Home Destination Guides Accommodation 24th August 2019





General
Greece 

 
CRETE (Kriti)
 
 
  
We have written a good deal about Crete, so if you would like to jump to a specific location within the text, please use the following links - and the BACK button to return to the top of the page;
  
Iraklion                  Knossos                   East from Iraklion
Kokkini Hani         Hersonissos           Koutouloufari/Stalis/Malia
Sissi                        Agios Nikolaos         Kritsa
Elounda                 Spinalonga island  Sitia
West of Iraklion  Ammoudara            Agia Palagia
Bali                          Rethymnon              Arkadi monastery
Georgioupolis      Souda Bay                Chania and Zorba
Matala                    Agia Galini                 South West Crete
Paleochora            Secret Crete and Sfakia     Plakias
                                                                  
 
Crete overview
        
   Steeped in myths and legends with a rich history defining culture and traditions, the rugged island of Crete is truly a mesmerizing place of contrasts.  Modern, bustling towns stand shoulder to shoulder with ancient monuments and awesome archaeological sites. A spectacular coastline provides sandy beaches and secluded coves, while magnificent mountain ranges conceal scenic gorges of unsurpassed beauty in their depths. 
  
   Crete is the largest of all the Greek Islands and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean; it is also the most southerly Mediterranean island before Africa and is the demarcation point between the Aegean Sea on its northern side and the Libyan Sea on its southern side.  The island spreads east to west, approximately 257 kilometres long as the crow flies, but about 400 kilometres long by road, and varies in width from a mere 12 kilometres to 61 kilometres wide. 
 
  
History and people 
       
    The island has a history dating back to the Minoan civilization in 2600 BC and has always invited interest from invading nations because of its strategic position in the Mediterranean between the continents of Europe in the north, Africa in the south and Asia to the east.  As a result Crete has suffered constant invasion and occupation by Arabs, Venetians and Turks, until unification with Greece in 1912.  However, these conflicting cultures have influenced the development and architecture on the island and inured the Cretan people with a defiance and resourcefulness in seeking freedom from oppression.  It is these qualities that saw them through the German invasion in World Ware II and the political upheavals prior to the fall of the Military Junta in 1974.  More than anything else it is the Cretan people that set Crete apart from the rest of the Greek islands, fiercely proud, passionately loyal to their homeland, rugged like the mountains, warm hearted and welcoming, they even have their own Cretan dialect.
        
 
 
Tourism 
    
     Most of the tourist development is spread along the northern coast, which is partly due to the excellent road links afforded by the National highway. Built under the regime of the Military Junta, the highway stretches from east to west along the northern coast.  The northern resorts are as varied as the island itself.  The north east tends to be livelier, whilst in the west there is a more traditional atmosphere and accommodation ranges from the basic to state-of-the-art luxury.  On the south coast the resorts are smaller and less developed than the northern ones, partly due to the long (airport) transfers and the general inaccessibility of some of the southern areas.
  
  
The terrain, scenery and wildlife    
    
     Central Crete is dominated by its mountain ranges, the breathtaking White Mountains in the West, the beautiful Dikti Mountains in the East and the awesome Idi Mountains in central Crete.  All of these ranges peak over 2,000 metres above sea level and the highest of them is Mount Idi, known locally as Psiloritis, which rises to a magnificent 2,456 metres in height.  During the winter months these mountains are covered in deep snow, resulting in some mountain villages being cut off from the northern cities and even when the weather warms and the hillsides abound with rare wild flowers and scented herbs, the peaks remain snow covered well into springtime.  
 
Samaria Gorge     
    
     Amongst the mountains there are breathtaking gorges, the most well known (and the deepest in Europe) is the wild Samaria Gorge located in the heart of the White Mountains.  Starting from the Omalos plateau this dramatic gorge plunges through breathtakingly beautiful mountain scenery for 18 kilometres.  It cuts through the remains of the deserted village of Samaria, following the river bed to the narrowest part of the gorge called the ‘Iron Gates’.  This is an incredible sight, adorning many postcards, where the sheer rock walls are barely 3 metres wide yet rise vertically over 300 metres high. 
 
  If you are lucky you may see one of the rare birds of prey riding the thermal currents over the gorge, or catch a glimpse of the even rarer Cretan goat, called Kri-Kri, perched high on the rocks.  However, some environmentalists are becoming concerned for the rare wildlife due to the increasing number of tourists who are walking the Gorge and visitors are requested to respect the environment, ensuring that they do not leave any litter.  The route continues to the village of Agia Roumeli, on the coast, where the only way out is by boat as there are no roads in this rocky area.  The walk is magnificent but only for the fit.  I would recommend joining an escorted tour to walk the Gorge, as many people have twisted an ankle (or worse) going over the rough stones and the guides are able to call for assistance if needed.  Good walking shoes are a must; I also found my hat (there is no shade at the bottom of the gorge) and a bottle of water essential in the heat of the day. The Gorge is closed at night and no camping is allowed.  The tours set off very early in the morning to avoid the heat and to allow time for the slower walkers to make it to Agia Roumeli before the ferry boat departs.
  
     For those in doubt or unable to walk the full 18 kilometres (over fairly rough terrain), there is a ‘Lazy Way’ guided tour which takes a ferry boat from Sfakia (Hora Sfakion) to the small village of Agia Roumeli.  From here you can walk up the dry river bed to the spectacular ‘Iron Gates’ at the bottom of the gorge, which should take approximately 1 hour.  In High Season the river bed is dry but in the early season, when the snow melts and late season, after the rains, the river rises and is as cold as ice.  If the river rises above a certain level or heavy rain is forecast the Gorge is closed for safety reasons as flash floods have been known to occur.  The Gorge is home to rare plants and bird life and as an area of outstanding natural beauty. It has been designated as a National Park.
 
