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Discover the island of Crete Greece

Crete is not only the largest of the Greek Islands, with a 1,000 kilometre coastline, it’s also an island that demands to be explored. Crete is exceptionally rich in beaches, mountains, flora, scenery and history.
Package holiday sprawl may have overrun much of north and eastern Crete but the south and west are relatively unspoilt and the majestic mountains remain completely wild.

Crete is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Greece and accounts for a giant slice of the Greek holiday market.
Beaches to the east Crete have long been subject to almost unbridled package holiday tourism with resorts between Heraklion and Malia almost wholly given over to all-inclusive holiday complexes.

The rest of Crete is defined by the mighty mountain ranges that form the backbone of Crete creating two climates; in the north the Mediterranean and in the south the North African.
The north coast is serviced by a major highway that that runs the 256km length of Crete, punctuated by the three cities of Heraklion, Rethymnon and Chania each full of history and character.

GEOGRAPHY
CLIMATE
NATURE
CULTURE
PEOPLE
CRETAN DIALECT
BEACHES
HOLIDAYS
WHERE TO STAY
WHAT TO SEE
WHEN TO GO
GETTING THERE
GETTING AROUND CRETE
DAY TRIPS
USEFUL INFORMATION
CRETE TRAVEL GUIDE

Geography

Due to its geographical position in the heart of the Mediterranean, the island has experienced various dominations that have increased its historical charm.

Endless dreamy beaches, Venetian old towns, castles and palm groves, wild gorges and unique archaeological sites, cosmopolitan resorts and traditional recipes that have never been left in the closet, but climb to the top of their healthiest Mediterranean diet, writers.

The west coast of Crete offers more modern facilities while the south coast still retains the authentic charm of the past. Furthermore, the welcome of the Cretan people is as warm as the Mediterranean climate that characterizes the island.

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Quieter, colourful and ideal for on the road excursions on routes with incredible landscape changes in the spring, full of life from thousands of tourists in the north and untouched corners for holidays in the south. Dreamy labyrinths with exquisite architectural samples of Venetian and Turkish rule in the old cities and ports of Chania and Rethymno

Climate

climate of creteAlthough the island straddles the two climatic zones of both the Mediterranean and North African its climate is more typically Mediterranean being classified as temperate.

The summer temperatures are classically dry and hot with average temperatures between high 20s to low 30s Celsius but can reach the high 30s to mid 40s and, depending on closeness to the sea, the humidity can be high in summertime.

Winters are usually fairly mild although, in the mountainous regions, snow is common and temperatures can drop to abnormally low levels.

Snow can stay on the tops of the highest mountains for the whole year but it is very rare to have snow in the low lying regions. The southern coast of the island which includes the Mesara Plain and the Asterousia Mountain range falls within the North African climatic zone and consequently has considerably more sun and higher temperatures all year round. .

Nature

The Cretan nature is a treasure with thousands of different landscapes that you must discoverand that takes time. When it comes to the whole island, the treasures that are revealed are countless and the concept of time begins to lose its essence. Below you will find a list of the most beautiful natural parts of the island.

The highest mountain of Crete has taken root deep in the soul of the Cretans.
Countless local folk songs have been sung about its wild peaks, the rugged Cretans living in its villages, the way of life in the mountain pastures, the genuine Cretan soul that Psiloritis represents. Here, however, the past and the future coincide: in the Idea Cave of Psiloritis, Zeus himself found refuge and was raised, according to mythology.

Beaches in Crete

beach in creteThe busiest beach resorts are found near the airports and cities. Resorts like Malia and Hersonnisos, for example, are big party resorts packed with clubs and bars while Chania, in the west, has the busy beaches of Agia Marina and Platanias.

North coast beach resorts vary from the heavily developed holiday resorts like Platanias to the family beach sands of Almyrida and Panormos. Roads thread inland over the mountains passing through traditional hill villages and along dramatic canyons that eventually spill out into the Lybian Sea.

Beaches on the north coast tend to be fairly crowded as they are all linked by the National Road than runs the length of the island. Smallers resorts in areas like Apokoronas, Akrotiri and Kastelli Kissamos offer more relaxed surroundings.

Numerous beaches aligning deckchairs at the bottom of creeks or deserted beaches, white sand or pebble beaches, bathed in turquoise waters, set at the end of pine forests or olive groves, at the foot of mountains or at the mouth of gorges.

