The Cretan sunshine, a sparkling sea, dreamy beaches, epic legends: Everything about Sitia guarantees a great holiday, bringing together the beauty of past and present in this magical corner of Crete. Beyond the beaches, you will enjoy the cafes and savour the local cuisine, washed down with tsikoudia (the schnapps-like firewater of Crete).
The celebrated palm forest in Vai is the backdrop to one of the most exotic swimming spots in Crete. And when it comes to the cultural highlights, you’ll enjoy exploring the Kazarma Fortress and the Archaeological Museum and revisiting the glory days of ancient Itanos. Meanwhile, in the home of Vitsentzos Kornaros (author of the epic poem Erotokritos) you, too, will find your Cretan muse.
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, 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.
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.
A little further away are Makri Gialos, Kserokampos, Goudoura, Koufonisi … all beautiful beaches where you’ll enjoy swimming, snorkelling and water sports.
Some 20km west of Sitia is one of the most spectacular sights in Crete: a palm tree forest covering an area of approximately 200,00m2. 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 know for sure is that you’ve found one of the most beautiful spots in Crete. The rare palm trees (Phoenix Theofrasti), golden sand and blue-green water give Vai an exotic air.
Near the beach 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.
"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, born locally in 1553 and author of the epic Erotokritos. His romantic work, written in rhymed verse around 1600 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 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 weddings in Crete).
Sitia is a town in the Lassithi prefecture, with a permanent population of around 10,000. As well as being the location of Crete’s third (and smallest) airport, its port is a popular arrival point by ferry for visitors to eastern Crete.
Sitia has a small airport that is for seasonal domestic flights from Athens and other airports in Greece. Likewise, the port has ferry connections to Piraeus that take around 15hrs and also call at other islands of the Cyclades and Dodecanese. Ferries increase with regularity during the summer months. Another option is to fly to Heraklion (130km, 2hrs by road) or take a ferry to Rethymno (80km, 1hr10mins) and hire a car or catch the bus to Sitia.
Sitia is a charming coastal town in Crete, with waterfront tavernas and excellent access to sandy beaches. The most famous beach is exotic Vai, which is surrounded by a palm forest, and its main cultural landmarks are the Kazarma Fortress and Archaeological Museum, which houses (among other artefacts) relics from the Phoenician settlement of Itanos, which you can also visit.
You can comfortably swim in Sitia from mid-May till the end of October, but every season is special in Crete, with spring and autumn especially popular for outdoor activities. The temperatures can vary by 5-10 degrees from coastal to mountainous regions throughout the year. Crete does get busy in the peak summer months (July and August), so visit in May-June and from mid-September if you can.