Travel advice & practical information for travelogue:
'Bicyle trip around Crete'
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Crete is mountainous. On the island, which is 195 miles (260 km) long and 12-45 miles (16-60 km) wide, are three large mountain ranges with peaks above 6000 feet (2000 meters): Lefká Óri (2453 m), Ída (2456 m) en Díkti (2148 m). Around these there are six more mountains with peaks above 3000 feet (1000 meters).
On a tour around the island, approximately 500 miles (750 km), you'll have to ascend at least once to 3000 feet (1000 m) and countless times to 1500 feet (500 m). Mountain gears and good shape are necessary.
If you use an ATB or a mountain bike, you'll find enough dirt roads and paths, especially in the more elevated regions. Regular roads are asphalted and fair to good. However, you always have to watch out for potholes, grooves and grit. If you're riding on an asphalted road, there is no guarantee that that will be the case around the next bend! Especially when you're descending, you have to be on the alert all the time. It's better to avoid the new road along the North shore, because it has very busy traffic.
What kind of bicycle...
It's a widespread misunderstanding that you need 32 mm tires on a bicycly vacation. This is the standard advice you'll find in most books about bicycle vacations, but you have to take into account that those are written by folk who prefer a "lazy" (upright) bicycling position and who load their bikes with pots and pans, tents, sleeping bags and what have you not.
Luckily you don't have to camp out on a bicycly vacation, even if you want or need to keep it low budget. Don't let short-sighted advice keep you from an off-the-beaten-track bicycle trip. The only thing you really need is a well maintained bike with enough gears. But don't overdo it: The combinations 42x28 and 39x26 aren't called mountain gears for nothing. Lighter gears are only necessary if you overload your bike with luggage or if you're out of shape.
In my experience it's no problem to bicycle in Crete on a racing bike with 20 mm tires, with 12-18 pounds (10-15 kilos) of luggage, divided over a luggage rack and a bag attached to the handle bars. A coincidence? I don't think so: in Corfu, the Pelopponnesos and in countries that are notorious for their terrible roads, like the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia my experience with this combination was also very good. Never had any punctures. Of course, you have to keep your tires hard all the time. Anti-puncture tires (f.e. with kevlar)are advisable. And of course, stay off the dirt roads with your racing bicycle.
Best time to travel
Crete is 225 miles (300 km) North of Libië and even farther South than North-African cities like Tunis and Algiers. In the Summer is hot and dry. Moverover, during the Summer, the island is flooded with tourists.
The best time to travel to Crete is Spring (March-May): in that period the weather is pleasant and everything is green.
In September and October the weather is also good, but by that time the island is arid and dry. But the temperature of the sea water is much higher than it is in March.
Along the coast there are several camping grounds, but shlepping a tent and cookingware is really superfluous (and you'll curse yourself during the many climbs). You'll find cheap hotels, apartments and B & B's everywhere (rooms for rent). If you can't find a place to stay right away, you can go to the local tourist police. Or just say 'Domátio parakoló'in a tabérna and see what happens.
Food and drink
The food in most tabérnas is good and cheap. There's ample choice in meat (lamb and goat) and fish. Fish has usually been caught that morning. You'll often see a sign 'Fresh meat' on a sign in front of a restaurant. A restaurant manager in Hanía explained that frozen meat is considered barbaric. He gets his sheep and goats directly from the shepherds in the mountains.
Greek Salad with bread and yoghurt with honey are nutritious and healthy lunch meals.
You can buy 1.5 liter bottles of cold springwater everywhere. Usually they serve a glass of cold water with coffee as well.
Your thirst for alcohol can be quenched with retsína (resin wine). With your dinner you'll be offered a glass of oúzo . In Crete it's usually the local ráki. Oúzo is an aniseed drink. Ráki isn't, contrary to the Turkish drink with the same name. Cretan ráki is distilled from grape lees, comparable to Italian grappa.
You'll need a Greek phrase book, especially in the central part of the island. Moreover, it is much appreciated by the proud Cretans if you show good will and respect by speaking even a few words of Greek. It is also greatly appreciated if you don't dress for dinner in shorts and T-shirt. He himself will also change into something decent after work.
Freytag & Berndt Kreta 1:200.000 is reliable but not very detailed.
Nelles Maps Kreta 1:200.000 has more detail and moreover shows altitude.
In tourist shops in Iraklio you can buy a poster which shows Crete in perspective. It's useless as a map for bicycling, but great to give the folks back home an impression of the island and your bicycle route.
Plan your trip to Greece online
Through online reservation systems like À la Carte Vacations you can book airline tickets, hotels, rental cars and holiday houses. You can build a fly-drive itinerary with maximum flexibility, book a flight plus a hotel hotel for a night or weekend. Without the limitations of package deals from travel organisations and most times for a much better price.
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