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Crete is a huge island and is the largest in Greece and one of the largest in the Mediterranean. People from Crete are Cretans first and Greeks next. Their history is long and heroic, their food is wonderful and their hospitality is legendry. The traditional music of Crete is quite characteristic and can immediately be identified as being from Crete. In Greece, one of the best known ambassadors of Cretan music is an Irishman called Ross Daley who plays the lyra, but there are many talented musicians and singers. Check out Cretan music on the internet and you will get a feel of the spirit of the people. They are immensely proud of their land and keep their traditions and culture. Nikos Kazantzakis painted a picture through his novels, Zorba the Greek and Freedom or Death, of the Cretan mindset.

Long ago the Minoan civilization flourished here. You can visit the site at Knossos and witness the marvels of the civilization. If you love nature, you can trek and explore its wonderful terrain and enjoy the flora. The island is big enough to have something to please everyone. Agios Nikolaos and Mallia are two resorts that are known quite widely but there are hundreds of other places waiting to be discovered.

The island has two airports on its northern coast, at Heraklion and Chania which are served by national and international airlines. There is also an airport that caters currently to domestic flights at Sitia. It is also connected to the rest of Greece by ferry. The ferry ports are Heraklion, Chania, Rethymno and Agios Nikolaos, Sitia, Kastelli-Kissamos.

You can stay in the resorts at hotels or villas with pools or in small villages in traditional homes, rooms, or apartments. The island caters to tourists and has done for years whilst still having other economies.

Food and wine

The Cretan cuisine is healthy and tasty with some of the best quality vegetables being produced here. Olive oil is used and has been used since the Minoans lived on Crete.

Some staples are olive oil (virgin), various Cretan cheeses or cheeses eaten in Crete such as mizythra, kefalotyri, kefalograviera, pitogalo and anthotyri, honey and wild herbs.

A very popular simple dish is Dakos which combines barley rusks (rusks are called paximadhia in Greek) and sour mizythra (ksinomizythra) along with grated tomatoes and olive oil. It is a very satisfying dish. If you can’t find mizythra, use a crumbly cheese like feta or Caerphilly.

Herbs such as oregano, thyme and marjoram as well as some local herbs are easily available and used in most dishes.

Some cooked dishes that you'll find in Crete: celery with peas (selino me arakas), braised wild goat(agrami stifado), chicken with chestnuts (kotopoulo me kastana), handmade pasta and olive oil with cheese (makaronia sioufichta), chicken with yoghourt (kotopoulo me yiourti and lamb with artichokes (arni me aginares).

Crete first produced wine in Minoan times, and then during the Venetian period of rule and, latterly, over the last 75 years so that Crete now produces almost a quarter of Greek wine.

Crete produces many good wines these days. Some grape varieties are white: Vilana which produces refreshing whites and Plyto and Dafni which produce aromatic dry wines.

Kotsifali is a red grape which can be very alcoholic and is aromatic and can be blended with other grapes.

Some producers of Cretan wine are Boutaris, Douloufakis, Lyrakis, Manousakis, Miliarakis and the Sitia Co-op.

Honey is common in Crete and has been produced for thousands of years. You can find honey everywhere in shops or at source from the producers.

Of the meat, the best loved and quality on Crete is usually lamb and goat’s meat.

Buy fresh fish at Chania in the covered fish market.

Apart from wine, Crete has a very strong drink called Raki which is distilled from grape pressings. It has a really high alcohol level. Most people have their own sources of Raki and you will have to ask the person who offers it to you if it is possible to buy some.

Fruit and vegetables grown in Crete can be bought at the local markets in the bigger towns (the name for the fruit and vegetable markets in Greek is laiki).

Heraklion in the capital of Crete and is a large city combining many roles. There is a university, it is a port city and an administrative centre.

There are samples of various types of architecture in Heraklion all over, including Venetian, Ottoman, refugee housing built for the many Greeks who were forced to leave Asia Minor at the beginning of the 20th century, and Neo Classical.

Many people don’t spend any time in Heraklion as they want to head on to resorts and rural areas, but the city has a lot of interesting things to see if you take the time.

You can stay in hotels, apartments or rooms in Heraklion or outside in the more rural areas and visit the city by car or bus.

