The Covid-19 Lockdown blog

History of the Greek lockdown

Greece started extremely early with prevention measures against Covid-19

The country had its first case on 26 February, a tourist returning from Italy and the authorities acted almost immediately:

  • They banned all the carnivals that were scheduled on the 27th  of February
  • They closed all schools, nurseries, colleges and universities on 11th March before they had even had one death. The first death was recorded on 12th March.
  • They then closed theatres, cinemas, galleries, gyms and nightclubs on 12th March.
  • Closed all bars, cafés, tavernas, museums and archaeological sites on 14th March.
  • Closed all tourist accommodation on 15th March.
  • Introduced compulsory 14 day self-isolation for anyone arriving in Greece from abroad, regardless of nationality on 16th March.
  • Closed all shops except food shops and some services on 18th March.
  • All non-resident foreign nationals were banned from entry into Greece and all non-residents (Greeks or non- Greeks) were banned from travelling to the islands on ferries from 21st March.
  • All hotels were closed except for one in each prefecture (3 in Athens) from 22nd March.
  • They then introduced a movement lockdown for everybody on 23rd March.

I think that the government was acutely aware and fearful that the Greek health service, after 10 years of EU mandated cuts, would not be able to deal with a major outbreak. And of course they were watching their next door neighbour, Italy, where things were not going well at all.

Current situation (on the 27th of April)

As it turns out Greece did extremely well at containing the outbreak and is one of the countries in Europe with the lowest prevalence of Covid-19 infections (take this with a grain of salt as there has been very little testing in the normal population) but more importantly very few deaths compared to most European countries.

Next week

We expect the lockdown measures to get gradually lifted from the 4th of May (avoiding the big 1st May weekend which is often an occasion for a lot of travelling).

The future and the tourist season 2020

For now Greece is a very safe destination but of course opening up to tourism (and countries that have much higher infection rates than Greece) is playing a dangerous game. But tourism plays a very important role in the economy, especially an economy that was just starting to recover from a 10 years financial crisis.
There is a strong wish (and pressure) to re-open the place so that the tourist season will not be entirely lost.
But in the end what’s going to happen as far as foreign tourism is concerned will not be a matter for the Greek government only. Other countries travel regulations as well as airlines regulations will be the major deciding  factor.

For now the optimists think that Greece could re-open to foreign tourism by early July….we will see.

The case of Crete

Crete has had no cases for the past 3 weeks. There has been only one death attributed to Covid-19 (a visiting university lecturer from Germany).

Of course the fact that Crete is an island, is not densely populated and this outbreak was happening entirely outside the tourist season helped things considerably. But even then it is surprising. After all when universities closed on the 11th March students returned to Crete from all over Greece. Apparently no one brought back any infections.  Some people (not doctors) assign this to a mysterious force.

Crete’s sense of mystery is extremely deep. Whoever sets foot on this island senses a mysterious force branching warmly and beneficently through his veins, senses his soul begin to grow.

Nikos Kazantzakis, Report to Greco


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Cramming Crete (aka the fear of missing out on Crete’s attractions)

For some a holiday means plonking yourself on a sunbed and roasting for a week or two, with the occasional visit to a bar, a nearby restaurant  or your hotel room.
At the other end of the holidaymaking spectrum you have the indefatigable tourists rushing from attraction to next “must visit” spot from morning to evening with barely a moment to relax.

It could be just my subjective perception but I get the sense that the second type of visitor is becoming more prevalent in Crete (and elsewhere of course but this is a blog about Crete) and I believe that the internet is playing a big role in it.

We are being assailed by lists and listings. For example just yesterday I read that Crete was the 4th of the 25 top world destinations (Tripadvisor Travelers Choice). Dig deeper on the same Tripadvisor site and you’ll find a list of Crete’s popular destinations (Chania at #1) and 10 best beaches (Elafonisi of course at #1 and unfortunately Kedrodassos at #3 – next place to get entirely messed up).
Every travel site has their top place list of general attractions, best outdoor, top hidden places and on and on.

