Crete – Island with endless beauty and fascinating past

Crete island as a biggest island in Greece and in Mediterranean sea attract lot of stories from the ancient time. Lot of myths are connected with this island and lot of temples can be seen around. But Crete is not just ancient ruins place. Crete is island where you can enjoy in fantastic weather throughout the whole year and some of the most amazing beaches around Europe .

I have that luck my sister to live with her husband there for many years and i was happy to visit this island for several times. Although i dont have much space and time to explain about everything you can see and enjoy. But lest start and let me show you why this amazing greek island is worth to be visit.

How to get on Crete

Crete have two major airports, one is Heraklion and the other one is Chania. Capital city Heraklion is connected mostly with those airports that offer tourist visit to all those resorts and hotels there and for city breaks. Easyjet, Ryanair are companies who fly to there.Chania on other side is a smaller airport mainly connect with inside lines with Athens and Thessaloníki , sometime there is a flights from some of the European or middle east cities.

From my personal experience once i use flight from Tel Aviv to Chania and other times from Thessaloníki to Chania.   Flights are so cheap that many people use it and is really not much to travel to Crete. Flights off season cost 20euro way and in season can be around 60-70 euro.

When you arrive to the airport you have a bus going from Chania airport to bus station in Chania. From there you can catch any bus to anywhere. Cost was 1,5 euro a way. Shedule is made nicely and synch with flights so you dont wait at all on the airport.

Also is possible to get to Crete by ferries from  Athens . There is connections to Chania and Heraklion

What to do and what to see on Crete

Crete is full with things to see and enjoy so i will tell you some of them

HERAKLION

The car free 25 August St. is directly opposite the Old Harbour and extends to Lion Square. It takes its name from a massacre of ‘martyrs” which occurred in 1898. This involved the killing of many Cretans and, crucially, British in this area, by the Turks, finally forcing the ‘Great Powers” (Britain, France and Russia) to recognize Crete”s struggle. These events led eventually to the declaration of a Cretan State and, finally, unification with Greece in 1913. Old and modern buildings compete for space now on the street named to remember 25th August.

Walking up the short hill, and passing the shops and tourist offices, we reach St. Titus” Cathedral, an impressive sight. Saint Titus, a fellow traveller of Saint Paul, preached the gospel in Crete during Roman rule and was martyred in Gortyn, where a 7th Century basilica stands in his memory. His church in Heraklion was built during the second Byzantine period, when it first served as the city”s cathedral. During Venetian rule, it housed the seat of the Catholic archbishop and was renovated in 1466, only to be ruined in a fire in 1544. During the Turkish Occupation it served as a mosque and called Vizier Tzami, when a minaret was added, now gone. The present-day structure is the result of further renovations after its almost entire destruction by a strong earthquake in 1856, and later work which followed in 1922. The skull of St Titus was transferred here from Venice in 1956 and has since been kept in the church. If the cathedral is open when you visit, it is well worth going in.

A little further and you discover the Venetian architecture of the Loggia which functioned as a club for the nobility to gather and relax. The Loggia is a wonderful example of Venetian building, unmistakeable with its semi-circular arches, it was built in the 16th century and was located in the Piazza dei Signori (Square of the Administrative Authorities). Today, the Loggia, decorated with sculptured coat of arms, trophies and metopes, houses part of the town-hall of Heraklion. The Loggia was awarded the Europa Nostra first prize in 1987 for the best renovated and preserved European monument of the year.

St. Mark”s Basilica, almost next door, is now the Municipal Art Gallery and often host to art and crafts exhibitions, almost always open to visit. Built in 1239 in the Piazza delle Biade (Square of Blades), it was at one time the Cathedral of Crete. The Basilica belonged to the reigning Duke, eventually becoming his burial place.

In May 2006, the Basillica was host to the First International Conference on Ethics and Politics, featuring speakers from all over the world. You will welcome its cool, dignified interior and may begin to feel the great age of this city in its venerable walls.

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Liondaria, or Lion Square

This is the heart of Heraklion where tourists and locals share the small space around the fountain, exchanging glances and perhaps a few words. Business and pleasure combine here, and it is the place to meet for whatever purpose or no purpose. To give some background, it might also be called the Morosini Fountain or, Liondaria in Greek or, more properly, Plateia Eleftheriou Venizelou, after Venizelos, Crete”s greatest man of state. The decorated fountain is composed of eight cisterns and decorated with stone relief, depicting figures of Greek mythology, Nymphs, Tritons, sea monsters and dolphins, while the main basin is supported by four sitting lions balancing a circular bowl on their heads. It was left by Francesco Morosini, the Italian governor who had it built to commemorate Venetian success in bringing much needed water, through a brilliantly executed viaduct system from Mount Youchtas, to the centre of the city. Morosini was still in charge when the Turks captured the city. Nowadays it is always interesting, the hub around which Heraklion revolves.