Lassithi Plateau     
   
     Also hidden amongst the mountains are several plateaux. One of the most well known is the Lassithi Plateau, otherwise known as the Plateau of the Windmills.  Encircled by mountains, Lassithi is covered with windmills, (reputed to number 10,000!) which are working mills used to pump water from underground for irrigation purposes.  The plateau is very fertile and extensively cultivated by the local people.  Lassithi is also home to the Dikti Cave, the legendary birthplace of the God, Zeus.  Legend has it that the Goddess Hera came to Crete when she discovered she was pregnant and gave birth to Zeus in the Cave.  It is a popular stop for tourists crossing the plateau, but the walk to the entrance is steep and the steps leading into the cave are slippery and precipitous (I have to admit defeat on this one and chose to peer in from the top rather than descend…), so good walking shoes are again recommended if you wish to visit the cave.
  
The plains and island produce       
    
     Despite Crete’s rugged mountainous terrain, the island has extremely fertile plains and valleys clothed in rich red earth which the local people have farmed hundreds of years for a living. Cretan produce is renowned for its quality and flavour and Crete is a major exporter not only to mainland Greece but right across Europe. The island is self sufficient and all types of market garden produce are grown here from the full range of salad foodstuffs such as tomatoes and cucumbers, to other vegetables such as quince, aubergines and courgettes.  Fruits such as citrus, melons, grapes and figs are produced in abundance, as well as local wines, yoghurt, cheeses and honey.  But perhaps the most distinguished export of all is the rich extra virgin olive oil, pressed from the sun- ripened fruit of hundreds of thousands of Cretan olive trees.
 
  
Iraklion (Heraklion) - the island capital
        
     The capital, main port and commercial centre of the island is Iraklion, also known as Heraklion, which is located in the centre of the northern coast. Iraklion was originally called Khandax in the Byzantine period and during the Venetian occupation was known as Candia (not to be confused with Chania in the west).  The Venetian influence on the architecture in the Old Town can still be seen in the monuments and some of the beautiful buildings secreted away in the back streets. In the 16th and 17th Century a massive wall was built around the city of Candia for protection against invasion, parts of the wall are still intact today.  Possibly the best section is at Chania Gate, on the western side of the town.  A new modern arched ‘gateway’ to the town has been built to accommodate the traffic, but a few feet to the side of the arch, the original wooden city gate is still set into the wall, intact and with its ironmongery. 
   
    Whilst Iraklion can by no means be called a pretty town, I have a soft spot for this busy, dusty, working town which is full of energy and character.  The harbour area is a focal point and is divided into the Old Port and the bustling Ferry Port where the ferries from Athens and the cruise liners berth.  Walking west from the ferry port will bring you to the Old Port, which is the original local fishing harbour, and the Old Town of Iraklion.  This harbour, where colourful local fishing boats still bob up and down cheek to jowl, is dominated by the wonderful 16th Century Venetian Fortress known locally as the ‘Koules’ otherwise called the Castel del Mare.  The Koules is open to the public and if you take the steps to the battlements on top there is a lovely view of the harbour.  The great arches opposite the harbour are all that remain of the Venetian arsenal and provide a handy storage area for the local fishermen’s nets!
  
     Opposite the harbour, the 25th August Street will take you straight into the centre of the Old Town where you can relax and have a drink at one of the many café bars by the striking 17th Century Morosini Fountain, ornately carved with imposing lions and nicknamed appropriately enough, the ‘Lions Fountain’.  To the left of the Lions Fountain is the Venetian Loggia, once a club for noblemen, this suffered bomb damage in the Second World War and needed complete reconstruction.  Across from the ‘Lions Fountain’ is the vibrant daily fruit and vegetable market, where burly men attempt to out-shout each other for custom.  Having manoeuvred the gauntlet of the fruit and veg traders, there are a couple of quaint old shops selling dairy produce where you can buy some excellent cheeses and thick, creamy goats yoghurt by the kilo.  At the end of the market street is an attractive, smaller Venetian fountain, the ‘Bembo’ built in 1588.  There is also a mini-train which is very popular for getting around town.
  
    Also worth visiting in Iraklion is the Historical Museum, a short walk along the seafront from the Old Port, which houses a variety of interesting exhibits.  One of these is a painting by the famous Greek painter, Domenikos Theotocopoulos, dubbed ‘El Greco’ by the Spanish.  He was born in the pretty village of Fodele, outside Iraklion but spent most of his working life in Spain, hence his nickname.
 
     Other sites of interest are the beautiful Orthodox Church of Agios Minas, the patron saint of Iraklion, and to the side of it the Basilica of St. Marks.  Away from the centre of town, the tomb of Nikos Kazantzakis, lies beneath the backdrop of the Idi mountains.  He is the celebrated Cretan author who epitomized the Cretan spirit in his book ‘Zorba the Greek’, which was later made into the film of the same name.
  
Iraklion transport
  
     Iraklion has all the facilities one would expect from a large capitol, with an abundance of cafés, restaurants, pizzerias, bars, shops, banks, travel agents and hospitals.  The main international airport is located on the outskirts of the city and is a popular alternative to Athens as a starting point for those wishing to island-hop because it is one of the leading charter flight destinations in Greece.  There is an excellent local bus service running from just outside the airport into Iraklion town centre (approximately every 10 minutes during the day) and taxis are readily available both at the airport and in the town.  The main ferry harbour is located to the east of the old port and city centre and has excellent ferry links, including numerous daily ferry connections to Athens.  Here the quay heaves with the noise of goods vehicles, cars and foot passengers.  A short walk from the ferry port is one of the main bus stations.  This station is the one serving north east Crete, including the resorts of Agios Nikolaos, Ierapetra, Sitia and other resorts on the way.  The other main bus station is outside the Chania Gate, where the buses for the Messara plain leave, including the ruins of Phaestos, and the resorts of Matala and Agia Galini.
  
     
Knossos    
  
     Of course, what really draws people to Iraklion is the awe inspiring archaeological site at Knossos and the magnificent Archaeological Museum by the central square, Plateia Eleftherias, otherwise known as ‘Liberty Square’. The Minoan legacy of archaeological sites of immense importance has drawn academics and enthusiasts from all over the world to visit these captivating ruins.  There are several large Minoan sites on Crete but Knossos is the most imposing, covering an impressive 22,000 square metres.
 