Tripadvisor Top 25 Destinations

Naturally, when people plan a visit and want to do more than grill on the beach (and even then, they might want to do it on the Best Beach!) they start making their own list and will eventually end up with something long and not dissimilar to what’s on  many other people’s lists. This leads to two issues:

  1. Everybody ends up going to the same “top places” which get hopelessly crowded and therefore not that great anymore.
  2. People are trying to cram far too much in their holiday. It becomes a race to tick off the attractions that you decided (or were told) are a must do. You end up spending more time driving to and from these top attractions on busy roads (because many others are doing the same) than actually enjoying being in Crete.

For some reason it seems that American visitors are the ones trying to cram the most stuff in. Maybe that’s  because they’re not given much holiday time or because they have come a long way and are trying to make the most of it. Often just reading their holiday plan makes me feel really tired and in need of a holiday.

The problem is that by rushing around in your rented car and ticking things off the list you’ll be missing much of what Crete can be about: a place where you can slow down and rediscover simple pleasures such as good tasty food,  crystal clear seas, open vistas and friendly people.  

Just accept that you will not be able to see all the ancient sites, great beaches, cute villages and monasteries in a week or two – and not in a year or two either, it’s a vast island.

By all means, make a list of things to see and do but use it only as a broad guideline. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you are on holiday and it’s not a visiting race but time to slow down, appreciate and enjoy.

Posted in Tourism | 15 Comments

A long wet winter

My neck of the woods in West Crete has just had one of its wettest winters in memory. This was crowned by a record breaking February.

There was already a lot of damage to roads from previous rains in December and January, the ground was completely soaked and could not absorb any more water with the result that massive damage happened to roads and several bridges collapsed seriously affecting communications.
Small rivers turned into massive streams and carried thousands of trees and immense quantities of reeds into the sea (and ultimately the beaches)

Reeds on Gerani beach
Reeds on Gerani beach

That last big storm left the region reeling but considering how much damage there was most problems (power, water, roads)  got sorted out pretty quickly, at least on a temporary basis.

With news of the storms making it into foreign  media some people abroad started wondering if their planned holiday would be OK. Owners of businesses in some area of damage like Platanias are also showing a lot of concern and, I believe, putting a lot of pressure on authorities to sort things out before the tourist season slowly starts in a few weeks.

And I think that it is working….I have never seen so many bulldozers and heavy machinery in Crete in my life. Everywhere there is cleaning, digging, clearing going on. On the roads, on the beaches…I think that a really effort is happening to get things done so I am very hopeful that tourism will not be affected much by the damage of the winter.

Of course, trying to restore traffic across rivers and collapsed  roads within a few weeks means that initially  we are only patching things up. Rebuilding bridges and roads, preventing landslides (especially on sections of the main road that runs along the North coast) will take a lot longer and cost a lot of money.

I am optimistic that this one exceptional event is also a wake-up call:  the infrastructure has been allowed to deteriorate for some years now. Many of the roads that collapsed have been showing signs of subsidence for some time, roadsides have not been maintained properly, all probably due to the financial restrictions that have been imposed on the country in the last few years. Now that disaster has struck I get the sense that the authorities are also keen on providing real solutions that will last for the years to come. Hopefully the money can be found.

Posted in Environment, In the news, Weather in Crete | 3 Comments

My personal shopping recommendations for a Crete visit

Best guide books

Probably the best two guide books in English are The Rough Guide to Crete and the Blue Guide Crete. This last one is getting a little old (8th edition came out in 2010) but as its strong point is history and major archaeological sites it is still very usable. Lonely Planet Crete
is also worth looking into.
If you can read German Kreta Reiseführer Michael Müller Verlag is by far the most complete and up-to-date Crete guide on the market.


If you don’t use a Kindle yet, at least for when you are travelling, you should really look into it. It saves so much carrying of books.
I got the new Kindle Oasis partly because it has a wider screen than the Kindle Paperwhite but also because I was missing my page turn buttons (from older Kindle days). The Kindle Oasis also has the advantage to be waterproof which is not a bad thing if you take it to the beach (waterproof also means sand-proof or at least washable).

Reading for Crete

Look into books by Nikos Kazantzakis, a Cretan author widely considered a giant of modern Greek literature.

