Crete, located in Mediterranean sea, is the biggest Greek island, located South East of the Peloponissos peninsula, in between Greece and Turkey. It has its own capital and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Greece, after Athens, of course. Not only are Cretans proud of their island, but they also consider themselves to be quite autonomous and have a very rich cultural history to share with the world. Travellers come here primarily for the beaches and the weather, while there are much more things to do on this magical Mediterranean Paradise than just chill on the beach.
One of the most interesting historical and cultural landmarks to see in Crete is the Knossos Palace – this is what remains after the Minoan civilization, which is believed to have lived here between 2700 and 1450 BC. It was partially reconstructed by a British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans in the early 20th century and is one of the most popular attractions in Crete. If you are a fan of Ancient Greek Mythology, you will recognize this place as the Palace of King Minos and the location of the maze of the Minotaur.
Another fascinating thing to see is the old town of Rethymnon – you can come here by car and drop it off at the huge parking lot by the sea and explore the city by foot. The old city is now a pedestrian area, where you will be mesmerised by the narrow streets, vendors offering hand-made souvenirs, soaps, olive oil and leather goods; and traditional Cretan architecture. Stop by one of the tavernas in the city to get the full Greek experience – try the khoriatiki (Greek salad), feta saganaki (Feta cheese baked in aluminium foil with capsicum, tomato and oregano), saganaki with prawns (prawns in tomato sauce with feta cheese and oregano), dishes with lamb or grilled fish and of course finish the meal with some karidopita (walnut cake), yoghurt with honey and walnuts and delicious Greek coffee.
One of the best ways to explore the island and see the real Cretan lifestyle is to rent a car and drive along the coast and then into the mainland, to discover small villages that have preserved their charm through the centuries. Don’t forget to see the oldest olive tree in the world, located in Pano Vouves, close to Chania – it is believed to be more than 3,000 years old! Don’t miss the opportunity to also visit the picturesque village of Loutro, located in the South West Crete – you can get here either by foot or on a small boat that leaves from Sfakia. A stunning fact is that there are no roads in this village! Just sit back, drink your coffee, enjoy the view over a lazy dinner, swim in the sea and submerge into the hedonistic lifestyle that the Gods of Olympos used to indulge in.
Another great thing to see is the Lassithi plateau, the panoramic view it offers of the island and the absolute beauty of nature that you will observe from here, as well as its windmills, canals and gardens. On your way to Malia, stop by the mountain village of Krassi, known for its ancient laundry from the Venetian era and a giant plane tree that is believed to be more than 2,000 years old.
When in Crete, you absolutely must visit the Dikteon Andron, otherwise known as the Zeus- cave – allegedly this is where Rhea gave birth to Zeus. Located at an altitude of over 1,000m, this is one of the most beautiful caves in Crete, with its own lake and an impressive formation of stalactites.
Samaria gorge, located in the South West of Crete, is a magical place- you will walk for 17km in one of the most breathtaking natural parks in Europe. Make sure you don’t come here by car, as you will leave only on the other side and don’t want to walk back up; bring comfortable shoes, camera and plenty of water.
Although Crete is well known for its sandy beaches, like the Elafonisi, Balos, Vay and Matala, as well as for its nightlife that continues till the late morning, there are also wonderful places to explore on the island like the old villages, or the astonishing natural gorges, parks and plateaus.