Hats off to Knossos; JENNIFER and ANDREW PULLING Couldn't Resist Crete's Mix of Sunshine and Historical Sights

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THE one thing you can't do without on a visit to Knossos is a wide-brimmed hat.

The Crete sun, striking off the white stone ruins, dazzles and magnifies the heat and, unfortunately, I had managed to forget my headgear...

My husband Andrew gallantly offered me his, but I couldn't be so mean - cue bad sunburn.

We travelled in June when the island's long summer was well underway. Tourists swarmed over the site of the largest Minoan palace, the heart of a once highly sophisticated culture which flourished 4000 years ago.

But it wasn't until the start of the 20th century that Sir Arthur Evans put facts to the myths and legends.

One such tale is that of the minotaur who lived in the centre of the labyrinth at Theseus. He slew a monster then found his way out of the maze with the help of a golden thread provided by his love Ariadne.

Evans' reconstruction of a very real site is one of the most amazing stories of modern archaeology.

Crete is an enchanted island, big, beautiful and begging to be explored. Along the popular north coast it can be as sophisticated as you want it to be. The northeast is rather overdeveloped but on the southern coast you can still find peace and solitude.

It is worth hiring a car or Vespa to explore the more remote villages and meet the local people, so very proud of being Cretan and not merely Greek.

After Knossos another must see in Heraklion is the archaeological museum. We went early to avoid the tour groups and were dazzled and delighted by all the treasures.

There is so much to see - the little rock crystal amphora with a handle of crystal beads, the mysterious engraved seals, and other Minoan gems. Handily, you are allowed to take a break and return refreshed later on with your date-stamped ticket.

This was our first visit to Crete and we had picked a base at random from the various brochures.

As well as sightseeing, we wanted to fit in some swimming and sunbathing, as well as the standard holiday pursuits of over-eating and drinking. Stalis fitted the bill perfectly.

Sandwiched between the much more riotous Malia and Hersonissos, it has a great beach where we quietly roasted for a couple of days.

In the evenings, adopting the Cretan habit of eating late, part of the nightly entertainment was resisting the invitations from the restaurants that line the little main street.

Then one night we found the Argo. "Something vegetarian," we said and night after night the owner came up with delicious stuffed vegetables, baked moussaka and fresh fish, which we also eat. He even introduced us to the wines of Santorini, the volcanic island to the north - and all this for around pounds 6 a head.

Malia is party driven so the beaches are pretty deserted in the mornings. Near one such stretch of beach is the older village of Malia with an ancient Minoan palace.

The bus going east drops you off and it is much easier to understand than Knossos because you can picture in your mind the once splendid seaside palace. …