can expect a warm welcome as you explore the traditional villages,
hail a fishing boat to sail to a secluded cove and savour sticky treats
in harbourside coffee houses. Crete has many stylish resorts and boutique hotels to choose from – here’s a guide to some of the best areas to explore wherever you stay.
irthplace of Zeus and cradle of the Minoan civilisation, Crete is steeped in epic tales and classical heritage. But these days, it is also prized as one of Greece’s most hospitable islands, so you
From golden beaches and lofty mountains to Unesco
sites and family-run tavernas, Greece’s largest island is the
stuff of myth and holiday legend, says Heidi Fuller-Love
To plan your holiday escape to Crete go to visitgreece.gr/inspirations/all-you-want-is-greece
The Crete escape
With its Venetian-style houses and quaint tavernas clustered around the harbour, Crete’s one-time capital is a feast for the senses. In its labyrinth of cobbled alleys, small stores sell specialities ranging from herbs and spices to handcrafted leather goods embossed with traditional mantinades verses.
Take a step back in time with a stroll or a carriage ride through bougainvillea-bright streets, crammed with buildings that combine Venetian and Neoclassical architecture, and visit Chania’s 17th-century Gialisi Tzami mosque, the vaulted Venetian Arsenal and the lighthouse. Crete is home to a wide selection of healthy products that epitomise the Mediterranean diet – and you can also taste the island’s traditional cuisine with a modern twist.
Highlights within easy reach of Chania include Kournas, Crete’s only freshwater lake, and the ancient monasteries of Gouverneto and Agia Triada, while the famed pink sands and warm turquoise seas of Elafonisi are less than two hours’ drive away. For more active thrills, take a five-hour, 15-kilometre hike through the protected biosphere of the Samaria Gorge to the sea.
There are a selection of beautiful beaches to chill out on, with nearby Agia Marina, idyllic Balos and Falassarna to the west, and Gialiskari on the southern coast – great for snorkelling – all vying for your attention. And don’t miss the tiny island of Gavdos, one of the region’s best kept secrets.
This beautiful city is backed by the mighty Psiloritis mountains, fringed by sandy beaches and topped by the 16th-century Fortezza, which doubles as a concert venue in summer.
Stroll the cobbled streets of the atmospheric old town, one of the best preserved medieval towns in Greece, with a honeycomb of cobbled alleyways dappled with vines and bougainvillea, cute cafes, shops selling local crafts and restaurants dishing up the best of Cretan eats.
Discover the old Venetian harbour, magnificent mosques and mansions, or sample tsigariasto – a dish of claypot-baked lamb – on a terrace near the Rimondi fountain. Learn more about Rethymno’s history in the Archaeological Museum, packed with Minoan jewellery, Roman statues and other artefacts.
Some of the best beaches in Crete – including the palm-shaded
Preveli – are great alternatives to the long, sandy offering of Rethymno city. Preveli’s historic monastery is not to be missed and it’s also well worth heading inland to discover the villages of Anogeia, birthplace of the acclaimed musician Nikos Xylouris, and Spili, which is renowned
for its lion-head fountain. Charming villages, such as Agia Galini, in
the southern part of the region are ideal for family holidays.
‘Crete is steeped in epic tales and classical heritage‘
Crete’s lively capital is packed with fascinating cultural sites. These include the recently renovated Archaeological Museum – home to the island’s celebrated Minoan frescoes – and the Historical Museum of Crete, whose highlights include two paintings by El Greco.
After indulging in a slice of history at Koules fortress, food lovers should take a gourmet walking tour through Heraklion’s busy backstreets, stopping for meze in a traditional kafeneion – one of the coffee shops in the bustling market. Or sample a luscious bougatsa custard pastry in a café overlooking the grand Morosini fountain.
The palace of Knossos – the mythical home of King Minos – is a 15-minute drive from the capital. Follow waymarked Wine Roads of Heraklion from here to discover a string of excellent vineyards, or take the winding route to Myrtia, with its fascinating Nikos Kazantzakis Museum, dedicated to the author of Zorba the Greek.
The palace of Phaistos, one of the most important Minoan palaces and the second in size after that of Knossos, can also be explored on a rise in the western part of the large and fertile plain of Mesara.
Agia Pelagia, once a traditional fishing village, is now a picturesque seaside resort. Its narrow beach, set in a protected bay, is popular for jet skiing and scuba diving. While Matala, one of the most famous beaches in Greece, is known for its caves in the steep cliffs that rise above the north side of the bay.
Capital of Crete’s peaceful Lasithi region, Agios Nikolaos sits on a hill overlooking Voulismeni, a mirror-calm lake surrounded by taverns where, legend has it, the goddess Athena would bathe. Beyond the city’s glittering seafront lies a tangle of jasmine-scented lanes, with shops selling everything from handcrafted leather goods to Greek designer fashion.
Reached via a winding coastal road lined with secluded coves, the low-key celebrity resort of Elounda is within easy driving distance. Explore the site of the ancient city of Olous (mentioned in Homer’s epics),
then hop on a traditional trehandiri fishing boat to visit Spinalonga, a former leper colony made famous in Victoria Hislop’s poignant novel The Island.
From Elounda it’s a couple of hours’ drive to Kato Zakros, a remote resort famed for its traditional tavernas, spectacularly panoramic Valley of the Dead hiking trail and the imposing remains of its Minoan palace.
Psychro Cave, thought to be the birthplace of Zeus, is just an hour’s drive from Agios Nikolaos, but If you just want to relax and take in the sea views, the beaches of Psili Ammos, Voulisma, Istro and exotic Vai – which is bordered by Europe’s only natural palm forest – will hit the spot. Or you could carve out a day for Chryssi island, which has sandy beaches full of fossil shells, crystal clear waters perfect for snorkelling and a rare cedar forest that’s more than 200 years old.
Legendary Agios Nikolas
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Take me to the beach: Balos, on the western side of the island, is all fine sand and superb views
The harbourfront at Chania is packed with lively tavernas
The palm-backed sands
of Preveli beach
The palace of Knossos, mythical home of
The view from Agios Nikolaos over Lake Voulismeni, above
Walk the cobbled streets of Rethymnon’s old town (palia poli) and admire its Venetian architecture
Take a boat trip to historic Spinalonga, right
Photography: Y Skoulas
irthplace of Zeus and cradle of the Minoan civilisation, Crete is steeped in epic tales and classical heritage. But these days, it is also prized as one of Greece’s most hospitable islands, so you can expect a warm welcome as you explore the traditional villages, hail a fishing boat to sail to a secluded cove and savour sticky treats in harbourside coffee houses. Crete has many stylish resorts and boutique hotels to choose from – here’s a guide to some of the best areas to explore wherever you stay.