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Who has not dreamed of going on vacation to Greece? Greece is a very large country in terms of vacation destinations, mixing historical sites and thousand of empty coves and beaches. Both in the mainland Greece and scattered around its 7 archipelagos you will find more than 1400 islands, of which only about 230 are inhabited.
One of the best options to visit their islands is to take a cruise around several of them, or if you are more adventurous, sail a boat and move around to off-the-beaten-track locations. Up to this day I can say that I have been a couple of times in Greece and always I’m thinking about coming back!
My first trip to Greece was eight years ago: I took a road trip through the mainland Greece, more specifically around the Peloponnese, which included: Nauplia, Guitio, Patras and the island of Hydra, where there are no motor vehicles and the only way of transport there is using donkeys!
This island is usually the most chosen by the Bohemians, intellectuals and artists. I also spent few days in Athens and went to Delphi, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987. In ancient times it was the place of the Oracle of Delphi, that had inside a temple dedicated to the God Apollo. Delphi was revered throughout the Greek world as the place of the Ónfalos or center of the universe.
This time however, I visited Crete and this post is to share with you my experience in this beautiful island in case you are thinking to go there or just to inspire you to visit it.
Crete is the largest island in Greece and the fifth largest in the Mediterranean. It was formerly the center of the Minoan civilization, the oldest civilization of which there are records in Europe.
Historically this island is incredible, even some scenarios identify this island as the famous Atlantis. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, there is an hypothesis that this island could be Atlantis, the legendary island which would have sunk in the sea and which was described by Plato. Because of the similarity of technological and cultural advances, and the fatal outcome of Crete, aspects shared by both islands, many historians are inclined to identify them in the same place, however up to date there are no conclusive answers to this problem.
Nevertheless, it is widely agreed by academics that Crete can be considered the cradle of European civilization. On the island spoke important figures like Homer, Plato and Aristotle, among many others.
There are two myths related to Crete:
The first tells us that Zeus, King of the Greek Gods, was born on this island. There is a place in Crete that stands out thanks to mythology: Matala, is a magical place by the surroundings of cliffs and forests, and because here Zeus became human, after arriving from the sea in the shape of a bull and carrying Europe to his loins. Zeus is the most important god of the classic Olympus .
Today, Matala is a quiet fishing village that has nothing to do with the hippy paradise of the years 60. On the beach there is a mountain full of caves, ancient graves, which served as a shelter for the hippie movement in the years 60 and several young people, including Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens (before leaving, the latter, the guitar for religion). Even today the marks remain on the small buildings, in the paintings, in the Vans Wolsvagen in full color. They are like reminiscent and informative stigmas that show you what was about that forgotten time
Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens spent their summer times in Crete during the 60’s
The second, and most important myth , says that on this island King Minos built a labyrinth where he locked the famous Minotaur, mythological figure, half bull, half human being. which gave its name to its original culture, the Minoan.
As a third myth, more modern, it is said that in Crete there are five cats per Cretan, most of them stray.
One of the famous born in Crete was the painter Doménikos Theotokópoulos, better known as El Greco («The Greek»).
The island is very elongated, requiring several days if you have planned to travel from east to west. Also, many roads are secondary, so it will take you more hours to get from one point to another. At the east-end is Agios Nikolaos, which is characterized by a more tourism of young people and more of party. Heraklio, the capital, is a more familiar destination while in the west are Retino and Chania, which are the most touristy in this part of the island.
What to see in Crete in 8 days?
- Day 1: Arrival to Crete and drive to Chania.
- Day 2: Chania, Elafonisi Beach and Agra Sofia Cave.
- Day 3: Chania and Falassarna Beach
- Day 4: Visit to Chania and travel to Rethimno.
- Day 5: Full day excursion to Santorini
- Day 6: Rethimno
- Day 7: Rethimno
- Day 8: Visit to the Arcadia Monastir, Margaritas town. Melodoni Cave. Dinner at Heraklion and airport.
How to move around Crete?