No need to be hungry here. The bougatsas, or vanilla cream pies, are great for breakfast, and there are plenty of omelette, crepe and souvlaki places around. You will always be given water when you sit to order something, and might well be charmed into sitting for quite a while in any of these worthwhile establishments. On the far side of the square, you might prefer the renewed Handakos Street, now closed to traffic. Handakos, a busy thoroughfare since antiquity, is an attractive place to walk, shop or rest.

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The Market

Walk slowly through the Agora, the Market Street that runs alongside a shopping boulevard called 1866, after a Cretan uprising.

From top to bottom, with some shaded sideways exits, this old Market Street is still a place for ‘Herakliotes” to come every day to find socks, shirts, herbs, fish and fresh meat. It”s a good place to find thyme honey, raki (the Cretan clear spirit) from among shops selling everything from selections of Cretan music to the finest cheese. This market has a long history, always a place to meet and make plans. Walk the side-streets and you will smell good Cretan food and feel the buzz around you.

Cafés here do not distinguish much between Greeks and foreigners, neither do the inexpensive eating houses that serve good food to all who enter. There are some tourist traps, but all are friendly and offer good quality. At the top end, at the last turn, find the fish market and some great little fish ouzeries (smaller and less formal than a taverna) that fill up at night and provide excellent, simple, seafood.

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Plateia Kornarou lies at the top of the market, with a lovely Venetian fountain of its own, the Bembo Fountain, probably the oldest, and it bears some very good decoration, although it has ceased to fount. The Bembo Fountain was built in 1588 by Venetian architect Zuanne Bembo. It is decorated with columns, Venetian family coats-of-arms and a headless male statue, brought here from Ierapetra. At one time, people believed that the statue had supernatural powers and, every May, religious rituals were organised in its honour. The atmospheric kafeneio alongside it, still serving Greek coffee and aperitifs from an antique stone pavillion at its centre, is a great reminder of Crete”s Turkish past. The Plateia itself is named after Vitsenzos Kornaros (1553 to approx.1614), composer of the epic poem Erotokritos, which is regularly performed around Crete, and still evokes pride in every Cretan heart. From here, it is close to Agios Minas Cathedral or, in the opposite direction, Freedom Square.

From the top of the Market, turn right, and find the large square of Saint Katherine in which stands the dominating form of the cathedral.

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Agios Minas Cathedral

You will find plenty of life around the wide space in front of the cathedral, dedicated to the Patron Saint of Heraklion and one of Greece”s largest churches, completed in a cruciform shape with twin towers. The church suffered damage in the battles for the city and needed thirty years to be rebuilt. In 1896 it was inaugurated with lavish celebrations.

The plateia also contains a wonderful collection of religious icon paintings, housed inside the strong walls of the much older church of Agios Minas, and the Basilica of Agia Ekaterini, (Saint Katherine) built in 1555 and the site of a renowned school of Renaissance painters and writers in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Inside the church can be seen the work of Mikail Damaskinos among other representatives of the Cretan School. The plateia (square) here takes its name from this church, rather than the great cathedral.

Plateia Eleftherias, or Freedom Square

The spacious Plateia Eleftherias is worth exploring, built in a crescent shape alongside the Archaeological Museum and close to Heraklion”s municipal buildings and the main foreign Consulates. Apart from breathing space, it offers the shaded park of Georgiades, a fine place to rest the feet and watch the busiest intersection in Heraklion. On the seaward side of the square is the entrance to St. George”s Gate, used from Venetian times as a passage between the city and its port, the entrance is down stone steps, leading to an atmospheric dome-roofed chamber and the lower exit. The passage may still be accessed and is often the venue for art exhibitions. It is all that remains now of an important mediaeval entrance to the city. There are plenty of eating and drinking houses that occupy the north side of the square.

 

Archaeological Museum

The world famous Heraklion Archaeological Museum was built between 1937 and 1940 on a site that had been occupied during the Venetian Period by an imposing Catholic monastery of St. Francis, which was destroyed by the earthquake of 1856. The Museum houses archaeological finds from all over Crete. Pride of place goes to the treasures of the earliest European civilization, the Minoan, which can here be admired in all its historical continuity.