Crete: The Battle and the Resistance is highly recommended if you have an interest in the history of Crete during WWII. Another must read, The Cretan Runner is the personal story written by a young Cretan shepherd who was a runner for the Cretan resistance during the war.

If you haven’t read it yet, The lsland is a nice easy historical fiction that made the former leper island of Spinalonga famous.


Nowadays the best maps are made by the Greek publisher Anavasi. A good 1:100.00 map splits the island into 3 sections: West, Central and East Crete. There are also several excellent 1:25.000 walking maps that cover East Selino and Samaria, Sfakia and the White Mountains, Frangokasello, Plakias and the eastern White Mountains, Psiloritis and Dikti.
If you’re a frequent Crete visitor you might also consider their Crete Atlas though right now it seems to be out of print.
Anavasi also publishes their maps in digital version if you want to use them with GPS or computers.


Since discovering the brand Maui Jim I haven’t looked back. I use Maui Jim Peahi (the dark grey version) when I want sturdy sunglasses with a a strong protection. When I drive or need less protection I prefer the lighter Ho’okipa with the warmer bronze High Contrast Lens.

Walking in Crete: my ultimate shopping guide

I’ve been walking in Crete in all seasons for over 25 years. Below is some of the gear I currently (2018) use and can fully recommend as what I believe is the best for my needs.

Rucksack: For day walks Osprey Stratos 34 is perfect: large enough for all the gear you might need for a day trip, reasonably light and with a well ventilated back. For multi-day walks Osprey Atmos AG 65 is great and comfortable for heavier loads. Whatever rucksack you use, having ventilation on your back is important if you are going to walk in Crete in warmer weather.

For water a Nalgene bottle with a wide neck can be really useful if you need to fill water from mountain springs where you might need to dip your bottle into a narrow hole where water collects. And these bottles are virtually unbreakable.

I find a GPS to be an essential tool, certainly on more remote walks, for safety but also to prepare walks and exchange route information with others. The rugged Garmin GPSMAP 64s is my favourite.
If you want a much larger screen the Garmin Montana 610 is worth considering but is heavier and more expensive. Note that I didn’t get the more expensive models with maps (of Europe or whatever) and instead buy my Crete maps for GPS at Anavasi.
For paper maps see my recommendations higher up in the page.

For my GPS I always use the best possible rechargeable batteries (and always take spares!) which are currently Eneloop Pro AA. A good charger is also essential to make the most of good batteries.

I hate wearing hats. But they also keep the midday sun away and are useful in very bright light. I finally found a hat that was light and comfortable enough that I could wear it and forget that I had it on. Highly recommended: Columbia Bora Bora

The rough terrain of Crete will wreck lesser shoes in no time, especially in the mountains. I’ve been using heavier Meindl boots for the past 20 years, been through probably 30 pairs of soles. My favourite model is the Meindl Island MFS Active which I find very comfortable and robust enough for anything that Crete can throw at them. They may seem to cost a lot of money but Meindl will resole them (and return them back to you looking almost new) for around 60 Euro, which reduces the cost of “two” pairs considerably. Note that I tried a second resoling once but the upper eventually starts falling apart so it’s not really worth it.

If you must walk in lower, lighter shoes go for something sturdy such as the Salomon XA Pro 3D GTX (I don’t use them personally but have heard lots of good things about them).

Waterproofs: I don’t walk much in rain but often need to carry waterproofs just in case. That’s why I like to have something extremely light and also very breathable. Unfortunately combining the two doesn’t come cheap if you also want something durable. This Arcteryx rain jacket is probably one of the best on the market. My current waterproof trousers are Rab Bergen pants, light and very breathable.

Head torch: an indispensable safety item. Petzl Tikka is great for general uses and light enough to always have in your bag. Don’t forget good batteries: Eneloop Pro AAA

Binoculars: Leica Ultravid 8×20 are probably the best you can buy in the ultra light class.

Sunglasses are essential, especially in the blinding mountain light. I’ve been using Maui Jim Peahi sunglasses for quite a few years. Dark glasses with very high protection, solid and very scratch resistant and they have a good side protection so that I can even wear them in snowy condtions and hardly ever need to use my glacier googles on snow in winter. The sunglasses feel a little heavy first time you put them on but I got used to that pretty quickly.