    The site is actually located approximately 5 kilometres from Iraklion town centre and is easily reached by local bus (No. 2 bus from the Liberty Square bus stop).  The Palace of Knossos was first discovered by the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, who began excavations there in the early 1900’s.  This was the palace and centre of administration of King Minos, after whom the Minoan period was named, and dates from approximately 1,950 BC.  It is the largest of the Minoan sites on Crete and shows to great effect the complexity and sophistication of the layout and buildings of that period.  There is evidence of water supply, drainage and even central heating systems as well as beautiful architecture and frescos.
 
    During excavations Sir Evans took the decision to rebuild large areas of the site with concrete, to recreate the visionary spectacle of grand pillars, courtyards, villas and rooms.  This decision was later criticised by some who opined that the site would have been better left in its original state.  I happen to be on the side of Sir Evans and thought that the reconstruction gave the average person a better overall picture of how awesome and impressive the Palace would have been in its hey day.  Go and take a look and make your own mind up! 
 
    Legend has it that the Labyrinth at Knossos was constructed by Daedalus for King Minos to imprison the Minotaur, a beast who was half man, half bull.  It is believed that the Palace was destroyed by the huge volcanic eruption in around 1450 BC that wreaked so much devastation in the Aegean and created the volcanic island of Santorini.  The Iraklion Archaeological Museum houses  the ancient artefacts from Knossos and also from other Cretan Minoan sites including Phaestos, the second major site, and Malia.  The museum is unique in its impressive range of Minoan Art, jewellery, ceramics and other objects for which it is renowned.  Highlights include the magnificent frescoes depicting bull-leaping, the ‘Prince with the Lilies’ and the ‘Ladies in Blue’, whilst copies of the fabulous gold jewellery on show, can be bought in the many designer gold shops in Iraklion. 
 
  
 
An island tour.......
 
East from Iraklion
     
     The nearest sandy beach to Iraklion is a couple of kilometres to the east at Amnissos and a local bus leaves from Liberty Square every 20 minutes.  The bus stops at the sandy Greek Tourist Organization beach which has plenty of facilities (but charges an entrance fee) and then continues to the public beach at Amnissos, where there are a couple of very good tavernas.
 
Kokkini Hani and Gouves   
 
     Travelling further east from Amnissos you arrive at the resort of Kokkini Hani and the almost adjoining resort of Gouves.  Kokkini Hani has a lovely swathe of sandy beach shelving gently into the sea and Gouves is set along a rocky coastline with a mix of sand and pebble coves.  Both resorts are quiet and laid back with a choice of tavernas, bars and shops but Kokkini Hani has a wider variety of amenities plus the added advantage of an ATM machine.  There is a good local bus service which will take you to Iraklion or to the resorts of Hersonissos, Malia and Agios Nikolaos, but the buses can get crowded in high season.  Taxis are fairly reasonable so you may consider taking a taxi instead.  Kokkini Hani and Gouves are ideal family resorts, and there is a great water park with slides and ‘waves’ in the nearby village of Anopolis.  However, Iraklion airport is only 20 minutes away, by car, and some aircraft noise may be heard in resort.
  
Hersonissos    
 
     The next resort along the north east coastline is the lively Hersonissos.  This resort used to be a quiet fishing village until the advent of tourism totally changed the village into a night-time hot spot, attracting the young and active. The main northern coastal road runs through the centre of the resort and this street is lined with a fantastic array of shops, restaurants, bars, tavernas and night clubs which stretch from the main road down to the sea front. There are all the usual amenities you would expect in a busy resort such as a post office, car hire, Doctor, chemist and an ATM machine.  The small sand and shingle beach tends to be very crowded in high season, but when the discos and clubs get going, the energetic night-life more than compensates.
    
Koutouloufari, Stalis and Malia    
    
    In the hillside overlooking Hersonissos is the small traditional Cretan village of Koutouloufari where you can enjoy the amenities of Hersonissos without the constant action. Hersonissos rubs shoulders with the next two resorts of Stalis and Malia.  These 3 resorts used to be several kilometres apart but all three have expanded with tourist development to such an extent that they have almost become one continuous strip.
  
     Stalis, sometimes called Stalida, is sandwiched between the 2 hot spots of Hersonissos and Malia and is a smaller, quieter, less hectic resort than the other two. It has a great sandy beach with water sports facilities and a good selection of its own friendly restaurants, bars and tavernas.  There are shops selling local handicrafts as well as a small open air arts and crafts museum.  You can walk into Malia or take a taxi to either of the neighbouring resorts to sample the night life if you are looking for more action.
 
     Fashionable Malia is well known for being a fantastic party resort, bursting at the seams with noisy bars, clubs and trendy discos attracting young people from all across Europe.  This bustling resort is full of shops, restaurants and every type of bar you can think of, as well as having supermarkets, banks, post office and a Doctor.  The beach is a lovely swathe of fine sand where water sports are available, but take care with the off shore currents as even strong swimmers have been caught out by these.  On the outskirts of Malia is the archaeological site of the third largest Minoan palace on Crete which attracts many visitors.   This site is extremely well preserved and has not been reconstructed like the palace at Knossos, remaining a smaller version of what Knossos would have looked like when first excavated.  Local bus links to and from Malia and the site are excellent, running approximately every hour from Iraklion in high season.
  
Sissi    
 
     About 10 kilometres from Malia is the small, traditional fishing village of Sissi which has a lovely sandy beach.  This resort has some shops and a selection of tavernas and restaurants around which the nightlife tends to revolve.  Sissi is quiet and peaceful, ideal for couples looking for a relaxing holiday out of the mainstream.
  
