Some personal thoughts.
Although we moved around a bit in the UK, all our lives we have lived in largish towns close to big cities. That is our natural environment. We always felt you got all the advantages of a big city with none of the disadvantages. Even when we moved to Greece initially we lived in Kilkis, which is a town of about 30,000 people only about 50 km from Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city. Trying to follow this ideal when moving to Crete was a bit difficult, however, since a big city on Crete is about the equivalent of a largish town in the UK. Obviously we had to scale down but still keep this ideal in mind, i.e. we wanted to live in a town/village with shops, banks, post office etc near to one of the “cities”.
Secondly, we wanted to be somewhere that wouldn’t change too drastically between summer and winter, i.e. we did not want a tourist town.
Thirdly, thinking of the aging process, we wanted somewhere pretty flat, not halfway up a mountain.
A sea view, but not too close, would be nice.
We looked at properties close to cities from the east to the west with a completely open mind. We liked Sitia very much as a city but it did feel very remote from the centre and we didn’t really see any properties near there that suited us. We didn’t try near Ierepetra since we had visited it before and didn’t really like it as a city; just personal taste. This more or less ruled out the south coast since there was no other south coast city to be near. Neapoli was probably our preferred choice but we couldn’t find anything in Neapoli itself. We were shown properties in the surrounding villages but most had virtually no amenities. What was described as a mini market was a couple of boxes of vegetable in someone’s front room. While some were close enough to Neapoli to walk from I don’t think you would want to do the journey loaded up with shopping in 40 C heat. We hated Heraklion so were not really interested in anything near it although we did look. Near Rethymnon the only properties we could find were mostly on isolated sites well away even from very small villages and not all that close to Rethymnon itself. The properties themselves were very nice. Around Chania we were shown lots of nice properties but they were all moderately isolated. Eventually we found a plot of land inside a village that is flat, has everything we wanted and is only 12 km from Chania on a well-served bus route. It is inland and totally non touristy. While building from scratch was last on our list of options, in the end it was the only way we could get the property we wanted in a location we liked. Now we have done it we have not regretted going down that route.
When we lived in Kilkis the surrounding area was largely wheat growing. This meant that it started to get green in January - February time. By late April it was already starting to ripen and go golden. In June it was harvested and for the rest of the year we lived in a brown desert. Where we are now we are in an orange grove surrounded by many square km of orange groves. It is green the whole year round. If we sit on our roof terrace we have a 360-degree view. The white mountains to the south, the village to the south west, orange groves in every other direction with the low green hills between us and the coast to the north. I don’t know anywhere in east Crete that we could get this kind of environment, with the possible exception of the Lasithi plateau which is also a bit isolated. While there are stunning views in the east it does seem to be more barren.
We can walk to the centre of the village in five minutes but there is virtually no traffic driving past our house so it is very peaceful. In Kilkis we lived on a street close to the centre of town with cars and motorbikes driving past all day and night.
We are just outside Crete’s wettest valley so there is no water shortage. It is a very large village with a very small amount of development so there is no real problem with electricity, telephone lines, broadband etc. By building here we are not really putting any stress on the local infrastructure or changing the character significantly.
We didn’t get the sea view but you can’t win everything.
I think in general, as an area to visit, we prefer the east of the island. Elounda is one of our favourite places. There are subtle differences in the food as you travel across the island and we tend to prefer that served in the east. Sitia wine is arguably the best on the whole island. The village wine in the west is very sherryish. Given that, the area where we live now close to Chania is almost a perfect living environment and, to us at least, we prefer Chania as a city to any of the other big cities on the island. Again that is just personal taste.
Hope that gives you some ideas.