The best is to rent a car since the island is quite extensive in length. The roads are in a good condition and there is a highway that takes you between the main towns, but if you want to travel a little more around the island, be prepared to use the secondary roads. They are in good condition too, but obviously it takes longer. I think it’s worth going into the «deep Crete» to visit its beautiful beaches. For me the most beautiful are those located at the West, as well as its caves with lots of legends, among the many interesting things and places that the island offers .
To rent a car the best option is Sixt:
The history of the current Chania is incredible, having passed through Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and, in lesser, Ottoman hands. In the fourteenth century the city regained its former glory when the Venetians began to build beautiful Italian-style buildings and called the city Chania; before it was called Cidonia. The city was important enough to be mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey, where he describes it as an island with nine cities and many people, where different languages could be heard.
It is with the Venetians when the city has its greatest splendor, building fortifications and numerous palaces that today have been transformed into restaurants and hotels.
For old movies fans, in Chania several scenes of «Zorba the Greek» were filmed, starring Anthony Quin in 1964.
However, the walls did not prevent the Ottomans from entering the city. Most churches were transformed into mosques and the riches of the city were plundered. After the Greek national uprising against the Ottoman Empire many Cretans were massacred. Despite having been bombed during World War II, Chania is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Crete, especially for its old Venetian port, and the Mosque of the Janissaries with its white domes and gridded architecture, which is the most ancient of Crete.
The Splantzia Quarter is worth visiting, which is the old Turkish quarter, located east of the port of Chania. Nowadays, it has cafes, restaurants and turkish house trips. One of the neighborhoods that I liked the most was the old Jewish district or Hevraiki. A lot of narrow streets with a special charm.
All the legends of the Minotaur, the Labyrinth, Daedalus, Icarus and the Bible in verse, come from this Greek island.
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Agia Sofia Cave
Midway between Chania and Elafonisi Beach is this cave. There are several steps going up until you reach the top. When you walk in it looks small, but it isn’t at all. It was inhabited since long time ago. Here were found several ancient objects, including Neolithic deposits.
Nowadays this cave is used for cult purposes and is associated with several legends, as with Saint Dimitriou. They claim that the footprint of the horseshoe is from Saint Dimitriou’s horse. In fact, in a rock there is a dent, whose shape resembles the horseshoe of a horse.
One of the most spectacular beaches in Crete is this turquoise beach. It is one of the most beautiful in Greece and the Mediterranean and is located on the west end of the island.
To arrive requires 1.5-2 hours drive from Chania, but the scenery is very nice. Once you arrive to the beach, there is a parking lot, a kiosk and a bar where you can buy drinks and fast food and snacks. The beach is so big that, despite the massive influx of tourists, there is room for everyone and you can enjoy it quietly.
The beach, once you have it in front, makes you realize that it was worth the trip. The water is totally turquoise, the sand is pink and it has no waves, which makes it perfect for families and children. Yes, I must add that the water is cold. It doesn’t feel Mediterranean, especially for those who are accustomed to the warms temperatures of the Spanish Mediterranean water, but it really is spectacularly beautiful.
The beach has recently been chosen as the prettiest fifth place in Europe. The island in front of the beach, which can be reached walking given the shallowness of the waters, is a natural area protected of white sands and pink by the dust of the coral. An idyllic postcard.
Another of the most beautiful beaches of Crete, also located in the west. Like Elafonisi the water is super turquoise and is also cold. When we arrived in the morning the water was very quiet, with little swell, but this changed along the day. There is a bar near the beach, but you have to walk about 10-15 minutes. There is also a parking area.
This is a beach with golden and fine sand, which is quite long. The water is not turquoise, but it is pretty warm and clean and has no swell, which is perfect if you go with kids.