Crete offers a beautiful array of seaside landscapes. While the north coast is lined with seaside resorts, the west is home to some of the best beaches. As for the south coast, it features deserted beaches until the heart of summer.

crete island greeceThe south coast beaches are far more scattered and much less developed. They also enjoy a sunnier position, sheltered by the massive mountains. To the far west are beaches remote, wild and extraordinarily beautiful, a magnet for day trippers by coach, car and boat.

The Cretans themselves are a notoriously proud but extremely friendly, especially with visitors. They have kept their culture, customs and traditions intact despite the annual influx of foreign visitors and right across Crete are charming mountain villages unaffected by tourism.

The island’s remarkable history is evident at every turn, from the extraordinary ruins of the Minoan palace at Knossos to the Venetian Fortezza of Rethymon; the Byzantine mountain monasteries to the simply astounding archaeological museum at Heraklion.

Holidays in Crete

Much of the eastern area of Crete is now lost to package tourism but the west of the island has the magnificent mountains, the more rugged coastline and the less crowded beaches.

But whichever part of Crete you choose for a holiday there is sure to be a good range of quality Crete hotels to choose from as this is one of the most popular of the Greek holiday islands.

The long summers and the warm, mild winters ensure that Crete holidays attract visitors throughout the year. Those heading inland will find monumental mountains, an abundant archaeological heritage, spirited social history and some spine-tingling scenery.

Those looking for a Greek beach holiday will also find plenty to choose from with luxury hotels a firm favourite. Beaches vary from quiet, deserted coves with a single beach cantina to long swathes of golden sand packed with sunbeds and every kind of tourist facility.

In short, Crete holidays have just about everything for everyone, while the locals have a well justified reputation for friendliness to foreigners.

Culture

In Crete you will find everything you ask for. Traditional color in the unchanged villages of the hinterland for years (Anogia, Askifou, Sfakia, Georgioupolis ), where the sui generis Cretans respectfully maintain their traditions and their characteristic Cretan costume touches.

Cosmopolitanism, luxury and high level services that have nothing to envy from the most beautiful resorts of the Mediterranean (Elounda, Agios Nikolaos, Limenas Hersonissos).

Magnificent beaches that will not be unforgettable, but also awesome beach bars for crazier situations and dynamic nightlife for all tastes.

To get a good first taste of Crete, spend a week with ten days – of course by car – focusing on the most interesting points of each prefecture, which are many and varied.The north coast is serviced by a major highway that that runs the 256 km length of Crete, punctuated by the three cities of Heraklion, Rethymno and Chania each full of history and character.

People of Crete

cretansThe Cretans are warm, friendly open people who love life and the company of others. Hospitable to strangers, the Cretans make sure that holidaying on their island will always leave the visitor with a warm glow. As a result of their turbulent and often violent history it is not surprising that they also strongly uphold the values of independence and freedom, and this is reflected in many of their daily customs.

Cretans have very strong family and kinship ties and the Cretan culture is known throughout Greece and beyond for its notorious clan vendettas, which are still ongoing on the island. Traditionally, many Cretan families have guns which they keep at home; this is particularly the case in rural areas. Although the Greek authorities strictly regulate the possession of weapons within its borders, in Crete this is less enforced as it is seen as a cultural tradition.
As a proud and loyal people they are determined to keep their traditions, custom and Cretan dialect alive

The Cretan dialect

The Greek language spoken here has a distinct Cretan dialect and Cretan specific vocabulary. At social gatherings and festivals everyone knows the traditional Cretan songs and dances and many can quote the idiosyncratic Mantinades poetry and play Mantinades based music which is unique to this island. It is quite common to see locals wearing national dress during festivals and also not at all unusual to see people wearing this traditional dress as their everyday garb, especially older people in the more remote regions of the island.

Where to stay

Crete offers a huge amount and variety of holiday accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets. There’s a plentiful supply of cheap and cheerful pensions, camp sites and youth hostels geared to the needs of budget travellers and backpackers. Masses of mid-range hotels and apartments cater for the hordes of package holidaymakers who descend on the island each summer and you’ll also find a generous helping of top of the range deluxe hotels likely to strain even the healthiest of bank balances.

