My first vacation on the island of Crete was in September 2012. I discovered wonderful places and people, and that is why this island is on the top of my preferences. Crete is divided into four prefectures: Hania (Chania in English), Rethymnon, Iraklion (Heraklion) and Lassithi. The eastern half of this island has very diverse landscapes, overcrowded areas in contrast to deserted ones. Here is the birthplace of Zeus and the famous El Greco. You need a long time to embrace this diversity! We took in good part for seven wonderful days.
If you look at a map of Crete and see that it is about 300 km long and between 20 and 80 km wide you say, “Flower to my ear, one day I can cross the east-west!”. On the spot you realize that’s not the case. The predominant mountain range and narrow roads do not allow you to travel more than 40-60 km / h. We stayed in Agios Nikolaos, so I visited everything I could, in Lassithi prefecture and a little in the Heraklion area. And because we went especially for the sun and the sea, I will first introduce you to some beaches. I’ll try to make a top three of them.
1. Vai Beach is ranked first in my top. After Navaggio, in Zakhintos Island, it is second to the top of the beaches of the Greek islands that I have visited so far. Situated in the eastern extremity of the island, about 100km from Agios Nikolaos, this exotic beach is unique due to the palm-tree reserve that borders it. It is said to be the only place in Europe where palm trees grow wild. The images will convince you that this beach has a tropical air. The beach has all the facilities: sun loungers, umbrellas, restaurant, water sports center.
2. Erimoupolis (Itanos) is located in the north of Vai beach, about three kilometers away. It’s about three different beaches! The road stops in a parking lot, and from there you can choose where you want to make a sunbath. As you face the sea, on the right (south) you will see the ruins of the ancient town of Itanos. If you head in that direction you will discover a small beach with palm trees. In front of the parking lot it is another small beach with fine sand, rocks and a few trees. These two beaches are ideal for snorkeling. Itanos city ruins are partly covered with water, so you will have a unique experience. To get to the third beach, from the parking lot you will follow a trail to the north (left). In ten minutes you will reach a long stretched beach with fine sand, surrounded by steep slopes and turquoise waters. The biggest disadvantage of these beaches is the lack of facilities. Probably that’s why they are not very crowded. On the two small beaches you can benefit from the shade of the trees,but on the largest one you need an umbrella. You must have some water with you and maybe something to eat. Please when you leave, do not forget to take your garbage with you!
3. Almiros beach is located about three kilometers away from the city of Agios Nikolaos. Its southern part is shaped by the Almiros River that flows into the sea. I liked this beach because it is well organized, the sand is fine, and the depth of water is gradually increasing. In the open sea, the Greek flag is anchored on some rocks. In one side of the beach, the water is cooler due to the Almiros river, and on the other you can enjoy snorkeling. In addition, you can practice water sports! Near the beach, the Almiros River has created an area of rush, reed, palm trees and eucalyptus, which is a shelter for some rare bird species. This is a cool beach due to the natural setting. Here you will not feel the heat!
I also liked the following beaches: Sissi (very crowded but with facilities), Voulisma (Istron), Koutsounari, Mirtos etc. But the offer is much more varied as you can see at the adress http://www.cretanbeaches.com/en/beaches-of-crete/east-crete-beaches-lassithi
During this vacation, besides having sunbath, I tried more than ever to visit archaeological sites, museums, traditional areas, etc. I will introduce you to some of them: 1. Lassithi Plateau is an important agricultural area of Crete. The mountainous relief led the locals to build windmills that today are the main tourist attraction. On the way to Psychro cave, Zeus’ supposed birthplace, you will pass by the Homosapiens museum. We were said the museum is small but interesting especially for children. I do not know why, but the owner was nervous (he was screaming at some tourists in his Greek language) so I gave up in visiting it. We were pleased with the site’s immortalization, drank a good coffee, and Irina ate an ice cream! From the parking lot to the cave you can benefit from the services of a donkey. There is another cave in the prefecture of Heraklion, Ideon Andron (Ideo Andro), where Zeus is supposed to have grown up so if you have time you can visit that too.
2. The ruins of Knosos Palace are an important tourist attraction, located about five kilometers away from the city of Heraklion. This palace was destroyed and rebuilt several times over the time. It was originally built by the King Minos to expel the Minotaur, the mythical creature of Minoan civilization. Today there are some well preserved frescoes and columns typical for this civilization. More details can be found at http://www.greeka.com.
3. Cretaquarium https://www.cretaquarium.gr/ and Aquaworld Aquarium http://www.aquaworld-crete.com/ are two tourist attractions for both adults and children. They are located between Heraklion and Malia at a distance of about 12km from each other. By accessing the addresses above you will find more interesting things and you will decide which one to choose if you don’t have too much time. At Aquaworld there is also the possibility for the youngsters to touch different creatures. There are also guided tours between 10 am and 1pm, every day.
4. Spinalonga Island, located in Elounda Bay, about 15km north of Agios Nikolaos, is well known for the fortress built by the Venetians in the 16th century. Since 1904, a leprous colony has been set up on this island. For fifty years those people struggling with fate have been forced to live here. In addition to the fortress you can visit the leprous-built settlement and where you will find interesting information about that period. From Plaka and not only are organized tours of the island. British writer Victoria Hislop was so impressed by this place that he described fragments from leprosy’s life in The Island novel.
I end up, telling you there are many other tourist attractions in this area, but I let you discover them. Visit Crete and you will not be disappointed!