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 set on the largest natural bay in Crete, Mirabello or Merabello Bay, named for the beautiful view (mira bella) of the sea from the town. The history of Agios Nikolaos is marked by its harbor in the Ammoudi area, which is still the commercial port of the town. This site was chosen for a major harbor in East Crete, because the islets of Agioi Pantes before it offered better defenses against possible attackers and good shelter from the northwesterlies, which can blow quite strongly. In the Venetian period, the harbor of Agios Nikolaos had a capacity of 25 galleys, a fairly significant number for the time, and served the needs of East Crete. Today, you can travel from here to Piraeus and various islands.
Elounda is located in east Crete, north of Agios Nikolaos and south of the seaside resort of Plaka. Elounda was once a picturesque fishing village in the lovely Mirabello Bay. The inhabitants lived from farming, fishing, salt extraction from the Venetian saltpans, and emery mining. In the hills around Elounda is found a mineral unique to Greece, “akonopetra” or whetstone, a type of fine emery used to make whetstones and emery paper to hone tools used in many different jobs. The emery of Elounda had long been known in Europe by the name of “Turkey stones” or “Naxos stone”. Once discovered by tourism, Elounda developed into a resort famous for its beautiful scenery and the luxury hotels which are still being built in the area. It is said to be the place with the most five-star hotels in Greece.
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. Over the approximately 3,000 years of its existence, Heraklion has had a turbulent history. We do not know precisely when the low hill which now forms the centre of the city was first inhabited. In antiquity the main urban centre was Knossos. As for the name Heraklion, it probably comes from the Idaean Herakles, legendary founder of the Olympic Games. The history of Heraklion can be divided into the following periods:
- Minoan Heraklion, creation of the first settlement by the name of Heraklion (9th century BC)
- Byzantine Heraklion or Kastro
- Arab Heraklion Chandax Great Castle
- Second Byzantine Period
- Venetian Heraklion or Candia
- Turkish Heraklion
- Heraklion at the turn of the 20th century Heraklion in the Second World War
Heraklion is the main city on the island of Crete and usually the starting point for holiday visitors wishing to explore the island. The city, built on a fairly steep hillside, has a huge harbor to accommodate ferries and cruise liners, and an international airport. Heraklion is busy, bustling and full of hotels, fast food outlets, shops and traffic. The main square of Plateia Venizelou is a pedestrian mall sporting cafés and restaurants, with some fascinating shops in the surrounding streets. Like many Greek cities Heraklion's architecture was influenced by Venetian occupation, and a Venetian fortress dominates the harbor. Heraklion's pride and joy, though, is its archaeological museum, which contains the world's most comprehensive collection of arte facts from the Minoan civilization, which flourished on Crete around 1600 BC. Heraklion is close to the major archaeological site associated with the Minoans at Knossos.
The Minoan palace at Knossos, covering an area of 215,278 square feet (20,000 sq metres), is one of the world's greatest sightseeing experiences. It consists of four wings, arranged around a rectangular central court. The palace originally had many stories, was built of ashlar blocks and had walls decorated with splendid frescoes. British archaeologist, Arthur Evans, who excavated most of the labyrinthine Knossos site, has painstakingly restored some sections of the palace. The remains now visible are actually not those of the original palace, which was built around 2,000 BC and destroyed by an earthquake about 1,700 BC. A subsequent more complex palace was then constructed. The palace was first unearthed in 1878 by a Cretan merchant and antiquarian, but was not systematically excavated until 1900. The Knossos site is about three miles (5km) south of Heraklion.
Lassithi Plateau is one of the few areas in the Mediterranean with permanent inhabitants at an altitude over 800 metres. Lassithi plateau is 11 kilometres on the east-west axis and 6 kilometres on the north-south - an area of 25 square kilometres.
At 66 kilometers south of Heraklion, the beach of Matala, on the southern coast of Crete, was the site of summer celebrations in honor of the Goddess of fertility from the Minoans and yet the ancient port of Phaistos. According to mythology, when Zeus kidnapped Europe from Asia, he brought the first Matala. Much later, namely the 70’s, the beach with the tourquoise waters of the Libyan Sea and the impressive caves that resemble houses, became a gathering place and escape from daily routine, thousands of young children from Greece and abroad (Flower Children). Today Matala beach is one of the most famous beaches in Greece.
Sitia is a nice amphitheatre city with population over 11.000 residents. This town is a refuge for thousands of Greek and foreign visitors that starting off to visit various traditional villages at that area. Sitia is famous for its Cretan hospitality. Visitors discover with amazement that every corner of Sitia hides various archeological treasures certifying great culture tradition. Sitia is named after the ancient city Itidos or Itia that is located at East Crete.
The island of Spinalonga (official name Kalidon) is located in the eastern part of Crete, near the town of Elounda. Harking back to the Venetian occupation, the name Spinalonga is Italian, meaning "long thorn". In 1579, the Venetians built a fortress on Spinalonga over the ruins of an acropolis. They kept control of the island until the Ottoman Empire took possession of it in 1715. The island is notable for being one of the last active leper colonies in Europe, being used in this manner from 1903 until 1957.
Vai, or more specifically the palm forest of Vai, is one of the most popular sights in Crete and one of the most beautiful and special places in the whole Mediterranean. Vai draws thousands of visitors each year. They come not only for its wonderful palm forest, but also for the large sandy beach spread out at its foot. In the 1980s Vai was decreed a protected area and cleaned up. Today it is considered one of the most beautiful parts of Crete and the beach has been awarded a Blue Flag by the European Union.
