Anyone who’s been on holiday in Crete’s eastern Lasithi region will know all about cosmopolitan Elounda and Agios Nikolaos and ever-popular Hersonissos and Malia. But there’s another side to this corner of Greece that’s hidden from most visitors’ eyes. You can find it both along the coast and into the fertile Lasithi Plateau that gives Crete so much of its delicious produce.
We’re talking about the unexplored villages of Lasithi, filled with traditions, beautiful alleyways, family-run tavernas, shops with local crafts and – this being Crete – welcoming locals. Along the coast, you’ll be rewarded with hidden beaches and in the mountains, with gorges and hiking paths. So if you value authenticity, you’ll love the villages of Lasithi in Crete.
Our first Lasithi village – or more correctly, two settlements in one – is on Crete’s eastern coast. Ano (Upper) and Kato (Lower) Zakros are separated by a gorge and are best known for the ruins of the Minoan Palace of Zakros and the beach by the lower settlement, giving you the bonus of a culture top-up and a swim during summer time. The Minoan Palace was one of the four main administrative centres of Minoan Crete after Knossos, Phaistos and Malia, thanks in large part to the natural harbour created by the bay here. There are a couple of interesting museums in Ano Zakros – the Museum of Water and Hydraulics (in three restored watermills) and the Museum of Natural History (where you can learn more about the Sitia Geopark) as well as a handful of shops, cafes and tavernas. You’ll also find a number of water sources and can easily access the gorge near the village. Don’t be put off by its name … Gorge of the Dead. It’s an easy 2hr downhill trek to Kato Zakros through the gorge. The remains of some Minoan-era graves were found in the gorge, now housed in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion.
- Distance from Agios Nikolaos: 110km (2hr15min)
- Nearby beaches: Kato Zakros, Alona, Chionia
On Crete’s north coast, Lastros is a typical Cretan mountain village (at 314m altitude) with narrow streets and whitewashed houses and a Byzantine-era church (Agios Georgios) in the middle. You’ll enjoy strolling down the narrow alleyways, passing whitewashed houses and flower-filled courtyards, and spending time in the traditional cafes and tavernas, known for their Cretan delicacies. A Minoan settlement and graves and Archaic-era remains have also been identified near the village, which is also surrounded by several hiking trails.
- Distance from Agios Nikolaos: 35km (39min)
- Nearby beaches: Mavro Seli, Tholos
- Nearby villages: Myrsini, Kavousi, Mochlos
The closest of our Lasithi villages to Agios Nikolaos, Kritsa is also one of the oldest villages in Crete, built at 365m above sea level at the foot of Mt Kastellos. Walking around, you’ll find cobbled alleys and courtyards flowing with bougainvillea, as well as shops selling local crafts and a village square with tavernas and cafes under the shade of plane trees. The church of Panagia Odigitria is a 19th-century architectural gem and the little store of the village’s Women’s Association is the perfect place to buy local products. Also in the village are the Museum of Rare and Endemic Plants (Rodanthi) and the Kritsopoulas Folk Museum (the home of Rodoanthi Kristopoulas, the daughter of a local priest who, in 1817, escaped from an over-amorous Turk and fled to the mountains, from where she fought for years against the Ottomans dressed as a man). Close by is the Kritsa Gorge, through which you can hike to the village of Tapes (around 10km).
- Distance from Agios Nikolaos: 10km (16min)
- Nearby beaches: Ammoudi, Mirabello, Karavostasi, Voulisma
- Nearby villages: Kroustas, Males
At the end of Mirabello Bay (opposite Elounda and Agios Nikolaos), Mochlos is a small coastal village with a handful of cafes and tavernas where you can enjoy fish with a view of the sea. There’s a small sandy beach in the village (with cafes and shops above it to pick up whatever you need). And right opposite the village is a small island (Psira) that you can visit by boat. The island has a chapel (Ag Nikolaos) and small archaeological site (Mochlos) on it. Don't forget your swimsuit as the boat trip will also give you time for a dip.
- Distance from Agios Nikolaos: 36km (45min)
- Nearby beaches: Mavro Seli, Pachia Ammos
- Nearby villages: Myrsini, Lastros
Heading into the Lasithi Plateau, Psychro is a popular mountain village at altitude of 840m which, as well as being quaint in its own right, is best known for the cave around 15-20min walk away identified as the Diktaean Cave, the birthplace of none other than Zeus, the king of the gods, who later took up residence on Mt Olympus. At a height of 1,025m, the cave offers magnificent views of the plateau and has been estimated at 2,220m2 in area. A well-lit footpath takes you around 250m inside, where you can see several chambers with rocks and stalagmites. There is a choice of tavernas in the village and nearby is the Pitarolikis Family Factory, renowned for its ceramics, olive oil and herbs amongst other local products.
- Distance from Agios Nikolaos: 55km (1hr10min)
- Nearby beaches: Potamos (Malia)
- Nearby villages: Plati, Tzermiado
Very close to Psychro, at a similar altitude, is the village of Tzermiado. There’s another standout cave here (Trapeza or Kronion), which you can also hike to, and a small section of the Ε4 European hiking trail that passes nearby and includes a pleasant walk to a peak called Karfi, with one of the best views of the Lasithi Plateau. Back in the village square, the tavernas area waiting for you for lunch or dinner or a sweet at any time of the day.
- Distance from Agios Nikolaos: 50km (1hr)
- Nearby beaches: Potamos (Malia)
- Nearby villages: Psychro, Krasi, Mochlos (mountainous)
Our final village is Kastelli, a traditional Cretan settlement and amongst the oldest on the island, in which you can enjoy some classic examples of Venetian architecture. Take your time to stroll down the alleyways, filled with arched doorways and tiled roofs, as well as colourful flower-filled yards and leaf-shaded terraces … as well (of course) as the welcoming locals you’ll find in all the villages of Lasithi. You’ll also find a selection of tavernas and Cretan cafes to make the experience last.
- Distance from Agios Nikolaos: 16km (22min)
Nearby beaches: Limanakia & Sarantari (Hersonissos)
Nearby villages: Mochlos (mountainous)
The unexplored villages of Lasithi in Crete
Planning your holidays in Elounda, Agios Nikolaos or Hersonissos in Crete? Well, now you know exactly why to add the villages of Lasithi to your wishlist!
FAQs about the villages of Lasithi in Crete
What is the best way to go village-hopping in Lasithi?
- For greatest flexibility and comfort, the best way to enjoy the villages of Lasithi (and get around Crete generally) is to hire a car.
- The distances are large and it isn’t possible to visit all the villages in one day. So we’re proposing some combinations. Naturally, in the summer months you can combine you day village-hopping with time at the beach.
- Kastelli, Psychro and Tzermiado
- Kritsa, Lastros and Mochlos
- Lastros and Zakros
The closest airports to Agios Nikolaos are in Heraklion and Sitia (domestic and seasonal international flights) and there is easy road access to other major destinations in Crete. The airport of Chania also receives direct seasonal international flights but is further away.
- You can visit the villages of Lasithi and find them alive with residents going about their daily life all year round.
- The island does get busy in the peak summer months (July-August) so if you are able to visit in early or late summer you will enjoy your holidays in Crete even more, whilst still being able to swim. And if you do visit in the summer, the villages of Lasithi (and their beaches) offer an excellent change in tempo.
- The Lasithi villages are also a great choice for autumn or even winter holidays in Crete.
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