The largest of the thousand-plus major Greek Islands, Crete is at once quintessential Greece and thoroughly idiosyncratic, making this one of the most intriguing places in Europe. The island is also a destination for all-comers, from couples to families, thanks to its picturesque mountain villages, plummeting gorges, picture-perfect white beaches and many attractive places to stay. It gets better: the food is almost uniformly excellent, Cretan culture goes back to the dawn of European civilisation and the autumn climate means it's still sunny and warm when the rest of Europe has dug out it's woolly jumpers and downloaded the best new box-sets for winter.
So, to the detail: the island's mountainous interior, which is perfect for hiking, gives way to some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe. In fact, there are 112 'Blue Flag' beaches on the island, as well as plenty of secluded coves and tiny islands. One of our favourites is the Instagram-idyllic pink-sanded Elafonisi on the southwestern tip of the island. Technically an island itself Elafonisi is just a short paddle through very shallow water from Crete proper, ideally laden down with goodies picked up from the villages en route to the beach, including honey, olive oil and (for couples) local liqueurs.
Away from the beaches, there is plenty of history to be explored on Crete. The cave where Zeus is supposed to have been born is high up in the mountains, and the capital Heraklion is home to a plethora of archaeological sites including Knossos - considered Europe's oldest city and home to King Minos' labyrinth where he kept the terrifying minotaur. Much of the south of the island is undeveloped, so the caves, gorges and beaches feel blissfully untouched - it's easy to see why so many hermit saints were said to have lived here. The Samira Gorge is one of Europe's longest, and for the hardiest of hikers it is an excellent 11-mile adventure in the company of pilgrims, but the 50 or so other canyons are blissfully uncrowded - except for the odd wild goat - and often (whisper it) far easier to hike.
Swimming, sunbathing and sightseeing is hungry work, so it's fortunate that Cretan food is more than up to scratch. Mountain villages and beach-side tavernas all serve rustic, hearty fare with a heavy Venetian influence - a legacy of their 400 years ruling over the island. Whether you've got children in tow or not, Cretan fare is best eaten family-style, with numerous sharing plates brought out as they are ready. For adults this should be accompanied by a bottle of the local wine - for research purposes only, you understand, because Crete is home to the oldest recorded vineyards in Europe.