While in Archanes, it is worth visiting the exquisite byzantine churches of the area, the Folklore Museum, the Museum of Cretan History and Tradition, the sculpture workshop, the restored olive oil factory and the Church of the Holy Mary of Archanes, where icons and ecclesiastic vessels and implements of great importance are on display. Another important monument is the Morosini aqueduct at the gorge of Agia Eirini. This aqueduct is considered to be a great project of its time. It used to supply the city of Heraklion which suffered from drought with water from the springs of Archanes through a stone built water pipe that was 15 km long. It was used during the Venetian Period, during the years of the Turkish occupation and more recently until 1927. This village has been characterized as a historical and traditional architecture heritage.
The Minoan site of Phestos is 63 kilometers south of Heraklion city. This was the second most important palatial city in all of Minoan Crete. The layout of the palace is similar to Knossos, with rooms arranged around a central court. Pottery deposits indicate that the site was inhabited in the Neolithic era around 4000 BC and then destroyed by the earthquake that leveled many Minoan places. Ancient texts refer to the palace’s importance and note that it minted its own coins.
Sfakia is a small fishermen’s village located south of Crete. During the summer, it’s full of life because at its small port the ferry boats dock, that carry trekkers from Agia Roumeli that is in the end of Samaria Gorge. From this village small boats begin for the graphical, cosmopolitan and isolated village of Loutro (there is no road to this village; you can travel only via boat). Sfakia is visible from the sea, this village is built amphitheater above the bay. Multiple buildings of traditional architecture have survived. Small alleyways, one and two story houses with petite windows and doors, indoor “ayli” with old wells and stone ovens.
Samaria Gorge is located at ‘Lefka Ori’ (mountain of Chania region). This is one of the biggest gorges of the Balkans. At the most famous spot of the gorge, at the Xyloskalo, there is a tourist kiosk for the visitors of the area. It was declared as a National Park of Samaria at 1962, since then it has rare flora and fauna. Starting south of the settlement of Omalos, 42 Km south of Chania, spans for 18 Km as far as the south Crete coast. It takes 6 to 8 hours to walk the gorge.
Loutro Sfakion. At this village there aren’t large hotels with pools, there aren’t any packed roads (there are no roads available) there are no crowded tavern’s or beaches; there are no cars in sight! This is a small fishermen’s village south west of Crete, that hasn’t been spoiled from mass tourism. Discover the beautiful beaches Gluka Nera, Timios Stavros, Pervolaki, Marmara (also nudists beaches). You arrive there either by boat or by foot. Enjoy the sun, the clean waters and the calmness.
Frangokastelo is on the South side of Crete, 13 kilometers East of Sfakia and West of Plakia. It is a magnificent fortress of 1371 that was built by the Venetians as a defense against pirates and rebel Sfakiots, who resented the Venetian occupation as much as they did the Turkish. It was here in 1770 that Ioannis Daskalogiannis surrendered to the Turks. On 1828 many Cretan rebels, led by Hadzi Mihalis Dalanis, were killed here by the Turks. Legend has it that at dawn each anniversary the ghosts “Drosoulites” of Hadzi Mihalis Dalanis and his followers can be seen riding along the beach. The castle overlooks a gently sloping sandy beach where you can find unspoilt taverns and cafeterias.
Elafonisi is one of the loveliest sand beaches in Crete. At the southern extremity of Crete’s west coast, the beach is long separated from the Elafonisi Islet by about 50 meters of knee-deep water. The clear shallow turquoise water and fine white sand create a tropical paradise.
Falasarna is 16 kilometers west of Kissamos. Visitors prefer the long, wide stretch of sandy beach, which is considered one of the best in Crete. It is split up into several coves by rocky spits and is known for its stunning sunsets and pink hues reflecting from the fine coral in the sand.
Northwest of Kissamos is the beautifully wild and remote Gramvousa, whose main attraction is the stunning lagoon like sandy beach of Balos on Cape Tigani on the west side of the peninsula’s narrow tip. The idyllic beach with turquoise waters is overlooked by the two islets of ‘Agria’ and ‘Imeri’. The rough but drivable dirt road (best in a four wheel drive) to Balos begins at the end of the main street of Kalyviani village and follows the eastern slope of Mt Geroskinos. From there the view is spectacular.
Chania is unreservedly Crete’s most evocative city. At the Venetian port, the light house is the most familiar picture when someone refers to this city. This is one of the oldest light houses of the world that is still preserved. Restored Venetian townhouses have been converted into restaurants, cafes, boutique hotels and attractive shops. Small alleyways filled with visitors retain the exoticism of a city caught between the East and the West. Chania’s war torn history has left it with only a few monuments, but the city wears its scars proudly.
Rethymno is the island’s third largest town and one of the most picturesque with charming Venetian harbor that is crammed with fish taverns and cafes. The old Venetian city is a maze of narrow streets draped in floral canopies, graceful wood balconied houses and ornate Venetian monuments, with minarets adding a touch of the Orient. Rethymno’s 16th Century Fortezza is on the site of the city’s ancient acropolis. Within its massive walls a great number of buildings once stood, of which only a church and a mosque survive intact. This city has a beautiful character all its own.
Moni Preveli is one of the most important Monasteries in Crete because of its historical significance and because of the historical relics that are kept in its museum. The monks that lived there had active participation in all the liberation battles of Crete. At 1940 the German soldiers captured the monks and looted the monastery steeling one of most important item, the Timios Stavros (Holy Cross), that was returned years later. The monastery museum has significant exhibitions such as more than 100 Icons some dating back to the early 17th century, holy cups, vestments and Holy Gospels.
Episkopi – Argiroupoli
Episkopi is a village 23kilometers west of Rethymno, it is a pretty traditional town of winding lanes and tiny houses overlooking the valley. The springs and waterfalls of Argyroupolis are a delightfully cool surprise to your trip