• Crete, Greece
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  • Crete, Greece
    © iStockphoto.com / Olga_Gavrilova
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    Travel through Crete's incredible history

    By Dmitry Petrounin Dmitry Petrounin Section editor Profile
    Crete is home to some of the richest historical sites in Europe, some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe, and some of the most delicious food. Crete is scorching and beautiful, with the sun always beating down on the spectacular scenery. As one of the most famous Greek regions, Crete is the largest of a conglomeration of white washed islands gently washed over the by the piercing blue sea.

    Travel guide

    Crete, the mighty

    In general, Crete is exceptionally different to all other regions of the country. There are of course many similar elements of it to mainland Greece, but Crete stands by itself in nearly the most southern part of the country, alone, and rich in such diverse landscapes and hospitable towns in gorgeous bays, like Sitía, Réthymnon and Áyios Nikólaos. It is one place in the world with perhaps one of the longest summer periods, with sweltering summer months that seem to last almost half of the year. However, this does explain the extremely relaxed atmosphere in Crete, the laid-back attitudes of the charming people and the huge beach culture. However, despite having the most incredible beaches jutting off the rocky cliffs with gorgeous sand and sparkling sea water, there is far more to Crete than just that. There is plenty of interest further inland too, with authentic European-style country chapels high on tumbling sandy hills, and not to mention the sites of the Minoan civilisation that have been wonderfully preserved.

    The history

    The birthplace of the most advanced society in Europe, the Minoans surely left their mark on the large southern Greek island. The hugely impressive ancient society known for having ruled Crete some 4000 years ago has so much to show in terms of its historic origins. Minoan towns are still in very good condition so that you can really envisage the way that the ancient society lived and operated. Hania old town in western Crete is a prime example of the stunning remains that one can visit. The combination of Venetian and Ottoman architecture comes together with a once glorious lighthouse and the relics of the frame of a mosque. As well as the grand monuments there are old Venetian mansions and the remnants of the old city wall which all demonstrate the great scale of the ancient metropolis. There is always an array of artisans working hard on creative produce, as well as finding the most eclectic shopping. The Palace of Knossos is an unmissable site, located a mere 5 km from Iráklion. You really can't pass through Crete without at least attempting to see the ancient ruin. The glorious relics of the ancient palace that was home to the mythical Minotaur still seem exceptionally magical today, if not for the fact that despite being destroyed by a natural disaster then a fire centuries ago, some of it was controversially restored by the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans. Many people - experts or visitors- believe that his reconstructions were not entirely accurate and more based upon his own imagination. Despite the reconstructions, Evans unearthed the incredible remains of a Neolithic civilisation beneath the ruins of the Bronze Age Minoan palace. He also found around 3000 clay tablets showcasing Linear A and Linear B script, which was ground-breaking for historians.

    Sensual scenery

    Greece's coastal heaven is an obviously romantic place, with unbelievably beautiful sunsets, the sparkling sapphire ocean and bleached white authentic architecture. However, there is more to Crete than just the romantic side of the island, the ancient history and the glorious sunbathing spots - if you can imagine that! The thousands of different and equally stunning hiking routes trail along the coast's edges and also lead inland to forest-like terrain with stunning rock pools and vast amounts of shady trees. The Samariá Gorge is a dramatic descent into a stunning valley, starting off with the plunging 'wooden staircase'. The beautiful flowers and species of trees are unique to this part of the world, with specific fauna that has adjusted to its environment. It makes a pleasant change from the stereotypes one may have about Crete. Not only is the landscape the beautiful essence of Crete, but the architecture and the tiny port towns that sit gently swaying on the edge of the sea are truly works of art in themselves. They are effortlessly stunning yet comforting locations in which you feel welcomed and taken in by the sheer delight of the colours: strong whites and blues reflecting the pure sunshine and coastal ambience.

    Our Editorial team's advice

    The best time to go to Crete is May because the beautiful fauna is out in full bloom, with vibrant colours taking over the whole island in mass and the sun gently warming the island with a lovely, comfortable temperature. The summers are unbelievably warm in Greece and especially in the south where the sweltering heat beats down from the scorching sun and the grey rocks sizzle on the shoreline. The intense weather is wonderful if you are bathing on the gorgeous beaches, and you are able to dip into the cool, refreshingly blue waters. However, if you are not a big fan of unbearable heat, mid-July to mid-September is probably not the best time for you to pack your bags and head to Crete. The winters are also lovely in Crete considering the temperature does not drop too much and it is still quite sunny for most of the day. This is the perfect weather to enjoy hiking in the temperate climate and bask in the stunning views.

