Books Set In Crete – Exploring Greece’s Largest Island

Jackie and Joel Smith - Leaving Crete

I am delighted to host this guest post from Packabook reader and travel blogger Jackie Smith whose trips to the Greek island of Crete with her husband Joel have been heavily influenced by books…read on to find out how Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzkis and Victoria Hislop’s The Island impacted on their travel decisions…Over to you Jackie!

Finding Zorba’s Beach…

We had two ‘novel destinations’ tucked away in our travel plans for Crete when we arrived there in 2009. And finding “Zorba’s beach” was the first.

The 1952 novel Zorba The Greek by Cretan author Nikos Kazantzkis led us to the 1964 movie of the same name. One of the black and white film’s most famous scenes is of Anthony Quinn, as Alexis Zorba, teaching the sirtaki dance to his boss (played by Alan Bates); arms-interlinked-step-step-kick on Crete’s Stavros Beach.

Click on the video image below to see the scene from the film

Books set in Crete - Zorba Video

We often use novels and narratives as supplemental guidebooks on our travels, so in this case, who would be a better guide than Zorba himself?

Stavros is a crescent-shaped beach on the Akrotiri Peninsula, 14 kilometers east of Chania at the base of a rocky mountain (it is this mountain in the film that Zorba’s ill-fated logging plan failed). The beach was virtually empty on our mid-morning visit; a few beach chairs and a single food concession stand. In fact, there isn’t much in Stavros (a plus!) other than a few scattered restaurants and beach homes.

By chance we picked Mama’s Place across from the beach for lunch. The white-haired, 61-year-old owner, Petros Vasiliki, toldMama's Place - Books set in Greece us that his family opened the restaurant in 1951.  The movie’s cast and crew had dined there while filming, he told us, and because they couldn’t pronounce his mother’s name, they’d simply called her ‘Mama’ and the restaurant has been “Mama’s Place” ever since. Vasiliki was 16 when the movie was filmed and today entertains diners with tales about the filming, proudly telling the stories behind the dozens of photos taken during the filming that line the restaurant walls.


Books set in Greece - The Island by Victoria HislopOur second ‘novel destination’ in Crete was at the opposite end of the island: Spinalonga, just off the north coast. This small island served as Greece’s main leper colony from 1903 to 1957 we learned when reading The Island, a 2005 novel by English writer, Victoria Hislop.   The book, definitely a light-read, love story spanning generations, brought the island – that we’d previously never heard of — to life for us through the story of a Greek family whose loved ones stricken by the disease were taken to Spinalonga.

We based ourselves in Elounda, just down the road from the small town of Plaka, which plays prominently in the novel. From Plaka we took one of the many shuttle boats that deposit and pick up tourists on Spinalonga. As we toured what is left of the town created by the lepers, I thought of Hislop’s story but also of the thousands of real people who had spent their lives turning this tiny lump of a rock island into a world.  It was a fascinating tour and one we would have missed had we not read the book.

Who Pays the Ferryman?

Books set in Crete - Who Pays the Ferryman by Michael J.BirdElounda itself led us to another novel. While exploring this harbor town we passed The Ferryman’s Bar which called to mind the title of a late 1970’s BBC television show, Who Pays the Ferryman? set in Crete.

After returning home from Crete and researching that show, we found Who Pays the Ferryman? a novel by Michael J.Bird, that is based on his BBC television series of the same name. Reading the book ‘took us back’ to some of our favorite Cretan spots as we followed the story of Alan Haldane’s return to Crete after a 35-year absence and the love story that ensues. The book was first published in England in 1977.

Winds of Crete

Books set in Crete - Winds of Crete by David MacNeil DorenAmong our  favorite souvenirs are books. So, while in Crete, we searched for one that had been recommended  – a narrative, not novel — but we were unable to find it.  It wasn’t until months later, back in the Pacific Northwest, that I struck gold when I found a very used, dog-eared paper-back copy of Winds of Crete, by David MacNeil Doren, in a Portland, Oregon bookstore.

While not a novel, it was a great ‘guide’ that we used on a subsequent trip to Crete.  In it the author writes of the Crete he and his wife experienced during the six years they lived there. Their accounts of places they had visited enriched our travels.  The book was first published in England in 1974.


