Crete Expectations press article from the Times…

From the Times October 27 2006

Crete expectations

A seaside flat can cost only £84,000 on this Greek island, says Ginetta Vedrickas

Back in the Seventies, Crete was the destination of choice for happy hippies. They shook their tambourines all around the islands, ending up in the ancient caves at Matala on Crete,where Cat Stevens and Joni Mitchell wrote songs.

Today the hippies are long gone and a smarter breed of incomer is taking up residence.

For the first time, a survey by Currencies Direct puts Greece in the top ten destinations for British homebuyers. Crete, Greece’s largest island, is 257 km (160 miles) long and 60 km wide and draws the bulk of buyers who like its mixture of culture and laid-back charm, with modern amenities thrown in. The varied landscape means that you can head for the hills, hike through the massive Samaria Gorge, or just enjoy traditional villages or buzzing resorts.

The harbour town of Chania in the northwest of the island is a firm favourite with British buyers. It was Crete’s capital until 1971, and its architecture gives a fascinating insight into the island’s history. A Venetian lighthouse still guards the picture-perfect harbour, which teems with restaurants, bars and souvenir shops, or you can lose yourself among the Byzantine and Moorish buildings of Chania’s Old Town.

In Chania estate agents and developers clamour to meet the needs of mainly British buyers wanting homes. [check out our lastest information on Crete Property]

Oonagh Karanja, of Crete Property Consultants, has made a name for herself selling traditional stone houses in the surrounding villages, where she also owns a house. Karanja has seen growing interest in new developments and her company is selling some apartments at Maleme, a quiet seaside town 16 km from Chania and a crucial site in the Battle of Crete in 1941. Two-bed flats, 50 metres from the sea, start at €125,000 (£84,000) or, for anyone who prefers period property, a ruined stone house in Chania town is for sale at €48,500.

Although cheaper than Spain, France and Italy, prices on Crete are rising by 15 per cent a year. Leptos Estates is best known for building new homes on Cyprus, where price rises have been even steeper, but the company sees great potential for Crete. “Cyprus is an established market, but I think we will see similar rises in Crete, where you can find better locations,” says Philippos Hadjigeorgiou, the sales manager.

Despite legislation to combat the practice, Crete still has many half-built structures waiting for owners to amass enough cash to finish them, but generally the island has escaped over-development because non-Greeks have been allowed to buy freehold property only since 1990.

Leptos wants to ensure that its developments will last and is sparing no expense at its flagship development at Malerne, near Chania. The Aphrodite complex has a mix of apartments, townhouses and villas around a communal pool. The homes will start at €135,000 and will have aluminium shutters, thorough sound-proofing and Zanussi appliances.

Andrew Lawrence, 48, the MD of a plastering company, has bought a €200,000 beachside apartment at Aphrodite with his partner, Denise Overton, which he says is “good value given its standard and location”. The couple used to go island-hopping and fell in love with Greece but hadn’t visited Crete before buying here. He says: “I love the friendliness and the way you can eat outside in tavernas all the time. The weather’s good and it’s a very relaxing way of life.”

Lawrence plans to spend holidays at his apartment and longer periods as he nears retirement. He says: “Retiring in the UK is expensive, especially if you factor in holidays. The cost of living is cheaper in Crete, and I like the idea of going back to the same place, knowing what to expect. This time next year I’ll be on my terrace, bottle of wine in hand.”

Hadjigeorgiou says that a couple can live well, run a car and eat out several times a week for about £10,000 annually, making Crete a tempting prospect for anyone on a UK pension. Unlike smaller islands, Crete doesn’t depend solely on tourism and it is possible to live here year round, as many restaurants, shops and bars stay open throughout winter. EU membership allows Brits to receive free healthcare, although many Cretans prefer the better-equipped health clinics, which are numerous on an island with an extraordinary number of doctors.

Access to Crete is easy in summer with charter flights into Heraklion and Chania from several UK airports. Winter visitors must pick up connecting flights in Athens or brave the overnight ferry from Piraeus, which is not for the faint-hearted because it takes a stomach-churning nine hours. [check out our lastest information on flights to Crete]

Just Some of the Reasons We Love Crete...

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