Say hello to everything that is the Best of Greece on one island. Welcome to archaeology that includes the incredible Minoan Palace of Knossos and fabulous ruins at Phaestos, cave dwellings at Matala, wonderful and often overlooked classical Roman ruins at Gortys, the Venetian city of Chania and the deserted leper colony at Spinalonga. Let us introduce you to the stunning natural beauty of the Samarian Gorge and some stunning beaches. If that's not enough after dark we can take you to some of the best nightlife in the Med.
So we'll be honest - you're probably not going to see it all in a single visit. Crete is a big place. In fact the biggest island in Greece. But that's not a problem as you can come back time and again, find something new and be continually impressed.
Crete is hot in every sense of the word. It's not a million miles to the North coast of Africa and when the Sirocco wind blows off the Sahara the weather is amazing, if you're a certain age you might remember a song Joni Mitchell wrote when she was living in Matala that starts 'the wind is in from Africa...'. But weather aside Crete is a class act. Everything that is the very Best of Greece is here.
The questions that remains are where will you start your voyage of exploration in Crete and how much can you fit in on your visit? This is where Best of Greece really comes into its own - we have the 'Gnosi' (knowledge) to plan a holiday that will both delight and surprise you and the 'Sophia' (wisdom) to make sure you're itinerary doesn't try and do too much at once.
Back in the day Crete was a country in itself and the cradle of the earliest of Europe's real civilizations, the Minoans, around 2000 BC. In fact human occupation pre-dates that by millennia and there are signs that life has existed on Crete for more than 130,000 years. The Minoans were incredibly advanced for their time, were in the very centre of the Maritime Trade for centuries, and spread their empire throughout the Med. A strong civilization, they survived various natural disasters that destroyed homes and palaces which they rebuilt. Some of them remain for us to admire today.
Typically for this part of the world the island has been occupied by a lot of civilizations and cultures. Originally ruled by its own people, the Minoans and the Mycenae it has been annexed by the Venetians and the Ottoman Empire. In more recent years it was divided into four sectors between the UK, Italy, Russia and France when they were fighting to maintain their power of the Island.
It’s the birthplace of much Mythology and Cretans claim that Zeus, the father of all the Olympian Gods, was born here on Mount Ida and destroyed a giant lizard that was threatening the inhabitants. Tales of the Minotaur derive from the bull that was worshipped by the Minoans and it was celebrated in the construction of palaces like Knossos. There are a few variations of the myth about the Minotaur and the Labyrinth. The best known involves Prince Theseus who entered the maze and killed the beast. When you visit you get the sense there is a very primeval sensuality to Crete – anything could have been possible.
Much more recently, during the 2nd World War, Crete played a major role by holding off the Germans for a lot longer than they had planned in what became known as ‘The Battle of Crete’. During the occupation it had a very strong resistance movement exploited by the British with the capture of General Kreipe. Patrick Leigh Fermor details the operation in his book ‘Abducting A General’.
Knossos is one of the Med's 'must see' archaeological treasures - probably on a par with the Acropolis if not more exciting. The site is the remnants of a Minoan palace that dates back to 1350 BC and was home to the legendary half-man half-bull Minotaur. The Minoans were a sophisticated and dominant culture for centuries in this part of the world but were pretty much wiped out when the volcano at Santorini erupted. Knossos is a huge site and spectacularly well maintained and preserved – allow at least half a day to make the most of it.
Phaistos is one of the Mediterraneans hidden secret treasures and a totally magnificent ruin of an ancient Minoan city. It's situated on the south coast of Crete so making a visit takes a bit of effort - but it is a 'must see' of almost Ephesus proportions. Nearby the coastal village of Matala has old caves carved into the cliff face, possibly the holiday homes of the Phaistos city dwellers. It’s a bit of a drive.
Crete was a place of huge strategic importance to the Romans who, typically, built their capital right in the middle at a site named Gortys. Abandoned for millennia Gortys has been returned to nature and the locals have quite sensibly planted olive groves in amongst the ruins. Hardly anybody goes there - it's a bit of an effort - but it really is a special place.
The island was also of strategic importance to the Venetian empire and the port of Chania, to the north east of the island, is aptly named the 'Venice of Crete'. The architecture, sitting proud above elegant waterways, is superb. There are good Venetian ruins around – such as the Castle at Rethymnon halfway between Chania and Heraklion.
In terms of natural features Crete is an island of stunning natural beauty and if you bring your walking shoes, a picnic and plenty of water the 5-7 hour hike down the Samarian Gorge is one of the best things to do in the whole wide world. You can catch a bus from Chania or Heraklion and you have to get a ferry back as there is no road out! If you’re thinking of doing this check it out online first so you’re prepared.
