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Why Should I Visit Crete?

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Crete at a glance

The cradle of the Minoan civilisation, situated at a crossroads of diverse cultures that have left their traces in every corner, the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean is an inexhaustible mosaic of myth, history and nature, which never fails to captivate its visitors.

Imposing ancient palaces and Byzantine monasteries coexist with still-inhabited fortress towns, unique monuments to the island's history. Exotic beaches vie with the fabulous gorges and towering peaks of the rugged mountains that overlook the blue expanse of the Sea of Crete and the Libyan Sea.

Ancient pathways cross verdant green valleys with vineyards and olive trees, and connect picturesque mountain villages where the traditions are unchanged by time. Gastronomic treasures excite the senses and the people deliver homespun philosophy in songs and poems of rhyming couplets called mantinades.

Romantic and adventurous, idyllic and eccentric, generous but also mysterious, Crete offers the thrilling experience of a unique place where three continents meet. A unique island in the very south of Europe, which you can visit with a ferry ticket to Crete.

10 reasons to visit Crete

1. To discover the grandeur of the Minoan civilisation, the first great European culture, in the place where it was born. Learn about its history as you tour the imposing palaces of Knossos, Phaistos, Malia and Zakros, and the remains of dozens of Minoan cities.

2. To wander around picture-postcard medieval towns where the splendour of bygone days is very much alive: the atmospheric Old Town of Chania, the “Venice of the East”, with the fairy-tale setting of its lovely harbour; the Venetian Old Town of Rethymnon, with its vibrant Renaissance atmosphere, overlooked by the imposing Fortezza Castle; the busy Mediterranean city of Heraklion, with its iconic 16th century fortress, the Castelo a Mare, known for having the strongest walls in the Eastern Mediterranean; and the eerily beautiful former leper colony of Spinalonga.

3. To visit excellent museums such as Heraklion Archaeological Museum, one of Europe's finest, with its astounding collection of Minoan treasures. See the remarkable Phaistos Disc, one of the world's great archaeological mysteries, whose 241 symbols remain undeciphered to this day.

4. To enjoy unique road trips to the traditional villages of the Cretan interior: Anogia, the heart of Crete, with its great musical tradition; proud Sfakia, with its rugged landscape on the steep slopes between the White Mountains and the coast of the Libyan Sea; the beautiful Archanes, with its fine architecture and centuries-old tradition of winemaking in the foothills of Mount Iouktas; and Vamos, a gorgeous stone-built village in a setting reminiscent of Tuscany.

5. To learn the secrets of the real Cretan diet, the original Mediterranean Diet declared by UNESCO to be part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2012.

6. To explore a place of unparalleled natural beauty with a unique and diverse landscape, a paradise for nature walks, extreme sports, and off-road adventures. Walk the majestic Samaria Gorge, the longest in Europe, with narrow passes reaching 500 metres in height; visit the legendary Dictaean Cave, the mythological birthplace of Zeus; and explore the exotic palm forest of Vai, the largest in Europe.

7. To visit historic monasteries that are sites of spiritual importance, symbols of bravery, and showcases of Byzantine art: the heroic Arkadi Monastery, a “European Monument of Freedom” according to UNESCO; the amazing Toplou Monastery; Preveli Monastery; and the legendary Chrysoskalitissa Monastery.

8. To swim at some of the most fabulous beaches in the Mediterranean, with exotic settings and seas straight out of a tropical paradise, from the famous Falasarna and the legendary Matala, a favourite of hippies in the 1960s, to the much-photographed Vai.

9. To discover a mecca for luxury holidays, haute cuisine, and exclusive entertainment at some of the world’s most cosmopolitan tourist resorts. The best known is the gorgeous Elounda, long a playground for celebrities from every corner of the globe.

10. To experience a special way of life with a unique culture of hospitality and ancient cultural traditions. Take part in a Cretan celebration and enjoy the poetic art of the mantinada accompanied by a lyre or lute.

The top 5 beaches

Balos Lagoon: The island’s most famous and photographed beach, with shallow turquoise waters and fine sand, situated in a lagoon between the Gramvousa peninsula and Cape Tigani.

Elafonisi: A piece of the Caribbean in the middle of the Mediterranean, a tropical paradise of wild beauty, with shallow turquoise waters, white sand tinged pink by the crushed shells from the lagoon, and the shade of cedar trees and tamarisks. It is like a postcard from a Pacific atoll. The best time to enjoy it is off-season, so that’s when you should take the ferry to Crete if you want to visit Elafonisi.

Falasarna: One of the best beaches in Greece and Europe, a seemingly endless stretch of white sand with deep green-blue waters that transform the landscape into a tropical paradise. Lovers of solitude gravitate to the north end, near the rocks and the ruins of Ancient Falasarna. If you want to avoid waves and sandstorms, don’t go when the wind is blowing from the west. Conversely, that’s the best time to visit if you’re an experienced surfer. Stay to see the most romantic sunset in the Mediterranean.

