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Visit Crete for a glimpse into the Grecian way of life

Rebecca Underwood takes a closer look at this popular island bursting with history.

By Rebecca Underwood  |  December 12, 2021
crete chania

For those considering a taste of the Grecian lifestyle, Crete, the largest of the Greek islands, is characterised by tranquil secluded beaches, a majestic mountain range, deep valleys, gorges, fertile plateaus and caves. A fascinating history, a rich and diverse culture, and an extensive choice of attractions are reflected in the ever-increasing numbers of visitors from afar.

The most popular sites for intrepid explorers include the ruins of Knossos, the Venetian fortress of Rethymno, a magnificent Byzantine monastery, ornate mosques, and Heraklion, also known as Irakleio, the vibrant capital.

The first known syllabic script of the Greek language discovered in the 19th century at Knossos, is prominently featured on the exterior of the building and again along the plush corridors within. The theme of natural stone, water and wood is predominant throughout the property, creating a serene atmosphere and providing the perfect spot for weary explorers to rejuvenate.

knossos ruins
The ruins of Knossos attract the highest number of visitors to Crete

The ruins of Knossos, once the capital of Minoan Crete, and the ancient Palace of Knossos attract the highest number of visitors to Crete. In the early 1900s, Sir Arthur Evans, the British archaeologist, uncovered and restored the ruins of Knossos. The ancient palace, the origin of the legend of the labyrinth, dates back to 2000 BC and was the home of King Minos and the mythical Minotaur.

For those with energy to burn, take a trip to Crete’s national forest, the Samaria Gorge, which is the longest in Europe. Wander through the 11-mile gorge at your leisure; start at the Omalos plateau and cross the White Mountains. A little piece of heaven awaits you; an abundance of trees, the aroma of sweet flowers and herbs, and the only sounds that interrupt the silence is the water flowing gently from the little fountains, birds of prey announcing their presence and the crunching of the pebbles under your feet.

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The Samaria Gorge is the longest in Europe. Image credit: Y. Skoulas/Greek National Tourism Organisation

Once you arrive at the quaint village of Aghia Roumeli you can board a boat to Chora Sfakion and then return by road to Heraklion. The picturesque town of Rethymno offers her visitors a charming harbour and a magnificent Venetian fortress. The enchanting Venetian-Ottoman quarter features a warren of narrow streets with delightful houses adorned with wooden balconies, Venetian monuments and ornate minarets. In 1646, the town fell to the Ottomans and remained under their rule for almost three hundred years.

To take a look into the Ottoman Empire’s past, take a stroll along Vernardos Street, and as the Neratze mosque comes into view you will see the striking three domes on the roof and the highest minaret in the area. Visit Fortezza, the Venetian fort built in 1573 AD. Take a leisurely walk through the central entrance, along a dark arcade into the sunlit interior and then through the building that housed the artillery. Wander around the small amphitheatre and the Sultan Ibrahim temple and mosque, and then into the 19th century Church of Aghia Ekaterini. Continue along the narrow pathway and at the eastern end there is a small Russian church, evidence of the presence of Russian troops during 1897 to 1909.

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The Arkadi Monastery is one of Crete’s most historic attractions

The Arkadi Monastery is located 25 kilometres from Rethymno, situated on the foothills of Mount Psiloritis. Vineyards, forests and olive groves thrive in the fertile region and there, surrounded by hills, the Arkadi Monastery was built, according to tradition, during the rule of the Byzantine emperor Heraclius or, it is said, during the rule of emperor Arcadius in the 5th century, the exact date is unknown. In 1866, during Ottoman oppression, the monastery served to protect hundreds of Cretan resistance fighters and their families. Less than two hundred local men fought for two days to resist the might of 6,000 Turks.

Today, the monastery houses a small number of monks and nuns and the church and surrounding buildings are well maintained.

For the valiant, with a love of cave exploration, head for the cliffs at Matala bay and discover the artificial caves dating back to the Neolithic Age. Used as tombs in the first and second centuries, one of the caves, known as Brutospeliana was, according to legend, visited by Brutus, the Roman general.

If, however, you prefer to spend the time relaxing in the sunshine and perhaps you have a penchant for an afternoon snooze, the soft sandy beach and the gentle waves of the warm Libyan Sea lapping the shore of Matala bay, provides the ideal spot.

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The Galaxy Hotel has a prime location in the centre of Heraklion

And for a touch of luxury, consider staying at the Galaxy Hotel, located on Dimokratias Avenue in the centre of Heraklion. Accommodations include executive suites, which are spacious and comfortable with a soothing contemporary décor and chic Italian furniture. The bathrooms feature power Jacuzzis, which will soothe any aches after a full day exploring Crete’s many attractions.

Hotel facilities include an outdoor swimming pool; ideal for a few leisurely laps, and for the more active, Crete Golf Club is only 27 kilometres away, and offers an 18-hole course at international standards.


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