Crete’s second biggest city Chania sits betwixt the mountains and the deep blue sea at the quieter north western end of the island. It’s not a beach sort of place – visitors come for the architecture, the café society, the character of the people and the surroundings. The modern town is quite spacious but the real charm is to be found in the combination of narrow alleys and old half-derelict Venetian buildings of the old town along the seafront.
Within the old Kasteli District there are signs of life dating as far back as the Neolithic Era although Chania itself was a Minoan city and then an important city-state Capital in Classical Greece, its domain stretching from the waterfront to the feet of the White Mountains. Originally named Kydonia it was constantly at war with other Cretan states and even issued its own coins in the 3rd Century AD.
The area was occupied by Arabs during the Byzantine Era although the period isn't very well documented. Around 961 BC the Byzantine Empire took control and fortified the city to prevent the further invasion of the Arabs. After the fall of the Byzantine Empire within the region the island was sold to the Venetians for mere 100 silver marks. To begin with the Venetian rule was strict and oppressing – later however relations improved and cultures intertwined.
The walls built to keep the Arabs out did not stand the force of the Ottoman Empire and in 1645 the Ottoman’s took over an area that was flourishing under Venetian rule. The Greeks eventually rose against the Empire in 1821. Conflicts between the Turks and the Greeks in Chania led to losses from both sides and then in 1898 steps were put into motion to unite Crete with the rest of Greece. Chania remained a semi-autonomous state during the negotiations and it wasn't until 1913 that Crete and Chania became officially part of Greece. Despite that many Cretans still feel that Crete is an autonomous state.
Knossos is 140 kms from Chania so it’s an early start but whatever you do don’t miss it – there are regular buses or hire a car.
The Samarian Gorge is only 43kms away but it’s another early start due to the 5-7 hour walk the other end. You will find it mesmerizingly wonderful.
Chania has some good museums well worth a visit:
The Nautical Museum of Crete houses a collection of model ships, as well as other naval ephemera showing the history of Greek Navigation. There is also a section on the battle of Crete in 1941.
The Byzantine Museum doesn’t have a huge collection but the mosaics, icons and jewellery from this period are interesting.
The Archaeological Museum has some great artefacts including prehistoric finds from caves, Minoan items, finds from graves of the Geometric period, coins, jewellery, sculpture, inscriptions and mosaics.
There are many beaches in the region but there are not many ones that are very close by. Chania’s own beaches lie to the west part of the town. The closest beach is the City Beach, which is clean but often crowded. Elsewhere:
It’s always worth a check with your hotel or the locals for the best places to swim – they know all the hidden places.
Agios Nikolaos is situated around a bottomless Salt Lake which now connects to the sea through a small harbour. Legend has it that Olympian Gods bathed in this Lake and to this day its majestic surroundings attract people seeking a moment of peace and beauty. It has a bustling nightlife with a heap of choices of places to eat and/or enjoy a cocktail or a cold beer with views of the sea.
The town offers a cosmopolitan atmosphere and the walls are covered in Honeysuckle, leaving that beautifully sweet scent lingering in the air as you walk around the streets. You’ll find a good choice of hotels, resorts and luxury villas but also some good cheaper accommodation as well.
The world famous resort of Elounda is located 10 Km to the north of ‘Ag Nik along an indented coastline with pristine beaches, seas and beautiful views of the Mirambello Gulf and Korfos. It was built on the Gulf of Elounda 1 km away from the ancient settlement Olous, a favoured destination of ancient Minoan rulers. The actual resort itself is made up of four villages Pano Elounda (upper), Kato Elounda (lower), Mavrikiano and Skisma, all of which sit above the sea.
Knossos is a bit of a journey but well worth an early start and a day trip. There is a good museum in Aghios Nikolaos with artefacts dating back to the Neolithic Era (6000 BC) up to the 1st and 2nd Century AD and even an athlete's skull from the 1st Century AD. The town also has a Folklore Museum and an open air theatre which is a cultural hub for artists and exhibitions.
A boat trip out to the island of Spinalonga makes an interesting day out. The magnificent fortress there was originally built by the Venetians and stood strong against the Turks even when the mainland had fallen. It later became a sanctuary and then a leper colony. In 2007 Spinalonga was made more famous by Victoria Hislop’s book ‘The Island’ and the subsequent film.
The ‘Sunken City’ of Olorous is another historic place to visit. Formerly one of the most important cities in Crete, Olorous flourished under the Minoan Rule. You will find a number of restored windmills, a short canal, a former Roman Basilica and a very well preserved mosaic of a dolphin. Unfortunately all that is left of the sunken city is a couple of walls submerged under water.
There are a number of restaurant and tavernas along the harbour although they can be slightly pricey. For cheaper and more traditional food wander around the back streets and the Market (Agora). For a light dinner grab a snack in a café or go to an Ouzeri and have some meze with a glass of ouzo or local wine.