Agio Nikolaos     
     
    The charming resort of Agios Nikolaos has a superb location, with wonderful views, on the Gulf of Mirabello in north-eastern Crete.  It used to be a fishing town, taking its name from Saint Nicholas the patron saint of sailors, but now it is one of the best known tourist resorts on Crete.  The focal point of the town is centred around the attractive harbour area and the unique sea-water filled Voulismeni Lake, which has the reputation of being so deep as to be ‘bottomless’!  The waterfront around the lake and the harbour is crammed with tavernas, restaurants and bars where locals and tourists relax over a drink.  The most popular excursions leave from the harbour, particularly the tour boats visiting the island of Spinalonga and water taxi services to Elounda.
 
 
    Leading away from the harbour is a pretty tree-lined main street with more shops selling a variety of local handicrafts, leather goods and embroidery, restaurants, supermarkets, post office, Doctor and banks.  For the bus station, follow the main street to the opposite side of town.  There is an excellent local bus service with buses to Iraklion, Ierapetra, Sitia and Elounda on a regular basis.  Alternatively taxis are readily available, with a taxi rank by the harbour. 
  
    As this is a rocky coastline Agios Nikolaos is not renowned for its beaches.  There is a small sand and shingle beach at Ammoudi a short walk from the harbour, and a small town beach but these tend to be overcrowded.  Better beaches can be found at Almyros, and Ammoudara just outside of town and at the nearby resort of Elounda.  Worth a visit is the excellent Archaeological Musuem in the town centre which houses a great collection of artefacts from Minoan sites in the surrounding area.
    
   Nightlife in Agios Nikolaos is good with an assortment of discos, bars and late night tavernas to choose from. Whilst Agios Nikolaos used to have a reputation for being a bit of a hot spot, the locals have been more eclectic in their choice of visitors lately, and this resort is no longer the haunt of young clubbers.  However, there are still plenty of places to enjoy yourself and for those looking for something quieter, you can relax in one of the many restaurants and tavernas around the harbour, making this resort a popular choice for all age groups.
  
Kritsa     
  
     A short drive into the hillside from Agios Nikolaos is the tiny traditional village of Kritsa.  This village is well known for its local handicrafts, weaving and lace making, but do not leave without visiting the fascinating Church of the Panayia Kera, dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  This church is a rarity because of the most marvellous hand painted frescos dating from the 14th and 15th Centuries which adorn the walls and ceilings.
   
Elounda       
  
    Driving north from Agios Nikolaos along a spectacularly scenic coastal road brings you to the renowned village of Elounda, made famous by the book and TV series ‘Who pays the Ferryman’.  Lovely Elounda with its backdrop of mountain scenery has managed to retain the atmosphere of a traditional fishing village despite its popularity with tourists.  On the outskirts of Elounda are numerous luxury and up market hotels and villas but the main focus of the village is the attractive central square in front of the harbour which is lined with a host of tavernas, restaurants and bars. From here you can gaze across the pretty bay to the historic island of Spinalonga, situated offshore from Elounda.
  
    Elounda has a fine, sandy, man-made beach which offers a selection of water sports.  The night life is reasonably low key with a couple of small discos and some bars, but mostly revolves around the tavernas.   If you fancy an evening out, there is a regular bus service into Agios Nikolaos and taxis are normally available until the early hours of the morning.   Further round the coast from Elounda is the small, attractive village of Plaka, which has lovely views towards Spinalonga and some excellent fish tavernas.
     
Spinalonga island      
  
    In 1579 the Venetians built a massive fortress on Spinalonga to ward off invasion, until it fell to the Turks in 1715.  In the early 1900’s the islet was turned into a colony for lepers with the addition of a hospital.  Lepers of all ages were sent to live in the colony and it was only in 1955 that the colony was closed.  The boat trips to Spinalonga are not only popular but extremely interesting with excursion boats leaving on most days.  Another interesting boat trip takes you to the Roman remains of the city of Olous, now submerged off the Kolokytha Peninsula.  If you are able to go snorkelling from the boat you should get a good view of the ruins.
    
Sitia  
    
     Travelling east along the northern coast of Crete, the only other resort of any size is the interesting town of Sitia, also home to the most easterly port on Crete.  Sitia is less well known than the other resorts already mentioned, but becomes particularly popular during August when the town stages a 3-day Wine Festival, celebrating its wine, grapes and raisins, their main exports. The town is situated on a sweeping bay with whitewashed houses set back into the hillside overlooking the pretty harbour.  There is a traditional atmosphere with colourful fishing caiques bobbing in the harbour and you can travel to the islands of Rhodes, Karpathos and Milos, plus the Athens port of Pireaus from the inter-island ferry berth further along the sea front. 
  
   Sitia has the advantage of a good sandy town beach, running along the sea front for over 1 kilometre, together with all the usual amenities of shops, supermarkets, restaurants, tavernas, bars, banks and doctors.  Behind the town is the historical fort built in 1204 which was extended by the Venetians and eventually fell to the Turks in 1650’s.  Close to Sitia is the fascinating Minoan archaeological site at Kato Zakros and the exhibits unearthed from this site are on show at Sitia’s Archaeological Museum.  There is also a Folklore Museum in town which is well worth visiting.  At one end of the harbour, next to the town beach is the local bus station.  
 
    There are good links to all the major towns along the northern coastal road from Sitia, and to Ierapetra on the south coast.  There is also a bus to the much acclaimed Vai Beach on the far eastern tip of the island of Crete.  This is a beautiful sandy beach but people come here not so much to sunbathe but to visit the famed ‘Palm Forest’ behind it.  This is the only natural palm forest in Europe and as such it has been designated a National Park for its protection.  Visitors are asked to respect the environment when they visit and take all picnic rubbish home with them so that others can enjoy the natural surroundings.
  
West from Iraklion
  
Ammoudara     
         
     Travelling west from Iraklion approximately 4 kilometres is the beach resort of Ammoudara strung out along a coastal road.  There are hotels, apartments, souvenir shops, supermarkets, tavernas, café bars and restaurants lining both sides of the road.  At intervals, narrow dirt tracks lead off the road down to a fantastic, gently shelving sandy beach which runs for several kilometres along the length of the road.  This is a great resort for families and all age groups.  The atmosphere is laid back and friendly, the night life is fairly low key with some bars and a couple of discos.  Buses run regularly into Iraklion for shopping and sightseeing or taxis are readily available.  Car hire is also available in resort for those wishing to explore further afield.  Football fanatics may be interested to note that it was in Ammoudara that a new stadium was built for the football matches to be held in the 2004 Olympic Games.
  
