Crete is an island with an exquisite 1,000 kilometer-long coastline dotted with numerous coves, bays and peninsulas, which afford a multitude of soft, sandy beaches along the beautifully blue Mediterranean Sea. After all, it’s among the finest in the world and has established Crete as one of Europe’s most popular holiday destinations. And, of course, the island’s historic importance in today’s world as the home of the Minoan civilization with important archeological finds at Knossos, Phaistos and Gortys, is evidenced by the tens of thousands of visitors to these sites each year.
However, Crete is the largest island in Greece – the fifth largest in the Mediterranean – and, within its diverse area of more than 8,000 square kilometers, there are many other jewels just waiting to be discovered by the more adventurous explorers of holiday treasures.
If you haven’t visited Crete yet, this summer may be the time to come and discover this fascinating Greek island. If it captures your heart, don’t worry. Come back next year and Crete will welcome you once more with its smiling Cretan sun, the sounds of the Cretan lyre, the scents of orange blossom and jasmine, a slice of cool red watermelon and a glass of iced raki.
“Chania is a beautiful city. The most beautiful in Crete, one might even say in the whole of Greece. Chania has a natural, privileged, well-protected beauty. Sleepless guardians to the south stand the gigantic Madares mountains in all their indestructible, panoramic glory. To the north stretches the multicoloured immensity of the Sea of Crete, embraced by its gorgeous, long-armed capes. And all around lies its land, scarlet and green-haired, sown with wild silver gorges. A land that seems to be made flesh, so spirited and alive that you hesitate to tread on it.”
The heart of Chania is still the old town, with its narrow, labyrinthine alleyways and listed buildings dating from different periods, where you can enjoy romantic strolls. Many of these buildings have been turned into small hotels, restaurants, shops or homes.
Don’t hesitate to wander round the alleys of the old town, looking for the lovely images that await you. Your camera must be your inseparable companion, as Chania is one of the most-photographed cities in Greece.
The old town stretches out parallel to the Venetian harbour, from Firkas Fortress and the Maritime Museum to the “Pyli tis Ammou” (Gate of the Sand, or Koum Kapi in Turkish) to the east of the arsenals. This is the part of town within the Venetian walls and includes Byzantine Chania, once enclosed within less extensive walls.
The Byzantine walls protected the fortress of Kastelli, the hill which was first inhabited in the Neolithic period.
Kastelli Hill rises above the Turkish mosque in the Venetian harbour. Here stood the acropolis of ancient Kydonia, the Minoan Chania. There, too, was built the first Byzantine fortress, the Kastelli, surrounded by walls with many towers and bastions. The Venetians established their headquarters there in 1252, building the Rector’s Residence (the Rector was the Governor of Chania), while the same site was the seat of the pashas during the Turkish Occupation. During the last years of Turkish rule, the Christian aristocracy lived inside the Kastelli. Unfortunately most of the district was destroyed by bombing during the Second World War, and its medieval aspect was lost forever. Today only the base of the north wall remains. There is also the main road that once ran through the Kastelli, modern-day Kanevaro Street with its imposing mansions.
Tour of Chania
Our tour of Chania will start at the Municipal Market in the centre of town. We will then enter the old town and head towards the Venetian harbour. We will walk the length of the harbour to the Gate of the Sand and return through the alleyways of the Splantzia to our starting-point. Of course this tour is only intended to give you a rough idea, and it would better if you did it in sections over two or more days, so you can take your time.
Chania Municipal Market
Chania Cathedral of Panagia Trimartyri
Archaeological Museum of Chania. After visiting the museum, continue down Halidon Street to Sindrivani Square in the Venetian harbour. From here you can walk left along the jetty to the Maritime Museum.
Alternatively, after the museum turn left into Zambeliou Street and stroll along it, enjoying the magic of the alleyways of the old town. Walk right down Zambeliou Street, continue along Theotokopoulou Street and turn right into Angelou Street until the Maritime Museum.
Maritime Museum of Chania, the Firkas Fortress and the Topanas district.
Yiali Tzami, the Turkish Mosque in the Venetian harbour of Chania
Venetian Shipyards or Arsenals
Splantzia, from the Splantzia you come back to the Municipal Market, where we began our tour of the old town of Chania.
