Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Catching the Crete of yesteryear is just a matter of typography. The coast may have changed beyond recognition, but head inland to find another Crete. Guest contributor Laurence Mitchell introduces us to the Lasithi Plateau.

article summary —

The journey by bus from Iráklion east along Crete’s northern coast road is a world away from the Crete of the imagination. Try it, and you might experience a nasty dose of culture shock. There are no donkeys, no swarthy men in leather boots, no old women in black carrying pails of water - all that went years ago. Instead, the view from the window will reveal pink flesh and tattoos, skimpy skirts and baseball caps. Ride the route after dark and you will surely see a lurching drunk or two.

Alight from the bus in any of the dreary resorts that line the coast, enter a café or bar and your nose will be assaulted by an olfactory stew of sun cream, stale beer and dubious pheromones. The clear blue sky and oleander may give coastal Crete a surreal gloss, but the reality is that this is bandit country: territory held by young holidaying Brits… or perhaps Dutch or Germans. The evening buzz is just like Friday night in a provincial British town transposed to the eastern Mediterranean.

Áyios Nikólaos, further on around the bend of the coast, is more subdued, even a little staid, in comparison with the Sodom and Gomorrah that are Mália and Hersónisos. But it is still an unabashed tourist town, albeit rather a nice one, with seafront restaurants and a blue inner har bour. It is a laid back, middle-aged and m iddle-class sort of place, calm and relatively quiet, but it could be almost anywhere in the Mediterranean. But something is missing. Where is the Crete of old? All those sun-crinkled leathery faces and dark clothes. I am haunted by images of Crete that stay in my mind from a formative youthful trip way back in the nineteen seventies.

Yet there is another world close enough; catching the Crete of yesteryear is just a matter of topography. Head inland from almost anywhere in this northeast corner of the island and you find yourself climbing steeply up to an altogether different terrain, where life is far less frenetic and more connected with the soil.

This is just an excerpt. If you are a subscriber to hidden europe magazine, you can log in to read the full text online. Of course you can also read the full article in the print edition of hidden europe 29.


Laurence Mitchell became a travel writer almost by default having squandered his youth travelling in North Africa and India. Following a stint teaching in Sudan, he went on to train as a geography teacher, which he pursued for a decade or so.

These days he concentrates on writing and photography and, while still drawn to transition zones and cultural frontiers like Central Asia, the Balkans and the Caucasus region, is increasingly more content to explore closer to home. He loves ancient tracks, moss-covered ruins, graveyards and allotment gardens, and believes it is possible to find the extraordinary in even the most quotidian surroundings.

Despite a slight distrust of guidebooks, he has contributed several of his own to the world's literary stockpile – Bradt travel guides to Serbia and Kyrgyzstan, ‘slow’ guides to Norfolk and Suffolk (also Bradt), and walking guides to Norfolk and Suffolk for Cicerone. His travel memoir Westering, which describes a coast to coast walk across England and Wales that connects landscape, memory and spirit of place, will be published by Saraband in April 2021. Visit Laurence's blog.

This article was published in hidden europe 29.