The Heraklion Archaeological Museum is a wonderful museum with unique artifacts specifically from the Minoan Civilization but since the end of 2006 the museum has been closed for renovation. There is a temporary exhibition with 450 on show at the moment. It is due to open again in 2010 while some of the museum has been reopened in 2008


Knossos is the world-renowned centre of Minoan civilization known for its beautifully hued wall-paintings and drainage and water collection system and mythology. It is thought to have been both a political and religious centre. The site it huge and you will probably need a day to see everything properly. The myth of the Minotaur and the labyrinth seems to point to here.

The most visible edifices date back to the Late Minoan. Some structures were up to five storeys high. The area covers six acres and there were 1,300 rooms. The site includes a theatre, large storerooms for foodstuffs, grain mills, oil and wine presses.

The more popular large towns on the northern coast are Rethymnon and Chania as they are smaller and have kept more of their original architecture.

Chania is a charming town with narrow streets and interesting architecture. It is popular with all Greek and foreign visitors alike and offers many fine facilities and is the second largest town on Crete. It has its own airport that accepts domestic and international flights. The port serving Chania is 7 km away at Souda.

Although the town of Chania is a town that has known tourism for a long while, the town, apart from Heraklion, has a university which again brings another face to the town. There are plenty of traditional tavernas and restaurants in many parts of the town while the old town has a large selection of galleries, bars some of which play various types of music from Jazz to Greek and everything in between.

Some museums in Chania are the:

Check with the tourist office for other details such as opening hours: Chania Information Office Kriari 40 - Megaro Pantheon - 73100 Chania Tel : 2821092943, 92624 Fax : 2821092624

The Archaeological Museum

which is housed in the Venetian disused church of San Francesco. You will see there Neolithic, Minoan and Roman finds.

The museum is on Halidon St. It is closed on Mondays. Check with the tourist office for other details: Chania Information Office Kriari 40 - Megaro Pantheon - 73100 Chania Tel : 2821092943, 92624 Fax : 2821092624

The Nautical Museum

is on the north-east end of the Venetian harbour and is closed on Sundays.

Historical Museum and Archive

On Sfakianakis St. 20 Closed on Sundays.

Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Collection

on Theotokopoulou St. 82 Closed on Mondays.

The area around Chania in the eponymous prefecture offers the visitor many opportunities for trekking, hiking and exploring nature.

The area is replete with mountain villages, which are built of stone and steeped in tradition.

Some areas have developed agro and eco-tourism as a form of income allowing the visitor to stay in these wonderful old villages in the traditional homes and sample the local fare. The villages of Vamos, Spillia are a couple of them.

Mountain climbing is also possible in the White Mountains where there are a number of mountain refuges. During the winter skiing is also a pursuit in the White Mountains of Crete.

Other pursuits in the prefecture are mountain biking, surfing, kayaking, bird watching, diving and water-skiing and sailing.

The Samaria Gorge

The Samaria Gorge is has been traversed by countless people from all over the globe, with as many tales of their experience or ordeal. The gorge has very steep high sides which vary from 300 to 600 metres while the width ranges from 150 metres to 3 metres.

The gorge is only open during the summer months and when the weather is clement. There are toilets, water taps and litter bins as well as guards and a doctor on duty. Keep your entrance ticket as you may be asked to show it then you exit the gorge.

The Wild Cretan Goat known as the Kri Kri or in Latin Capra aegagrus creticus roams free in the gorge. This sturdy breed is easy to identify by its curled horns. This breed is found in only a couple of other locations on Crete and nowhere else off island.

Chania – Platanias

Platania means plane tree and these trees can be found by the river.

The area, although comprising still the old village, is a highly developed resort which has developed in the greater Platania area.

The area boasts all types of accommodation from rooms to villas with pools and all mod cons.

Its beautiful sandy beach has been Blue Flagged for the last few years and some parts of the beach are patrolled during the summer season by lifeguards.

Platanias is connected to Chania by a frequent bus service. Platanias is well connected by road and is connected to the main intersection of the motorway making it easily accessible to the airport and the port at Souda as well as to Chnaia and wider Crete.


Koutoulafari is near the area known as Hersonissos which is a resort area while Koutoulafari is fairly quiet, it is near enough to busier areas so you can get the best of both worlds.

The area of Hersonissos is about 30 km from Heraklion and has a good bus service.

The village is on a hill and is a pretty village that you will enjoy exploring. There are plenty of places to eat in the village which have wonderful views.

There are many beaches near by with the nearest being very popular and busy and the quieter ones a little further away towards the west.