Chalepa: the district of Chalepa is at the eastern limits of the town and it would be best if you visited it separately as it is quite far. For example, Eleftherios Venizelos’ house is about a kilometre from Koum Kapi.
Venizelos Tombs on Akrotiri
For your tour of Chania you can either use the map above or a very detailed map of the old town of Chania
The old town of Rethymnon is one of the best-preserved towns of the Renaissance. Lying in the heart of modern Rethymnon, it combines the oriental features of the Turkish period with Renaissance-style Venetian architecture.
After the Venetian conquest of Crete (1204), the town of Rethymnon was built according to the rules of Venetian architecture. The original craftsmen were Venetians, but these later were replaced by Cretan murari, Venetian-trained master builders.
The layout of Rethymnon is directly linked to the sea, with the main Venetian street, the Ruga Maistra (today’s coastal Venizelou Avenue) running parallel to the sea. The opposite is true of Heraklion and Hania, where the town is closed to the sea for reasons of defence and the main street is at right angles to the coast.
The private mansions of Rethymnon are not as impressive as those of Venice, mainly for financial reasons. Furthermore, the strong traditions of Cretan architecture could not be overcome, and Renaissance influences are most apparent on building facades.
Finally, as opposed to Heraklion and Hania, Greek features are predominant in Rethymnon because most nobles were Greeks, known as “Archondoromeoi” (noble “Romans”, that is, inhabitants of the Eastern Roman Empire).
turkish house in the old town of RethymnonMany buildings with gothic features were lost in the destruction of the town by Ulu Ali in 1571, while Rethymnon was rebuilt almost in its entirety in the third quarter of the 16th century.
Many fine examples of Turkish architecture are preserved scattered around the narrow streets of the old town.
Their main feature is the heavy use of wood. Building styles changed during the years of the Turkish occupation (1646-1898) and the dressed stone of the Venetians was replaced by a wooden frame filled with rubble and mud (bagdati). The walls were then thickly plastered. The upper storey almost always projects out over the street (sahnisi) and is faced with wood, often with kafasoto latticework.
In Rethymnon the Turks made full use of the existing Venetian public and private buildings, which they modified according to their needs.
Today the old town of Rethymnon is a living museum of monuments of past centuries. Despite the damage sustained in the Second World War, many Venetian and Turkish monuments still stand, especially as the town has not been struck by major earthquakes.
Heraklion is the largest city in Crete, located roughly in the centre of the north coast. Heraklion has a population of 131,000 (2001 census), but it is thought that approximately 200,000 people live in Heraklion Municipality and the neighbouring Alikarnassos Municipality today.
Heraklion is the 4th largest city in Greece. It has the largest port and airport in Crete. Heraklion Airport is also known as “Nikos Kazantzakis” International Airport, in honour of the most famous Cretan writer worldwide.
Heraklion has two major hospitals (the University Hospital and the Venizeleio Hospital). It is also the home of the University of Crete Schools of Sciences and Health Sciences (8,000 students). It is also the seat of the Foundation for Research and Technology – Hellas (ITE-FORTH), one of the largest research centres in the country, and the Technological Educational Institute of Crete (6,500 students). There are 8 University Schools and 11 Technical Schools (TEI) in total.
Agios Nikolaos is 65 kilometres east of Heraklion.
Agios Nikolaos, or just Agios as the locals call it, dominates the beautiful Merabello Bay, on the northeast coast of Lassithi Prefecture in East Crete.
Agios Nikolaos has a population of 10,000. Though small, it is the second largest town in Lassithi Prefecture, the easternmost prefecture of Crete. Agios Nikolaos was one of the first towns in Crete to feel the effects of tourist development, and the famous lake of Agios Nikolaos, around which the town centre is built, continues to impress visitors.
Agios Nikolaos is ideal for everyone, young and old, singles, couples and families, explorers and those who would rather spend their holidays on the beaches of Agios Nikolaos and other places nearby, such as Elounda to the north or Ammoudara and Istron to the south.
Tourist development almost disappears away from the coast, with the exception of Kritsa, a village whose traditional atmosphere draws large numbers of visitors.
