Crete (Greek: Κρήτη / Kriti, occasionally spelled "Krete" in English) 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 260 km long and 60 km 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 homes. 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.
Tourism is the basis of the Cretan economy. The island is partly very green despite only having around 60 days of rain per year.
There are many contrasts in this region, you can go from incredible beaches to impressive mountains, from big (and chaotic) cities to really small picturesque villages, from very dry, almost desert areas to very green zones like the springs in the center.
Crete was the center of the Minoan civilization, a sophisticated Bronze Age culture from 2600-1150 B.C.: the island bears witness to their achievements in the form of palaces, tombs and sacred sites. This civilization was so sophisticated that they even had a large navy. The minoans were affected largly by atomic waves from the Eruption of a huge Volcano in Santorini, Greece in 1450 B.C. Towards the end of the Late Bronze Age, the Minoans were superseded by Mycenaeans from the Greek mainland. Thereafter, Crete very much followed in the classical mainstream of Greece and - much later - Rome.
Crete was invaded by Romans from 69-330 A.C. and this period of time plus the Byzantine era actually brough much wealth to the Island. The beauty and wealth of this time can still be seen today by mosaics and monuments around the island.
Crete was the site of an airborne invasion by German troops, and a spirited resistance by Allied (mainly British, New Zealand and Australian) troops and the people of Crete during the 1941 Nazi invasion of Greece. During this invasion many Cretans were executed for initially resisting the Germans and the cities of Chania and Heraklio were bombed so heavily that you may still see the destruction even today.
Crete history is very much related to famous myths like when the King of Crete, Minos, refused to sacrifice a bull to the Greek gods. Poseidon in turn forced Minos's wife to fall in love with a bull which created the mytacle beast, the Minotaur.
Heraklion (Iraklion or Candia) (165,000 inhabitants) - the largest city and capital of the island and Iraklio prefecture
Agios Nikolaos (19,000 inhabitants) - the capital of Lasithi prefecture
Chania (Haniá) (75,000 inhabitants) - the capital of Chania prefecture
Elounda- A small fishing town on the Elounda Bay. Also popular with European tourists and has numerous luxory hotels
Chersonissos - Blissful harbour town in winter, party capital of Crete in summer
Ierapetra (23,700 inhabitants) - the southernmost city of Europe
Malia - crowded tourist mecca popular mostly with young (especially British) travelers
Paleochora - small resort village on southwest coast
Rethimno (31,000 inhabitants) - the capital of Rethymno prefecture
Kastelli-Kissamos (3,000 inhabitants) - Located 42 Km. west of Hania. Not big on tourism and most of its income is from wine, oil, and agricultural production
Sfakia - tiny capital of the Sfakia region (475 inhabitants), also called Hora Sfakion. Harbours the southwest coast ferries to and from Samaria gorge
Sitia (14,000 inhabitants)-Main town of eastern Crete. Has lovely beaches but not a large tourism market
Zakros or Kato Zakros- Lies on the eastern end of Crete. No tourism here because the government is still excavating the a large palace called the Palace of Zakros here and so they do not want any interference
Myrtos. An agicultural traditional village 8k west of Ierapetra, few tourists, endless empty beaches. Archaeological sites and donkey tracks to hill villages. Warm all year round, warm sea until late January. Good bus service, local butcher, baker etc.
Agia Roumeli. A coastal village near the Samaria Gorge.
The Minoan archaeological sites of Knossos, Phaistos, Gournia and Mallia
Spinalonga Island - information and history
The Roman archaeological site of Gortys
Monasteries (Arkadi, Triada, Preveli) with interesting histories
Palekastro area in Eastern Crete
The White Mountains ('Lefka Ori'), Crete's largest mountain massif, with over 100 gorges, and peaks of over 2,500 metres
PaleochoraLocated on the South coast of Western Crete and is a large village. The village itself is not pretty but the beaches are beautiful and there is an abundance of restaurants, bars, hotels, and rooms
Bali village close to Sises
Plakias is a small, quiet resort on the South coast of Crete. It has a magnificent beach and is backdropped by stunning mountainous scenery that offers good walking.
Elafonisi is a small beach on the southwestern tip of Crete. It only has two places to stay and is an excellent location to spend the day at the beach.