Agia Pelagia    
  
     Taking the national highway west of Iraklion there are a couple of places worth mentioning before you arrive in Rethymnon.  The first is Agia Pelagia a small resort tucked away down a dusty winding track, off the main road.  This picturesque resort used to be a small fishing village until a couple of large hotels were built on the headland.  Some apartments have sprung up since but it remains a traditional and quiet resort.  It has a narrow sand and shingle beach next to a crystal clear sea and its beach front is lined with some excellent tavernas and restaurants.  There are some souvenir shops, car hire, a good supermarket and the atmosphere is friendly and laid back, a perfect hideaway.
  
Bali      
   
      The next resort is Bali, another small traditional fishing village, now catering for tourists.  The village road winds away from the main road passing tiny sandy coves and whitewashed houses until it reaches a charming fishing harbour.  Local fishermen still ply their trade from this harbour and the local tavernas specialize in fish. To the side of the harbour there is another small sandy beach or you can follow a dirt track around the headland to Evita Beach.  Car hire and water sports are available in resort as well as a chemist, a Doctor and some supermarkets.  There is very little nightlife other than a couple of bars and in the evenings people tend to gather at the tavernas.  The villagers are welcoming and friendly and there is a great atmosphere of peace and relaxation.
  
Rethymnon  
  
      Rethymnon is a great resort offering something for everyone and is another city of contrasts where new buildings encircle the Old Town.   As Rethymnon was relatively unscathed by the WWII bombings, this pretty town has retained a fascinating mixture of Venetian and Ottoman architecture throughout.  The superb Venetian Fortezza built on a headland to the side of the harbour in 1574, is Rethymnon’s great landmark, and has been meticulously preserved.  Next to the harbour, the old, circular Venetian port is an absolute gem.  It is packed with tavernas, their tables and chairs covering every available inch of space, right up to the water’s edge, where the gaily painted fishing caiques tie up.  It has a wonderful, intimate atmosphere, especially in the evening, all under the watchful eye of the Venetian lighthouse on the end of the jetty.
  
   In central Rethymnon there are great amenities, chic boutiques, supermarkets, cafes, restaurants, banks, a mini train service, car hire, hospital, post office and large public gardens.  Opposite the gardens is the Venetian ‘Porta Goura’, an arched gateway built in 1572 through which you enter the warren of narrow streets and cobbled alleyways of the Old Town.  On quiet days this is like stepping back in time with the superb buildings retaining many original features including the ornate balconies of the Turkish houses.  There are souvenir shops selling local handicrafts, ceramics and embroidery as well as tavernas and café bars when your feet wear out!
 
    Hidden in the narrow streets is the lovely Rimondi Fountain built by the Venetians in the 17th Century and look out too for the 16th Century Venetian Loggia, formerly a meeting place for town officials.  A relic from the Turkish occupation is the restored 18th Century Nerandzes mosque where those with a head for heights can climb to the top of the minaret for great views across the town.  Also worth a visit are the Archaeological and Historical Museums.
       
    However, Rethymnon’s main advantage over other towns is its fantastic beach, a long swathe of fine golden sand, stretching from the Old Port along the sea front and away into the distance.  The beach thoroughfare is a lively street backed with innumerable cafés, bars and restaurants.  Nightlife in Rethymnon is good without being over the top, there are music bars and discos and there is always a quiet spot tucked away for those looking to relax over a glass of wine.  Rethymnon has a daily ferry to the Athens port of Pireaus, but hardly any other island connections other than tour boats to the island of Santorini.
  
Arkadi Monastry        
    
     Well worth a day out is a visit to the atmospheric Arkadi Monastery, a short scenic drive from Rethymnon up into the foothills.  This Monastery became famous during the Cretan War of Independence in 1866.  When the locals, including women and children, took refuge in the Monastery, it was besieged by the Turks who killed over 800 of them when they refused to surrender.
  
  
Georgioupolis       
  
     The national highway continues west to Chania, but approximately midway between Chania and Rethymnon, a short drive from the main road, is the small, traditional resort of Georgioupolis, ideal for relaxing.   Georgioupolis sits beneath a backdrop of mountains, on a long fine stretch of golden sand which shelves gently into a warm turquoise sea.  There is a narrow river outlet into the sea where local fishing boats are moored and a tiny chapel dedicated to Saint Nikolaos oversees the fishermen from a causeway nearby.  In the shady village square there are tavernas, cafes and bars for your enjoyment and other amenities include supermarkets, ATM machine, car hire and doctor.  The surrounding area is good for walking and you can walk to Lake Kournas, the only fresh water lake on the island, where you can have lunch in a lakeside taverna.  Local bus services from the national highway are good, with frequent daily buses to both Rethymnon, Chania and beyond.  Alternatively car hire can be arranged or taxis for shorter journeys.  Night life centres on a handful of bars and the tavernas.  This is a peaceful, friendly resort not suitable for those looking for an active nightlife.
   
Souda Bay, Kalives and Almyrida       
     
     Just before you reach Chania, is an impressive sweeping bay, called Souda Bay which is the largest natural harbour in the Aegean and is used as a naval base.  At the mouth of Souda Bay are two small neighbouring resorts, one at Kalives and the other at Almyrida.  These are traditional Greek villages, ideal for a get-away-from-it-all holiday.  Kalives is a little bigger than Almyros, and both have long golden sandy beaches which shelve gently into clear blue water.  There is a choice of tavernas and shops in each and in high season some water sports are available on the beach.  Bicycles and car hire are readily available for those wishing to explore and a local bus service runs to both Chania and Rethymnon from the national road.  Taxis are available between resorts and into Chania.  This is a wonderful area for nature lovers and ramblers, with beautifully unspoilt countryside leading into the foothills of the magnificent White Mountains towering behind the resorts.
    
