15 Reasons to Visit Crete

Greece's largest island, Crete has something for everyone. Here, we list 15 reasons to visit this spectacular destination, famed for its history, beaches, and unique cuisine.


IRAKLEIO

Dive in the waters of the Libyan Sea

Matala may be famous around the world and always crawling with vacationers during the summer months, Kommos Beach, however, which is nearby has nothing to envy. With beautiful sandy dunes, the ruins of an ancient city, which it is said was the port of Phaistos, and so expansive that it is never overcrowded.

The treasured town of Avdou

Avdou, a town located on the road towards the Lasithi Plateau, is one of the most beautiful – if not the most beautiful – towns of Irakleio. During the summer, it becomes alive with natives of Avdou living in Athens who love their town not only for its elegant buildings that once housed old shops (coffee shops, general convenience stores, saddleries and others), but also for its coffee houses, Byzantine churches, nearby caves, and the famous festival that is held on August 15 in celebration of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, which is considered one of the most revered festivals of Irakleio. 

Quiet please

 

The southern side of Irakleio, under the Asterousia mountain range, is dotted with many – secluded and non-secluded – beaches, including Agiofaraggo, which has become particularly popular, and Tripiti Beach, with its many recreational vehicles. If you want to escape the crowds, Vathi Beach is a perfect alternative. A sandy beach with crystal clear waters and a few tamarix trees that provide shade from the midday sun, Vathi lies at the end of a 10-km dirt road. 

Searching for El Greco

The birthplace of renowned Cretan artist Domenikos Theotokopoulos (1541-1614), widely known as “El Greco,” hosts two of his most famous works, the only ones that are exhibited in Crete. These are the View of Mt. Sinai and the Monastery of St. Catherine (1570) and Baptism of Christ (1569),which are on display at the Historical Museum of Crete (Tel. (+30) 2810.283.219). For those who are interested, touch screens are also available that provide information on the Cretan painter and allow you to get a closer look at the details of his two paintings. 

HANIA

Traditional homemade dishes at Grammeno Camping

In Crete, there are a few places where you can enjoy authentic Cretan cuisine just a few meters away from sandy beaches. The taverna that operates inside the camping grounds (Tel. (+30) 28230.421.25) at Grammeno Beach, just a few minutes from Paleochora, serves dishes that are made with fresh ingredients: vegetables from local producers, meat from farmers from the mountainous regions of Hania, cheese from small producers. The menu includes sautéed Hanian burek (savory pie), Sfakian pies, sticky pilaf, kalitsounia (small cheese snacks) – all cooked with their own olive oil. 

An alternative museum

Learn about the history of typography at the namesake museum that was founded by Yannis and Eleni Garedakis (Chania Park of Local Industries, Building 13-03, Tel. (+30) 28210.800.90. Monday – Saturday 10.00-15.00), located just outside the city. Here, you will see hand-operated and foot-operated printing presses, typesetting benches, rare publications and engraving machines. Visitors are advised to contact the museum before their visit. 

Secluded beaches

 

Six kilometers northwest of the popular beach of Elafonisi lies a smaller beach, secluded yet popular among locals and vacationers during the summer months. Aspri Limni (White Lake) Beach, close to Chrysoskalitissa Monastery, has white sand as its name suggests, and is surrounded by rocks.

RETHYMNO

Ligres and Aghia Fotia

South Rethymno has many hidden gems, like Ligres, with its wild beach, cold, deep waters, and small taverna–guesthouse that is seldom busy, even in August, when the area is bustling with tourists. Make sure that you check the weather, however, because when it’s windy the sea is rough. Aghia Fotia (Tel. (+30) 693.712.4600) is perfect for lunch or dinner. Tucked under the town of Kerame, the meats, vegetables and cheeses all come from local producers, while the fish and seafood are fresh, bought from local fisherman directly from their caiques.

The rich cultural history of Amari

Amari hosts many important cultural sights such as: the Protopalatial-era (1900-1750 BC) Minoan settlement of Monastiraki, whose palace bears similar features to those at Knossos, Phaistos and Malia; ancient Syvritos, on Kefala hill, which flourished during the Hellenistic period (323-31 BC); while close to the town of Apodoulou, on the road that once connected the palace of Phaistos with the town of Monastiraki, excavators found an ancient Minoan structure that functioned as intermediate stop.

Wine trails

 

Although Rethymno has a long history in winemaking, enotourism has only grown during the last few years. Of the area’s many wineries, the Kourkoulou Winery (Tel. (+30) 694.809.9169) close to the town of Patsos with its fine Muscat of Spina label and the Klados Winery (Tel. (+30) 28340.515.89) that cultivates both local and international varieties are well worth a visit. In the mountainous region of Rethymno, visit the winery of Iliana Malihin (Tel. (+30) 697.934.4044) at Melampes whose ambition is to revive indigenous (pre-Phylloxera) vines. Sample her wines – the rosé from the Liatiko variety or the Lefkos from local varieties – as she passionately talks to you about her vision.

LASITHI

Traditional tavernas

Kalliotzina (Tel. (+30) 28430.512.07) is a cobbled seaside taverna that is located next to the port of Koutsoura. It opened its doors in the 1950s as a small coffee shop that served omelets and coffees to persons who would travel by boat to Ierapetra, since a road didn’t exist at the time. Today, the taverna serves Greek cuisine. It doesn’t use any standardized products, it has its own garden where it grows fresh vegetables, and it prepares its dishes with its own olive oil. 

Seclusion and happiness

You will have to walk through the beautiful gorge of Chochlakies for about 1.5 hours to reach one of Crete’s most beautiful remote beaches, Karoumes. It is worth the walk because you will find yourselves alone at a beach with fine pebbles, brilliant waters and a few scattered trees that provide shade. Next to the beach you’ll also find one of the island’s most important wetlands which, however, dries up in the summer. 

Fresh out of the wood-fired oven

 

Nothing beats fresh okra and stuffed green peppers and tomatoes cooked in a wood-fired oven. At Oasi (Tel. (+30) 697.755.9603), a quaint taverna in the town of Kalo Nero, Makry Gialos, every dish is homemade and cooked in a wood-fired oven and served on a veranda decorated with small potted plants with a view of the sea. 

Raki with a little bit of hospitality

It’s not guaranteed that she will have prepared anything, but she definitely won’t let you leave with an empty stomach if you happen to pass by. At her coffee shop in Praisou (Tel. (+30) 28430.269.07), Mrs Panaghiota always takes care of her guests. In the kitchen, she prepares the dishes she takes home with her, which is what she will also serve you. If you let her know in advance, she will prepare anything you want. 

An unforgettable trip

From the town of Siteia drive westward, pass by the lush gorge of Aghion Panton, the Monastery of Faneromenis, Papadiokampou Beach, and drive up the dirt road that leads, after 40 minutes, to Liopetro, the hill with the ruins of a Venetian castle and the beautiful view of Merampellou Bay. Make sure you get there in time to see the sunset. 

This article was previously published in Greek at kathimerini.gr.



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