Another of the most charming villages of Crete is Rethimno, halfway between Chania and Heraklion. It is the third largest city on the island of Crete, and again, we fell in love with its medieval architecture and its Venetian and Turkish vestiges. We enjoyed sitting on the terrace of the Venetian port, strolling through the cobbled alleys of the old town where you seem to return to the past. One of the things to visit in Rethimno is its Venetian Fortress of the 15th century. The real function of the fortress was to prevent the siege of stormtroopers, and to protect the contingent of Venetian troops destined for Rethimno. In the center of the fortress there is a rectangular-shaped building with a dome that was used as a prison, but actually this is the church of Saint Mary of the Angels.
Another of the sites to see here is the Neratze Mosque and the Rimondi fountain, one of the icons of this town. This fountain provided water to the population and was located in Platanou Square, which was formerly the center of the city. Built in 1626 by Governor Rimondi, its architecture has three water pipes in the shape of stone-carved lion heads and guarded by columns with Corinthian capitals. In the source are inscriptions in Latin and today still sprouts water in this ancient and charismatic source.
One of the things that I fell in love with Rethimno were its alleys, its shops, its bougainvillea and its restaurants, located as in Chania, in old Venetian palaces where you can dine in the open air courtyard. Amazing.
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As geographical curiosity, the island of Crete is located a the same distance from three continents: Africa, Asia and Europe.
Monastery of Arkadi
It is recommended to go to the monastery of Arkadi, in the foothills of Mount Ida, where mythology affirms that the almighty Zeus spent his childhood. It began to be built in 1562, in the middle of the Cretan Renaissance -then under Venetian rule- and combines Romanesque and Baroque elements with Byzantine and Oriental influences. The current church dates from the sixteenth century and is marked by the influence of the Renaissance, since the island was then Venetian.
Arkadi was an active center and an important center of resistance against the Ottoman occupation, reason that made it famous. During the revolt of Crete in 1866, 943 Greeks found refuge in it: of the resistant, the majority were women and children. After three days of fighting, and under the orders of the monastery superior, the Cretans blew up the powder kegs, preferring the sacrifice rather than surrender. All but a hundred died in the assault. 1500 Turks and Egyptians also died in the battle.
The monastery is today a national sanctuary in honor of the Cretan resistance, and every November 8 the tragedy is commemorated in Arkadi and Retino. The explosion did not put an end to the insurrection in Crete, but it attracted Europe’s attention to its people’s struggle for independence.
The Monastery of Arkadi appeared on 100 Greek drachma notes.
Schedule. Open daily from 8.00-20.00 hours in summer and from 9.00 to 18.00 hours in winter.
How to get there: There are several buses that take you there from Retino, if not, you will need a car to arrive. The monastery is about 18 km southeast of Rethimno, by car it takes about half an hour.
You have to pay a special donation to get in, but is not much and the place is worthy.
This village, located on a hill just 40 minutes from Rethimno, is known as the village of the artists of «Pithari» (jar of Greek oil), since the town has a tradition in pottery. It is a charming town with many pottery shops, but here we found other forms of pottery made apart from the many common pots that are produced here. Many people come here to stock the entire island with pots.
Ceramic is one of the oldest arts developed in Crete since 3000 BC, in the early Minoan era, and is associated with the creation of products based on the four elements of nature: earth, water, air and fire. .
The name «Margarites» comes from the Byzantine word magarikon, which was used for ceramic articles. Apparently, the first people who settled in the area were potters or magariki, so the town got its name. Another legend says that the town is named after Margaret, the queen of Eleftherna, who sold her jewels and built a town that bore her name.
Located in the lush green hills of Mt. Psiloritis, the area is rich in clay deposits that explains the strong pottery tradition that has been preserved to this day and is the main occupation of many of the town’s residents.
This charming town fills up during the summer months when tour buses line up here during the day. One of the best traditional ceramic shops of Crete in Margarites is KERAMION, located just around the corner from the town’s main square. Owned by the potter George Dalamvelas and his family, this beautiful ceramic and studio store exhibits the best hand-made decoration where visitors are invited to participate in pottery classes and workshops.
