Crete: Arrival in Istron via Gatwick Sofitel, easyJet & A Careful Drive

I’ve been wanting to return to Greece since my holiday in Kardamyli three years ago. I hadn’t started the blog then but it was born just weeks after my return and my first posts were about that experience. The journey to Greece this year came about via a circuitous route: I was enquiring about signing on to an art holiday in Crete and when that didn’t come off I decided to come anyway. I’d already exchanged a few emails with Manolis about his El Greco apartments in Istron, found a flight to Heraklion with easyJet and, more importantly, had always wanted to come to this beautiful island of Crete with its wonderful history and where it is said you can find the healthiest diet in the world.

The easyJet flight was very early. Too early to get a train from Twickenham. I’d have to hire a cab. But then my friends Lesley and Colin told me about the Gatwick Sofitel where you can leave your car and enter Gatwick airport direct from the reception area. It seemed a good idea. More expensive than a cab but more time in bed!

Through experience, I’ve grown rather sceptical about ‘single rooms’ but the Sofitel came up trumps. I had a lovely room …

… and when I opted to eat dinner in their posh and peaceful La Brasserie I was given a very nice table; no shunting single women diners off to a quiet corner here or sitting them in embarrassed solitude right in the middle of the room. The service was very friendly and efficient; the meal nice – some confit of duck with which I chose to drink an excellent French Merlot.

Then – another bonus: I could check my hold luggage into easyJet after 20:00 to save me time next morning. I had to take the shuttle to South Terminal, but hey, that’s only 3 minutes. In the quiet terminal there was barely a queue. I handed in my bag and thus could go straight to security the next – very early! – morning.

The flight was easy and, as one always hopes for, uneventful. We landed slightly early into a late September heat wave – even for Crete. It was 35 degrees. I picked up my car and asked instructions for the way to get onto the road to Istron – about an hour’s drive away. Now, the lovely Alex at Liquid Gold Cave in Richmond (who had recommended El Greco to me), had warned me of Greek driving. And I’ve been reading Richard Clark’s Crete – A Notebook that warns of the hazards of driving here. Forewarned, I was prepared to take things slowly and carefully. It was a bit like driving in Sicily where the solid line on the edge of the road doesn’t mark a hard shoulder: it’s where you escape to when the idiot behind you is overtaking when no overtaking is allowed and traffic is coming towards you from the other side. And talk about passing close. I passed a Peugeot garage and had a suddenly longing for my lovely sporty 207 rather than the little Kia I was in. But I made it. Greek road signs are such that I didn’t realise I was actually in Istron until I saw the name on a shop sign. A little way on the apartments came into view.

Manolis was apologetic. The apartment wasn’t ready. The cleaner would have it ready in about an hour. That was fine. I’m on holiday. It’s Greece. Go with the flow … I said I’d go and find a cafe and relax but he offered to take me on a little tour of ‘his village’ in his Jeep while the cleaner was in action.

It reminded me of arriving on Kardamyli three years ago – the kindness of strangers; the kindness of the Greeks. We made it down a few tracks I wouldn’t dare venture in the Kia. I was shown a beach and its small restaurant where I can get the best souvlaki. We drove round the coast road a bit for more wonderful views. I even agreed to be photographed.

Back at the apartments my rooms were ready – although Manolis has said another apartment with a much nicer view will be available tomorrow if I prefer that for the rest of my stay. I shall see. Meanwhile, there are two or three tavernas to choose from to eat tonight. Moussaka? Souvlaki? Stuffed tomatoes? Whatever I choose, I’m sure I’ll love it.

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A lifelong lover of good food and travel; writer and book editor

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