Fodele is about 30 km from Heraklion and is the birth place of El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos).

The village of Fodele is well connected to Heraklion by public transport and is linked by a motorway.

The area is covered in covered in vegetation and is very verdant and fertile. There are plenty of routes to walk and hike around the area and appreciate at close hand the flora and fauna of the region.

Since the village is a working village you will be able to see some real examples of village life. Another plus is that the village will always be alive as it is not geared purely to tourism. You will be able to rent accommodation for your holidays on Crete during every season and still find that there are nearby facilities.

There is a nearby resort of Agia Pelagia 10 minutes away by car if you would like to hang out with other tourists.

The Byzantine church dedicated to the Virgin Mary (Panagia) is an interesting church which is about 900 years old.

Since El Greco was born here, there is a museum dedicated to his life and work with some copies of the artist’s major works.

The village also has a lovely beach known as EL Greco beach which is an organised beach where you can swim and relax.

Agios Nikolaos

One of the best know resorts in Crete and Greece is Agios Nikolaos which is a cosmopolitan place with plenty of facilities but not just a tourist resort as it is a working town and capital of its prefecture, Lasithi. The town is a working town and is therefore open to visits all year round.

If you want to by-pass Heraklion and its port and airport, you can sail to Agios Nikolaos from Piraeus and the Dodecanese.

An outstanding feature of the town is its lake which connects to the sea via a small inlet. The lake at Agios Nikolaos is one of its main focal points with eateries and cafes spread around its shores where Greeks and foreigners like to spend their leisure time.

The local beach of Kitroplatia is located in town and therefore has restaurants and cafes on its edge.

There many shops where you can buy locally made woven goods, ceramic goods and local produce.

Other beaches in the area apart from the town beach are Ammoudi and Havania which are in the direction of Elounda and Almiros and Ammoudara a couple of kilometres to the east and Istron and Kalo Horio which are about 10 km away.

The Marina at Agios Nikolaos is well organised and can accommodate 255 vessels


This little village is definitely not a resort but is very close to Almirida and Kalives which are. The village has plenty of facilities such as tavernas and cafes, local mini-markets and a bakery. The village can cater to visitors all year round.

Gavalohori is ideally situated to visit various areas of natural beauty and some ancient historical sites.

The village is steeped in history, dating back to Byzantine times and is home to examples of Venetian architecture, and old olive press and a number of churches. Situated in hills of cypresses and olive trees about 20 odd kilometres from Chania, this village has a protected status and is now attracting visitors who care about the environment, their history and culture.

The Folk Museum affords the visitor the chance to learn about the local architecture, customs and crafts.

Please call the museum on 0030 28250 23222 for opening times.

Other interesting features are the Roman Cemetery and the Venetian walls.


The village of Almirida was originally a fishing village which then became a weekend resort for visitors from Chania about 22 km away.

The village has two beaches and a small fishing harbour and is now a resort and a fishing village. Almirida can now accommodate its visitors in villas, hotels and apartments while they spend their time soaking up the relaxed atmosphere of this town which still has olive groves and you can take ages over lunch.

There are plenty of facilities to accommodate the visitor while the area is not yet overdeveloped. There are some small supermarkets and a baker’s shop and an Internet cafe. The two beaches are shallow making them a good bet for families. If you feel more adventurous you can rent a mountain bike of learn windsurfing at the windsurfing school.

The countryside, nearby villages and coastline are also inviting and worth exploring.

The village of Plaka which is nearby has narrow alleys and superb views of the White Mountains. Another pleasant village in the vicinity is Kokkino Chorio (Red Village). Many of the villages have tavernas where you will be able to sample local fare.

The area had marked paths which guide walkers around the areas of interest which are home to caves and gorges.

There is also a small island called Karga off the coast where one can visit by boat.


Rethymno has its own port and lies between Chania at about 60 km and Heraklio at about 80 km of which both have airports. It is the capital of the eponymous prefecture.

The port of Rethymno is connected to Piraeus all year round.

There is a public bus service that connects Chania and Heraklio and most towns and villages in the Prefecture.

The town has architecture dating back to the renaissance.

The city is dominated by the Forezza which dominates most of the city. Most of the old town is Venetian but is has other elements such as Turkish houses and minarets.

The local beach is a resort area with the requisite hotels, restaurants, cafe-bars and sub-beds for rental. The entire length of the beach to the east of the town is 12 km while the other side of the town has a rocky coastline.