You may leave Plateia Eleftherias by looking to the left of the cinema, called Astoria, to a shopping street called Daidalou, named after Daidalos, the teacher of Ikaros who flew too close to the sun in his efforts to leave Crete. It is a chic shopping street that borders, on the right, an interesting old section known as Korai, the place for smart Herakliotes to go at night, with some very interesting café”s and bars and a night-time party atmosphere. At the far end of Daidalou, you return Heraklion”s famous Lion Square.

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RETHYMNON BEACH

I would say one of the best beaches in the world. Its so nice that you must see it if you are already on Crete. The southern coast of Rethymnon hosts some of the most beautiful, untouched exotic beaches of Crete. At Agios Pavlos, huge sand-hills descend steeply and vanish into the sea, forming a beach, where one may sense the most positive vibrations of the island. On the adjacent beaches of Ligres and Pahia Ammos by Kerames the scenery remains mysterious. However, the most brilliant turquoise waters in Rethymnon are found on the beaches of Skinaria, Ammoudi and Damnoni, all located near Plakias.

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CHANIA
Second biggest city in Crete is also place where you can enjoy in some sightseeing .Always the first thing you hear about Chania – the Venetian Harbour, the old port, the narrow shopping streets and waterfront restaurants.

Chania is also one of the two places you are most likely to see on arriving in Crete. It is beautiful – that is to say much of the Chania you will want to see is clustered close to the harbour – old buildings, museums, churches and crafts shops (some with genuinely interesting and sometimes local, products on offer).

Food is offered in great variety and sometimes great similarity – there are many restaurants and also cafes, at which to reflect upon the experiences of places you have just explored together with the enjoyment of some tasty food – we have suggestions for restaurants further on.

The atmosphere has a touch of Florence and Venice (a few years ago when those cities still had some room to walk), combined with the culture and character of Cretan people and traditions.

The Chania harbour is wonderful and at any particular time of day the light produces a different result, creating a “different place”.
This is the best chance to see some of the old buildings – of Venetian and Turkish design, that Crete once had across the island – many have since been destroyed by the ravages of war and plunder.

Chania is surrounded by numerous rich options for sightseeing, exploration and discovery. Mountain villages provide a view into the “inner Crete”. The Samaria and many other gorges can be hiked, archaeological sites abound.

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ELAFONISI

Elafonisi is located 76km west of Chania and 5km south of Chrysoskalitisa Monastery, in the southwesternmost point of Crete. Elafonisi is an oblong, which often “breaks” in two parts by water giving the impression of being a separate island. Elafonisi is a Natura 2000 protected area. The island is full of dunes with sand lilies and jupiners (like-cedars trees). The endangered turtles careta careta and several rare animals nest on the island and it is strictly forbidden to remove any plants, animals and sand from the area.

Exotic beaches with white sand and turquoise waters, reminding of the Caribbean, are formed on either sides of the peninsula. The sand is pinkish in many places, taking its color from thousands of broken shells. Near the “breaking” point of the peninsula, the water does not exceed 1m, creating a small lagoon, ideal for children. You can easily cross the lagoon in order to reach the “island”, having your staff with you, because the water is very shallow there.

The eastern side of the beach, in front of the lagoon, is well organized and has the most people. There are umbrellas, showers, lifeguards, snack bars and changing rooms. Also, near the beach there is a huge area for parking and, even further, a few rooms to let. Opposite , the beaches on either sides of the island are less crowded and are the most beautiful, with amazing azure colors. If you want to stay completely secluded or nude, you can walk along the peninsula until you find a quiet cove that you like! There are always many coves available for naturists.

You can come by car (1.5 hours) or by bus from Chania. The road to Elafonisi is narrow and full of turns, but the beauty of the landscape is stunning. Moreover there are many options for accommodation and meals available at Chrisoskalitissa village, 5km north

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WHITE MOUNTAIN

The White Mountains or Lefka Ori is the largest mountain range in Crete, consisting of dozens of peaks over 2000m of altitude (the highest is Pachnes, 2453m) and cut by over 50 deep gorges, often ending at the sea. They are situated in the prefecture of Hania in Western Crete.

The White Mountains are so named because they are covered in deep snow until late spring. In the summer, the limestone rock glistens white in the sun. On the South the mountains plunge steeply into the sea. It is the wildest and most beautiful area of Crete and one of the rare places in Europe where you can laze on a beach whilst looking at snow covered mountains.
The area of the White Mountains is quite large and varied and offers walks of various levels of difficulty, all with great views. There are also good opportunities to observe rare birds of prey (various types of eagles, griffin vultures, bearded vultures) and sometimes kri-kris (Cretan wild goat)

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