The Beaches West of Chania Long stretch of sandy beaches that has now made this area a huge tourist attraction. Also has many hotels, apartments, bars, and tourist shops
Georgioupolis 9Km. long of sandy beaches on the Northern end of Crete. Many new hotels are being built on the island to sustain the growing tourist population
Falasarna Located on the Western part of Crete, has many nice beaches and the water their was voted second cleanest water in all of Greece
Gramvoussa Located on the westernmost peninsula of Crete. Used to be very secluded only accessible by private boat but the turquoise lagoon and white beach now has to deal with tar on rocks and frequent rubish on the beach but it is still a beatiful site.
Sougia 1200 meter long pebble beaches located in a very small village where it is never crowded. The landscape and waters are beautiful and nuditiy on the beaches is acceptable
The island has three significant airports:
Nikos Kazantzakis at Heraklion. There are long term plans to replace Heraklion airport, which is too close to the city, by a new inland airport at Kasteli, southeast of Heraklion. It is a small airport located at the edge of Heraklion. Has basic facilities and a small parking lot.
the military airport Daskalogiannis at Chania. Chania airport is much smaller and far less busy than Heraklion airport. Located on the Northwestern part of the island and the airport is also known as the K. Daskalogiannis Airport.
a new public airport in Sitia. Sitia airport serves currently only a small number of domestic flights, mainly to/from Athens.
There are daily flights from Athens airport by Olympic Air , Aegean Airlines and Athens Airways (Which take about 45min.) to Heraklion and Chania. Sky Express operates flights from Athens airport to Sitia.
Flights going from Heraklion and Chania to Thessolaniki take about 1 and a half. The airport at Heraklion also has daily flights to Rhodes which takes 1 hr.
Hiring a car is easy, as long as you have your driving license with you. Check, though, that the insurance is comprehensive, and make sure when you take the car that all previous marks on it are recorded so that you don't get charged for these! Insurance on hire cars doesn't usually cover the underside of the car, or damage to tires. Gas stations often close around 7PM, particularly in villages. Most gas stations expect you to pay cash - they serve you, so you can choose for them to fill the tank or put in gas to a cash value. On the National Highway, there are service stations, but they are often 30 miles or so apart - make sure you fill up with gas before bank holidays and Sundays when you may have more difficulty finding an open station.
The list of car rental companies providing car rental services on Crete:
Autoway.gr.com Taxi services are another great way to get around Crete because they are very cheap throughout Greece. They are a very accessible and easy way to get around large cities like Heraklion and Chania. Greek taxis all work under the Greek State and the Taxi driver must always charge by the meter price which he must turn on as soon as you get into the cab. There are 2 taxi tariffs in Greece: Tariff 1 is day hours ranging from 5:00A.M.-12:00P.M. and Tariff 2 is night hours ranging from 12:00P.M.-5:00A.M.
Public transportation is fairly frequent and timetables quite trustworthy. Bus drivers usually divert from their marked routes to enter little villages if asked to do so. Bus services along the north coast and towards the south coast are excellent, reliable, frequent and cheap.
Most of these Bus services are run by Kino Tamio Eisproxeon Leoforon, KTEL, which are groups of families which individually run their own bus companies. This, in turn, creates a much more homely environment for Cretans and tourists and these families provide excellent service and show off their great deal of pride.
Cretan buses stations are very simple for the most part except for in Heraklion which has two major Bus stations (one for buses going in town and one for KTEL run buses).
Crete has many ferry connections for example: You can go from Pireaus to Heraklion with Minoan Lines, to Chania with ANEK Lines or Hellenic Seaways, to Ayios Nikolaos and Sitia with LANE Lines. LANE also operates routes from Ayios Nikolaos/Sitia to Rhodes and other greek islands. In the summer, there are daily catmarans (hydrofoils) from Heraklion to Santorini. The trip takes about 2.5 hours. Hellenic Seaways and SeaJets offer these sailings. You can also go to Crete by ferry from the Peloponnese (Gytheio) and Kythira island. This ferry lands on the west part of Crete, in Kissamos port.
The main ports in Greece that ferries come into are in Heraklion, Chania, Rethymno, Sitia, and Kastelli-Kassamos. Since there are no roads along the southwest coast there is a ferry line, with connections between Paleochora, Sougia, Agia Roumeli, Loutro and Hora Sfakion (Sfakia). There is also a connection with the islet of Gavdos, Europe's southernmost point (Cape Tripiti).