This means that there are many opportunities for people who come to Agios Nikolaos on holiday wanting to explore non-touristy areas of East Crete, either by rented car or on organised daytrips.
Every visitor should bear in mind that Agios Nikolaos is a small town. If you don’t like the fact that you will get to see everything there is to see quite quickly, avoid planning a long stay here.
You should also avoid Agios Nikolaos if you’re looking for the wild nightlife of Hersonissos, Malia or Platanias. There is some nightlife in Agios Nikolaos and you’ll certainly have a good time here, but you won’t have the unlimited options of the other resorts.
Ierapetra, with around 13,000 inhabitants (2001 census), is a seaside town with an exceptional beach at its busy centre.
Ierapetra, sunny weather and the highest temperatures in Greece
What makes Ierapetra stand out is that it has the highest average of sunny days and the highest temperatures in Crete and Greece, with an annual average of 20 C.
Ierapetra is a town which has everything in abundance, but the one thing you won’t need here is an umbrella, since it rarely rains. According to the experts, the mountains of West and Central Crete act as barriers, stopping the clouds on their way to Ierapetra.
Ierapetra is one of the most fertile areas in Greece, and therefore one of the most productive. Its inhabitants mainly cultivate greenhouse fruit and vegetables, exporting them to many European countries.
Ierapetra is special because:
Ierapetra has many distinctions and claims even more:
it is the southernmost town in Europe
it is the town with the highest temperatures in Crete
it is an ideal base for holidays and excursions in southeast Crete
it is one of the most productive farming towns in Greece…
The list is a long one, but until recently Ierapetra was not one of the most attractive towns in Crete or Greece. In recent years, however, there have been efforts to prettify it. The restructuring of the coastal road has indeed improved it a great deal, making it ideal for a stroll and somewhere to sit for lunch or an evening drink with a view of the sea.
The town of Ierapetra has pretty corners to discover, making you forget that you’re in a busy place with a slight traffic problem and the general hustle and bustle of a town in constant motion.
CRETE CALENDAR OF FESTIVALS AND EVENTS 2016
Agios Ioannis Sfakion, St John’s Feast, May 8th: Traditional festival of Sfakia.
Azogyre, The Holy Fathers’Feast, October 7th: In the beautiful village with the visitable impressive cave of the Holy Fathers.
Aradaina, Archangel Michael’s Day, November 8th: Directly above the impressive gorge of Aradaina, in the deserted but beautiful village.
Asi Gonia, St. George’s Day, April 23rd or after Easter Day: A big festival. All the shepherds of the area bring their animals to the mass in order to be blessed, then they milk them and distribute the milk to the pilgrims.
Elos, Agios Dikaios,May 6th: Extraordinary view and a unique fair.
Therisso, Assumption of the Mother of God, August 15th: In the beautiful village where Eleftherios Venizelos declared the revolution of 1905.
Kandanos, the Ascension ofChrist (1)
Koustogerago, St Catherine, November 25th: High over Koustogerago with majestic view to the fair which is also to commemorate the rescue of the rebels that were hiding themselves from the Germans in a cave there.
Lissos, St Kyrikos, July 15th: The pilgrims start arriving ancient Lissos on foot or in boats from Sougiaγια early in the afternoon of the previous day. A real fair of Selino in a mythical place.
Paleochora, Annunciation of the Mother of God, March 25th: Many musical instruments and happy atmoshereσ’ The entire Paleochora, in the beginning of spring.
Sembronas, Apopigadi, St. John’s, June 24th: One of the feasts, that take place on a very high location, with an incredible view.
Sougia, Harey, St. Antony 1-2 of July: Unique traditional fair at the seaside small church which is situated in Harey. The route on foot from through the E4 path that lead from Sougia to Agia Roumeli lasts two hours with the unique background of the Lybian sea and piney slopes. It is possible to go there also by boat from Sougia. Overnight stay outdoor.
Strovles, Holy Ghost’s (2)
Sfakia, Thymiani Panagia, last Sunday of May.
Chrysoskalitissa, the Assumption of the Virgin, August 15th: At the beautiful monastery, which is a real «balcony» to the Lybian Sea a famous festival takes place.
