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19.10.2021 13:57 by Catharina Flämig
"Crete's mystery is extremely deep. Whoever sets foot on this island senses a mysterious force branching warmly and beneficently through his veins, senses his soul begin to grow". What does Nikos Kazantzakis, one of the most important Greek writers of the 20th century, mean with his intriguing description of Crete?
Crete is the holiday destination of countless tourists every year, sun saturated with dreamlike beaches and a millennium old history. Hippocrates even claimed that the air on this Greek island had healing potential for many diseases. Amazing architecture and delicious dishes also add to the wonder and delight of the island. But did you know that you can ski on Crete? No? Believe it or not, there are over 20 areas on Crete where skiing is possible. This is only one of Crete’s many secrets that we would like to share with you!
Crete is an island of superlatives, enchanting visitors with its incredibly diverse landscapes, which are hard to find anywhere else in Greece. Crete is home to 2,000-meter-high mountains and wild gorges, long, palm fringed beaches, and secluded bays. Ancient monasteries, fortresses as well as over 4,000-year-old temples and palaces bear witness to the cultural wealth of the island.
Without question, Crete is an island well worth exploring. The brightest star of all the Greek islands, Crete truly seems to have everything. In the island’s 260 km length from east to west and its north to south width of 60 km you will discover a world of its own, from the fine-sand beach in Elafonisi to the White Mountains. Especially spectacular is the Ida Mountains, the tallest mountain range on the island, rising up to 2,456 meters in height. According to Greek mythology it is here, at the Ida Grotto, that the god Zeus was born.
The renowned Heraklion Archaeological Museum, located in the island’s capital of Heraklion, has an incredible collection of Minoan artifacts. A few kilometres from the capital is the famous Palace of Knossos, the centre of the first European high culture in the third and second millennium BC. Crete is also home to the longest gorge in Europe, the Sumaria Gorge, whose steep walls reach an impressive height of 600 meters.
From quaint villages brimming with their own originality and warm hospitality, to Italian flair found in the Venetian port cities of Rethymnon and Chania in the north of the island, and the jet-set lifestyle in Elounda – Crete has it all! The fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea is a glistening island dream. Pack your bags and off to Crete!
Travel back in time: The Palace of Knossos
If you embark on a journey through Crete’s incredible history, you will inevitably come across the ruins of the Palace of Knossos. Besides the palaces of Malia, Phaistos and Kato Zakros, Knossos is the largest and most important urban centre of the Bronze Age in Crete and has been awarded the European Heritage Seal.
The Minoans, the oldest European high culture, built the palace of Knossos about 5 km south of Heraklion. In control of one of the powerful and feared fleets in the Mediterranean, they built a palace between 2100 and 1800 BC which displayed this power in both splendour and wealth. Knossos developed into the leading administrative centre of Crete and was likely also the religious and political centre of the island. The ruins, excavated by Sir Arthur Evans, are from the "new" palace. This is because the "old" palace, which had been built on the same site, was destroyed by an earthquake around 1700 BC. The new palace was then later built to be even larger and more splendid than the former. The construction of Knossos was an incredible architectural achievement for its time: the palace is said to have had an estimated 1,300 rooms and was up to five stories tall. The apartments were heated with hot water and had bathrooms equipped with bathtubs and toilets with installed flushing systems. And all this is just a few examples of how highly developed the Minoan culture was at the time.
If visiting the palace, you should plan about three hours for the tour. We recommend combining a visit to the palace with a visit to the Heraklion Archaeological Museum: Website Heraklion Archaeological Museum
A natural wonder for hiking enthusiasts
The Samaria Gorge, located in the Samaria National Park in the southwest of Crete, is the longest gorge in Europe reaching 17 km in length. The gorge cuts through the island starting at an altitude of 1,200 m near the middle of Crete and leads all the way down to the Libyan Sea. The gorge is lined by vertical rock walls up to 600 m in height. At the narrowest point of the gorge, the so-called "iron gate", the passage is only three to four meters wide.
The hike through the gorge is an indescribable nature experience but also a physically challenging one. The hike starts in the mountains and can be reached by bus or car however, once you begin, there is no possibility to cut short the almost seven-hour hike through the gorge. Nevertheless, it is well worth the effort: a unique natural wonder, flora and fauna in untouched natural beauty and opportunities for spectacular photos are guaranteed.
The hike ends at the village of Agia Roumeli on the south coast of Crete. There you will find numerous taverns where you can refuel with good food and drink. There is also a beautiful beach, the perfect place for a relaxing, well-earned swim. So be sure not to forget your bathing suit as well as hiking boots!