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The nearby Melidoni cave has a rich history and is of great interest due to its archaeological findings. The artifacts of the cave are displayed in the Archaeological Museum of Rethimno. The myths surrounding the cave include the extraordinary story of Talos, a bronze giant. This creature made of Bronze, it’s said that was given by Zeus to Europa to protect Crete from foreigners. Talos circled around Crete twice a day throwing stones at the invaders and pirates.
The cave has also gained an important role in the history of the revolutions of the Cretans against the Ottomans: people had hidden in the cave and refused to surrender. The Turks lit a fire and they were all asphyxiated. The arched entrance of the cave receives visitors and leads them to the first room, called «The room of heroes», which commemorates the death of 340 Cretan men, women and children murdered by the Turks in 1824.
In the cave, the visitor can admire the first room which is quite impressive, since archaeologists have closed the rest rooms, for archaeological excavations. However, it is enough to impress you. It is one of the largest in Crete, while its huge stalactites and stalagmites are really impressive.
Around Heraklion: Knossos
Excavations in Crete confirmed the existence of the Palace of Knossos, in the center of the island, and, according to legends, King Minos, son of Zeus, reigned here in the past. Today it is possible to imagine how that palace looked like thanks to the restoration of the British archeologist Arthur Evans, in 1900. He believed that in Knossos was located the labyrinth built by Dedalos, where the legendary King Minos locked up his terrible stepson, the Minotaur, who was fed with seven maidens and seven young men who every year were sent as tribute from the vassal territories. The civilization that built this palace is called Minoan, in honor of King Minos.
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Hotel in Chania : The Theodore Boutique Hotel
We stay in this Boutique Hotel located in the town of Agia Marina, 15 minutes by car from Chania, and in the middle of Stalos Beach.
The hotel is spectacular. Without a doubt, I would repeat staying here if I go back to Crete and without a doubt, I totally recommend it. The hotel is beautiful, with a twist of Ibiza style. Upon arrival at the room we were greeted with a plate of hummus, tzalziki, olives, bread and olive oil as well as a bottle of white wine, all courtesy of the Hotel. Amazing. I have stayed in many hotels throughout my life and this gesture I have not seen in almost any. Only with that, the hotel had won me but when we went to breakfast the next day, I fell in love even more. The chef comes out to greet you and to say good morning personally and tells you what there is for breakfast. They have the best products, fresh and organic. And every day I came the dishes were different. Breakfast takes place in the lower lounge which is open to the terrace facing the sea. It is spectacular!!
The decoration of the hotel is incredible too, in golden, copper and white tones, all the rooms have lattices, balcony or patio and with Marshall loudspeakers. Amazing!! It also had a lounge area on the beach and a bar and cocktail bar in case you wanted to have a drink while having a bath while sunbathing.
Our room had a balcony and faced the sea. Oh! what a luxury to wake up like that and how I miss it!. The hotel also has yoga classes and massage services.
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Hotel in Rethimno: Golden Coast Seaside Apartments
If you decide to stay for a few days in the area of Rethimno, I recommend the Golden Coast Seaside apartments, located right in front of the beach of Rethimno. Just across the road you are in the sand. As for location could not be better, because although it was about 30 minutes walk from the center of the village, this part of the beach was very quiet and much less crowded than those near the town’s market. Also, for us that we like to move around, and more after being all day lying on the beach, it was perfect to go walking to the village and to discover new places and corners every day.
The apartments were new, only a couple of months open. All the furniture was new and the decor, in shades of white and blue, was very Mediterranean and Greek with a modern touch. You had your mini kitchen integrated, although we did not use it, but it is very useful if you travel especially with children.