     Also found at Souda Bay is the British War Cemetery which I would really recommend visiting.  It is beautifully looked after and is very poignant.  I found the Cemetery had an air of peace and tranquillity as it looks down over Souda Bay, and I felt surprisingly uplifted by the beauty of this little piece of Britain in a far off island.  Let us hope that the War Graves Commission can continue to look after these resting places of our kinsmen who fought so valiantly and lost their lives so bravely.
    
     The Akrotiri headland separating Souda Bay from Chania has a NATO air and naval base, so please do take notice of the signs prohibiting photography in certain areas. The Greek police will literally throw you in jail for flouting this law - you have been warned!
  
Chania and "Zorba the Greek"     
    
     Sophisticated Chania is the second largest town on Crete, has great amenities and used to be the island’s capital until this position was usurped by Iraklion.  However, Chania certainly won in the beauty stakes and is known as the ‘Venice of Greece’ because of its stunning Venetian architecture.  Despite severe bombing during WWII, most of the architecture including the strong Turkish influence, remarkably survived and these buildings are now protected by the Government.
  
     The focal point of Chania is the stunning Venetian harbour which is pedestrianised and lined with an array of tavernas, restaurants and bars from which to watch the world go by.  Colourful caiques complete the setting and it was also where the filming of ‘Zorba the Greek’ took place, starring Anthony Quinn as the charismatic ‘Zorba’.  On the waterfront of the inner harbour the ruins of the Arsenal can be seen and at the water’s edge of the outer Venetian harbour is the exquisite Mosque of the Janissaries, built by the Turks following their successful invasion of Chania in 1645.  At the end of the outer harbour is the Nautical Museum, housed in part of the old City Walls, and opposite, a Venetian lighthouse stands guard at the entrance to the harbour. Tour boats depart from the outer harbour and taxi boats are available which will take you to the nearby beaches and the islet of Saint Theodore.
  
     Behind the harbour an alluring warren of narrow streets packed with tiny shops, chic boutiques, cafes and tavernas lead into the heart of the Old City.  The nightlife in Chania is great without being over the top and the harbour area is lively well into the early hours.   The Old City has numerous Venetian churches of note, built in the 16th Century, one of which has been turned into the town’s Archaeological Museum.  The massive City walls are well preserved in some areas and were built by the Venetians in around 1590 to ward off invaders.  Outside the Old City walls is a vibrant indoor market which teems with every kind of fruit, vegetable, spice, fish and meat that you can think of.
 
    There is a local bus station in town with good services to all the main cities on the northern coast as well as reasonable connections to the south.  Chania is also the starting point for those heading to the magnificent Samaria Gorge.  Buses will take you to the Omalos Plateau at the start of the Gorge so that you can experience the breathtaking scenery of the White Mountains (see Samaria Gorge description).  If you are intent on walking the full 18 kilometres of the Gorge you should set out early.  Chania also has its own international airport on the outskirts of town with direct Charter flights from the UK, and a daily direct ferry service to the Athens port of Pireaus from Souda Bay.  It is a town which offers something for everyone regardless of age.
  
Aghia Marina, Platanias, Gerani and Maleme     
  
     The countryside around Chania is lush and verdant and the tourist resorts are mainly located to the west of the town on the Gulf of Chania.  The coastal road runs west through the resorts of Aghia Marina, Platanias, Gerani and Maleme.  All the resorts sit on long stretches of fine sandy beach.  Platanias has a wide golden stretch with water sports and a diving school.  There is a choice of shops, mini-markets, tavernas and bars in all resorts, but Gerani is relatively undeveloped.  In Maleme some of the hotels offer water sports on the lovely beach and there is a beautifully kept German War Cemetery.
  
Across the central plains and mountains 
  
     Travelling south from Iraklion the main road ascends past vineyards and foothills covered with olive trees, to wind its way across the central Idi mountain range with awesome views of Psiloritis.  On the descending road, the plain of the Messara stretches before you with the blue haze of the southern coast in the distance.  The fertile Messara is the market garden of Crete; covered in green houses growing every imaginable type of vegetable and salad produce and despite tourism, agriculture still plays a major economic role in local people’s lives.
  
Gortys and Phaestos       
   
     Crossing the Messara plain you arrive at Gortys, the Roman capital of Crete.  At Gortys stand the remnants of the Basilica of St Titus dating from around the 7th Century AD and beyond the Basilica are the remains of a Roman market and theatre (Odeum).  Turning off the road at Gortys, leads to the second most renowned Minoan palace on Crete at Phaistos (also written as Festos).  This road winds up past olive and citrus trees, to the impressive site of Phaestos which sits majestically on the top of a hill, with lovely views of the surrounding countryside.  Like Knossos, it was also an economic and administrative centre, but unlike Knossos, Phaestos was left ‘in tact’ by its Italian excavators and no reconstruction was undertaken.  This is an amazing site in a lovely setting and a ‘must’ for historical or archaeological buffs.  Close to Phaestos are the ruins of the villa of Agia Triada, believed by some to be the summer residence of the Minoan King.
   
Matala       
   
    Following on from Phaestos brings you to the small coastal town of Matala, renowned for the honeycombed rock formations in the beach cliffs that jut out into the sea.  Matala was the original sleepy fishing village until the 1960’s when it became a magnet for ‘hippies’ who set up a commune and lived in the sandstone caves, originally reputed to have been the chosen abode of Cyclops!  Now the cave residents have all departed and Matala has kept its charm, attracting a cosmopolitan mix of visitors.  There are some excellent tavernas, bars and restaurants as well as mini-markets, gift shops and a bakery.  There is a wide crescent shaped beach which shelves quite deeply into the sea and it can become quite busy in the high season.  For those wishing to explore further afield, car hire is available in Matala and a regular local bus service operates to Iraklion.
 