It’s risky to turn up on spec at any of the main tourist destinations without a reservation in July and August though you may strike lucky if you persevere and are prepared to take whatever’s offered. If you visit outside the most popular months (June to September) you’ll be able to get a discount of 50% or more on high season prices if you hunt around. But expect to pay top rates if you’re visiting at Christmas or Easter.

Freelance camping on the beaches was common in the sixties but is now frowned on by the police and many of the islanders. There are plenty of well-equipped official camp sites dotted around the island’s coastline but many backpackers still take the risk of camping out in secluded spots.

Breakfast is included in the room price at many of the island’s hotels and the more upmarket establishments lay on in-house entertainment such as weekly Cretan nights with traditional music and dancing.

Package holiday accommodation is largely concentrated in the frantic seaside resorts of Hersonissos and Malia on the northern coast east of Iraklio. The beachfronts are lined with hotels of all standards but most are block booked by the tour operators months in advance. You’d be ill advised to pitch up in either resort in high season without a booking though you might find a last minute bed in Malia’s old town which has numerous rooms and cheap pensions geared towards independent travellers rather than package holiday tourists.

The beautiful city of Hania has thousands of rooms available – in restored Venetian mansions, back street domatia and modern hotels – so you can normally be sure of finding a place to bed down for the night even if you arrive here in high season without a reservation.

If money’s no object, check in at the super luxurious Elounda Beach Hotel – a truly world-class resort overlooking the beautiful Gulf of Mirabello. The hotel’s wealthiest guests fly in by private helicopter for some serious self-indulgence at this no-expense-spared holiday complex where the deluxe suites have their own swimming pools and mini televisions are placed alongside the bathrooms mirrors.

The Creta Paradise Beach Resort Hotel, 14 kilometres west of Hania, is also in the luxury league with its own in-house orchestra, professional instructors coaching guests in various watersports and a mini zoo to keep the kids’ entertained. One of the most delightful features of this hotel is that sea turtles use its beach to lay their eggs from May to June.

If you feel like escaping the madding mid-summer crowds head for one of the unspoilt mountain towns or inland villages where you’ll find reasonably priced villas and rooms to rent in a more traditional environment than most of the beach resorts are able to offer. Make an overnight stop in the lovely mountain town of Spili, south east of Rethymno, or spend a night or two in one of the villages which pepper the spectacular Lasithi Plateau. There are inexpensive rooms at Agios Georgios, Tzermiado and Psychro

 

What to see

Crete is home to wonderful historic towns and traditional villages. The island also boasts important archaeological sites including the majestic Palace of Knossos, home to what was once the great Minoan civilization. There are almost too many interesting sites on Crete to mention. Everywhere is surrounded by beautiful landscapes with the central mountain ranges forming an impressive backdrop. Here are just a few of the top sights to see on Crete.

Samaria National Park
This breath taking 16km long gorge is one of the longest in Europe and a hike of the complete gorge takes five to seven hours.

In the south the cliffs can claustrophobically close and almost converge at the ‘Iron Gates’ where they are just 4 metres apart at the base and tower 1,000 ft up.

The park is open from May to mid-October.

samaria

Palace of Knossos
The ruins of ancient Minoan civilisation are by far the most extensive and famous sites on Crete while the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion contains wonderful treasures from the site.

Another interesting Minoan site located at Zakros in the east Crete.

The ruins of Phaistos and the Palace of Malia are also most impressive but remember Crete covered in ancient treasures and interesting ruins can be found almost anywhere. Most sites are well marked with road signs in English and Greek.

knossos-palace

Crete Monasteries
These are found all over the island, most are well signposted and almost all allow visitors and will have a small museum.

Some of the best are Selinari, on the National Road between Malia and Agiios Nikolaos; Prevelli Monastery near Spili which played a huge part in World War II and has one of Crete’s most spectacular beaches nearby and Arkadi which houses the ‘Sanctuary of the Dead’ where rows of ancient skulls line the shelves.

Lasithi Plateau
This large and fertile plateau lies hidden in the mountains in the centre of the White Mountains. It has dozens of old stone windmills, many turned into beautifully restored private homes.