- [wp-svg-icons icon=»food» wrap=»span»] Mantalos in Margarites sit down for lunch or dinner and savor traditional local Cretan dishes such as rabbit stew or kouneli stifado, stuffed zucchini flowers and zucchini balls, to name a few. Lined with trees, the tavern offers a serene setting on a warm summer day. Amazing to relax under the trees with a view of the sea in the distance between the mountains. You can taste dishes of its homemade Cretan cuisine with goat specialties with red sauce, stuffed zucchini dolma and rustic rooster. ⚐ Margarites, Rethymno, 74100, Crete, ✆ Tel: (+ 30) 28340 92294, ~ €12 per person. Website
- [wp-svg-icons icon=»food» wrap=»span»] Tholos in Chania. Ag. Deka 36. 73100 Chania website + 30 2821 046725. Open at 16 hours/Opens at 4 pm. It is an old Venetian palace.
- [wp-svg-icons icon=»food» wrap=»span»]Boheme in Chania. It is in a beautiful and unique place. We noticed the entrance courtyard and walked in without knowing what it was. Afterwards, the girl in the restaurant told us that the site was built by the Venetians and that it was part of the cells of the monks of the monastery of Saint Francis. The banana that dominates the courtyard and that offers shade to the courtyard, is about 400 years old and is the only witness of the history of the place and the people who lived here. In this place was established the first refreshment factory in Chania «Nectar» at the beginning of the twentieth century, which later housed legendary bars and restaurants such as «Ideon Andron», «The Magic Flute» and the Chinese Restaurant «Suki Yaki». «. The roof of Boheme is made of German interwar railway slats and is decorated with original works by the great Greek artist Giannis Kyrou. It has Cretan food made with local biological products. I recommend you try their cocktails. Thank you. L-V/Mon-Fri 9am-4am and S-D/Sat-Sun 9am-4am address/address: Chalidon 26-28. Chania Crete. Phone: + 30 28210 95955. Website
- [wp-svg-icons icon=»tags» wrap=»span»]Ceramic shop Flakatoras Address: Zampeliou 19, Chania 731 00, Greece. Monday to Saturday 9am-5pm. /Mondays to Saturdays from 9 am-5pm.
+ 30 698 090 9010
- [wp-svg-icons icon=»food» wrap=»span»] Avli Restaurant in Retino. Avli is a combination of hotel suites with restaurant, wine cellar and a shop with traditional products. Avli was created 25 years ago, in 1987. It is located in a group of beautiful Venetian buildings from the 16th century. If you want to dine in an old Venetian palace, with a lovely courtyard inside and try the Cretan food I recommend this site. Beautiful and the food is great. Address: Xanthoudidou 22 & Radamanthios, 74100, Rethymnon, Crete. T. + 30 28310 58250/26213 F. 58255 E. firstname.lastname@example.org. Website
- [wp-svg-icons icon=»food» wrap=»i»] Pigadi Restaurant in Retino. Located right in front of Avli. The restaurant is located in the courtyard, which was an extension of a large Venetian building, and was formerly used for gardening and as a horse stable. The building was destroyed during the Ottoman domination, except the courtyard and the outer wall, where, during its restoration, were found a great stone channel and a lion’s head, dating from the Venetian domination of Crete and are part of the decoration of the Restaurant today. You can dine in their beautiful patio or on the outside tables as we did. In a few years it has earned its place among the top 10 restaurants in Crete by the International tour guide Rough Guide. The restaurant has participated in three contests of traditional Cretan cuisine in the last three years and has won twice the gold medal and once the silver medal. Website
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One of the delights of Greek food is the Greek salad or the moussaka. Other typical dishes are: the dolmades or vine leaves stuffed with meat and rice, the Tzatziqui, the famous sauce based on yoghurt, mint and cucumber, feta cheese, the saganaki, which is a simple and traditional dish of Greek cuisine, based on Kefalotyri cheese fried in oil D and Olive.
But also opuedes to eat a delicious fish and shellfish, let us not forget that we are on an island. All good and more if you accompany it with the typical wine of Retsina.
At the end of the dinner, for dessert, the waiters usually offer you a glass jug containing a crystalline liquid that the waiters, in a good humoured black boast, call it natural water. Actually it’s called Raki raki is hot water that comes from the grape and helps to do the digestion.
If you have any questions or questions, you can send me an email or write it in comments.
Thank you so much for reading me.
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