To continue with our Greece series; next Mary went to Crete. Crete is the largest of the Greek islands and is in the Mediterranean Sea between the Sea of Crete and the Libyan Sea, south of the Peloponnese. Crete is approximately 162 miles long and 37 miles wide. Crete consists of four prefectures: Chania, Rethimno, Heraklion and Lasithi. If there was a beauty contest for Greek islands, Crete would surely be among the favorites. Indeed, some say there is no place on earth like Crete. This view is strongly supported by those fortunate enough to have visited the island. Crete, with a population of approximately 650,000, is not just sun, sea and sand; it is a quite distinct place full of vitality, warmth, hospitality, culture and of course an excellent infrastructure. Crete is well known for its seas and beaches but it has a very contrasting landscape. The island goes from fertile coastal plains to rugged mountains and from busy metropolitan cities to very peaceful hillside villages. If you travel throughout Crete you can clearly see remnants of Roman and Turkish aqueducts and architecture from when these people invaded the island long ago. You will also find ancient Minoan ruins around the island.
Top Tips for Crete
Best time to go – May to October. At this time weather is the most suitable for water activities
Eat where the locals eat – this is always the case whereever you travel. If you see a taverna packed with locals, this is where you need to stop and fill your stomach.
Be Patient – while clocks do exist on Crete, most times are really just suggestions. Just relax and go with it, you are on island time now.
Beware of mixed spellings – Sometimes it’s Heraklion. Sometimes it’s Iraklio. Sometimes it’s Ηράκλειο. Regardless of how it’s spelled or written, it’s all the same place, so don’t get confused when you’re driving around.
Tap water is fine to drink – although some people dislike the taste
Don’t overlook the small towns – visiting the smaller cities, towns, and villages is not only cheaper, but it also gives you a feel for what life on Crete is really like outside of tourism
Our Favorite Spots in Crete
Archaeological Site in Knossos – Knossos, also romanized Cnossus, Gnossus, and Knossus, is the main Bronze Age archaeological site at Heraklion, a modern port city on the north central coast of Crete. The setting is evocative and the ruins and recreations impressive, incorporating an immense palace, courtyards, private apartments, baths, lively frescoes and more.
Archaeological site in Around Matala – Gortyna (also Gortyn or Gortys) has been inhabited since Neolithic times but reached its pinnacle after becoming the capital of Roman Crete from around 67 BC until the Saracens raided the island in AD 824. At its peak, as many as 100,000 people may have milled around Gortyna’s streets.
Archaeological Site in Around Matala – Phaestos was the second-most-important Minoan palace-city after Knossos and enjoys an awe-inspiring setting with panoramic views of the Messara Plain and Mt Psiloritis. It was built around 1700 BC atop an older, previously destroyed palace, and laid out around a central court. In contrast to Knossos, it had fewer frescoes, as its walls were likely covered with white gypsum. Phaestos was defeated by Gortyna in the 2nd century BC. Good English panelling and graphics stationed in key spots help demystify the ruins.
Archaeological site in Zakros & Kato Zakros – Ancient Zakros, the smallest of Crete’s four Minoan palatial complexes, sat next to a harbour and was likely engaged in sea trade with the Middle East, as suggested by excavated elephant tusks and oxhide ingots. Like Knossos, Phaestos and Malia, Zakros centred on a courtyard flanked by royal apartments, shrines, ceremonial halls, storerooms and workshops. While the ruins are sparse, the remote setting makes it an attractive site to nose around. Information panels help spur your imagination.
Historic site in Elounda – Tiny Spinalonga Island became a leper colony in 1903 and catapulted into pop-cultural consciousness thanks to Victoria Hislop’s 2005 bestselling novel The Island and the subsequent Greek TV series spin-off To Nisi. Boats departing from Elounda, Plaka and Agios Nikolaos drop visitors at Dante’s Gate, the 20m-long tunnel through which patients arrived. From here, a 1km trail takes you past such ‘sights’ (mostly ruined) as a church, the disinfection room, the hospital and the cemetery.
