1. Venetian Old Town and Port of Chania
Located on the northwestern tip of the island, Chania (pronounced Hania) is one of the most visited Cretan cities. The Old Town is charming with architecture from the Venetian and Ottoman periods. The bustling harbour’s lovely lighthouse overlooks sparkling blue waters, providing a perfect backdrop for your Aegean vacation. You can happily get lost in the narrow alleys lined with stores owned by spirited Cretans selling handmade jewelry, souvenirs, and pottery. Waterfront restaurants offer outdoor seating; it’s not uncommon to spot visitors and locals enjoying sumptuous cuisine and wine well into the morning hours, live music and laughter spilling from bars.
2. Elafonissi Beach
On the deserted southwest corner of Crete lies the serene, world-famous beach of Elafonissi known for its crystal clear lagoons and coral pink sands. A two-hour bus or car ride over the Gorge of Topolia and through mountain towns brings you to paradise. You can dip your toes in the shallow waters of the sea, have a refreshing drink, and enjoy watching birds resting before their journey to Africa. A short walk towards the dunes leads to secluded beach coves you can call your own. Sun beds, chairs with umbrellas, and snack food bars make your stay more comfortable. Hotels are available for those wishing to extend their beach stay.
3. Agreco Traditional Farm
There’s no better place to immerse in Greek culture and enjoy the countryside than at the whimsical Agreco Farm in Rethymno. The farm and the buildings of the estate are in perfect harmony with the landscape of sea and its organic olive trees, herbal plants, and vineyards. On location, you’ll find an olive press, watermill, wood-burning oven, wine cellar, and a zoo for rescued animals, including Kri Kri (endangered wild goats). After playing farmer for a day, you can enjoy the very best in traditional Cretan cuisine, including moussaka, Gemista (stuffed veggies with rice and herbs), Lichnarakia (handmade Cretan dessert filled with Myzithra, a soft sweet cheese), all made from the farm’s produce and have a true farm-to-table experience at the estate’s alfresco Taverna.
4. Palace of Knossos
Did you know that Crete was the center of Europe’s first advanced civilization? At the archeological site of Knossos, situated near Crete’s capital of Heraklion, you can walk among the hilltop ruins of the brilliant civilization of the Minoans. Stroll through the palace and temples admiring the wonderfully recreated and restored art work, take in the scenery, knowing that you’re traveling back in time 4,000 years. After the tour, grab a refreshing drink and a hearty meal at the Cafe Garden.
5. Samaria Gorge
Crete’s unparalleled allure comes from its mountainous landscape and spectacular gorges, one of which lies on the southwestern tip of the island in the National Park of Samaria in the White Mountains. Locally known as “Farangas,” or “Great Gorge,” Samaria gorge is one of the longest in Europe; the vertical walls soar up to 1,600 feet high and are just 10 feet apart at the narrowest point. If you can handle the long (5 to 6 hours) trek through rough terrain, you’ll be rewarded by spectacular views and a chance to see the “Iron Gates”, the narrowest part of the gorge. The wildflowers in April and May, and the indigenous wild goats, make the hike all the more worthwhile.
Enjoy the natural beauty and the lively culture of Crete, less than an hour flight from Athens, on your next trip to Greece!
About the Author: Lavanya Sunkara is a writer based in New York. Her love of adventure has taken her all over the world from Australia to Zanzibar. When she’s not traveling, she’s hiking with her dog, and planning her next getaway. Follow her on twitter @Nature_Traveler. Read her articles at www.nature-traveler.com.