Inspired by an article in International Living magazine entitled “Crete and Corfu: For a Healthy, Simple, Greek Island Retirement,” which my daughter, Cara, thoughtfully forwarded by email, I thought I would add my “2 cents” (that comes to about 1.8 cents in Euros). As many readers know, I’m one of those fortunate people who have “retired” on a Greek island. I use quotation marks for “retired” since, as a writer, I’ll always be actively involved in my beloved profession. But I must say, at this stage of my life, it’s a great deal better writing on an island called Crete than it is on one called Manhattan (although my days in The Big Apple fill my memory bank like Bill Gates’ income fills Bank of America. Yes, Crete – never Corfu or any of the other 200 or so inhabited Greek islands. I’ll explain why later, but, first, let me tell you how I found this near- paradise.
“Where the hell is Crete?” I asked my future wife, Sofia. It was early 1985 and I had just returned from a visit with my personal physician, Dr. Martin Weintraub, chief of internal medicine at NYU Medical Center. His advice after a complete medical workup: “Get the hell out of New York!” He said my 14-hour work days and my current lifestyle would kill me in a year. He had already diagnosed severe diabetes, heart arrhythmia and enough other ailments to fill several pages in Oxford’s “Concise Medical Dictionary.”
“I’m getting the hell out of here,” I told Sofia, who was living with me, after I managed to stagger home from Weintraub’s office and filling her in on his pernicious prognosis . “I’m selling my company and moving to the Bahamas . . . wanna come?” Thus, the subject of our current home popped up, with Sofia, a Greek-American, explaining she was actually born on Crete, Greece’s largest island, and what a wonderful place it is to live. Like so many times in my life, Sofia came up with a winner, again.
It was July, 1985, when I stepped off the Olympic Airlines plane and first set foot on this place that would become my new home, an island, roughly the size and shape of Long Island, but with high mountain ranges instead of flatlands, surrounded by the blue waters of the Aegean (Cretan) Sea. It was love at first step! (Sofia had made the trip a few months earlier to “get things ready.”).
There are many reasons why Crete is by far the best of all the Greek islands, especially for retirement. First of all, being the largest, it has first- rate hospitals and an excellent medical care system and some of the finest and most dedicated doctors in the country, certainly more than Corfu or any of the other islands – and that’s something for anyone of retirement age to consider as an important factor. Another important factor is that you’ll find just about the lowest cost-of-living of any European Union country, and a mere fraction of the expense of trying to keep your head above water in almost any other part of the civilized world, especially the U.S. or U.K. And, while those other parts of the world may be in chaos and turmoil, here you can relax in a healthy, calm and pleasant environment – as long as you don’t tune into CNN or the BBC. And, speaking of the environment, most places in Crete receive over 2000 hours of sunshine a year. During summer months daylight can last up until 9.00pm., with no air pollution. July and August are the warmest months, and January is the coldest month of the year. In summer, the average maximum temperature ranges between 20-30ºC (70-90°F) and in winter between 10-15ºC (50-60°F).
With weather like this, you’ll find yourself outdoors a great deal, which is just fine since there is so much to do at so little a price, such as glorious beach time or exploring local festivals or strolling through outdoor markets and haggling over the price of olives and the freshest of produce. And when it’s time to eat, there’s not much need to economize by eating at home, since there are so many excellent restaurants or tavernas where you can linger for hours over full course dinners or very long lunches of excellent home-cooked cuisine, including a carafe of red or white, for not much more than a McDonald’s Big Mac.
Of course, at the core of this wonderful lifestyle are the local people – the Cretans themselves. While those living and doing business in the tourist areas may be a bit coarse, the villagers, spread throughout the remote coastal areas and mountain hamlets, are some of the most gracious people anywhere in the world.
So it is, then, that as Crete sets out to become the Florida of Europe, a vanguard of non-Greek retirees is helping push that effort by resettling their lives across the town and villages -- some have moved here permanently; others settle here for a few months every year.
Either way, the message is the same: Crete offers the quintessential example of a lifestyle so many retirees seek: a low cost of living in a beautiful, warm destination with high-quality, affordable healthcare. It’s also located in a part of the world that offers unlimited opportunities to explore, in this case mostly across Europe. But, as this blog is not a travelogue, you can check out so many websites offering details on the island’s awesome history and archeological sites. For now, as an island person – I’ve lived on Long Island, Manhattan Island, and even several summers on Fire Island – there is no other place I’d rather be, at this stage of my life. However, alas, there is no “Utopia Island,” and Eden is long gone. The downside of moving to this Mediterranean oasis is having to leave your loved ones – family and friends – behind. That’s a tough decision to make, especially for Americans, since about 5,000 miles separates the two countries, making the travel and accommodations cost quite high.
But, hey, they understand and we make it over when we can.