Monastery in Rethymno Province – The 16th-century Arkadi Monastery, 23km southeast of Rethymno, has deep significance for Cretans. As the site where hundreds of cornered locals massacred both themselves and invading Turks, it’s a stark and potent symbol of resistance and considered a spark plug in the island’s struggle towards freedom from Turkish occupation.
Beach in Hania Province – Tucked into Crete’s southwestern corner, this symphony of fine pink-white sand, turquoise water and gentle rose dunes looks like a magical dreamscape. As the water swirls across the sands, rainbows shimmer across its surface. Off Elafonisi’s long, wide strand lies Elafonisi Islet, occasionally connected by a thin, sandy isthmus, which creates a lovely double beach; otherwise, it’s easily reached by wading through 50m of knee-deep water.
Ruins in Hania Province – The ruins of the ancient city of Aptera, about 13.5km east of Hania, spread over two hills that lord grandly over Souda Bay. Founded in the 7th century BC, it was one of the most important city states of western Crete and was continuously inhabited until an earthquake destroyed it in the 7th century AD. Aptera revived with the Byzantine reconquest of Crete in the 10th century, and became a bishopric. You’ll need your own wheels to get here.
Museum in Hania – The setting alone in the beautifully restored 16th-century Venetian Church of San Francisco is reason to visit this fine collection of artefacts from Neolithic to Roman times. Late-Minoan clay baths used as coffins catch the eye, along with a large glass case with an entire herd of clay bulls (used to worship Poseidon). Other standouts include Roman floor mosaics, Hellenistic gold jewellery, clay tablets with Linear A and Linear B script, and a marble sculpture of the head of Roman emperor Hadrian.
Where We Stayed in Crete
Blue Palace, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa
Endless views, crystal clear waters and a host of cultural and gastronomical experiences await guests at Blue Palace, a Luxury Collection Resort and Spa. Spend a day exploring the beauty of the island with its old villages, wineries and the ancient Palace of Knossos or simply enjoy a leisurely dip in the crystal blue waters of our magnificent private beach. Sail the coast of Elounda and around the relics of Spinalonga island, a National Monument, aboard our traditional caique. Discover unique dining experiences within five restaurants and select from a variety of exquisite Mediterranean dishes, traditional Greek specialties and cuisine with an international flair. Nourish body and soul with a signature treatment or just indulge in your own private pool, while rejoicing in a landscape of breathtaking beauty.
Luxury Spaces We Also Visted in Crete
Amirandes Grecotel Exclusive Resort
A sparkling exclusive resort inspired by the legendary Cretan hospitality. On a perfect location, with easy access to Crete Golf Club, Heraklion’s international airport and the world-famous Knossos archaeological site. Be pampered by the grand range of spacious, quality accommodation with designers’ furniture & luxurious amenities. Indulge in supreme and refined ambience, where soft colours and cool fabrics create a leisurely mood.
Step out of your private villa onto a cove of fine golden sand lapped by pristine waters and surrounded by nature. The villas feature indulgent high tech details, private gyms and state-of the-art bathrooms with colourtherapy and aromatherapy Jacuzzi bathtubs.
Elounda Gulf Villas
Soaring above the shimmering Gulf of Mirabello, the award-winning Elounda Gulf Villas in Crete is an exclusive luxury retreat, seamlessly blending the unmatched services of a world-class hotel with the warm, inviting ambience of a private home. Family owned and run, this elegant boutique Villa Hotel is dedicated to offer bespoke holiday experiences in 15 exquisite Suites and 18 Pool Villas, vibrating tranquility and timeless splendor. Enriched with invigorating wellness amenities, indulgent Mediterranean flavors, and thrilling activities for everyone to enjoy, holidays at Elounda Gulf Villas capture the essence of blissful Mediterranean living.
Porto Elounda Golf & Spa Resort, the hotel’s partner resort located 400 yards away, offers additional dining options including the seasonal Aglio & Olio restaurant set in an olive grove and the Odysseus right on the waterfront., as well as a private 9 hole par-3 golf course . At the spa operated by “Six Senses” guests can indulge in relaxing treatments such as Thermal Regenerative Facial or the Balinese Massage (surcharge).
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