Frangokastello, St. Nikitas’, September 15th: Big festival during which riding races take place.
Floria, Michael Archangel’s, November 8th: Small traditional festival.
Other excellent festivals, by date, are the following:
August 6th, the Transfiguration: Ksirosterni, Tzitzife, Karres of Kissamos, Sassalo
August 15the the Assymption of the Virgin: Voulgaro Panagia of the Summit, Kolympari Gonia, Pemonia, Fre, Eksopolis, Litsarda, Alikampo, Kefala, Kalikrati, Koustogerago
August 29th, John the Precursor’s: Rodopou Gionas, Douliana, Stylos, Kournas
September 8th, το Birth of the Mother of Christ: Gavalohori, Tzitzife, Sassalo
September 14th, Feast of the Holy Cross: Nippos, Rodovani
September 15th St. Nikitas’: Kampia
(1) The feast has no date, because it is «movable» – 40 days after the Orthodox Easter
(2) The feast has no date because it is «movable» – 50 days after the Orthodox Easter
Celebration festival of Saints Konstantinos and Eleni (Axos)
Festival of Analipsi ( Anoghia )
Festivities of Klidona ( Panormos )
Festival of Analipsi ( Panormos )
Celebration Festival of saint Panteleimon (Adele, Chromonastiri )
Celebration Festival of saint Ilias ( Eleutherna )
Celebration events of Mother Maria ( AgiaGalini, Koxare , SeliaAxos )
Celebration festival of Mother Maria of the village Charakas (Bali)
Celebration of Stavros ( Axos )
Celebration events of Mother Maria ( Miriokefala , Lefkogia )
June 24th Festival of Ai-Yianni Klidona, Municipality of Gortyna, Archanes – Asterousia
June 29th Festival of the Apostles Peter and Paul (Petros and Pavlos), Municipality of Phaistos
July 17th Festival of Agia Marina, Municipality of Malevizi, Minoa Pediada
July 27th Festival of Agios Panteleimonas, Municipalities of Archanes – Asterousia Malevizi, Viannou, Phaistos
August 6th Festival of the Transfiguration of the Saviour (Metamorphosis tou Sotira), Minoa Pediada
August 8th Festival of Agios Myronas, Municipality of Gortyna
August 15th Festival of Our Lady (Tis Panagias) Municipality of Heraklion, Malevizi Phaistos Peninsula
August 25th The great festival of Agios Titos, Municipality of Heraklion
September 8th Festival with music and dance at the Monastery of Kera, Municipality of Hersonissos
October 26th Festival of Agios Dimitrios, Municipality of Hersonissos
November 3th Festival at the Monastery of Epanosifis, Municipality of Gortyna
November 8th Grand festival of Agios Minas, Municipality of Heraklion
Saint George, 23/4. In Skalia close to village Sitanos
Saint John the Theologian, 8/5. In Marmaketo
Holy Trinity, 4/6. Palaikastro and Holy Trinity Church
Holy Trinity, 4/6. Armenoi/Sitia
Saints Kosmas and Damianos, 1/7. Mesa Lasithaki. Panlasithian feast
Saint Marina, 17/7. In Exo Mouliana, in Myrsini and Praissos
Prophet Elias, 20/7. In Mesa Mouliana
Saint Paraskevi, 26/7. In Ziros, in Tourtouloi and in Agia Triada
St Panteleeimon, 27/7. In Roussa Ekklisia, in Chamezi and in Skinokapsala
Transfiguration of Christ at the Mt Thabor 6/8. In Exo Mouliana, in Agios Stefanos and in Zakros
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven Eve,14/8. In Maronia
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven, 15/8. In Palaikastro, Lastros, Piskokefalo, Tourloti, Sitanos
Saint John, 29/8. In Ziros
Saint John the Baptist 29/8. In Dafni
Nativity of the Blesses Virgin Mary, 8/9. In Lithines.
Holy Cross, 14/9. In Sfaka
Saint Sofia, 17/9. Armenoi/Sitia
Saint Ariadni, 18/9, Tzermiado. The only church under that name in Crete
Saint Catherine, 25/11. In Sitia