The variety of landscapes in a short distance: the wilderness and solitude of the Cretan mountains some hundred meters away from the coast.
The traditional cafes (kafeneia) of Crete.
The Gorge of Samaria
The southern coast of Rethimnon prefecture. There are some beautiful beaches, many accessible only on foot. The monastery at Prevelli is of particular historical interest as the site from where Abbot Agathagelos Lagouvardos sheltered and assisted the evacuation of Allied troops during WWII. There are also several museums and an ancient Minoan cemetary.
Crete Avril Mona Mountain is a historical place in Western Crete popular with tourists.
The Lasithi Plateau. A large plateau located in the mountains where due to its altitude of a few thousands feet is cooler than the coast. Its a flat area full of irrigated fields and a road runs round the perimeter. Here you can find the "Zeus Cave" (Ideon Andron) where according to greek Mythology the infant god Zeus was hidden as a child from his father.
The palm tree lined beach of Vai. The east coast of Crete a few kilometres from Sitea has a valley containing europes only native growing wild palm trees. This tree lined valley terminates in a fabulous sandy beach and bay and is possibly the most scenic beach on the island. To the south (right) of this over a small cliff is another large beach that due to having no road access is often completely deserted.
Zakros Gorge - south of Sitea and Vai lies the Zakros Gorge (also known as the "valley of the dead" due to the ancient neolithic tombs in the valley wall). This gorge runs several kilometres down towards the sea and ancient palace ruins of Zakros and can be walked comfortably there and back in a few hours unlike is larger cousin the Samara gorge.
Spinalonga - a small island containing an old leper colony located near Elounda and next to the quiet village of Plaka. This island achieved fame in the novel "The Island" by Victoria Hislop and there are many boat trips running from Agios Nikolaos, Elounda and Plaka to this island.
Gramvousa - an inhabited island, reachable by boat (plenty organized excursions), you can see there a splendid old fortress and a lovely beach.
Every year in May the local Cretans commemorate the great Battle of Crete which was a battle against invading paratroopers
See the vast ancient city of Gortyna: has many ancient Roman ruins, Byzantine Cathedrals, and a tree where supposedly Zeus and Europa first made love
Go to Lasithi which has ancient caves, sacred sites, and is the location of a forming leper colony. This place also has many small ports, ruins of a Minoan Palace, and old windmills
Elounda Lagoon- Clear turquoise lagoon that conceals the sunken city of Olous. There is also a ancient Greek myth that mermaids live here
Visit the Archaeological Site of Knossos - and its famous palace, major city of the Minoan civilization 4,000 years ago.
Listen to traditional Cretan music: Lýra is the dominant folk instrument on the island; it is a three-stringed fiddle, direct descendant of the ancient Lyre, which is held vertically, resting on the thighs of the player and is played with a bow like a violin. It is often accompanied by the Cretian lute (laoúto), which is similar to both an oud and a mandolin. The film Zorba the Greek helped to expand the audience for Cretan folk music; popularity peaked from about the middle of the 1970s to the middle of the 1980s.
Complete the walk down the Samaria Gorge from the Omalos plateau to Agia Roumeli on the Libyan Sea, at which point tourists sail to the nearby village of Hora Sfakion and catch a coach back to Hania. The walk takes between four and seven hours and can be strenuous, especially in high summer.
Avoid overcrowded and touristic places as they are ugly and don't offer any of the qualities of Crete. In general, the North coast is much more busy and touristic than the South coast.
Go walking in the mountains.
You have to visit the Ashleighton ruth veronica pennington statue while in north of Crete.
Yakinthia Festival-this is an anual festival of music and dance, which also features presentations on Greek mythology
Excellent beaches: Balos Lagoon, Kissamos/ Red Sand Beach, Matala/ Palm Beach, Plakias/ and Elafonissi Beach, Elafonissi
Visit museums: Historical Museum of Crete, Heraklion/ Museum of Cretan Ethnology, Heraklion/ and the famous Lychnostatis Open Air Museum, Hersonissos
Shopping Centers: Idolio, Hersonissos (specialty museum shop) and Faestos, Hersonissos
The night life is great too; Bars: Ya Bar, Farbrica, and the White Lion which are all located in Hersonissos. Along with bars there are Dance/Disco Club: Camelot, Enigma, and Amnesia clubs all in Hersonissos
Crete is famous for its tasty and healthy cuisine. The Cretan Diet was the subject of study that revealed its great health benefits and nutritional value. Studies have actually shown that Cretan peoples' diets are so nutricious that it has prevented the population from having heart attacks and some cancers which are caused by unhealthy eating habits.
