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CRETE

INTRODUCTION 

The largest island in Greece, Crete is renowned for its pin-up beaches, wild natural beauty, exquisite cuisine and thousands of years of culture and history.

As Crete’s most celebrated author, Nikos Kazantzakis (of Zorba the Greek fame), once wrote: “The mystery of Crete runs deep. Whoever sets foot on this island senses a mysterious force coursing warmly and beneficently through their veins, sensing their soul beginning to grow.”

 

Unsurprisingly, this mystical, pure and generous island to the south of the Aegean Sea captures the spirit of Greece and enchants everyone who visits. it’s an island of thousands of vibrant images, filled with an open-hearted and vivacious spirit, rich history, world-famous cuisine and hospitable people.

Here, you can admire the remnants of brilliant civilizations, explore glorious beaches, impressive mountainscapes, fertile valleys and steep gorges, and become part of the island’s rich gastronomic culture. Crete is, after all, a small universe teeming with beauties and treasures that you will probably need a lifetime to uncover!

HISTORY

Humans have inhabited the island since at least 130,000 years ago, during the Paleolithic age. Crete was the centre of Europe's first advanced civilization, the Minoans, from 2700 to 1420 BC. The Minoan civilization was overrun by the Mycenaean civilization from mainland Greece. Crete was later ruled by Rome, then successively by the Byzantine Empire, Andalusian Arabs, the Venetian Republic, and the Ottoman Empire. In 1898 Crete, whose people had for some time wanted to join the Greek state, achieved independence from the Ottomans, formally becoming the Cretan State. Crete became part of Greece in December 1913.

The island is mostly mountainous, and its character is defined by a high mountain range crossing from west to east. It includes Crete's highest point, Mount Ida, and the range of the White Mountains (Lefka Ori) with 30 summits above 2,000 metres (6,600 ft) in altitude and the Samaria Gorge, a World Biosphere Reserve. Crete forms a significant part of the economy and cultural heritage of Greece, while retaining its own local cultural traits (such as its own poetry and music). The Nikos Kazantzakis airport at Heraklion and the Daskalogiannis airport at Chania serve international travelers. The palace of Knossos, a Bronze Age settlement and ancient Minoan city, is also located in Heraklion.

CLIMATE

Average daytime & nighttime temperatures:

climate of crete

Crete straddles two climatic zones, the Mediterranean and the North African, mainly falling within the former. As such, the climate in Crete is primarily Mediterranean. The atmosphere can be quite humid, depending on the proximity to the sea, while winter is fairly mild. Snowfall is common on the mountains between November and May, but rare in the low-lying areas. While some mountain tops are snow-capped for most of the year, near the coast snow only stays on the ground for a few minutes or hours. However, a truly exceptional cold snap swept the island in February 2004, during which period the whole island was blanketed with snow. During the Cretan summer, average temperatures reach the high 20s-low 30s Celsius (mid 80s to mid 90s Fahrenheit), with maxima touching the upper 30s-mid 40s.

 

The south coast, including the Mesara Plain and Asterousia Mountains, falls in the North African climatic zone, and thus enjoys significantly more sunny days and high temperatures throughout the year. There, date palms bear fruit, and swallows remain year-round rather than migrate to Africa. The fertile region around Ierapetra, on the southeastern corner of the island, is renowned for its exceptional year-round agricultural production, with all kinds of summer vegetables and fruit produced in greenhouses throughout the winter. Western Crete (Chania province) receives more rain and the soils there suffer more erosion compared to the Eastern part of Crete.

 

According to the data of the Hellenic National Meteorological Service, South Crete receives the highest sunshine in Greece with locally more than 3,257 hours of sunshine per year.

HIGHLIGHTS

GASTRONOMY

crete gastronomy

Traditional Cretan food has always been prepared from local ingredients, raw or prepared as simply as possible – grilled or baked. Since ancient times, Cretan cuisine has been based on several basic elements: olive oil, herbs, fish and seafood, goat or lamb meat, vegetables and fruits grown on the island. Later, Venetian and Ottoman influences were added to them, which created a special cuisine. Crete has many dishes that are found everywhere in the mainland of Greece, but also some specific only to this area. Today, the traditional Cretan diet is considered one of the healthiest in the world, so you can’t leave without eating in Cretan taverns. You can find spoon sweets made from cherry, peach, orange, and many other fresh, sour, and bitter fruits here. In addition, some also use vegetables to create their special spoon sweets.