The Cedar forest

The Cedar forest (Kedrodasos in Greek), located in Southwest Crete, 1 km from Elafonisi. Huge Cedars with thick shade, turquoise crystal clear waters, and few points with pink sand! Because it has nothing else there except free campers, it would be good to have purchased water and edibles from before.
It is a little congeniality to find it. Path to dirt road between greenhouses, so without good instruction you think you end up in the same place, but not constantly. You should ask for information in Elafonissi long before you get to the beach at the first mini-market.

kedrodasos

 

Arkadi

The monastery in Arkadi near Rethymno is worth a visit for its Venetian sculptures and the unique bell tower. It also symbolizes the history of the struggle of Crete for independence. In 1866, more than 1,000 people took refuge here during the island’s uprising against Turkish rule. When the Turks invaded the monastery, gunpowder depots exploded and hundreds of refugees were killed. Those who survived the blast were slaughtered by the Turks and a monument marks the spot where they lost their lives.

arkadi-monastery

 

The Venetian walls of Heraklion

The mighty 13th century Venetian walls enclose the old port of Heraklion, offering the best view of the small fortified fortress of Koule. Paying more attention to this building you will see the Lion of St. Mark carved in the stone structure, above the main gate. This pattern of Venetian power is found in many monuments in northern Italy and the Eastern Mediterranean.

venetian castle of Heraklion

Loutro

The charming seaside village of Loutro can only be reached by boat or on foot. It has remained a pleasant and traditional white village and spending the day there is like a journey through time. It is the biggest secret of Crete, offering swimming, a relaxing meal in a tavern or relaxing moments watching the boats coming from Chora Sfakion. The small fishing village of Loutro nestles picturesquely with its snow-white houses in the small bay on the south coast of Crete! Several taverns and a fine pebble beach invite you to stay. But first you have to get to the picturesque place. Because what is special about Loutro: You can only reach the village on foot via Anopolis (duration: 3 hours)  or by ferry from Chora Sfakion! The car-free fishing village is absolutely worth seeing and there are also some family-run guesthouses and hotels in Loutro. Perfect for individual tourists and hikers!

Archaeological site of Aptera

aptera The archaeological site of Aptera, located on a flat hill east of the village of Megala Horafia, was one of the most important ancient cities in northwestern Crete which also developed strong maritime activity.
Rich and interesting archaeological site on a vast territory where the remains of different periods of Crete, among others: Minoan, geometric and Roman tombs, fortified walls, classical and Hellenistic buildings and temples, a theater , cisterns, a villa and Roman baths, early Christian remains, the monastery of Agios Ioannis Theologos, the remains of Venetian ruins, the Turkish fortress of Koules Palekastro and a point exceptional view to the north over the bay of Souda with the fortress of Itzedin and to the south over the foothills of the White Mountains.
The objects discovered during the various excavations are exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Chania.
The central part of the site is fenced and subject to the purchase of a ticket. The visit remains free of access for certain places such as the fortified walls at the entrance of the ancient city, the Roman villa with peristyle, the installations of the Second World War.

Lefka ori – the White mountains

The bare mountain peaks you see as you reach Chania are the highest peaks of the White Mountains, the wildest mountain range in Crete.
They are called by the locals Madares. The White mountains are spread over a huge part of Chania, from Apokoronas to Selino, Sfakia and the borders of Rethymnon. The highest peak is Pachnes (7,800 ft.), Where you can reach following the dirt road from Anopoli Sfakion to about 2,000 m., And continuing from there on foot for two hours about.

Lake Kourna

kourna-lake crete It is the only natural lake in Crete and that would be enough to make it special.  But put the wonderful landscape, between the olive trees and the mountain slopes, also think that you can go boating or cycling in the waters of Lake Kournas or just enjoy moments of relaxation, and you will understand why it is an attraction for locals and foreigners.

It is located at an altitude of 20 m above sea level, its maximum depth reaches about 22 meters and is protected by the Natura 2000 network. It is 43 km from Chania and the road brings you right to its shores.

In Crete, Lake Kournas is famous to the locals for the charm that exudes its eerie beauty. Its waters change colors magically, its aura is strong and a melody seems to come out of the water that captivates those nearby.

Who can resist such beauty? Almost anyone. The flora and fauna of the lake is special, while in its waters one can find eels, rare fish or endemic to Crete, oysters, ducks, water snakes and a rare species of two-colored turtle.

Spinalonga

The barren island of Spinalonga was a colony of lepers until 1957. Today it is uninhabited, but one can visit it by boat from Elounda. The deserted streets of Spinalonga, the old stone houses, the fortifications and the cemetery have an awesome and tragic beauty as they slide slowly into the desert.