    Crete is a perfect location for a fun family holiday due to the family friendly atmosphere and great sense of community in the charming beach towns. Having said that, if you are travelling with children or you were after a quiet retreat, be sure to avoid Hersonissos after May because that is when the hard-core partying begins on the island with loud music coming from an array of fun but perhaps slightly sleazy clubs and bars. If that's not quite the holiday you were looking for make sure to book somewhere a reasonable distance from those kinds of locations due to the vast amount of party-going visitors.

    Never forget about public transport! The buses in Crete are exceptionally efficient and air conditioned, which is always a bonus. The drivers and conductors are very helpful and the usual routes from larger towns to historic spots allow you to see small, authentic villages along the way.

    pros

    • +Crete is, like continental Greece and the other islands, the ideal destination for a short holiday break in the sun combined with cultural activities.
    • +Although very touristy, Crete displays magnificent landscapes, that are perfect settings for hiking and trekking.

    cons

    • -For people looking for calm and tranquillity, the months of July and August are to be avoided as Crete is flooded by European tourists. A more than real definition of 'mass tourism'...
    • -Cretan sites, as in the whole of Greece, have been damaged by the massive and anarchic development of tourism.

    Traditions

    For the Greeks, Easter celebrations are far more important than Christmas, and usually the occasion calls for grand preparations and elaborate festivities and feasts. Many shops and museums are closed around this time of year so be sure to remember that when booking a holiday to avoid disappointment! Despite the intrusive tourism development in some areas, certain locals, especially inland, have preserved their legendary hospitality. If you go through the trouble of learning to speak a few words of Greek, then they will reveal themselves as welcoming and generous. They are exceptionally friendly people who will be very interested in you it is good to be responsive and friendly back - you may make some lovely friends! Days go by following the rhythm of the Mediterranean: mornings end with lunch between 1:00 and 3:00 pm, which is then followed by the almost obligatory siesta. Life kicks off again around 5 pm again, which is the opportune time for evening walks and terrace discussions watching the sun go down, and finally around 10 pm you sit down for dinner!

    Food

    Amongst the renowned dishes, you will of course find the Greek salad made of tomatoes, cucumber, olives and feta with deliciously salted white wine vinegars, all made with local produce that is unbelievably fresh. The famous moussaka, minced meat with aubergine topped with bechamel sauce is another favourite of locals and tourists alike, along with dolmades which are stuffed vine leaves and make for a perfect snack. Souvlakis, known to us as meat skewers, are deliciously spiced with rich tastes and can be found for very cheap at wonderful little restaurants. Pitas, which are small, flat round bread stuffed with meat, tomatoes and some sauce, are also very reasonable. On the other hand, fish is rare and therefore very expensive.

    Cretan menus also depend hugely on what is in season, which means lots of meats and fish are saved for the winter months and different crops are available at different times of the year. The islanders, like all Greeks, do so love their meat - particularly lamb and pork. However, they do have the privilege of seafood selection, which is always prepared superbly and of the best quality having been fished so close to the shores.

    Ideal Weather Search

    Find weekly weather forecasts for Crete . Different criteria make it possible to predict with precision the best time of year to go to Crete . A comprehensive weather score, made up of temperature indicators, bad weather predictions, sunshine levels and wind speeds, will allow you to choose the activities best suited to the weather conditions and therefore make the most of your holiday in Crete .

    Souvenirs

    You can find various handicraft objects such as weavings, embroideries, wooden sculpted objects, and jewellery. Think of buying olive oil, so much nicer and so much cheaper than at home, and of course a bottle of Ouzo, the local pastis. Shops are open from 8:30 am until 3:00 pm, and then from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, and from 8:30 am to 2:00 pm and from 5:00 pm till 8:00 pm on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

    What to see

    The chalky mountains , The limestone cliffs , Greece
    The chalky mountains
    The treks , Treks , Greece
    The treks
    The fertile plains , Greece
    The fertile plains
    Les villages , The villages , Greece
    The villages
    The north coast , Greece
    The north coast
    The south coast , Greece
    The south coast
    The fauna , The Kri-kri , Greece
    The fauna
    The flora , An olive tree , Greece
    The flora
    Cnossos , Elefterna , Greece
    Cnossos
    Elefterna , The Palace of Knossos , Greece
    Elefterna
    The archaeological sites of the Lassithi plateau , Sites in the prefecture of Lassithi , Greece
    The archaeological sites of the Lassithi plateau
    Aptéra , Greece
    Apera
    Arkadi Monastery , The Monastery of Arkadi , Greece
    Arkadi monastery
    L'église byzantine de Panagia Kera , Greece
    Panagia Kera church
    The Heraklion Museum , Heraklion Museum , Greece
    The Heraklion Museum
    Crete : Explore

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