National Park of Samaria, Crete

Six reasons to visit Crete

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One of the largest islands in the Mediterranean, Crete comes with a supersized selection of things to see and do. From myth-steeped ancient ruins and culture-packed coastal cities to whitewashed villages hidden in the hillsides and WWII history worthy of a Hollywood movie, this Greek island will keep you coming back again and again. We’ve rounded up our top six reasons to visit the so-called “Jewel of Greece”.

Explore the island on foot

Credited as the birthplace of Zeus, Crete is all rugged mountains, dramatic valleys, and hidden villages that look lifted straight out of a Homeric tale. The island’s rugged landscapes are ideal for walkers who want to be rewarded with epic scenery. This includes the towering Mount Ida, Crete’s tallest peak with an elevation of 2,456 metres, and the White Mountains (also known as or Lefka Ori) - a dramatic range celebrated for its soaring cliffs, colourful wildflowers,and Cretan wild goats known asKri Kri.

The mosque at Chania port, Crete, Greece

Spend time in Chania

Crete’s second-largest city after Heraklion has been fought over for centuries, most notably by the Ottoman Turks and the Venetians. Today, it charms with Venetian walls, colourful mansions, and cobbled paths dotted with small catholic churches and orthodox mosques. Visit the lovely 16th century Venetian harbour to stroll around streets and cafés before watching little fishing boats bobbing on the harbour. Further highlights include stopping for lunch at one of the waterfront tavernas and visiting the Navy Museum, Archaeological Museum of Chania, Temple of Aghios Eleftherios, and 19th century Lighthouse of Chania. 

Visit Samaria Gorge

For outdoor adventures on a grand scale, the national park and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve known as Samaria Gorge is hard to top. Stretching over 9.94 miles (16kms) and cutting through the White Mountains, this is hailed as one of the longest gorges in Europe. For walkers, it’s a true hiker’s heaven. Expect incredible views of mountain slopes, dragon arum flowers, kri kri goats, old churches ruins, forgotten villages, and unique Cretan flora and flora. There’s plenty of wildlife here, too, so keep your eyes peeled for Bonelli and golden eagles.

Knossos palace at Crete, Greece

Discover the Minotaur’s lair in the Palace of Knossos

Once the prominent centre of the Minoan civilisation, the palace of Knossos was designed with palace buildings, rock-cut caves, and underground tunnels believed to have been home to the legendary Minotaur – the monster with the body of a man and the head and tail of a bull in Greek mythology. A guided palace tour is available for those wanting to learn more about the myths surrounding this extraordinary complex. Highlights include the throne room and royal apartments.

Find out about Crete’s role in WWII at Gonia Monastery

Located near the village of Kolymbari, this Greek Orthodox monastery was once the centre of resistance during the Cretan struggle against the Nazi occupation of the island during WWII. After German forces captured the island following the Battle of Crete in May 1941, local shepherds and villagers joined forces with a handful of stranded Allied officers to form part of the Cretan resistance, who aimed to disrupt the German advance through guerilla warfare. Gonia Monastery provided a safe haven for women and children and helped shelter many of the resistance fighters being hunted by the Nazis.

Sample the local cuisine

While Mediterranean staples such as olive oil and tomatoes are a given across Crete, you’ll also spot several popular dishes such as dolmadakia (stuffed vine leaves) and skewers of lamb souvlaki with tzatziki - a refreshing yogurt and cucumber dip. As an island, Crete can harvest an amazing range of seafood, too. Sautéed baby squids, prawns, mussels, octopus are staples on many menus. A traditional Cretan favourite are kolokitokeftedes – zucchini and cheese patties – while goat is often on menus, too. To round off your meal like a local, sip on an Ellinikos Greek coffee or frappe - or try a ubiquitous glass of ouzo.

Like the sound of Crete? Discover Evia

It may be Greece’s second-largest island after Crete, but Evia’s charms are lesser known. Separated from the mainland by little more than a sliver of Aegean Sea, this island stunner rewards with superb archaeological finds, lovely vineyards, and glittering beaches where you may not see another soul. Walkers will love Dimosari Gorge for its waterfalls, rocky ravines, and mysterious Dragon Houses – a collection of megalithic structures buried deep in the mountains. Equally standout is the south coast town of Karystos - an ideal base for climbing the rocky slopes of the 1,398-metre-high Mount Ochi. 

Classic & Undiscovered Crete

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