Preveli: One of the most beautiful and famous beaches on the south coast, with white sand and cooling emerald waters. This is where the Megas Potamos river exits from the Kourtaliotiko Gorge, forming an exotic lagoon of natural pools with palm trees and small waterfalls before flowing into the Libyan Sea.

Agiofarango: This enchanting beach at the end of the gorge of the same name, south of Heraklion, is a dream-like vision of crystal-clear blue waters and small white pebbles surrounded by dramatic vertical cliffs. Bordered by the vastness of the Libyan Sea, it is an ideal place for those who love seclusion. It is worth coming here through the gorge, a mysterious landscape of stone, wild olive trees and hermit caves. Otherwise, it can be reached by boat.

Don’t leave Crete without…
  • Taking a pedalo out on the beautiful Lake Kournas, the only natural freshwater body in Crete.
  • Visiting the excellent Nikos Kazantzakis Museum in Myrtia, where you can learn about the life and work of the famous author of Zorba the Greek, and the El Greco Museum in Fodele, dedicated to the most important Cretan painter of the Renaissance.
  • Discovering the undersea world of the Mediterranean at the stunning Cretaquarium Thalassocosmos, the largest aquarium in Greece (in Gournes).
  • Enjoying the sunset with a view of the Libyan Sea from the hilltop where the Chrysoskalitissa Monastery is situated. According to legend, there is gold treasure buried under one of the 90 steps that you have to climb to reach it.
  • Getting a genuine Cretan knife with a mantinada engraved on the blade.
  • Visiting the beautiful Frangokastello, the legendary Venetian castle where strange visions called “Drosoulites” can be seen in May every year.
  • Exploring some of the small islands around Crete, such as Gaidouronisi (Chrysi) with its turquoise waters and beaches of white sand and crushed seashells, opposite the town of Ierapetra; Gavdos, the southernmost point in Europe, with its forest of cedar trees, zen atmosphere and magical sunset, opposite Paleochora; and the magnificent Koufonisi or Lefki, the “Delos of Crete” according to locals, opposite Sitia.
  • Walking around the archaeological site of Ancient Gortyna, the capital of Roman Crete, with the stunning Church of Saint Titus and the Great Inscription of the Gortyn Code, the oldest and most complete set of laws in Greece.
  • Taking an evening stroll to the beautiful harbour of Agios Nikolaos to admire the elegant neoclassical buildings around Lake Voulismeni and the dazzling views of Mirabello Bay.
  • Exploring the beautiful Lasithi Plateau, with its thousands of windmills. Created in the 1950s, this could be considered the world’s first – and largest – wind park. It is worth taking a photograph of the view from Seli Ambelou.
  • Making a stop at Paleochora, known as the “Bride of the Libyan Sea”, a gateway to the stunning beaches on the southern coast.
  • Looking round one of the hundreds of Byzantine churches (13th-16th century) in the region of ​​Selino, important repositories of religious art by great painters of the past.
  • Arranging a guided tour of the Mountain Desert in the heart of the White Mountains. Scientists have dubbed this mysterious moonscape with its conical rocks and sinkholes the “Antarctica of Crete”.
Tasty Experiences
  • Be sure to try a dakos (dried barley bread with grated tomato, xinomizithra cheese, olive oil and oregano, or capers and olives), one of the most representative Cretan dishes.
  • Make a toast of good health as you knock back a shot of Cretan raki (tsikoudia), drunk as a mark of friendship and respect.
  • Sample some of the unique wild greens of Crete, such as stamnagathi (spiny chicory) or askolimbros (a kind of thistle), or askordoulakos bulbs, which are used like shallots.
  • Choose the ferry to Crete and discover traditional Cretan pies. Try Sfakia cheese pies (filled with mizithra and fried in a pan without oil), Chania boureki (made with courgette, potato and mizithra cheese), and fried or baked kaltsounia (small pies filled with mizithra cheese or wild greens).
  • Sit in one of the island’s picturesque raki bars and learn how to drink tsikoudia in the Cretan way, accompanied by delicious mezes such as apaki (smoked pork), fresh or pickled artichoke, PDO (protected designation of origin) Cretan graviera cheese, throumbes (sun-dried olives), fennel pies, octopus with olives, and artichoke omelette.
  • Don’t miss out on a dish of snails, either fried or in a red sauce.
  • Order skioufichta pasta with red sauce, tsigariasto (goat or lamb cooked in a clay pot), or antikristo (spit-roasted goat or lamb).
  • Satisfy your sweet tooth with lychnarakia (tartlets filled with cream cheese), hot mizithra cheese pies with honey, or yogurt pie.
  • Enjoy unforgettable tastings of local wines in the vineyards of Heraklion (around Peza, Archanes and Dafnes), the largest wine-producing region of Crete.
Trivia

“[…] Situated as it is between Europe, Asia and Africa, the island was destined by its geographical position to become the bridge between those three continents. That's why Crete was the first land in Europe to receive the dawn of civilisation which came from the East. Two thousand years before the Greek miracle, that mysterious, so-called Aegean civilisation was in full bloom on Crete - still dumb, full of life, reeling with colours, finesse and taste which surprise and provoke awe.[…]

Nikos Kazantzakis

MAP OF CRETE
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