chania

CHANIA

is an enchanting destination which tantalizes all senses. It is the second largest city of Crete and historically a maritime crossroad of three continents. The historical, natural, cultural uniqueness and abundance of Chania entices travelers and globetrotters all year round. • to the Venetian Harbour, visit the old lighthouse and visit the Agora Marketplace. • The Monasteries of Akrotiri Peninsula: Agia Triada, founded in 1612, is set amid meticulously tended olive groves and orange orchards, The fortress-like Gouverneto, founded in 1537. From here, a footpath leads past Arkoudiospilia (Bear Cave), down 140 steps to Katholiko, an abandoned sixth-century monastery, built into a cliff face. • Explore the Holy Trinity Monastery • Stavros Bay for a swim at the sandy beach where Anthony Quinn danced in the 1964 film Zorba the Greek. • Explore Samaria Gorge • See the views of Balos Lagoon • Visit the cut-off village of Loutro • Discover the Pink Sand Beach of Elafonisi • Taste Traditional Yogurt in Vrysses • Visit Frangokastello by beach • Check the Archaeological Museum of Kissamos • Fall in Love with the Sunset in Falasarna • Enjoy the Botanical Gardens • Get Lost in Kedrodasos beach • Check Out the Beautiful Lake Kournas • Take a dip at Seitan Limania Beach • Feel Like a Pirate on Imeri Gramvousa Island Gavdos island … and Dream of Never Coming Back • Visit the Renewed Archaeological Museum of Chania

rethymno

RETHYMNO

Rethymno is located in the north end of the prefecture, built by the sea and is a city with many faces. The old town with the colourful alleys, the Venetian port, the beautiful hotels, and a wide range of restaurants make an ideal destination for holidays. • Porta Guora, Step into Rethymno’s Old City through its original gate • Rimondi Fountain, refill your water bottle at this Venetian-era drinking fountain • Historical and Folk Art Museum, a protected historical building dedicated to the city’s culture • Old, historic town. Take a few hours to wander the narrow, cobbled streets. • Archaeological Museum of Rethymno. Discover Rethymno’s ancient history. • Visit the Sacred Monastery of Arkadi : Arkadi is most well-known for its role in the Cretan resistance to Ottoman rule during the 1866 Cretan revolt. After three days of battle, the abbot ordered the hundreds of citizens who had taken refuge at the Monastery to blow up barrels of gunpowder, sacrificing themselves rather than surrendering to the Ottomans. The event is seen as a major milestone in Crete’s struggle for independence. • Visit the Argyroupoli village in Rethymnon. It has vast vegetation, small waterfalls, and small springs. There are a lot of restaurants serving a very tasty lamb called “antikristo”. • Spend a Day at Preveli Palm Beach • Visit Preveli Monastery Complex: The role of Preveli Monastery and its monks during the Battle of Crete (1941) was very important both in the battle against the invading German forces, in the support of the allied forces even as a refuge for those soldiers who weren’t rescued and had to remain on the island. • Wax Museum in Zoniana: this picturesque mountain village contains more than 80 lifesize waxwork figures of Crete’s most historic figures. Eleftherios Venizelos, the Cretan statesman who became prime minister of Greece, Nikos Kazantzakis the writer, El Greco the painter, and fighters from the Cretan Revolution. • Horseback Riding on Plakias Beach • Discover the Best Beaches in Rethymnon: Plakias, Ligres, Preveli, or the wide shore of Triopetra, Damnoni, Ammoudi and Skinaria • Check the Traditional Mountain Villages: Anogia, Spili , Margarites, Axos

heraclion

HERAKLION

The cradle of the Minoan civilisation. Heraklion is the largest city of Crete and one of Greece’s major urban centres. The city flourished under a multicultural influence throughout the centuries; that’s why there is a plethora of Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman structures to look out for! • Visit the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion. The Heraklion Archaeological Museum is one of the most important museums in Greece, if not Europe. • Discover the Ancient Minoan Civilization: The Minoan Palace of Knossos. • See the Fortress of Koules: Built in the 16th Century by the reigning Venetians. • Agios Titos Church. This is one of the most impressive churches on Crete. The church is dedicated to Agios Titos (Saint Titus), a disciple of Apostle Paul and first Bishop of Crete • Natural History Museum of Crete. Explore some of the ecosystems unique to Crete and see animals that thrive in this climate. There's also an earthquake simulator inside the museum! • Lion's Square. This is where you'll find the Fontana Morosini, an ornate Venetian fountain with four lions with water gushing from their mouths. • Have Fun in Heraklion’s Theme Parks (Labyrinth Theme Park, Cretaquarium, Dinosauria Park) • Historical Museum of Crete • The Lakkos Neighborhood. Picturesque alleys of the former underground area. • Spend a Day in the Amari Valley • Explore the Archaeological Site of Eleftherna • Museum of Ancient Greek Technology • The Kazantzakis Museum (in Myrtia village) • The Museum of Rural Life (in Piskopiano village) • The Thirathen Museum of Greek Folk Music and Musical Instruments (in Krousonas village) • Discover the Best Beaches in Heraklion: Matala, Agiofaraggo, Tymbaki, Lygaria, Amoudara, Amnissos, Kokkini Hani beach. • Find the fishing village of Sissi • Explore the Archaeological Palace of Malia