Chania has a good reputation for its nightlife with a lot to offer the visitors. The party happens on the west side of town where the streets are filled with young people cruising the bars and clubs to all hours of the morning. Music-wise you’ll find everything from Cuban to Live Greek Music.
There is a thriving nightlife in ‘Ag Nik’ with a big selection of bars, music bars and disco/clubs – wander the streets and the crowds will guide you to where the bars are. You can find anything from rock music to the traditional Cretan Music. There is also the option of having a drink or a cocktail on top of a roof with a view of the lake, ask the locals and they will point you in the right direction.
We suggest you avoid eating around the lake because it’s mostly typical tourist restaurants although if you don't mind that you get a great view. Elsewhere there is a lot on offer from simple tavernas and fancier restaurants. Try out an ouzeri that serves meze (little plates) with a glass of ouzo. ,p> Elounda's nightlife is definitely not as lively as the nightlife in Agios Nikolaos. There are a few cafes and cocktail bars, the liveliest are around the main square. There are also places you can go and dance along with the locals to live Greek Music. If you’re peckish there are a few ultra-chic places as well as classic tavernas and little ouzeris.
Local specialties include Cretan Salad, honey and cheese, stuffed vine leaves, rabbit with yoghurt, and meat in red sauce. End your meal with some fruit or local yoghurt served with honey and walnuts. Accompany you meal with Raki, a Cretan white spirit. It's very clean and smooth tasting but is definitely not for the light hearted!
Casa Delfino Boutique Hotel is located within the attractive old town of Chania, close to the Venetian harbour. The Casa Delfino Suites is an elegant and attractively restored 17th Century Venetian Mansion. A true Boutique Hotel in an ideal location for your stay in Chania.
3 nights from £469 per person incl flights
MINOA PALACE RESORT & SPA is a luxury 5* seaside hotel, built within 35.000sqm. of maintained gardens. It is situated in the cosmopolitan area of Platanias, 12km west of the picturesque town of Chania. Enjoy this luxury resort hotel on your Holidays in Chania.
Porto Platanias Beach Resort & Spa, a resort designed to offer ultimate pleasure and recreation, is located in one of the most cosmopolitan regions of Crete, Plataniás, 9 kilometres west of the town of Chania. An ideal resort hotel for your Holidays in Chania.
Enjoy this luxury resort hotel on your Chania Holiday.
Set on the beachfront in Crete’s Riviera, the Caramel Beach hotel offers all the elegance and amenities of a luxury resort. The collection of villas and suites are designed to reflect the traditional charm of island living and feature hand carved furniture and designer fabrics. Situated just minutes from the picturesque Venetian harbour and quaint Old Town, it combines a world of perfect leisure and relaxation with exciting sightseeing and watersports opportunities.
3 nights from £549.00 including flights
Set in an old restored mansion in the heart of the old town in Chania, Fatma Hanoum boutique hotel is a harmonious combination of Venetian and Ottoman architectural styles. Perfectly in keeping with the charm of the surrounding area of narrow alleys and sunny courtyards, the hotel has been lovingly renovated to its former glory whilst incorporating modern facilities and stylish furnishings in warm colours. Moments from the picturesque old Venetian harbour and a leisurely 15 minute stroll from a sandy beach, this is an ideal location for enjoying al fresco dining right on the waterfront.
3 nights from £479.00 including flights
Featuring 5 swimming pools and superb health and leisure options, Pilot Beach Hotel has its own sandy beach and extensive gardens. Situated in Almyrou Bay near the picturesque fishing village of Georgioupolis on the sunny island of Crete, this is an ideal spot for exploring the western part of this fascinating island steeped in culture and tradition. Tastefully decorated one or two bedroom suites and bungalows offer sea or pool views.
This charming Venetian hotel with its exclusive waterfront location has something very special to offer. The Alcanea Boutique Hotel is situated right on the old port in Chania. It has wonderful views out to sea and of the old lighthouse, also it is only a few metres away from a sandy beach.
A luxury 6 bedroom villa in Chania on the Greek Island of
Crete! Offering high standards of luxury and comfort with large exterior spaces and a private pool!
Excellent Holiday Villa in Chania Crete
A luxurious 5 star, 3 bed room villa with breathtaking views, modern design and private pool.
A top luxury 4 bedroom villa, with mountains and sea panoramic views, swimming pool hot tub, and contemporary/Mediterranean design.
A supurb 3 bedroom villa, with mountains and sea sunset views, private swimming pool, and a delightful traditional Cretan design
Three spacious and luxurious art villas, each with private pool and exotic gardens are located at the edge of Kontomari village in beautiful western Crete with its backdrop of mountains and olive groves.
Sun drenched terraces and light airy spaces provide secluded relaxation in this stylish designer property.