Caribbean-esque beach paradise: the Elafonisi Peninsula
The sea water off the coast of Crete can often still be crystal clear up to forty meters from the beach. The Cretan coast is particularly clean, and most beaches have the blue EU flag. One of the best places to enjoy the beach and the sea is on the Elafonisi Peninsular, located 76 km west of Chania and 5 km south of the Chrysoskalista Monastery, the most southwestern point of Crete. The road to Elafonisi is a narrow and winding one, but the surrounding landscape is truly breath-taking. The peninsula is under NATURA 2000 protection, a glistening island dream in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. The exotic white sand beaches and turquoise blue water stretching along both sides of the peninsula are reminiscent of the Caribbean. The island is dotted with dunes, sand lilies and junipers, and the endangered Caretta Caretta turtles and various other rare species are protected here allowing them to live and nest in safety.
The sand on the Elafonisi beach sometimes appears almost pink in colour, getting its hue from thousands of tiny bits of broken shells. At the top of the peninsular the water is no deeper than 1 m forming a lagoon perfect for children. The numerous bays and the vastness of the beach allows for areas that engender a feeling of total seclusion. For those who prefer the beach-side bustle, the eastern end of the beach is the place to be! Here you will find everything you need with numerous snack bars, umbrellas, showers, changing rooms, and lifeguards. Next to the beach there is a large parking lot, as well as some rooms for rent should you wish to stay longer than just one day. There are also numerous other accommodation possibilities and taverns in the village of Chrisoskalista, 5 km north of the beach. Flip-flops and swimwear packed - Crete's Caribbean awaits!
The National Monument of Crete: Arkádi Monastery
"This flame, which was kindled in this crypt and illuminated the glorious Crete from one end to the other, was a flame of God, in which the Cretans burned for freedom". - Archbishop Timotheos Veneris.
The most important national monument of Crete, the Arkádi Monastery, about 23 km southeast of Rethymnon in West Crete, played a significant role in the Cretan struggle for independence against the Ottoman Empire. The monastery (Greek: Μονή Αρκαδίου) is a former orthodox monastery from the 14th century and commemorates the resistance fight against the Ottomans that took place November 9, 1866, in which almost 1,000 men, women and children lost their lives.
The martyrdom of the freedom fighters, who set fire to the monastery's stores of gunpowder rather than surrender, is still remembered today in the adjacent museum. The beautiful Venetian baroque church with its open bell tower is well worth seeing and was once depicted on the Greek 100-drachma bill. A stone slab with the quote from Archbishop Timotheos Veneris commemorating the events of 1866 is now placed in the partially rebuilt powder magazine. In the refectory next door, it is said that there are even traces of struggle left to be seen on the furniture.
The circumstances of the fall of the monastery caused an international sensation and justifiable found its way into the history books. The Arkádi Monastery is a place with an incredibly special atmosphere, a place of remembrance. Find out more on the Arkadi Monastery Website
Crete's scenic beauty and diversity offers outdoor enthusiasts’ fantastic opportunities for a variety of outdoor activities. Whether hiking in the mountains, safari, climbing in canyons, water sports, surfing and diving at the most beautiful beaches in Europe, sailing, swimming or simply relaxing, Crete is has something for everyone! And for bike lovers, there also almost unlimited cycling possibilities.
A great and simple way to truly enjoy the active Crete experience is with the Islandhopping round trip "Hotel & Bike + Hiking: Pearls of Southern Crete". On this 7-day trip you will discover the pearls of southern Crete by bike, boat and on foot. Along the way, you will experience the mountain world of the island, hike through the world-famous Samaria Gorge and enjoy a visit to the Elafonisi Nature Park by boat. In your comfortable accommodation, the Paleochora, you will enjoy traditional, local cuisine, colourful sunsets and be overwhelmed by the Greek hospitality!
Should your legs need a rest, the island also offers many other active holiday possibilities such as horseback riding on the beach Zoraidas-Horseriding.com or Melanouri.com, Quad and Segway tours ChaniaSegwayTours.com and island tours on Enduro motorcycles AchillesCrete Website or CreteMototours Website just to name a few.
The Walt Disney film "The Moon-Spinners", which was filmed in Elounda in the mid-1960s, changed the public perception of Crete and significantly increased the number of yearly tourists. Since then the island has become a top vacation destination and remains so to this day!
And did you know that the famous syrtaki dance originated in Crete? Syrtaki is THE melody that, with its first notes, awakens a longing for Greece and the Greek way of life. The dance was created for the 1964 film "Zorba the Greek" which was shot on the island of Crete. This was one of the most important films for the lead, the Hollywood actor Anthony Quinn. The so-called "Syrtaki Dance", which was invented especially for the film as Quinn found the steps of traditional Greek dances too complicated, became famous worldwide and to this day cannot be missed at any traditional dancing event.
Are you intrigued by this mysterious island and curious to discover it for yourself? Crete is a jewel among the Greek islands, a place full of adventure, variety, and breath-taking beauty. The island’s special atmosphere is felt by every visitor to its shores. Just like the Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis said, "I, too, think of Crete", [...] "Of Crete and of my soul... If I were to be reborn, I would like to see the light again on this spot of the earth. Here there is an unconquerable magic."
Don’t hesitate a moment longer! Head to Crete and experience the magic of the island first-hand!