The Minoan ruins in Malia

The Minoan ruins in Malia may not be as well known as Knossos, but they are certainly quieter, despite the strong reputation of the city of the same name. Here you will find many monuments to explore, such as the ruins of a huge palace complex, with imposing villas, some of which had luxurious bathrooms. All of these are built in olive groves, although the sea view has been lost due to the guards that have been placed around the complex.

Chania Old Town

Chania is the most beautiful city of Crete and its old part is full of synagogues, mosques and churches, as well as magnificent buildings of Turkish and Venetian origin, gathered around the coastal road of the port. You will find modern boutiques, bars and taverns on the waterfront, next to the dome of the Hassan Pasha Mosque and the Venetian Grand Arsenal.

chania-old-town

Matala

One of the most famous beaches of Crete, Matala, became famous in the 1970s, when hippies landed on the island from all over Europe. It is still a popular destination, but it is no longer so bohemian. The sandy beach offers a backdrop that looks like a honeycomb, with many caves and a relaxed village with plenty of seafood taverns. See the sunset just above the island in the middle of the bay.

matala

Margarites
The small mountain village of Margarites is well known for its handmade pottery workshops, nowhere else will you find so many shops, many of which have been making jugs, cups, vases and bowls for several generations! When shopping, you should always pay attention to the stamp on the bottom of the pottery, because unfortunately imported products are now also being sold. There is a small kafenio directly on the square of the village, perfect for a break from the tour of the historic village center. A breathtaking view over the natural landscape and all the way to the coast is offered to visitors during their shopping spree in the pottery village of Margarites.

Gavdos

gavdosAccording to Homer, Gavdos is the island where Calypso held Odysseus captive for seven years. So the island’s fanatics return again and again every summer here, “captives” of its simplicity and beauty. Relaxation, tranquility, endless beaches, rhythms that make you forget the time.

It is located in the southernmost part of Greece, it is scattered with paths and the cedars reach the sea. It was already inhabited in the 3rd millennium BC, it is believed that the Apostle Paul was shipwrecked on its shores, flourished during the Byzantine times, was looted by Saracens and pirates.

For years it has been identified with free camping (rooms for rent are minimal), while nudism is allowed. The permanent residents are few and the island is electrified using solar energy.

The port of the island is located in Karave. You will find five more settlements: Kastri, where there is an agricultural clinic and school, Sarakiniko, with the main tourist infrastructure of the island, rooms and taverns, Ai-Giannis, Ampelos and Vatsiana. In recent years there are rooms for rent on the beach of Korfos.

Together with neighboring Gavdopoula, it is a station for migratory birds, as well as a refuge for the endangered species of the Mediterranean seal and the Caretta caretta turtle. Gavdos can be reached from Paleochora, Sougia, Plakias and Chora Sfakion.

When to go in Crete

Crete summers start earlier and last longer than on other Greek islands. In spring Crete is full of wild flowers, many of them native to the island. By July expect temperatures to soar, easily topping 30°C every day, and rainfall to be non-existent. Autumn storms can last a week or so but November can be a warm and balmy.

The central mountain range splits the climate of Crete in two with the south much hotter than the north and the west wetter than the east. Mountain areas are always cooler and often snow-covered until May.

Getting there

By Air
Crete has three large airports: Heraklion takes the bulk of package holiday traffic heading for the north-east coat; Chania airport is smaller and takes west Crete traffic, while Sitia caters for domestic flights, mainly from Athens. Holiday charter flights arrive at Heraklion and Chania from many European airports. There are daily flights from Athens and Thessaloniki to Heraklion and Chania and also a daily flights to Rhodes.

By Ferry
Most visitors arrive by charter flight at one of the two major airports of Heraklion, in the east, and Chania to the west.

Holiday charters from the UK and Europe arrive from April to November but there are scheduled services and domestic flights throughout the year.

Regular ferry services run from from Piraeus (Athens) to ports at Heraklion, Chania and Rethymnon but it is a long trip; ferries usually leave in the evening and arrive the following morning. The main ferry firms serving Crete are ANEK Lines, Minoan Lines and Rethymnon Lines.

Roads are good but Crete is a very large island. A major expressway runs the length of the island east/west while roads going north/south are mostly single carriageway and snake over impressive mountains and through dramatic gorges.

