet you when you land, from Roman ruins to Turkish mosques to the lovely frescoes in the ancient churches at the end of every taverna- lined cobblestone street. Crete has a largely agricultural economy, but don't worry -- your neighbor will be happy to supply you with eggs, olives or homemade wine should you shun the fields for the beaches.Life of an "Expat" "When we talk about islands, we think about small places. But you don't have that feeling with Crete," says Eva Smith. "It would take you at least a year to explore the island from one end to the other." Eva, 50, a former retail executive and consultant, and husband Rob, a telecommun- ications entrepreneur, retired to Crete from California in 2004. View Larger Map
"We wanted to stop the rat race," she says. "It was almost unbearable to work 18-hour days, meet in airports and communicate on the telephone all the time. We realized we had accumulated enough material things to last our lifetimes, so we just stopped." The couple considered retiring in Mexico but decided it would be too easy to return to their old lives. What's more, "with Crete, we had a personal connection because my family was originally from here," Eva says. The couple renovated a 100-year-old house owned by Eva's family outside the small city of Réthimno and 500 yards from the beach. "My husband is a diver and surfer, and we swim year-round," Eva says. "Even during winter, it's not really winter. Everything is done outdoors." "Everything" includes cooking in the couple's outdoor kitchen and tending to the grapes and olives on their 12-acre lot. "Life here starts whenever you get up," Eva says. "You have breakfast and do what the locals do, maybe some farming chores. We just finished making 1,300 kilos of olive oil. It's purely organic -- nothing in it except water from the sky. It's fantastic. You feel tired at the end of the day when you do these things, but it's a good tired. It's very rewarding." Rob and Eva also love to explore. "Here, you walk through history," she says. "Downtown you have the mosque, which is now a music hall, and next to it is a fort from the Venetians. At the beach, there's a sunken city from the Minoan era." Overall, it's a simpler life: "We have more time to spend with each other, and that's when we're best." ** Your New Home** * $ Two-bedroom modern house with an adjacent stone house in need of renovation. $170,000 * $$ Restored olive press converted into a three-bedroom home with mountain view terrace. $265,000 * $$$ Hillside three-bedroom home with view, pool, rooftop terrace and separate guesthouse. $580,000 * Find more real-estate listings at ktimatoemporiki.gr.Facts of Life * Climate: Mediterranean * Population of island: 600,000 * Percentage expats: 10% * Population of main town: Heraklion, 138,000 * House starting price: $100s * Travel from U.S.: Several major airlines fly directly to Athens, then daily connecting flights to Heraklion on Aegean and Olympic Airlines; daily overnight ferries to Crete. * Closest hospitals: Heraklion, Varvara, Viannos, Arkalochori and Moires * Price of local beer: $4 for Mythos * Languages spoken: Greek, English * Ease of immigration: Easy * Ease of buying a home: Medium * Website: greektourism.grExplore More * Find more islands to live or retire on at islands.com/live.