An ambling six km walk through the Sirikan Gorge, amid cooling chestnut groves, wild olives and plane trees, brings you to the ruined hilltop acropolis of Polyrinia, ‘rich in lambs’. A powerful city-state built by the Achaens, it dominated western Crete and later flourished under the Romans, who added a subterranean reservoir and aqueduct. It was re-colonized in Byzantine and Venetian times and there is much to see among its ruined fortifications, decorative arches, rock-cut tombs and later Church of the Holy Fathers. Rest in the shaded chapel courtyard and admire the jaw-dropping views of Kissamos Bay and the White Mountains before turning back for the sleepy village of Ano Paleokastra. Call in on Yiorgos’ workshop where he’ll ply you with olives and raki until you buy one of his beautiful olive wood boxes, or just pet his friendly dog, Lula.
An amazing site for everyone to enjoy including families, with its legends and myths of the minotaur, impressive frescoes and murals and space to explore and wander without rush. This is a centre of Minoan civilisation and culture. There is enough information for enthusiasts, a decent shop, nice cafe and unintrusive staff who let you take your time to absorb the atmosphere and wonder of this important historic site. The dolphins and griffins in murals appeal to the younger visitors and there is plenty of shade when a break needed from the sun and heat. Wonderful.
With so many places to stay on Crete, how do you decide? One of my favourite resorts on the north coast of Crete is Agia Pelagia, a lovely, laid-back seaside village ideal for a relaxing holiday on Crete.
Its main sandy beach is ideal for children, and the clear waters are perfect for snorkelling and scuba diving.
There's also a good choice of cafes, bars and family run tavernas. One of the must eat places is the new bar/restaurant Almyra - it's a slice of Myknonos in Agia Pelagia with great cocktails and delicious food.
Agia Pelagia is within striking distance of bustling Heraklion and the ancient ruins at Knossos, so it's well positioned for some sightseeing.
In terms of hotels and apartments there's a good selection.
Google map: bit.ly/RbqDeO
Pitsidia, Crete. A village to open you up and re-affirm what you have always believed life should be like. Chancing upon a Cretan means, at the least, a friendly ‘Cala Mera’ and a wave, sometimes an invitation to come in and drink tea. Bars and Cretans really move the welcoming spirit another notch; if the owner is not around then customers are trusted to simply help themselves and pay their bill later that day or even the next. The most seductive Cretan music just helps to confirm what you have always wanted to believe – that life and people are beautiful.
Google map: bit.ly/xP652a
South eastern Crete remains one of the few areas on the island that has not been swamped by a dependence on tourism. The infrastructure is there to provide for tourists' summer needs but agriculture remains the main source of income for locals. The two-hour drive from Heraklion Airport has helped to keep the area largely unspoilt, with many hidden gems of isolated beaches and traditional mountain villages just waiting to be explored. There is a good (daytime) public transport service between Heraklion Airport and Ierapetra with an hourly service on to Makry-Gialos which has the widest selection of accommodation and is a good base for the area.
You have travelled 20 km since the last tourist shop. Way above the sea you round the headland and enter an amphitheatre of sculptured mountainsides as the road swoops down to the sea. A broad bay, three tavernas and a bar, beyond some old cottages, rooms to let and a few fishing boats. Inland a small chapel on a hill, small buildings among fields and olive groves. A huge gorge slices through a mountainside. That is all there is.
Before the end of the tarmac road you are already captured. The pace has slowed, time to slip off your shoes and live the moment of arriving at this jewel of retreats. A gentle swim, a quiet lunch under tamerisk trees, a sleep after.
Zakros will imprint your soul; you find your own rhythms and retreats. My favourites are: a small hidden cove with a flat rock surrounded by a gentle turquoise swell; a small shingle beach shared with a kingfisher or two; the hill top chapel reached along a dusty track then ancient stone steps, where you will find a quiet peace in the courtyard or contemplation inside, among the icons, candlewax and rickety chairs; a stroll up the gorge takes you to a shady fig tree where you can rest in solitude and breathe the aromas of hot sun on vegetation, only the scuffle and bleet of goats as background. You might walk along a thyme-scented path leading along the coast to Pelekita's cave – nobody there but you. Here you look down on the bright wind-patterned Libyan sea and out beyond the edge of Europe. Almost 3 millenia ago Minoans settled here, trading across these seas; they left a fine palace to show for it.
As darkness falls and you take your unhurried evening meal, the full moon could rise from the sea, rose turning to silver. No need for tears on leaving since you will, for certain, return.
Rethymno has a gorgeous harbour and great Italian-looking architecture. It's situated on Crete so loads to do - looking around Knossos (the Minotaur etc) is a good day out. Try getting a cheap local rental cottage rather than stay at the big touristy resorts.
Crete is the most mountainous island in Europe. The link below gives access to reasonably-priced accommodation near Zaros, a quiet village on the southern slopes of Mt. Ida, far removed from the throbbing nightclubs (unfortunately) associated with Greek tourism.
Mountain biking, walking, bird watching, visits to nearby monasteries etc. Delicious food. Don't be put off by the website name - "agrotourism" is the Greek rough equivalent to rural eco-tourism, and has nothing to do with "aggro" lager louts!
Malia, Crete, gets undeserved bad press. Yes, The Beach Road bars/clubs cater for British kids in July/August, but one can avoid them altogether & have a pleasant vacation here. There is an attractive old village to the north of the main road.
Most of the restaurants mentioned in the Rough Guide & Lonely Planet have been closed for the past few years as they were run by non-Greeks and rents were too high for the short tourist season. There are however, two excellent restaurants remaining, The Elizabeth, which is in the town square of the old village, and off to the left, Kalesma, both offering dishes way above the usual taverna fare.
There are two classic rock bars on the Main Road, The Cavern and Epsilon - The Alcoholic Church, which can be dangerous territory in the afternoons if the owner, Michaelis is working. He doesn’t like the customers to leave sober!
Malia is a good central base from which to see the island. It has a spectacular beach and a Minoan Palace nearby. Driving inland will take one to the breathtaking views from the Lasithi plateau in about 15 minutes.
High above Crete's Lasithi Plateau is this extraordinary late Minoan site, slung across a strategic mountain pass with views to the sea below. It's a steep 30-minute walk up from the nearest road - though when I visited, I saw a man shepherding his goats on the plain below from inside his 4x4. The site was excavated by John Pendlebury, the archaeologist, whose grave you can see at the Allied War Cemetery at Soudha Bay.
Near Tzermiado village, Lasithi, Crete;
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