“Crete's mystery is extremely deep. Whoever sets foot on this island senses a mysterious force branching warmly and beneficently through his veins, sensing his soul beginning to grow” wrote Nikos Kazantzakis, Crete’s most celebrated author, in Report to Greco
. On the south side of the Aegean is an island
that is mystical, warm and welcoming, pure and generous. Crete captures the spirit of Greece, and enchants everyone who visits it. Heraklion, Rethymno, Chania, Agios Nikolaos, Elounda, Ierapetra, Malia, Hersonissos, Sitia, Sfakia: an island with numerous destinations and thousands of vibrant images. Crete captivates and seduces the senses with its impressive and majestic landscape, with its openhearted and vivacious spirit, its rich history, its world-famous food and its hospitable people.
The most seductive beaches in Crete
Pictures of the heavenly Balos lagoon in Chania are featured in all the travel guides and glossies, as is the endless beauty of famous Falarsana, one of the best beaches in the Mediterranean. Exotic Elafonissos attracts thousands of visitors every year. Crete’s ‘hidden jewel’ and the largest beach on the island is located on the outskirts of Rethymno – 12km of sand that boasts a Blue Flag.
Episkopi and Petres have fervent young fans, while noteworthy in the south are the alluring beaches of Preveli, Plakia, Agios Pavlos (with its huge sand dunes), Ligres and Triopetra. In Heraklion, Malia and Hersonissos attract tourists from all over the world. Endless kilometres of golden coastline surround Ierapetra, in the Lassithi prefecture. The celebrated palm forest in Vai is one of the most spectacular sights in Crete, where palm trees embrace the golden sand, while the beaches of Elounda and those around Agios Nikolaos are not to be missed.
Crete: A priceless gift of culture and history
On Crete you’ll find some of the most significant attractions in Greece: famous archaeological sites such as the Minoan palaces of Knossos, Phaistos, Malia and Kato Zakros. You’ll also visit important monasteries, some built in the 15th century and even earlier: Preveli monastery in southern Rethymno, the monasteries in southern Heraklion and the historic Arkadi and Toplous monasteries.
You’ll be transported to another time walking through the castles of the region, erected by Venetians and Byzantines. Particularly noteworthy are Kastelli in Chania, the Fortezza in Rethymno, the castle of Heraklion, Frangokastello in southern Chania, the Kazarma castle in Sitia, and the Monte Forte in Lassithi. More of the island’s riches are displayed in its many museums. Visit those in Chania, Rethymno and Heraklion. Impressive also are the Cretaquarium, the Museum of Natural History and the Historical Museum of Crete. In Myrtia, there is the Nikos Kazantzakis Museum and in Fodele you’ll find the El Greco Museum.
Genuine hospitality that is truly unforgettable
Cretan hospitality shares the characteristics of its famous landscape: grand, generous and infinitely welcoming. Families are only too happy to share the island’s many specialities – a dakos salad, free-flowing raki or the experience of the mantinades, poems often accompanied by a Cretan lyre or lute. Wise old men are only too happy to recount memories of the island’s rich, and often difficult, past or tales of the vendettas between feuding families. There are also stories of the great loves and friendships that characterise a proud and family-orientated people. You, too, can become part of this unique island: Cretan hospitality will be unforgettable!
A paradise for thrill-seekers, hikers and nature lovers
Crete is the ideal destination for all kinds of sports and activities in nature. For canyoning and canyon hiking, Crete’s gorges are of unparalleled beauty. The largest and most famous gorge in Crete is Samaria, with its world-renowned Portes (also known as the Iron Gates). Other noteworthy canyons are Amba, Tripiti, Kourtaliotiko, Kamaraiko (the biggest in length), Ha (the so-called ‘king of Cretan gorges’), Ethias and Eligas. Crete is a top trekking destination. You’ll hike across these landscapes of sublime beauty and diversity. The sign-posted trails through these gorges are one of a kind. For off road and 4x4, you’ll zig and zag along Crete’s dirt roads. The cosmopolitan resorts in both northern and southern Crete, embraced by the Libyan sea, are ideal for water sports and scuba diving.
Crete: Home of the Mediterranean diet
Here you’ll eat to your heart’s content, whether enjoying gourmet gastronomy, or simply a homemade rusk salad with sea salt, extra-virgin olive oil, raw artichokes and cheese. Discover the secrets of a Cretan diet – after all, Cretan cuisine is the best example of the Mediterranean diet that has long been considered, internationally, as the healthiest.
Some of Crete’s many famous products are the local graviera (a piquant cheese), herbs and salad greens such as stamnagathi (a wild chicory), as well as dozens of types of wild and sweet greens for braising, staka (think clotted cream made from sheep’s milk and used in pilafs) and savoury pies and sweets. Signature dishes that you must try before you leave are dakos (a rusk salad with tomatoes and myzithra cheese), fried snails, kalitsounia (sweet cheese pastries), savoury cheese pies, egg-lemon lamb with artichoke hearts and the famous gamopilafo (wedding pilaf). Crete is known for its tsikoudia (schnapps-like firewater) – all the locals will treat you to a glass, or a few, and many make their own. They start drinking it early in the afternoon and it flows until late at night, at the tavernas, cafes, festivals and fairs. Be sure to bring a bottle home.
The most popular destinations in Crete
1. Chania: The old town of Chania with its world-renowned Venetian lighthouse, the aristocratic suburb of Halepa, the Tabakaria (centre for leather production), the Neoria (arsenal) and Kum Kapi, populated with bars, cafes, restaurants and elegant hotels in beautiful buildings.
2. Rethymno: Discover the old town of Rethymno, a gem of a settlement on the island, with its Venetian buildings, mosques, fountains, minarets, cobblestones lined with shops, cafes, bars and hotels. Explore Idaio Antro – one of the most important caves of Minoan worship.
3. Heraklion: The Venetian port of Heraklion, a lively city filled with sights, museums, restaurants, bars and hotels. Walk along the walls of the old city, and Morosini (Leondaria) Square, surrounded by important buildings: The Loggia (City Hall), Agios Titos and Armeria (armory).
4. Ierapetra: The old town with its narrow alleyways, little harbour and famous Fortress of Kales is one of the most significant sights in Crete.
5. Agios Nikolaos: A cosmopolitan summer resort, with the mystical allure of Lake Vouliagmeni (which, legend has it, is bottomless), embraced by cafes and restaurants.
6. Sitia: The historic Kazarma fortress (Casa di arma) and its animated waterfront, lined with cafes, shops and restaurants should be on your list of destinations to visit in Crete.
7. Elounda: A cosmopolitan paradise of sophisticated resorts and hotels, with private beaches, pools and piers. It has the highest concentration of Greece’s five-star resorts, and is the top destination for a luxurious holiday.
8. Lassithi: Visit the palm forest at Vai but make sure you also find time the Diktean Antro cave, Spinalonga (with its fortress), Milatos cave and the Lassithi Plateau.
9. Mount Ida (Psiloritis): The highest mountain in Crete. Ambitious hikers will climb to the top and be rewarded with an unforgettable view.