agios nikolaos

AGIOS NIKOLAOS

Different to all other towns in Crete, Agios Nikolaos manages to mix - upon the three hills which support its girth - an arty, leisurely, sleepy and yet also bustling place. • Visit Spinalonga Island: It’s a tiny little place that has had a pretty turbulent past, with the historic Arab raids, Venetian conquering, and Ottoman occupation, all before being turned into a leper colony. • Visit Lake Voulismeni: The lake is surrounded by several legends. For instance, according to Greek mythology, it was here where the goddesses Athena and Artemis would bathe. T• he Archaeological Museum of Agios Nikolaos: Hosts archaeological objects from Lasithi that belong to different Minoan periods. • Enjoy Art in the City Stairs: Paintings and sculptures can be admired on 11 different stairs in town. • Discover the Best Beaches in Agios Nikolaos: Kitroplateia, Ammoudi, Almyros, Voulisma. • Explore Mirambello Bay: One of the largest bays in all of Europe. • Check the exclusive beach & Resort of Elounda • Visit the church Agios Nikolaos in Ormos: is the one that gives the name to the city. • Selinari Monastery in the area of Vrachassi, the complex develops into two levels, and it has a wonderful garden with stunning views of the sea. • Explore the Cave of Zeus

sitia

SITIA

An inspiration for poets, Sitia, in northeastern Crete, boasts the largest palm forest and some of the most exotic beaches in Europe. • Go Wine Tasting in Toplou Monastery • Listen to the tales of the Kazarma Fortress: Has a tumultuous history to tell. From the Middle Ages to Byzantium and beyond, it’s been demolished, repaired and rebuilt many times over. Venetians, Ottomans, pirates, earthquakes … all have left their mark on Kazarma. And yet it’s still there, each summer hosting the Kornaria, a series of cultural events. • Explore the exotic palm forest at Vai (The rare palm trees (Phoenix Theofrasti), golden sand and blue-green water give Vai an exotic air. • Relive the glory days of Ancient Itanos • Head to the beach… there’s plenty of choice: Makri Gialos, Kserokampos, Goudoura, Koufonisi

CHANIA

• Eggs with stàka • Cretan kalitsoùnia (sweet mini cheese pies) • Lamb served with spiny chicory • Dácos (the traditional hard Cretan bread accompanied with tomato, mizithra cheese and plenty of virgin Cretan oil) • Snails boubouristì (popping fried snails) • Chaniotiko boureki (patty from Chania, a vegetable specialty) • Kserotigana (honey dipped spiral pastries) • Tsikoudia (schnapps-like firewater) • Sfakian Pita (filled with goat cheese is served hot and topped with local honey.)

RETHYMNO

• “Apaki” (smoked pork) • “Stakoboutyro” (butter from sheep and/or goat) • Lamb cooked as ”tsigariasto” or “antikristo” and “gamopilafo” (traditional Cretan pilaff) • Lychnarakia (small sweet cheese pies)

HERAKLION

• Kolokythoanthoi (a combination of rice or cheese and various spices and herbs.) • Bougatsa ( is a traditional, rustic Greek pie consisting of a phyllo pastry layered with a filling of minced meat, cheese, or semolina custard.) • Marathopita, its ingredients include spinach, sorrel, and fresh onion. The pie is also rich in fennel which adds an extra sense of freshness and flavor.

WHY?

  • Ancient sites are everywhere

  • Food is out of this world

  • A trip is surprisingly affordable

  • It’s a mix of big cities and small towns

  • The wineries are fabulous

  • Mountaintop views will stop you in your tracks

  • Historical sites have a story

  • The city harbors are lively

  • Gorgeous beaches

  • It’s easy to get to other islands

  • Chania, everything magical about Crete

  • Rethymno, with its Venetian-inspired harbour

  • Heraklion, the lively capital of Crete

  • Ierapetra, Crete’s sacred town

  • Agios Nikolaos, full of glamour, grace and luxury

  • Sitia, yet another coastal temptation in Crete

  • Elounda, a fusion of luxury and sophistication

  • Lassithi, full of nature’s gifts

  • Mt Ida (or Psiloritis) and other mountain highlights

MAP OF CRETE

map of crete
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