Satellite phone: This will be overkill for casual visitors to Crete but for me it’s a form of insurance. I spend a lot of time alone inside the White Mountains where mobile phones don’t work and where having an accident would have dramatic consequences. My Thuraya satellite phone (mine is an older model than the one you can currently buy) gives me peace of mind knowing that if I need to I will always be able to call someone.

Finally walking guide books: There are three books I can recommend depending on what you plan to do. For mountains, get the aptly named The High Mountains of Crete. If you are interested in following the E4 (or part of it) across Crete get The Cretan Way and if you are looking for a good mix of walks Crete: The finest coastal and mountain walks will be your best choice.

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Posted in Books, Shopping, Walks | 6 Comments

Samaria 2018 opening

As of today (20th of April) the official position of the Samaria National Park governing body is that they will open the gorge of Samaria on the 1st May.

Things might change but please don’t ask me. I’ll post a new post if any changes happen.

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Finally Chania airport has a website

Good news, the airport of Chania finally has a website! It’s very new and still a little rough around the edges (some information is still sparse, photos of Chania are much too contrasty and a 176 words sentence in a description of Chania* is way over the top for internet use) but it contains all the information that someone using an airport will generally want. Well done for this!

There is one thing that makes me really sad though: it took until now to produce an airport information site, 10 to 20 years late, and we had to wait until the Germans took over the ownership and management of the airport… This does not reflect well on Greece.

It makes me wonder if we’ll need to wait for a German management of the ministry of culture until we get a functional site for Greek museums, archaeological sites instead of the pitiful stuff we are getting now.

*  if you want a laugh, the sentence in question (on the page ) is the positively Proustian “To the south, the Lefka Ori (Madares Mountains), sleepless torrieri of the city in their panoramic glory, offer protection, wild nature and the rarest herb life in Greece, as well as hidden spots off the beaten track with some dozen limestone gorges – of which Samaria Gorge is the longest, best-known and most spectacular – and craggy coastal paths along the south coast and the laidback coastal resorts of Paleochora, Sougia, Sfakia and Elafonissi; to the north, embraced by its gorgeous, long-armed capes, eucalyptus-lined avenues, and miles of waterfront promenades stretches the kaleidoscopic boundlessness of the Sea of Crete, scoring countless dialectic points in the everlasting debate and for good reason: on largest Greek island where summer arrives earlier than elsewhere in the Med, Chania, as Diane Akerman had noted back in 1948, much like as a scent does, detonates softly in our memory like poignant land mines hidden under the weedy mass of years, because, stubborn enough to lose its beauty and strong enough to overrun today’s unbearable callousness, it is one heck of a redolent city.”

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A look back at the tourist season 2016

Chania harbour in the evening

Chania harbour in the evening

The tourist season 2016 is winding down and by early November most charter flights to Crete will have taken the last tourists away.
It seems that most Cretans who have businesses in tourism have had a satisfying season.

Crete and Greece benefited a lot from problems in North Africa and Turkey (Greece’s main competitor which is now perceived as unsafe).
Unfortunately a poor knowledge of geography made people believe that Crete was overrun with refugees coming by boat and that idea kept a number of people away and possibly choosing other destinations such as Spain or Italy.  As far as I know there was only one single boat arrival of a few refugees in the South-East of Crete in 2016.

Total numbers of tourists were up a little (on an already record breaking 2015) but numbers don’t tell the whole story: there is an increase in All Inclusive holidays in large resorts and those bring very little benefit to the islanders.  So higher numbers don’t necessarily mean better business.
On the other hand businesses in places that cater to independent holiday makers are doing well in the West of the island because Ryanair (who has a hub at Chania airport) bring lots of independent travellers.

The trend towards later holidays continues: after a poor start in April and May business picked up in summer and the autumn season has been very busy. September and the first half of October is gradually becoming the new high season. On the other hand August was not that great for some, mainly because many Greeks who traditionally holiday in August can’t afford holidays any more.

Finally, everybody complains that any money they make is swallowed by increased taxation. I think that they have a point.

