Crete is the birthplace of Zeus and the Minoan culture, and also one of the largest islands in the Mediterranean. Stretching out over a large area and rich in diversity, it takes some time to fully explore and get to know its nature, gastronomy, archaeology, beaches, festivals and people.
Heraklio is the capital and Greece’s third major city. All the most interesting spots to visit are huddled in the centre of the city and include the Lions’ Fountain, the Loggia, the Church of Saint Mark, the Church of Saint Titus, the Port and the Venetian fortress, the Arsenals, the Archaeological Museum and of course, Knosos Palace, which is situated on the outskirts of the city.
Knosos Palace lies 6 km outside Heraklio. This vast rambling Minoan palace is the most important on Crete, and boasts superb mural paintings, baths, colonnades and Villa Ariadne. It is the principal monument of the Minoan Age. Knosos Palace is considered to be the labyrinth where Minos imprisoned the Minotaur, and home to the legend of Theseus and his fight against this dreaded beast. It was discovered in 1900 by Sir Arthur Evans. If you’re planning on spending just a short time in the capital and opt to visit just one place, then Knosos Palace has to be your choice.
Beaches bathed by the most transparent turquoise waters in Europe line the tourist resort of Elafonisis, whilst the neighbouring beach of Kedrodassos is backed by a landscape of twisted Cyprus and juniper trees. To reach the beach of Balos, bathers have to follow a trail used by goats, undoubtedly the most important inhabitants of Crete. The island of Crete is blessed with cloudless skies, so take care when out and about: always use a sun block and a pair of sunglasses, and of course, remember to take your diving goggles in order to be able to admire the spectacular sea bed.
Yet there’s more to the island that boasts Mount Ida, whose summit is the birthplace of Zeus, than just beaches. The vast, permanently snow-capped mountains hide a host of fascinating secrets: freshwater Kournas Lake is just one of them.
Those eager to explore the island’s natural landscapes and to discover one of Greece’s most breathtaking settings should find the energy to take the six mile walk through the Samaria Gorge. One of the longest and narrowest in Europe, it is 18 km long, rises up 500 metres and is just 3 metres wide at the narrowest stretch, known as the Iron Gate. It runs through an unspoilt rugged rocky landscape, following the course of the water and is bordered by wooded slopes and steep precipices. On the route, the river is crossed several times by narrow bridges made from tree trunks. Despite its length and the sharp drop, it is not too difficult for walkers as the trail is downhill all the way. However, you do have to be fairly fit!
Also not to be missed is a visit to the gorgeous city of Chania. Its Venetian port and old quarter are filled with charming, peaceful or lively spots in which to relax and sample traditional fare such as moussaka or dolma.
Rethymno is a small coastal town dotted with several 16th century buildings. It also has a Venetian harbour and lighthouse that are guaranteed to delight. Lining the harbour waterfront are literally dozens of restaurants serving superb seafood. The narrow cobbled streets, with buildings built during the Venetian and Turkish occupation of the island, have all the charm of the Medieval and Renaissance periods.
Crete has everything you need for an unforgettable holiday: archaeology, fabulous beaches, stunning natural landscapes, mouth-watering gastronomy and lots of nightlife, but above all, the locals are incredibly friendly and hospitable and always ready to chat, making your visit to the island even more memorable. So enjoy!
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