Crete’s landscape is packed with pleasant surprises, unique fragrances and areas of outstanding natural beauty. Lovers of hiking and mountaineering will be thrilled with the paths that wend their way through unique locations of natural beauty, through vineyards and olive groves, meeting archaeological sites (fortress of Temenos) and historical monuments, monasteries [Gorgolainis Monastery, Chrysopigi Monastery, Paliani Monastery, the 14th century Panagia Kera Monastery in Sarchos], old churches, caves [Dikteon Cave also known as Psychro Cave on the Lasithi Plateau, Melidoni or Gerontospilios Cave near Rethymno, and Sfentoni Cave near Zoniana], stone single-arch and dual-arch bridges, gorges crossing Mt. Ida [Gafaris Gorge, Krousonas Gorge, through which passed the Minoan trail to the Ideon Cave or Cave of Zeus] and the Asterousia Mountains [Agiofarango, Martsalo and Trafulas], lakes and springs [Almyros wetlands, the lake near Armanogia, Kournas Lake in Apokoronas], old watermills, gurgling rivers and babbling brooks. Don’t miss the chance to walk along Samaria Gorge and the E4 European Long Distance Path which begins in Heraklion and follows an easy 14.5 km long route which can be completed in approximately 4 hours and 15 minutes.
- SAMARIA GORGE
- LAKE KOURNAS
- PLATEAU OF NIDA
Crete is full of monuments of great archaeological importance, ranging from the Minoan and the Mycenaean periods, to the Classical, the Roman and the Byzantine eras.
Ruins of ancient cities, Minoan palaces and historical monasteries reflect the island’s glorious historical past and its course over the centuries. In the Prefecture of Heraklion, top picks for visits include the palaces of Knossos [the largest and brightest centre of Minoan civilisation, 5 km from Heraklion], Phaistos [60 km from Heraklion] and Malia [37 km east of Heraklion]. Next up are Gortyna [45 km] with its 6,000 years of history, the Minoan necropolis at Fourni [17 km from Heraklion], the Minoan city of Archanes and the historical monasteries which host rare samples of Byzantine Cretan painting [Paliani Monastery, Arkadios Monastery, the Agios Georgios Gorgolainis Monastery, Akrotiriani or Toplou Monastery, Agia Irini Monastery], which deserve to be included in your getaways into the surrounding area.
- PALACES OF KNOSSOS
- ARCADI MONASTERY
Crete’s cultural calendar is packed with events all year round. Events begin as early as the Carnival season, with the best being the Rethymno Carnival. During summer, as part of “HERAKLION SUMMER”, visitors have the chance to attend a rich programme of music, dance and cultural events.
The grape harvest season with the production of wine and "tsikoudia", a local distillate, involves pleasant group activities which take place every year in autumn, topped off by the “kazanemata” during November, where visitors get the opportunity to taste the first tsikoudia of the year at a genuine Cretan feast! Events that will bring you close to the locals are the Sheep Shearing event [Feast of the Shepherds] in June, one of the most interesting farming traditions which is accompanied by a feast with “antikristo” lamb [lamb slowly roasted on skewers across the fire], smoked pork ("apakia"), sausages, lyre players; and, of course if you get the chance attend Cretan weddings and baptisms, where dancing and eating are part of the festivities.
- CAVA - WINE CELLAR
- GREEK WEDDING BREAD
- VINE HARVEST
With roots dating back 3,000 years to the Minoan civilisation, and strong influences from the Romans, Byzantines, Venetians and Turks, the Cretan diet is an explosion of flavours that will delight you.
Universally recognised for its health benefits and the longevity it brings, this diet is based on excellent quality extra virgin olive oil, a variety of greens [chicory greens, purslane, sea fennel, "papoules"/"psares" (otherwise known as Cyprus vetch), sow thistle, Mediterranean hartwort and many other species of wild edible flora], legumes, dairy products [myzíthra and galomyzithra soft cheese, Greek graviera cheese, "malaka" cheese, "staka" (a roux made from goat milk fat), tyrozouli (hard white cheese made from goat milk)] and meat [mainly lamb and goat].
It is worth tasting dishes such as pies with myzíthra soft cheese [known as "kaltsounia"], "gamopilafo" [a rice dish made with goat or lamb], golden thistle with beans, pork with quince and carob syrup, fresh fava beans with snails, lamb fricassee with chicory greens, grilled parrotfish, fish soup [known as "kakavia"], "antikristo" lamb lamb slowly roasted on skewers across the fire], and finish off your menu on a sweet note with traditional Cretan sweets called "kserotigana" [a dough based sweet smothered with honey and walnuts]. And of course, strong and scented raki or tsikoudia normally accompanies Cretan dishes, lifting spirits and bringing locals and visitors closer together!
- CRETAN GASTRONOMY
- MYZITHRA CHEESE
- OFTO OR ANTIKRISTO
Crete’s visitors know that in order to experience authentic entertainment they’ll have to locate one of the old traditional taverns known locally as “dermitzadika” [Heraklion, close to Agios Minas church], or musical cafes/taverns known locally as "rakádika" [Heraklion, Agios Titos square and alleys], where they will enjoy local delicacies with raki and good Cretan music.
Don’t miss the opportunity to hear amazing Cretan folk songs known as "mantinades", accompanied by lutes, mandolin and lyre, the historical a capella songs known as “rizitika” which are usually sung at weddings and social events, but also to admire the power of local traditional dances [pentozalis, siganos, syrtos or chaniotikos].
Of course, the traditional character of the island is harmoniously combined with a number of modern bars and night clubs, which are concentrated in the historical city centre of Heraklion, in narrow alleys and bustling squares. From youthful, student hangouts to traditional cafes and alternative bars, the choices are countless.
- KOULES FORTRESS, HERAKLION