Books set in Crete - In Sfakia by Peter TrudgillOne of our favorite Cretan destinations is Chora Sfakia, a small harbor town on the island’s southern coast, best known for the role it played in World War II as the route for Allied Troops who boarded ships to escape the approaching Nazi troops.  The town these days is a quiet, laid-back community, a good base for hikers and other visitors who want to get away from the maddening crowds of mass tourism.

English writer Peter Trudgill fell in love with the place and wrote about his decades-long love affair and his more than 60 visits there in his book In Sfakia published in 2008. We purchased the book while there and savored the memories it provided after we’d returned home.  We also used it as an excellent travel companion when we returned to the town last year.


Thank you Jackie for this wonderful peek into your travels and inspiring us to explore Crete a little further. 

You can see where else Jackie and Joel have been adventuring at where they are documenting their journeys…and if you are looking for more Crete-inspired novels to read, you can find them at books set in Greece

Happy Reading…


Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

World Party Reading Challenge – Books set in Greece

Books set in Greece - photo by chris1961Well, the holiday season has definitely got the better of me, and I am extremely late bringing you this introduction to our “Greece World Party Challenge” in which we plan to explore books set in Greece.
Given that this winter is proving to be a pretty tough one in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, you would think I’d be jumping on any opportunity to read books that conjure up images of sandy white beaches and glasses of retsina in the sunshine. But actually, when I look at the books I’m considering for this challenge, I notice there’s not a lot of lazing about in the sand going on. In fact, as is common with so many of the books I seem to attract – there is a fair bit of war and misery. I am trying not to spend too much time thinking about what that says about me!
I have read several novels over the years that are set in Greece, and I thought I might re-read one of them for this challenge, given that I seem to have a complete ability to forget the content of books about a year after I’ve read them, no matter how enjoyable they are.
But which one should I choose?
.Books set in Greece - Corelli's Mandolin
There is Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières, which I remember loving when it first came out many moons ago, but I wonder whether a more grown up me will still enjoy it. The book is set on the island of Cephallonia during the Italian occupation of World War Two and the ensuing Civil War. While the circumstances were fairly dire, I remember there being a great deal of humor, and a fair bit of romance in the novel, so there is some laughter amongst the pain.
Looking at the reviews De Bernières is sometimes criticized for using words with too many syllables just for the sake of it, for making factual errors, and for writing what some believe is a clichéd romance. But the majority of readers seem to fall in love with his characters, finding the novel both funny and charming. It might indeed be worth a second look.
I didn’t mind Victoria Hislop’s The Island which, while not a taxing read, didBooks set in Greece - The Island by Victoria Hislop open my eyes to an historical circumstance I wasn’t aware of – the use of the island of Spinalonga (off Crete) as a leper colony in the first half of the 20th century.
If you are looking for an easy read and some fascinating history, then this might be for you – just don’t expect a literary masterpiece.
And while I could branch out into something I have never read, like The Magus by John Fowles or the works of Irini Spanidou – there’s a book I read 20 years ago that I have always wanted to re-visit, and this seems the ideal opportunity.
Novels set in Greece - Eleni by Nicholas GageEleni is a terrifying story of Greece’s civil war and one woman’s attempt to keep her family safe.
The fact I remember it after all this time shows what a profound impact it had on me, and I long to see if it is as good as I remember. And it has the added interest of being written by Eleni’s son – a work of “faction” by a character in the book, something which intrigues me.
Yep – I think this might be the one.
But as I take it down off the shelf I realize it is quite a lengthy book – and with us already in mid-December it is obvious I must now abandon all attempts at Christmas shopping and preparations. Instead it is time to light the fire and settle down to the task at hand. What a chore!
What will you share with us in December? Leave us a note in the comments. We’d love some other ideas of books set in Greece to get our teeth into! And if you are looking for some more suggestions from me try these Greece-inspired novels.
τα λέμε αργότερα
PS. Couldn’t resist sharing this review of Eleni from Amazon below:
“It was no Con Air” , July 31, 2008
By Andrew Carr
This review is from: Eleni (Paperback)
I’m generally not into reading, but I decided that I would give this one a shot, expecting it to be as good as Face/Off. Boy was I mistaken. Cage should stick to acting. Do you remember in Snake Eyes when he punched that guy in the face? Do you remember in Boy in Blue when he punched that guy in the face? I enjoyed those moments more than I enjoyed reading Cage’s book, or reading anything for that matter.
Enjoyed this post? Have a look at our other World Party Reading Challenge selections.
Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

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Please note - if you read our reviews and click on our links to buy books, we will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and we thank you for your support! Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to