Fisherman's Corner Cottage, Panormo
What to do outside Panormo? Where to start? There is so much...
Top three sights (in our opinion)
1) Knossos - Even if you only have a slight interest in history or archaeology, go and see the Minoan palace of Knossos, near Heraklion. It'll knock your socks off...built 2000BC and still standing...
Unless your knowledge of Minoan civilisation is good, we'd highly recommend joining one of the guided tours - you'll get a lot more out of the visit that way! Take a hat and plenty of water as there's not much shade.
Follow it up with a visit to the archaeological museum in Heraklion to see some of the artifacts recovered from here and other sites on the island. Much less boring than it sounds - the Minoan jewellery, statues and ornaments are just so detailed that it's hard to believe their age.
2) Samaria Gorge - fantastic 17km walk in the south west of the island (mostly downhill) for the reasonably fit, through the most stunning scenery. Extra special in spring / early summer for flowers and smell of wild herbs. Sizeable proportion of the walk is on stones, so bring study walking shoes or trainers. Wouldn't suggest it for children under 10 and definitely not for push chairs or buggies!
3) Spinalonga - Island just off Elounda in East Crete, reachable by boat. Location of former leper colony, featured in Victoria Hislop's book, "The Island". Take the boat out there and then join a guided tour. Fascinating day out, but quite a long journey to get there - probably around two hours by car.
Top three places to shop
1) Rethymnon - Fortified mediaeval town, approximately fifteen minutes drive from Panormo. Great shopping in the main town, especially for shoes! Fantastic in the evenings, great buzz, some lovely restaurants and tavernas, lots of interesting craft and jewellery shops in the old town which is pretty much pedestrianised. Also, a very good - and fast - internet cafe on the sea front.
2) Heraklion - less attractive than Rethymnon, more of a commercial centre, but if you're after high street names such as Marks & Spencers and Mango, this is where you'll find them!
3) Lidl (on the way into Rethymnon - signposted from main road). Very cheap for general household stuff. If you want to bulk-buy wine, water, diet coke, orange juice, ice creams, this is the place to do it. Not exactly exciting shopping - but it will save you a fortune!
Top three sports
1) Scuba diving - for the over 10's. Available from a local hotel with initial training in the hotel swimming pool, then progressing to shallow dives around Panormo bay. Fantastic!
2) Snorkelling - even in the shallows, there are plently of fish to see. Buy a mask and snorkel and flippers locally, and get in there!
3) Horse riding - centre in Georgioupolis, west of Rethymnon. Riding centre will pick you up from the Panormo area. Riding for all abilities - beginners, medium, advanced and even individual tuition.
.....and there's a golf course in Hersonnisos too!
Top three places to eat
1) Avli - in Rethymnon. If you're going to have one memorable meal in Crete, this is where we'd recommend. The restaurant is in the old town and just stunning, both for the surroundings and the food. Try and get a table in the centre courtyard, which is beautiful, especially as the sun sets and all the lights and candles go on. The food is fantastic, but more expensive than your average taverna. However, if you want a very memorable evening, this comes highly recommended!
2) Gelato.it - also in Rethymnon. If you've skipped dessert at the Avli to save on costs or if you fancy a second dessert, this is the ice cream shop to head to. It's fairly close to the Avli; just stand with your back to the fountains, walk pretty much straight ahead, past four or five tavernas on your right and gelato.it should be straight in front of you. We've yet to find a flavour of ice cream that we don't like, and this shop tops the lot - huge cornet with two scoops of the most fantastic ice cream for 2.8 Euros - you just can't knock it!
3) Dominicos - in Fodele. It sounds a bit off the beaten track, but if you're heading into or out of Heraklion e.g. to or from the airport or Knossos, it's a very handy pit stop. Fodele is about 3km inland, off the new national road, about 25 mins east of Panormo. It's signposted from the main road,just follow the signs uphill, go through the village, park at the end and then walk back. Dominicos (or sometimes known as Smoothie George's) is right next to the Four Seasons gift shop. George is a real character and speaks excellent english. He runs Dominicos with his wife Eva, mother Maria and various other family members. They will do you a chicken or pork gyro, freshly squeezed orange juice and local ice cream to wash it down for just a few Euros. Much better than forking out for overpriced food at the airport!
It's not spectacular, in the way that the Avli is - just great taverna with very good, reasonably priced food. Incidentally a gyro is the greek equivalent of fast food, but much nicer than a McDonalds! It consists of a soft pitta bread filled with slightly spicy chicken or pork, onion, yoghurt, tomato and George normally pops a few chips in for good measure. Mention Paul and Clare and you'll be assured an extra warm welcome. They're lovely people. What's not to like??
Top three things to do with kids
1) Water parks - Acqua Park (Nr Hersonnisos), Limnoupolis (Nr Chania), Star Beach (Hersonnisos). All about an hour to an hour and fiteen minutes drive from Panormo.
The first two are more expensive - 20-25 Euros to get in per person (but reductions for children) , then unlimited rides. Good family atmosphere and lots of rides for all ages, from small watersides for tots, to the water slalom (at Acqua Park) which is the scariest water ride we have ever, ever been on!
Star Beach is a bit more "Club 18-30". Free entry, but 8 Euros for a wristband to give you unlimited rides. A couple of sunloungers will probably set you back 6 Euros for the day, if you want them. Not as many rides, but bearing in mind that the Club 18-30 lot don't normally get up until mid afternoon, visiting Star Beach either mid-morning or early afternoon is a good time to get lots of turns on the slides. Not as upmarket as the other two, but good if you're on a tight budget.
2) Mountain biking - mountain biking for the fit or rather "mountain freewheeling" for the rest of us! Get taken to the top of a mountain and gently freewheel your way down, taking most of the day. Good fun, not too strenuous, and bikes to suit all ages.
3) Crazy golf - Quite a few around, especially on the way to Rethymnon - try the ones Platanias or Adelianos Campos. Best to do earlier in the day or early evening, when it's not too hot!
.........I'm sure there are loads of things that we've missed out, but the ideas mentioned above are ones that we've done and really enjoyed!