Agia Galini      
     
     If you continue onwards from Gortys instead of turning off to Phaestos, the road winds on under the watchful eye of Psiloritis, past greenhouses and superb scenery to the attractive fishing village of Agia Galini (if you are reading this, Hi Janet).  The village is built into the steep hillsides and the road terminates at the harbour square (although you may be better off parking at the top of the village and walking down the steep winding road).  This is a lovely village resort, packed with tavernas, café bars, restaurants and tiny shops selling local handicrafts. There are mini markets, car hire and a post office as well.  In the harbour, colourful fishing boats still bob up and down at their moorings and a track leads around the headland to a lovely long sandy beach with sunbeds, backed by some tavernas.  There are a couple of discos but the nightlife mostly revolves around noisy tavernas and water side bars. The harbour square is also the main bus and coach stop and there are local bus services to both Iraklion and Rethymnon.  If you are staying in the west of the island and are looking for a great day out, there is another route to Agia Galini from Rethymnon, over the central mountain range, without having to travel to Iraklion.  This route will take you through more superb scenery and a stop in the traditional village of Spiles, high in the mountains, is well worthwhile.
  
South Western Crete  
    
Paleochora       
     
     The south western coastline of Crete has to be the most wild, unspoilt and strikingly beautiful on the island.  There are several small settlements here, some of which are enclosed by such rugged mountains that they are only accessible by boat.   The mountainous countryside in this area is sliced in sections by some stunning gorges and the whole area is a hikers paradise. The largest settlement is Paleochora, approximately 2 hours by car from Chania, set on a headland with the crystal clear water of the sea on both sides.  The headland is dominated by the ruins of a Venetian Kastro built in 1279, from which there are stunning views of the sweeping sandy beach on one side and the picturesque fishing harbour on the other.  There is a second, smaller beach of pebbles to the side of the harbour.  The resort has a selection of tavernas, restaurants, shops and bars, as well as a supermarket, doctor, bank and post office.  Nightlife revolves around the tavernas in the evening, with the main road closed to traffic in the high season, and the atmosphere is very laid back.
  
    From Paleochora harbour there is a daily boat which visits the tiny offshore islet of Elafonissi, and another not so regular boat which visits the islet of Gavdos, marooned in the Libyan Sea and inhabited only by a few fishermen.  Also running from Paleochora is a small coastal ferry which follows the coastline eastwards to the other settlements in the south west.
  
Secret traditional wild Crete, Sfakia and the Cretan resistance    
     
    Travelling east, the first ferry stop is at Sougia, a small fishing hamlet.  Sougia has a beach and sits at the mouth of the Agia Irini gorge, a great trip for hikers.  Organized tours from Paleochora are available for those preferring a guide.  Next stop is the fishing village Agia Roumeli, famous for being at the mouth of the deepest gorge in Europe, the Samaria Gorge, mentioned above.  Agia Roumeli has a cluster of tavernas round the small harbour and can only be accessed by boat, as can the next tiny hamlet along the coast; Loutro.  Set in a bay of clear, turquoise sea and sheltered by the surrounding mountains, Loutro is a picture-postcard village with whitewashed houses.  There is a selection of sea front tavernas, café bars and small shops, but no other nightlife.  This is a real Greek island hideaway for those looking for peace, but the Greeks themselves have discovered Loutro and it can be busy in August and at weekends.  You can also walk from Loutro along a coastal path to the next port of call for the ferry at Chora Sfakion (known affectionately as Sfakia, by the locals).  Sfakia is the second largest settlement after Paleochora and is a very traditional Cretan village, with a selection of tavernas, shops and café bars.  Sfakia played a very important role during the Battle of Crete in WWII and many of the villagers were members of the Cretan Resistance, despite the dangers and risks of reprisals for other family members.  It was from Sfakia that the Allied forces were evacuated during the Battle of Crete in WWII.  These days, however, people flock to Sfakia to use the ferry service which takes visitors to and from the Samaria Gorge.  There is a local bus service from Sfakia to Chania, but car hire is recommended for anyone wishing to explore this area and there are more spectacular gorges for ardent hikers.  The Kavi Ravine is located only 1 kilometre east of Sfakia, and from Imbros village the 8 kilometre long Imbros Gorge descends through magnificent scenery.  Additionally there are the Aradena Gorge and the Kalikrates Ravine, but these are more inaccessible than the others and are best tackled only by very experienced hikers with all the right kit!
  
Plakias  
    
     Another fishing village in the south west which is becoming popular with tourists is Plakias, which is largely due to its fantastic sand and shingle beach which sweeps around the bay.  There is only one narrow, winding road across the mountains leading to Plakias and its inaccessibility has enabled the village to retain its character and charm.  Plakias Bay is sheltered by wild, rugged mountains, which become clothed with aromatic herbs and wild flowers in the Spring, making this an ideal location for hill walkers and hikers.  Sun worshippers don’t lose out either, with the large beach having sun beds, umbrellas and water sports.  The south coast has some good breezes coming from Africa across the Libyan sea, but care should be taken in high season as the wind can mask the real heat of the scorching sun.  There is a choice of tavernas, restaurants, mini markets, a doctor and an ATM machine.  Nightlife is low key but there are a couple of discos open in high season.  Car hire is available, for those ready to give the mountain roads a run for their money and there is a local bus service to Rethymnon.
  
South Eastern Crete
  
Ierapetra and the desert island of Chrissi (Gaidoronisi)       
      
     Shifting to the south eastern side of Crete, there is only one large town here at Ierapetra, reached by turning south across the narrowest section of Crete, about half way along the main road between Agios Nikolaos and Sitia.  Ierapetra is still very much a working Greek town with an economy based on agriculture.  Many local people farm for a living, producing melons, tomatoes, cucumbers and a whole host of other market produce.  Olives and olive oil is another major product of excellent quality and wine producing vines are grown on the surrounding hillsides.  The main attraction for tourists coming to Ierapetra is the great beach with a promenade playing host to a number of tavernas and bars, which provide a fairly noisy nightlife.  As a town it has all the usual amenities with shops, supermarkets, banks, post office, car hire and doctors, but being on the south coast, Ierapetra can be stiflingly hot in July and August, particularly if there is a warm wind blowing in from Egypt. 
 
