The fabled Greek Isles are full of vomiting and fornicating backpackers, ugly package tourists and other detritus of global tourism, but Jeremy Hurewitz uncovers a little gem on it's southern front.
A fter spending a few days on the Sea of Libya in the little village of Plakias, my girl and I jumped into the little VW Golf we rented and headed up to Hania, Crete's second largest city and home to a wonderful Old Town/Venetian port. From there it was only twenty kilometres to the end of the Akrotiri Penninsula and the town of Stavros. If tiny Stavros is known for anything it is for its role as a backdrop for many of the scenes in the film, "Zorba the Greek". It is cherished today for it's tranquil coves and it's lack of the aforementioned tourist crowd.
It is my life-long quest to search for the perfect beach. I dream of paradisiacal islands with pellucid water, a variegated landscape of neon coloured fishes, and beaches with sugar-soft sand, gently grinding my feet into it's warm embrace while giving myself over completely to the sun and it's work. So when I found Sunset Beach I giggled like a demented child for a few minutes before throwing off my clothes and jumping into the water.
One of the many inlets along the coastline, Sunset Beach is a crescent of white sand on a coral reef. The blue water gently laps against the sand (as opposed to the rather large waves off the Sea of Libya) as if casually whistling at you to come into its arms. The slightly cool breeze from the north offset the extreme southern heat and chilled the water just enough to make it refreshing.
Little sandbars formed mazes through the coral and colonies of seaweed swayed off the apexes of the formations. On the right side of the cove there were small but interesting looking limestone formations that were just tall enough to ensure that no one coming around the bend could see the beach.
When I stopped slobbering like Homer Simpson and came to my senses we approached the little shack that was covered in dried palm fronds and was quietly emanating Fleetwood Mac. The owner, Malikia Laeda, greeted us and served me an ice cold Heineken in a frosted beer mug, and Sona a chilled glass of local rose that taste more like a light sherry.
She served us a grilled octopus salad in balsamic vinegar and a shrimp risotto both of which matched anything I had in the upscale eateries of Athens, Rhodes and Santorini.
Malika was a proud, majestic woman, the kind of woman who has a spirit of grace and dignity that is wonderful to behold. In my experience most of these women have taken to small but very pleasant corners of the world because they have the very good sense to give a big middle finger to society and drop out.
A few days and several good meals brought part of her story around. Originally from the Britanny region of France, she married a Greek, and moved with him to his native Crete.
There they were raising a little girl, Michele. A little naked brown berry, Michele was about four and ran around the beach, in and out of the water and in and out of the little sandbox her parents had built for her. She was a creature of Eden, blissfully unaware of the evil in a world in ways purer than I've seen in any other child. Her eyes sparkled with untamed animalism and the little pagan child looked like she could walk on water if she was inclined to.
Malika was tall, with sun-bleached strawberry blond hair that was somewhere between dreadlocks and thick curls. The sun and her lifestyle made it hard to place her age and it could have been anywhere between 30 and 50. Several times a day she would take a break from the taverna, remove her top and swim way out in the cove and then come back and rest on a beach chair for a while before returning to the bar.
She had various alcohols fermenting in a little spot between the roof and a lower beam and these variously coloured liquids caught the sunlight and reflected it in soft hues on the planks of the taverna.
The Laeda family has a house in Stavros but they make their home on the beach during the summer and she pointed to the sizeable tent that was covered also in palm fronds nearby.
It was against a large dune and a palm tree and it blended into the landscape so well that one didn't notice it right away. She told me how the village granted them the right to build a little taverna on the beach and that they did it with an environmental conscience, trying to not change the landscape of the beach and using only local material. She owned about 7 beach chairs and five umbrellas and charged 1000 Drachma's (about four dollars) to use them for the day.
Staying in a little hotel nearby I pulled out my stash of grass and lit up before hitting the beach. I had bought a cheap snorkel and mask at a store in the village and after laying in the sun - blissed out and listening to the waves, the wind and the gentle Flamenco coming from Malika's kitchen - I hit the water. Tiny fish greeted me, puckering their lips and playing among my legs as the tide drifted me around the coastline. I dived down and inspected the brain-like coral, considered the tendrils of seaweed and their swaying.
Mumbling about coming back next summer and renting a house, we sadly had to leave to soon to catch our flight back to civilisation at Irakalion. Malika smiled, her faced creasing naturally into that pose, and wished us well. She waved for a few moments before we drove off and in my rearview mirror I saw her racing Michele to the sea.
- Sunset Beach Bar: Stavros, Crete 821 39780, 3903