If you’re looking for a touch of paradise, with glamour and five-star service in Crete, Elounda and its picturesque main town Agios Nikolaos offer a microcosm of luxury in Greece.
Beautiful Elounda has beaches and hotels to match, along with the attraction of Agios Nikolaos’ mythical lake. And in the distance lies tiny Spinalonga, an islet-fortress rich in history. You’ll find everything you need to make your holiday in Crete feel special.
The main town of the Lasithi region, Agios Nikolaos embraces a picturesque lake that is lined with neoclassical homes, restaurants, bars and shops. The setting is reminiscent of a typical Greek island and you’ll never tire of just wandering around, stopping to enjoy a drink near the marina.
As for the lake, you’ll understand immediately why, according to mythology, this is where the goddesses Athena and Artemis bathed. It has a movie-set appeal, encapsulating everything glamourous about Elounda. But there are other secrets hidden in the lake. Locals recall how the Germans sunk their weapons here during their retreat in the Second World War. Another local legend claims that the lake is bottomless. Whatever you believe, you’ll lose yourself in the mystical beauty of Agios Nikolaos.
Entering the Bay of Elounda, you’ll see a fortress that for centuries many tried to conquer until, from 1905 to 1957, it was Greece’s designated leper colony. The story of Spinalonga inspired the award-winning novel by Victoria Hislop, The Island, which in turn was developed into a popular Greek television drama. Today, you can take a boat or swim across to Spinalonga and you’ll still feel its mystical energy and weighty history.
Take a tour around Spinalonga
"Look, beautiful!" the Venetians exclaimed when they first encountered Mirabello – and the name stuck. You’ll say the same thing when you witness the sandy coves and clear water, north and northwest of Agios Nikolaos, one of the most beautiful spots in Crete.
Holidays in Elounda allow you to choose from the highest concentration of five-star resorts in Greece. Private villas, bungalows, luxury suites… whatever you fancy, you’ll find it in this gorgeous corner of Crete.
Across from Spinalonga, you’ll find the picturesque fishing village of Plaka, where you can wander through cobblestone streets and dine in waterfront fish tavernas. Then travel past the abandoned village of Havgas, with a panoramic view of the gulf, and on to the untouched villages of Kastelli and Fourni. Don’t miss the restored Aretiou Monastery with its well-tended garden – it’s one of the most significant attractions in the area.
Just 10km from Agios Nikolaos you can visit the site of one of the 100 most important cities of ancient Crete, whose population numbered more than 30,000. Here they worshipped Zeus Tallaeus, the goddess Artemis Britomartys and Apollo.
With so many beaches and its very own desert to explore, Koufonisi, off the southern coast of Lasithi, offers a sand-filled escape for day-trippers who want to venture beyond Elounda. It is uninhabited now but Koufonisi held a special value for ancient Greeks and its waters – rich in sea sponges and shells – attracted civilisations as varied as the Minoans and the Byzantines.
Elounda is the most famous and popular summer holiday destination in Crete’s eastern Lassithi prefecture, known for its family-friendly, sandy beaches (with excellent facilities and water sports options) and luxurious accommodation. It is around 11km (20mins) by car from Agios Nikolaos.
Agios Nikolaos is the main town of the Lassithi prefecture in eastern Crete. It is the smallest of Crete’s four cities (including Heraklion, Chania and Rethymno), with a permanent population of 15,600.
You can reach Agios Nikolaos by flying to Heraklion airport (international and domestic flights) and completing the journey by car or coach (60km, 45mins), or arriving at Sitia airport (domestic flights only). There are also regular ferry connections from Piraeus to Heraklion and Sitia. Sitia is 1hr15min drive (60km) from Agios Nikoloaos.
Lassithi is famous for its many beaches (family-friendly and remote) and its mountainous interior containing authentic Cretan villages. Mt Dikti and the Lassithi plateau are among the most beautiful areas of Crete, as is the palm tree-lined beach of Vai. Spinalonga island is one of the cultural highlights of Lassithi, with a Venetian-era fortress that also served as a leper colony for the first half of the 20th century. You can take boat trips during the summer months to the islands of Chryssi and Koufonisi, from the south coast.
Elounda and Agios Nikolaos (and Crete generally) benefit from very good weather for most of the year, with summer conditions starting earlier and ending later than elsewhere in Greece. It does get busy in the peak summer holiday months (July and August), so come in May-June or September-October if you can. Spring and autumn are ideal for enjoying activities in nature.
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