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Go-karts, Ouzo and the Greeks

Former racing driver Christina Surer is not one for stretching out on the beach and basking in the sun – and so a sports week filled with a string of activities and adventures on the island of Crete is much more up her street. Besides all the action, the Basel native is drawn to the pleasant authenticity of the island and would happily return there any time.

“What fascinated me most about Crete was celebrating with the Greeks – they really know a thing or two about partying,” Christina Surer says with a laugh as she talks about her trip to Chania. The fact that the Greeks, whose home is the land of the anise-flavoured spirit “ouzo”, know how to party is nothing new. But visitors interested in experiencing the real thing need to know where to go. It must be said here that the former racing driver did not spend her entire holiday in Chania dancing the “sirtaki”. Her path to discovering and coming to appreciate Chania was a sports holiday week, advertised as a contest for the readers of a magazine. Together with other Swiss celebrities -including former ski champions Karin Roten and Brigitte Oertli and former cycling pro Armin Meier-, she “rocked” Crete and dabbled in all sorts of sports: “We became a real little community; I am still in touch with some of the people,” Christina Surer adds.

Photos: Fotos: bma/Region of Crete - www.incrediblecrete.gr

Celebrating with the locals

And they were often in close touch with the Greeks. “On some occasions, we were fortunate enough to eat in tavernas known otherwise only to the locals. And we all know that that’s where you’ll savour the best food,” Christina Surer explains. “I’m a big fan of Greek food. The many small dishes shared by everyone at the table taste not only delicious but also make dinner a shared experience. On several occasions, we ended up dancing on the benches and the tables at some point in the evening!” The “To Mikio Taverna” is among the choice tavernas of the former racing driver who, nowadays, also works as a model and a presenter. ”Food, price and ambience are spot on! And I learned the ultimate trick on how to get chatting to the Greeks in no time: just ask “Ouzo?” in an inviting manner - that is the way to a new friend!”

Not like a club holiday

During their sports holiday week in Crete the group lodged at the Kiani Beach Resort. “But our stay had nothing in common with a boring club holiday one might usually expect,” Christina reminisces. “We were out and about a lot, and we all contributed something to the trip.” Since the motto of the trip was sports, and with Christina at the helm, the group obviously went kart racing on a circuit. “It was great to be able to share my enthusiasm with the others, and to see how much fun everybody had! We went to the ‘Mega Drive GoKart’ circuit in Chania. I was strongly reminded of the early days in my racing career. Because kart circuits are where most car racing careers start.” A further advantage of staying at the resort is something the mother of two particularly appreciates: “I can well imagine coming to Chania and staying in the resort with my children. Because it offers childcare and children’s entertainment, which can be of real value for parents. We have been on holiday several times with a nanny, so as to have a chance to sleep late or enjoy dinner with just the two of us. But if a children’s club at a resort can take care of that, all the better!” Christina can also warmly recommend the hotel beach for a family holiday. “The shallow water and the staff supervising the beach give you a safe feeling, even if you still need to keep a close eye on your children of course.”

Impressive nature in the heart of the island

Besides sports excursions -including swimming, riding, land hockey, beach volley ball and the mentioned kart racing- the group also had the opportunity to see a bit of the island. “The landscape is really impressive. I think what surprised me most about the island is that is has gorges and caves, which can be explored on guided tours. I would never have expected that,” the pretty Basel native reminisces. There’s the eight-mile long Samaría Gorge, for instance, which is one of the longest in Europe. Featuring steep rocks, pines and cypress trees, the gorge area is a national park that boasts a unique flora. It is also home to more than 200 different birds and the Cretan Agrimi goat, found only on the island. If myths and legends are to be believed, some woodland fairies have settled in the area near a waterfall. That is why many tourists visiting Crete consider a hike through the Samaría Gorge a “must-do”. However, visitors need to be aware that it is only open to tourists from May through late October. On a practical note: Edelweiss operates direct flights to Chania, from where the Samaría Gorge is but a stone’s throw away.

Of monasteries, markets and the island’s beautiful authenticity

“The Arkadi Monastery was another memorable highlight,” says Christina Surer. “Although I have not seen all of the monasteries on the island, I am sure it is one of the nicest.” The complex, which served as a monastery from the fourteenth century until 1866, is Crete’s most significant national monument and, thus, always very well kept. “And then, of course, there’s the relaxed everyday lifestyle of the Cretans,” the former racing pro recalls. “Strolling through the markets, tasting different foods, just getting that feeling for life. I particularly like the colourful markets. That special sensation when savouring sun-ripened tomatoes or local feta cheese on site is second to none. I also highly recommend trying the candied fruit and olive oil – both make for great holiday souvenirs.”

For Christina Surer, the combination of pristine nature, local delicacies and the island’s warm-hearted people make Crete very authentic: “While there, I always felt that tourism hadn’t quite arrived yet. Of course there are many tourists, but unlike in other tourist places, the Cretans don’t adjust their whole life to suit the tourists. Which is why you really get a sense of ‘real’ Greek life on the island. My conclusion: Chania, I’ll most certainly be back!”

Christina Surer’s Tips in and around Chania

Samaría Gorge;;; “I find hiking through the gorges on the island to be something very special and would recommend it to anyone visiting Crete. I was particularly impressed by the Samaría Gorge near Chania. But rather than hike on my own accord, I would book a guided tour. The route is no easy feat!”;;; Inter alia, tours can be booked via: www.greekholidays.travel/tours/tour-Wandertour-Kreta-Samaria-Schlucht-Südkreta.de.html

Market ;;; “Anyone visiting Crete should not miss the chance to experience one of the village markets. This is where you can feel -and taste- the real Greece! Make sure you don’t just look, but also buy. Olive oil, for instance, is a great souvenir to take back to those who stayed at home!” Tip: Chania has a large, alluring market hall with a terrific range of products on offer.

Mega Drive Go Kart;;; “This is a must-do: kart racing! The Mega Drive Go Kart circuit in Chania has been tried and tested by me and our travel group, and rated as good!” Information available at: www.megadrive-gokart.gr

Text: Malin Mueller