Rethymno offers every type of accommodation including villas with pools, apartments, rooms and luxury hotels.

Sites in Rethymno Town

The Venetian Loggia

The Venetian Loggia dates back to the 16th century. It was once a club for the men of the time. The Ministry of Culture now has its information office there and the Archaeological Museum a sales point.

The Fortezza castle

The Fortezza was built in 1590 by the Venetians to protect it from the Ottomans and from pirate raids.

You can visit the fortress today. There is a wonderful view from the top.

Also located at the fortress is the Erofili outdoor theatre where all performances of the Renaissance Festival are held.

The Rimondi Fountain

This fountain was built by the man whose name it bears at Platanos Square in 1626 so as to provide the town’s people with drinking water.

The Neratzes Mosque

The mosque was converted from a church by the Turks and is today used as a music school. The building is of architectural interest as is the minaret next to it.

The Kara Mousa Pasha Mosque

This was a Venetian monastery before the arrival of the Ottomans. The building is now the offices of the Restoration Board.


The Folklore and History Museum

The Museum is at 28-30 Vernardou Street and is open Mondays to Fridays from 0930 to 1430

The museum is located in a Venetian building with a courtyard and displays examples of crafts, weaponry, maps, coins and photographs dating from between the 17th and 20th century.

The Archaeological Museum

The museum is located opposite the fortress and in open from 8am to 3pm and closed on Mondays.

It houses finds from the Neolithic to the Roman era which were found in the Rethymno area. The exhibits include funerary objects, jewellery, vases to name a few.

The Municipal Gardens/The Public Park

The town’s gardens provide peace and shade in the summer and are also the venue for various activities during the year.

One annual festival is the Wine Festival held at the beginning of July and another is held on the 7th and 8th of November in remembrance of the destruction of the Arkadi Monastery and the hundreds who died there is the 19th century instead of surrendering to the Turks.

Local Festivals

The Renaissance Festival

The festival lasts for 3 weeks and includes film, theatre, music and dance.
Check with the local tourist office for exact dates and details or the web site of the festival: http://www.rfr.gr/

The Cretan wine festival

The wine festival starts at the beginning of July and lasts for three weeks at the Park (Municipal Gardens)

The Rethymnon Carnival

The Carnival at Rethymno is regarded as the best in Crete. It is held in the weeks leading up to Lent so it is always at a different time each year.

The feast of Klidonas/St John the Soothsayer

This festival is held on the 21st June in which the flower wreaths made on May Day are burnt

The Feast of the Fishermen

This festival is held on the 25th of June at the Venetian Port. You will see traditional dances while partaking of the free meal of grilled fish, bread and wine.

Southern Crete

The coastline and the landscape mean that the area is much less developed than the north and is ripe for exploration. The dialect in some remote villages is even more difficult to understand than the usual Cretan one. I once met an Englishman who had learnt his Greek here and had difficulty making himself understood in Athens.

You will find quite a lot of blond, blue eyed Cretans which may prove that some of the inhabitants are descended from the Dorians.

One of the best ways to travel around the south is by ferry, though it is not the only way.

One of the best known places in the south of Crete is Ierapetra.

Ierapetra is in the prefecture of Lasithi. It has a population of about 15,000 people so it is fairly large.

Ierapetra has been a town since the Minoan period. In the 3rd century BC the town was known for is piracy. It played a part in the Cretan War on the side of Philip the 5th of Macedon against Knossos and Rhodes. In 67 BC it was taken over by the Romans.

You can still see remains of the Roman Harbour in the bay.

During the Venetian domination from the 13th until the 17th century, the town became important. The Fortress of Kales was built to protect the harbour by the Venetians in 1626.

In July 1798 Napoleon stayed overnight at Ierapetra on his way to Egypt. The house where he stayed can still be seen.

In the Ottoman period of occupation a mosque was built.

To find out more about the history of the town visit the Museum of Antiquities in the former Turkish school.

The old town is in the area called Kato Mera which means approximately means ‘low place’. The area is full of narrow alleys and dead-ends. Here is where the mosque and the house where Napoleon stayed. The town’s main church is located in the centre and is worth visiting if you like churches.

The new town is in Pano Mera (upper place is a rough translation) and is a bigger and still expanding town. The town has a beach with bars and restaurants, a long boulevard with hotels, tourist shops and restaurants and a promenade that runs along the Ierapetra Bay beach.

