Crete, today the most southerly outpost of Europe, sits at the crossroads of three continents and has been occupied by waves of invaders from the Romans to the Byzantine Empire to the Venetians. It bears witness to all of these rulers but is most famous as the birthplace of the first advanced society on European soil, the Bronze Age Minoans, who ruled from 2700 to 1420 BC. It’s a place that’s rich with mythology and legend, home to important sites of both the Minoan and Ancient Greek civilizations. The labyrinth of the Minoan palace of Knossos was where Theseus slayed the Minotaur; Icarus fell to his death upon melting his wings while trying to escape from King Minos; and according to Greek mythology, the Diktaean Cave at Mount Dikti was the birthplace of the god Zeus. The largest of the Greek islands, Crete has a thriving tourist economy, as visitors flock to enjoy the Mediterranean sun, beaches with crystal-clear waters, rugged terrain perfect for scenic hikes, and lively restaurant and nightlife scenes.
To discover more about the mighty Minoans, take a day to visit what is probably Crete’s most popular attraction – Knossos, believed to have been the ancient palace of King Minos. Located about three miles from Crete’s capital city of Heraklion, the site was discovered in 1878, and some of its 1,200 rooms have been reconstructed to portray the grandeur of the royal complex in its heyday.
If you want to gain a deeper understanding of Minoan culture, then a pay a visit to the Heraklion Archaeological Museum – you can buy a ticket for combined entrance to Knossos and the museum. On show at the city-center building are finds from archaeological sites across the island, including prehistoric, Bronze Age, Roman, and Hellenic treasures, but it’s the extensive collection of Minoan art that takes pride of place.
Take a hike
If you always pack your hiking boots when you go on vacation, then you’re going to want to check out Crete’s Samaria Gorge. At just under 10 miles it is one of the longest canyons in Europe, and to walk it can take anything from 4 to 8 hours, depending on your fitness levels. The river Tarraios runs the length of the gorge with high rocky cliffs to each side, and you’ll pass spectacular landscape and scenery. If you’re very lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of one or two of Crete’s resident animal population, such as the Cretan badger or the spiny mouse. It’s best to make an early start to beat the heat and the crowds – the hike is extremely popular during high season.
Kids to entertain? No problem – Crete has your back. The island boasts not one, not two, but three water parks: Limnoupolis near Chania, Water City nearHeraklion, and Acqua Plus close to Hersónissos. Swooshing and screaming your way down the brightly colored tubes and slides before drying off in the Mediterranean sun is hugely fun for all the family.
Around 9 miles east of Heraklion you’ll also find one of Europe’s largest aquariums, the CretAquarium. Home to around 2,000 sea animals, such as sharks, jellyfish, and seahorses, the aquarium is a center for marine research as well as a brilliant place for children to discover more about life in the oceans.
And last, but most definitely not least, we come to Crete’s beaches. The island has no shortage, and you’re likely to find your own favorite with the minimum of effort, but here are a couple to get you started. At the northeast end of the island lies Vai Beach, home to the largest palm grove in Europe, whose trees, according to local legend, grew from date stones washed ashore from Saracen ships in the 9th century. You’ll find sunbeds and straw umbrellas, or just park yourself in the natural shade of one of those palms.
Right at the other end of Crete, in its southwest corner, is Elafonissi beach. The sand here is tinted a pretty pink thanks to the millions of tiny particles of crushed shell it contains, and the more adventurous can wade across the shallow lagoon to a small, uninhabited island, home only to an old lighthouse and chapel, and a flourishing display of native plant species.
Experience the luxury of our Crete villas
Luxury Retreats has beautiful vacation properties all along the popular northern coast of Crete, from Kolymvari in the west to Elounda in the east. So whether you’re seeking peace and seclusion, or would prefer to be close to the nightlife of the north’s popular party towns, we have something just right for you.
Homes in Chania
Chania is the main town in western Crete and is served by an airport as well as regular ferries from Athens. Romantic alleys weave between the pastel-colored buildings of the old town, there’s a pretty fishing harbor, and the town’s market is a great place to buy foodie gifts such as Cretan cheese and honey. Choose a villa in Chania to enjoy sweeping sea views and easy access to golden sands. Oceanfront terraces feature sitting and dining areas, private pools are lined with loungers and if you feel like stepping out, you’re never too far from a local taverna for a pre-dinner drink of bracing local raki.
Once a simple fishing village, Elounda is now an upmarket destination, but its old-world feel remains and it’s a pleasure to wander through the handsome fishing harbor and the town center with its waterfront bars and restaurants. Rent one of our Elounda villas to discover the town’s charms. Some of our Elounda rentals have private spas, hot tubs and access to Elounda Private Beach Club with its fabulous restaurant, seaside pool, and nearby beach. Others offer spacious living areas and up to 8 bedrooms, plus infinity pools and terraces just perfect for sitting, staring and soaking up the view of that never-ending blue.
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