Getting around

Roads
The main highway runs the length of Crete following the north coast. It’s not dual carriageway but it is wide, well maintained and well signposted, providing easy access to the north coast beach resorts. Roads over the mountains are generally excellent but the winding roads often mean journey times are longer than expected from reading a map.

KTEL runs regular buses between Rethymno and Chania and there are services to many inland villages. Taxis are common and relatively cheap. Fares are regulated and metered.

The main hiking route on Crete is part of the E4 European Long Distance Path. The E4 trail covers the White Mountains (Lefki Ori), Mount Psiloritis and Mount Dikti. The E4 Path is 320 km long. It starts at Kastelli Kissamos in the north-west and crosses to Kato Zakros in the east.

Prefectures of Crete

Chania Prefecture

chania-prefecture-mapChania is the westernmost prefecture of Crete. In the prefecture lie the imposing Lefka Ori, the White Mountains, which occupy most of Chania. This mighty mountain range rises initially deep green just a few kilometers behind the north coast of the prefecture of Chania.

In the peaks, the mountains reach a height of 2,453 m. To the south, the mountains drop bare and steep into the Libyan Sea. The famous gorge of Samaria also runs through the Lefka Ori.

In the northeast of the prefecture of Chania lies the Bay of Suda, It forms the largest natural harbor in Greece. A little further west is the Bay of Chania. Further west is the impressive Bay of Kissamos. All these bays have large beautiful sandy beaches. In the bay of Chania there is also the town of the same name.

Prefecture of Heraklion

heraklion-prefecture-mapThe heart of Crete beats in the prefecture of Heraklion. Here are the famous Minoan palaces of Knossos and Phaestos. In the southwest of Heraklion Prefecture is the Mesara Plain. The Mesara plain is the largest and most fertile plain in Crete.

According to mythology, Zeus brought Europa, the beautiful princess, here after kidnapping her from the court of the Phoenician king. Minos came from the union of Zeus with Europa.

Heraklion Prefecture is the largest prefecture in Crete. The administration of Crete is located here and most of the sights can be found here.

North of Heraklion is the small island of Dia, which has been declared a wild goat sanctuary. Heraklion has a large artificial port and an international airport that is constantly growing.

Lassithi Prefecture

lassith-prefecture-mapLassithi is the easternmost prefecture on Crete. The focal point of Lassithi Prefecture is picturesque town of Agios Nikolaos.

The prefecture is dotted with beautiful sandy beaches on both the north coast and the south coast. The Lasithi plateau, which gives its name to the prefecture, with its windmills, offers a unique spectacle.

In the Lassithi plateau lies the famous Diktaean Cave. According to mythology, Zeus was born in this cave. At the northeastern tip of the prefecture lies the famous Vai Beach with its palm trees.

Rythymno Prefecture

rethymno-prefecture-mapThe prefecture of Rethymno is located between the prefectures of Chania and Heraklion. To the east of Rethymno prefecture lies the mighty massif of Ida or Psiloritis.

In this mountain range lies the Idaean Cave, according to mythology, Zeus was raised here. The north coast of Rythimnos prefecture is one large sandy beach.

At the western end of the prefecture’s north coast lies the beautiful town of Rethymno, after which the prefecture takes its name. The capital of Rethymno prefecture has retained much of its old character and charm.

The town of Chania

 Chania, CreteChania is one of the most picturesque towns of Crete and has a lot of interesting sites to see. To the east is the busy outdoor leather market and the splendid archaeological museum, housed in the old Venetian church of San Francesco, with its Minoan pottery and artefacts.

North of the museum lies the heart of Chania – the two Venetian ports. The eastern harbour has the slender Venetian lighthouse and the squat Mosque of the Janissaries built in 1625 with strange egg-shaped domes and spider leg arches.

Behind the mosque lies the Kastelli quarter with seven recently restored vaulted shipyards of the Venetian Arsenal built around 1600 – there were once 17 of them.

The rectangular west harbour is generously lined with tavernas and cafes beneath the faded and crumbling facades of Venetian houses and tipped with a solid, unattractive fortress of the Firkas Tower.

Chania beach strip at Agia Marina a few kilometres to the west although there is a small strip at the western end of the Venetian walls called Nea Chora that’s popular with the locals and has cafes and sunbeds. 