The new town is where the ferries for Chrissi depart from.

Chrissi is also known as Gaidouronissi (Donkey Island). It is a small uninhabited island about 12km away from Ierapetra.

The island has sandy white beaches and pine forests. There are signs on the island of Minoan settlement and there is a church dating back to the 13th century. The island was inhabited up until Byzantine times and the economy was based on fishing, salt and porphyra or Tyrian purple.

Other ancient sites in the southern part of Crete are


The ancient site of Phaestos in part of Kamilari and is 62 km south of Heraklio. In Minoan times it was the second biggest city after Knossos. You can get there from Heraklion by road as well as from the south. There is also a bus service from Rethymno and Heraklio.

See here from Heraklio: http://www.ktel-heraklio-lassithi.gr/courses/heraklio-en.htm

And here from Rethymno: http://www.bus-service-crete-ktel.com/

There is space to park although it is quite a distance to the site.

The site also has a restaurant with a bar and selling points.

The main part of the site is the palace where you can see the walls and courtyards. It was here that a clay disc with an early form of hieroglyphs was discovered. It is now in the Archaeological Museum in Heraklio. There are many theories regarding its meaning.

About 3 km away is a Minoan Villa at a place called Agia Triada.


At this site are the remains of a Roman governor’s palace, and the acropolis. The Basilica of Saint (Agios) Titos was the seat of the first bishops in the Cretan church.


Here are the remains of the fourth largest Minoan Palace where there is also a cistern on view.


Here you can see the remnants of a temple, house foundations and a city wall which once belonged to the Eretocretans.

Some other places in the South

Paleochora is a village in the south west about 75 km from Chania. There are two beaches here, one pebbly and one sandy.

The village caters to all tastes in the summer with multi-ethnic restaurants and all-night clubs. There are shops in the village and a ferry connection to Sougia, Agia Roumeli (which is the port for the Samaria Gorge), Loutro and Chora Sfakion and the island of Gavdos.

Sougia is also about 75 km from Chania and is linked by a winding road. Sougia boasts a beach and clear sea and is a quiet place to relax while the beach is protected from winds from the west.

The accommodation at Sougia is decent and the restaurants are good.

The village caters to tourism from the end of March to the beginning of November.


Timbaki is an important small town. Vegetable exports are arranged from this market town where you will be able to see non tourist Crete.

Very close by on the coast in Kokkinos Pyrgos which is more set up for tourism. There are docking facilities for yachts and fishing boats. There is a long beach and clear waters.

Chora Sfakion

The approach by road is by a hilly road and the immediate area is rocky and barren. There is a bus connection from Chania is you don’t have a car or you can get there via ferry that connects places along the south coast. The village beach is gravely and there are beaches within walking distance where you can swim.

Accommodation at Chora Sfakion is simple but good and is run by families in the area. There are a number of good restaurants and some cafes. The village is the main village of the area of Sfakia and is a good base for exploring the area.

Agia Roumeli

Agia Roumeli is at the mouth of the Samaria Gorge and is reached on foot through the gorge or by ferry. This barren area is sparsely populated, producing cattle and honey, exists mainly because it is a transit point for people emerging from the Samaria Gorge.

The modern village (as opposed to the old village which is about 2 km away) is thought to be built on the old city of Tara which dates back to the 5th century BC. This ancient city was important enough to mint its own coins while also being an important religious centre.

There are a number of restaurants around the area, some of which stay open later in the evening. There area also a couple of shops where you can stock up on supplies. The accommodation is plain and good but make sure to book ahead during August when the area gets very busy.

There are some great pebbly beaches around with clear seas which are well protected from the prevailing winds.

The Samaria Gorge

The Samaria Gorge is has been traversed by countless people from all over the globe, with as many tales of their experience or ordeal. The gorge has very steep high sides which vary from 300 to 600 metres while the width ranges from 150 metres to 3 metres.

The gorge is only open during the summer months and when the weather is clement. There are toilets, water taps and litter bins as well as guards and a doctor on duty. Keep your entrance ticket as you may be asked to show it then you exit the gorge.

The Wild Cretan Goat known as the Kri Kri or in Latin Capra aegagrus creticus roams free in the gorge. This sturdy breed is easy to identify by its curled horns. This breed is found in only a couple of other locations on Crete and nowhere else off island.

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