The Samaria Gorge is just one of about 50 gorges that cut the landscape of the White Mountains in western Crete, but it is justifiably the island’s best-loved trek, in part because it’s downhill all the way. Get an early start in Omalos (the trail can get crowded in high season), descend the xiloskala (wooden staircase) and follow the stream as it flows over and around boulders on its way to the sea, past the deserted village of Samaria. At journey’s end (about 9 miles of hiking) reward yourself with a seafood dinner in the village of Agia Roumeli.
About three miles south of Iraklion, Crete’s main city, the ruins of the Palace of Knossos are a window to the Minoan civilization that thrived here about 3,500 years ago. The frescos (on display in Iraklion’s fine archaeological museum) and mosaics found here give life to the island’s ancient ruler, King Minos, and the legend of the labyrinth and the minotaur. To pay homage to a contemporary storyteller, go to the city’s south wall to visit the grave of Nikos Kazantzakis, author of Zorba the Greek.
Dinner in Crete usually doesn’t begin before 9 o’clock, so you’ll have plenty of daylight to work up an appetite for the traditionally hearty fare: lamb or goat grilled (or in a stew), fish, and the freshest of vegetables. Olive oil is the common denominator in every dish, along with a touch of herbs and, perhaps, lemon. Don’t miss the local cheeses (the feta-like myzithra is a favorite), and expect the offer of a glass of high- octane raki (similar to Italian grappa) when you ask for the bill.