Posted in The Greek crisis, Tourism | 2 Comments

Discover Rethymnon… on Foot

Discover Rethymnon... on FootThe seventh book in the series Discover…on Foot has recently been published. It covers short walks in and around Rethymnon and follows the successful formula of former publications, with good maps, plenty of illustrations and informative text.

I think that I’ll use the Rethymnon edition as an excuse to go visit the town again and brush up on my rather superficial knowledge of this beautiful city.

Incidentally, a precursor of the excellent Discover Chania…on Foot called Fenny’s Chania is still available (but only through direct ordering from the UK) and might even get a reprint.

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Samaria gorge 2016

Because of the mild and very dry winter there has been little damage to the path that runs through the gorge of Samaria and not much water in the river. As the good weather looks set to continue it seems that the park authorities have decided to open the Samaria National Park to the public from the 15th of April.

If it does open on time the KTEL public bus service will also start running buses. Watch their time-table. The ferry company is already running a daily service between Agia Roumeli and Hora Sfakion and Sougia. Tour operators should start offering trips shortly after the opening of the gorge.

Posted in Tourism, Walks | 2 Comments

The Cretan Way – A 28-day walk by Luca Gianotti

The Cretan WayA long awaited book finally got published last week: “The Cretan Way – A 28-day walk” is the brainchild of Luca Gianotti, an Italian walking guide. Rather than trying to paraphrase what the book is about here is an excerpt from the introduction:

I have been to Crete to go walking thirty times: twenty-nine times on an itinerant journey with my backpack for about a week and once for over a month. I decided to call this spectacular route the ‘Cretan Way’, although it has previously been called the E4.
‘E4’ is the name given by the European Ramblers’ Association to the long distance footpath which crosses Europe from west to east, from Spain to Cyprus. The path is over 10,000 kilometres long, and not always waymarked or passable.The Cretan section of the E4 is perhaps the most well-known, but these days it is in decline because it represents a style of trekking from many years ago, which was more spartan and adventurous, requiring a tent and sleeping bag, and as such only some sections of it are walked. For this reason it is unlikely that the whole route has ever been walked. In fact, when I walked it in 2010 there was no evidence on the Internet of other people who had walked the entire route in one go.
Here’s the idea: to inject life back into the path, and let it shine in its own right, going beyond the European project. The name, Cretan Way, has a double meaning, in the hope that this walk will also draw attention to the Cretan way of life. Walking for a month to enter into a different world. The world of a population with its own, independent roots. A world of nature which is both Mediterranean, alpine and more. Much more.
This book is the result of the walk I did between October and November in 2010, crossing Crete from east to west. The idea came about that the Cretan Way could become one of the most loved paths in Europe, on par with the GR20 in Corsica, the Camino de Santiago, and the Via Francigena.
This is why I have tried to ensure this route is accessible to everyone by providing GPS tracks and writing a detailed description of the route which I suggest you follow carefully, especially in the sections where the path is not waymarked.

If you only skimmed through the text in italics note this sentence: …the idea: to inject life back into the path, and let it shine in its own right, going beyond the European project (in effect the E4).
This book is not just a guide to walking the E4 but the beginning of a project which will hopefully evolve into something more. That’s why there is also a web site and a Facebook page that are an extension to the book and will keep information up-to-date and give the project momentum.
This is also why the author doesn’t slavishly follow the ‘official’ E4 route (which is something invented anyway, not a traditional path, so there is really no good reason to stick to it) but makes a few common sense variations: for example the section that goes from Chrisoskalitisa to Kissamos and runs almost entirely on roads is omitted. And Crete’s most famous walk, the gorge of Samaria, which is not part of the E4 has been added to the itinerary.

The walks are clearly described with good maps for each of them (the publisher Anavasi is mainly a map publishing company) and plenty of colour photographs as well as personal thoughts and anecdotes related to each of the sections. Each section also suggests accommodation. This is especially useful in some remote sections where accommodation is very limited. the idea is for people not to have to carry a tent and sleeping bag.

At the moment the book is available online at Anavasi  and Mystis  and can of course be bought in all good bookshops in Crete. Eventually it will also be available through Amazon.

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