   A major attraction for tourists coming to Ierapetra are the trips to the ‘desert island’ of Chrissi, also known as Gaidouronisi.  Local caiques leave from Ierapetra harbour on a daily basis to visit this beautiful, uninhabited island which lies 10 kilometres to the south of the town in the clear blue waters of the Libyan sea.  Chrissi has been designated as a nature reserve with its green cedar tree forest surrounded by golden sand dunes.  There are a couple of tavernas in the New Port on Chrissi, which open only in high season, and the island is criss-crossed by a track leading to beaches, the Old Port and a nearby chapel, dedicated to Saint Nicholas.
  
Makriyalos      
 
     Further east along the south coast of Crete is the small resort of Makriyalos, once a sleepy village and now a little livelier (but not too lively), thanks to tourism.  Another beach lovers dream location with a fantastic swathe of sand and shingle beach curving round the bay, with sun beds and water sports on tap. There is an assortment of restaurants, tavernas, bars and supermarkets with a couple of discos to liven up the evenings.  Makriyialos has a casual, laid back atmosphere, recommended for a relaxing holiday.  The main south east coastal road runs through the resort and local buses can be taken to Ierapetra, Agios Nikolaos, and Sitia or car hire is available for those wishing to explore further afield.
  
 
My favourite places 
     
     Crete has a myriad of other small villages, churches, sites, museums and scenic drives all waiting to be explored and everywhere you will find tradition, history and the warmest of welcomes from the local people whose hospitality is renowned.  Lastly, I would like to mention just 2 of my favourite places.  One is the atmospheric Monastery of Preveli, on the south coast, which actually consists of 2 Monasteries.  The lower one is the Monastery of St John the Baptist and the other to the rear is the Monastery of St John the Theologian.  To reach Preveli, it is a wild drive through spectacular mountain scenery.  Amidst the sound of the cicadas humming there is an air of peace and tranquillity here which seems to ooze from the very rocks themselves.  Preveli Museum has some of the finest icons on show dating from the 17th century.  This is one of the most sacred of Monasteries on Crete and it was here that many resistance fighters and Allies were hidden from the Germans during WWII in spite of the consequences for the monks.  When visiting any of the Monasteries or churches, respect should be shown at all times and if women are allowed entrance, it is customary to dress appropriately (no shorts or bare arms).  Next to Preveli is the Grand River, a freshwater river which gushes into the sea by a fabulous sandy stretch of beach complete with palm trees.
 
     My other favourite place is the mountain village of Anogia, (pronounced Anoyia), nestling high in the Idi Mountains.  The people of Anoyia suffered great hardship under the Turks and latterly during the German occupation of Crete in WWII.  They were some of the greatest and fiercest fighters of the Cretan Resistance and are revered throughout Greece for their defiance in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.  Following the capture of a German General in WWII, Anoyia suffered the severest of reprisals when all the males in the village were executed following their refusal to divulge information.  Despite these hardships, the village has survived against all odds due to the tenacity and courage of the locals which epitomizes the Cretan spirit.  Today there is a welcome for everyone in Anoyia, which has retained its traditions, local dress and heavy Cretan dialect.  There is a thriving cottage industry in local handicrafts and is a good place for buying lace table cloths and woven goods including colourful woollen mats.  Farming is still a main source of income and small herds of sheep and goats will often block the road as they are moved across the mountains.  Anoyia has a choice of restaurants, tavernas and café bars as well as an interesting Folk Art Museum.  If you want to sample a slice of real Crete then spend some time in Anoyia and if you can’t spend the night then I recommend that you put it on your list of day trips!
  
     
Island Connections
  
By air
         
Package holidays to Crete are available from both the major and Greek specialist tour companies.  There are two international airports on the island, one just outside the capital, Iraklion and the other located in the west on the outskirts of Chania.  Charter airlines fly direct from the U.K. to both Iraklion and Chania airport during the summer months, usually from April to October.  Flying time from the U.K. is just over 4 hours.  Olympic Airways offer scheduled flights from the U.K. to both Iraklion and Chania via Athens.  Timings vary depending on how long you need to wait for the connecting flight to Crete.  Olympic Airways has domestic flights from Athens to Chania and Athens to Iraklion all year round and although the flight schedule will be less frequent in the winter months, there are still several flights daily to both Cretan airports.  The flight time to each from Athens is approximately 45 mins.   Iraklion airport also has domestic flights to and from Rhodes, Mykonos, Thira (Santorini) and Thessalonika but these timetables are subject to changes and all times should be checked locally. 
  
By ferry        
 
     There is a great choice of ferries with all the major lines running direct services to the Athens port of Pireaus from Iraklion, Rethymnon and Chania, and a more circuitous route to Pireaus from Agios Nikolaos and Sitia.  Regular ferries and fast craft leave from Iraklion to the island of Thira (Santorini), some doing day trips only and others continuing on to Paros, Mykonos and other islands.  Agios Nikolaos and Sitia have ferries to Rhodes stopping at Karpathos and Chalki.  For the dedicated island hopper Iraklion is the ideal port to start from as there is such a wealth of ferries and different connections on offer. I would advise calling in at one of the many travel agents located close to Iraklion’s Old Port that specialize in ferries - pick up their latest schedule and decide on an itinerary over an iced frappe (cold coffee to you and me).  When making plans you should bear in mind that Greek ferries generally operate a very loose schedule and times/dates should not be relied upon until you are about to board ! Strong winds can cause chaos with ferry and flight schedules.  Any ferry trips should not be taken too close to the end of your holiday as adverse conditions could affect your return ferry, resulting in a missed flight home.
  
If you have questions concerning anything covered or not covered above, please mail webmaster@aguide2greece.com and we will try to assist.
  
  
  
           
            
The foregoing information was last reviewed in July 2006. Things change, and whilst we are often travelling in Greece we do rely to some extent upon others to provide updates in order to keep the site as current and accurate as possible!  If you have any updates or information that you think should be included here, please do mail the webmaster@aguide2greece.com  - thank you.
 
              
     
 
 
 

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