Crete, sun, a sparkling sea, dreamy beaches, stories and legends: Everything about Sitia’s ambience guarantees a great holiday, bringing together the beauty of past and present. Enjoy cafes and beaches and savour Cretan cuisine, washed down with tsikoudia (schnapps-like firewater). Explore the Kazarma Fortress and the Archaeological Museum, as well as the celebrated palm forest in Vai. Then, revisit the glory days of ancient Itanos. In the home of Vitsentzos Kornaros (author of the epic poem Erotokritos) you, too, will find your muse.
What to do in Sitia
The historic Kazarma fortress
Kazarma (Casa di arma), the fortress of Sitia’s castle, 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, pirates, Ottomans, earthquakes… all have left their mark on Kazarma. And yet it’s still there, each summer hosting the Kornaria, a series of cultural events.
Strolling through Sitia
Sitia welcomes you with its restaurants, cafes and charming waterfront. It’s an animated scene, with shops, tavernas and bars. Visit the Archaeological and Folklore Museum and then go swimming on the sandy beach next to the town centre.
Head for the beach
A little further afield are Makry Gialos, Kserokampos, Goudoura, Koufonisi… all beaches where you’ll enjoy swimming, snorkelling and water sports.
The exotic palm forest at Vai
Some 20km west of Sitia is one of the most spectacular sights in Crete: a palm tree forest covering an area of approximately 200,000 sq m. According to local legend, the forest grew from the stones of dates that were thrown here by Egyptian soldiers, Saracen pirates and King Mithridates’s army. What you’ll believe for sure is that you’ve found a corner of paradise. The rare palm trees (Phoenix Theofrasti), golden sand and blue-green water give Vai an exotic air.
Glamour and glory: Ancient Itanos
Near the beach, there are remnants of a colony built by the Phoenicians. Ancient Itanos, whose ruins are spread along a sandy hill, acquired its wealth and power by trading Tyrian purple, a rare dye for fabrics. It was prosperous until the Byzantine period, decorating its public buildings and temples with beautiful marble and even having its own currency. The raids of the Saracens in the 9th century signalled the end of its glory days. Today, you’ll see the ruins scattered across the width of the cape.
Hidden gems of Sitia
The poet of Erotokritos
"In Sitia was he born, in Sitia was he bred. And there he laboured hard to write all these words you’ve read,” wrote Vitsentzos Kornaros, the author of the epic Erotokritos, who was born locally in 1553. His romantic work, written in rhymed verse between 1600-1610 is a masterpiece of Greek literature.
About 9.6km west of ancient Itanos, within a lunar landscape of stones and shrubs, you’ll find the Toplou Monastery. A fortified monastery built in the 16th century, the Ottomans named it Toplou after the cannon used to keep pirates at bay (‘top’ meaning cannon in Turkish).
The pure ingredients and traditional sweets of Sitia
The pure, natural products of Sitia’s soil are special: award-winning extra-virgin olive oil, uniquely flavoured thyme honey, delicious dairy products, excellent tsikoudia, herbs and traditional pastries, many of which you’ll find only here. Try the savoury kalitsounia filled with myzithra (a local cheese), koulourakia (sourdough buns), loukoumades (doughnuts drizzled with thyme honey), and kserotigana (delicately wrapped sweet fritters that are a staple at traditional Cretan weddings).
Experience the best of Sitia
- The historic Kazarma Fortress
- The exotic palm forest at Vai
- Ancient Itanos
- Toplou Monastery