The town of Rethymno

rethymno

The approaches to Crete’s third largest city of Rethymno, about 60 kilometres from Chania, have a scruffy air of urban sprawl – but what a difference in the heart of the city with its aristocratic air of arched doorways, crumbling balconies and faded facades.

Charming Venetian buildings nestle next to the slender minarets of Turkish mosques and almost every street has an abundance of cafes and restaurants intermingled with craft and antique shops.

The most picturesque part of Rethymnon is the old Venetian harbour where romantic, if pricey, taverna tables line the quay and the Venetian lighthouse stands sentinel on the long harbour wall.

The beach lies to the east, a large flat triangle of palm fringed packed sand backed by hotels, shops and cafes, The water is generally calm and shallow with watersports on offer.

The Fortezza is the jewel in Rethymnon’s crown. The largest fort ever built by the Venetians is an impressive sight and at the main entrance is a good archaeology museum where exhibits include helmets, bronze axes, an extensive coin collection along with many finds from Minoan tombs.

Other notable city sites include the Arimondi fountain, built in 1623, and the slender Nerantzes Djani minaret attached to a former Venetian church and visible from almost anywhere in the city.

Nightlife in Rethymnon is fairly lively and there are plenty of waterfront tavernas for a quiet, romantic meal. By day there are ‘pirate ship’ cruises to see dolphins, caves and offshore islets.

Rethymnon Carnival has three weeks of parades in the run-up to Lent. The Renaissance Festival is in July/August with music and drama while the Wine Festival, in July, has music, dancing and barrels of local wine.

Day trips in Crete

Top of most visitors’ “to do” list is of course the world-famous Palace of Knossos, the legendary home of King Minos who kept the half-man half-bull monster of Greek mythology in an underground labyrinth. The original palace was built around 1900 BC but was rebuilt and restored on several occasions over the next 500 years before it was destroyed in a fire and abandoned.

The ancient Minoan site and all its treasures lay hidden beneath a hill five kilometres south of the island’s capital Iraklio until British archaeologist Arthur Evans started excavations in 1899. He spent the next 35 years uncovering and reconstructing the once magnificent palace which had more than 1,000 rooms, a sophisticated drainage system, elaborate frescoes and a central courtyard where acrobats entertained their royal masters by somersaulting over bulls. Highlights include the en-suite bathroom where the queen bathed in milk and availed herself of a “flushing” toilet (flushed in fact by servants who hand-poured water into the royal loo which was connected to the palace drains).

Allow several hours to explore the site and combine your trip with a visit to the superb Archaeological Museum in Iraklio where you can see a truly outstanding array of finds from Knossos and other Minoan sites on the island.

Just outside Iraklio you can visit the tomb of Nikos Kazantzakis, Crete’s famous literary son who penned many great works including Zorba the Greek immortalised in the film starring Anthony Quinn.

The Palace of Phaistos is another important Minoan site in a spectacular location on a ridge overlooking the south coast of the island. At the nearby ancient city of Gortyna, a Roman capital in AD 67, you can see Europe’s oldest written law code inscribed on a set of stone blocks in the 5th century BC.

If you have time visit the beautiful towns of Rethymno and Hania with their gorgeous harbour fronts and stylish Venetian architecture.

If you’re feeling fit, take a day to hike through spectacular Samaria Gorge, Europe’s longest ravine which is home to an abundance of flora and fauna including the protected Kri-Kri (Cretan wild goat). Allow between five and seven hours for the walk, take water and snacks and wear sturdy shoes.

The stunning mountain-fringed Lasithi Plateau, in the east of the island is well worth a day trip. It’s a vast plain of orchards peppered with no less than 7,000 windmills and a scattering of traditional villages including Psychro from where you can walk to the famous Dikteon Cave, reputedly the birthplace of Greek mythology’s greatest ever god, Zeus.

USEFUL INFORMATION

Useful telephones

  • Police 100
  • Ambulance 166
  • Coast Guard 108
  • Forest Fire Center 191
  • Fire Department 199
  • Tourist police 171

Crete facts

  • Size : 8,336 sq km
  • Population 650,000
  • Season: May – Oct
  • Special interest :Museums
  • Prefectures:
  • Heraklion
  • Chania
  • Rethymno
  • Lasithi

Basics

  • Time (GMT) +2 hours
  • Power 220v 50AC
  • Emergencies call 100
  • Top speed 100-120 km/h

Crete travel restrictions during Covid 19