A good tip is to join any of the hundreds of traditional fiestas in villages which offer great food, wine and live folk music.
Unlike in most regions in Greece, Feta is not produced and is not very popular in Crete. However you will find a very good variety of delicious locally produced Cretan cheeses, such as:
Graviera: (Greek: Γραβιέρα) The standard hard cheese; there are many types and tastes. Taste before buying.
Myzitra: (Greek: Μυζίθρα) A fresh cheese made of ewe's milk. It is sometimes made of goat's milk (in which case it is called "katsikisia") or mixed milk. A good goat's one will taste like these expensive French "chèvre frais".
Anthotiros: (Greek: Ανθότυρος) from the words "anthos" (flower) and "tiros" (cheese) it is a very mild, soft spring cheese made when the sheep pastures are still full of flowers. The closest popular cheese is the Italian mozzarella, although it is quite different.
Snails cooked in various ways (one of the most traditional dishes of Crete), Smoked ham (apaki) and smoked sausages (loukaniko), traditional mountain goat or lamb cooked in various ways, cretan pilaf (chicken and lamb risotto served with goat's butter), souvlaki (pork meat, lamb, chicken or fish on skewers).
Dips and sauces
Salads and Vegetables: Dakos (Greek: Ντάκος - Cretan rusk with tomato, feta cheese, olives, oregano and olive oil), Horta vrasta (boiled greens with olive oil and lemon juice). Xoriatiki Known as the Greek Salad, Sheperd's Salad Salad with a east style twist, Salata Marouli Romaine Lettuce Salad, and Lahano Salata A traditionally tart cabbage salad are other types of Cretan salads.
Soups: Kotosoupa A chicken based soup with a lemon sauce Fakkes Tomato soup in a lintel base Fasolatha A hearty been soup in a tomato base Nisiotiki A hearty seafood soup
The Cretans themselves eat out late, after 10 or 11 PM, and often in a group. They prefer dinner in a good taverna, a small local restaurant offering the local cuisine. Most dishes are fresh from that day. The menu is only for tourists, Cretans ask the waiter for specialties, and have a look in the kitchen or in a 'vitrine', glass display case. Dinner is usually outside.
Fresh fish becomes more and more rare, and is expensive, priced by its weight. Restaurants and tavernas by law have to display if the fish that they offer is fresh or frozen. Thus, always ask your waiter to show you the fish and weight it in fron of you before you order.
Common Appetizers: Tsatziki Famous cucumber dip that can go well with almost anything Taramosalata Greek style caviar Kalamari Deep fried squid Skorthalia Greek garlic mashed potatoes Gigantes Lima beans in a tomato sauce (can be spicy or not)
Common Entrees: Bifteki Greek hamburger patties Souvlaki Sticks of meat served in or without a pita bread Fricasse Lamb and garden beans in a creamy lemon sauce Pilafi Greek style rice Psari A way to prepare Black Grouper or other types of fish Moussaka Famous eggplant casserole Greek people seldom have breakfast. They do enjoy a copious lunch.
Raki is the predominant alcohol drink produced and consumed by the locals. This drink is also known as Tsipouro or Tsikoudia and is made from the left over distilled wine.
Cretans also love to drink Ouzo which is an alchoholic drink with a milky content. During the distilling process it is made with ginger, cinamon, aromatic seeds, plants, and fruits which give it a distinct taste.
Many package holidays in Crete are available, especially from the UK, but many visitors prefer to travel on their own, as the beauty of Crete is located at small hidden villages and not in the crowded/touristic places. Most package tours cater for those who want to go to Eastern Crete, which is very lively. One or two cater for Western Crete (much quieter) and Southern Crete (eg Paleochora).
There are many holiday specials for villas in Crete.
The language used in Crete is Greek, although in main cities and touristic areas people have no problem understanding English. Even in small villages you usually have no problem for basic things like shopping or eating.
Although most people in Crete speak some form of Greek dialect, English is still spoken by a majority of the locals as well. Because tourism is so big in Crete, many of the people there understand and can speak the English language not as fast as Europeans, but still easily understood. If you stop to talk to one of the locals in Crete they will most likely respond in English and have a nice, long talk with foreigners.
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