The best places to visit in Crete

It is not only the largest island in the Hellenic country but also the most diverse and fascinating. To the seductive set of mountains and beaches, plains and gorges, fishing villages and Venetian ports, it joins the magic of its legendary ruins and the Mediterranean cult of the good life.

It is the island of the minotaur and the refined Minoan civilization. The island where Zeus and Doménico Theotocopulos, better known as El Greco, were born. The island where a young Anthony Quinn dared to dance a sirtaki which, by the way, was an easy version, composed expressly for that Zorba the Greek who was not proficient in movement. All this is Crete. A destination to immerse yourself in the story of antiquity. A refuge for seekers of lost civilizations and nostalgic for gods and poets.

But the largest island in Greece, graced with a coastline of more than a thousand kilometres, is also an explosion of nature. A territory full of great beaches and remote coves, mountains dotted with gorges and fertile plains where an exquisite cherry liqueur is made. All this and its evocative ports, which look like paintings painted by Canaletto, make it the great treasure of the Aegean, that sea that we see today as turquoise, but which Homer himself imagined from his blindness as the dark color of wine.

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Minoan culture

To travel to Crete is to relive the origins of time in an enclave that not only saw the birth of the refined Minoan culture, but also later piled up, one on top of the other, most of the civilizations that have caressed the Mediterranean. That is why the Palace of Knossos is the essential visit. An interesting site where you can appreciate the sophistication of this people who set the bar so high in art and engineering, and which also has a plus of mythological resonances.

They say that this palace dating from 4000 years ago was the home of King Minos, son of Zeus, who gave rise to an episode halfway between history and myth: that of the labyrinth built between its walls to hide the stubborn minotaur and the that only Theseus, with Ariadne’s thread, was able to escape safely.

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Beautiful Cities

Crete’s rich history is also echoed in its urban centers. Like in Heraklion, the bustling capital, which is the hometown of El Greco, where he lived before choosing Toledo as the place to light his art. A city perhaps a tad lacking in architectural harmony, but ideal for enjoying its cafes, letting yourself be carried away by the bustle of the port and visiting the Koules fortress and an Archaeological Museum that is considered, with the permission of its brother in Athens, the most superb from the country.

But no city like Hania (or Chania) to know what frozen time is. What for many is the most beautiful on the island is laid out as a network of twisted streets that end up in the sea, where not only the Minoan, Hellenistic and Roman echoes resound, but also the rumor left behind by the Venetians and the Turks. . Fortifications, lighthouses, houses with beautiful balconies and prominent mosques such as the one in Janízaros set the stage for hedonistic Greece: the one that throbs in the taverns (yes, with a v) in the warmth of its warm and hospitable people.

Rethymnon is also beautiful, the port that best preserves the flavor of the city of gondolas, the medieval style that was impregnated under Venetian rule. Its decadent houses converted into exquisite shops and stylish restaurants reveal a closer time: when this town was the bohemian center of Crete thanks to the arrival of intellectuals and artists from Constantinople.

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Great Views

But people also come to Crete to enjoy some of the most stunning beaches in Greece. There are dozens of them (Triopetra, Vai, Falasarna…), but we are left with two that are the perfect postcard: Elafonisi, in the far west, among the best beaches in Europe, famous for a sand that owes its pink color to the particles of a vermilion coral; and the beach of Balos, in a natural park in the northwest of the island, whose beauty monopolizes the covers of magazines.

Another beautiful picture of Crete is found in its mountainous relief, favored with more than a hundred gorges that slide towards the sea. None like that of Samaria, the longest in Europe, carved by the Omalos River in the heart of the White Mountains. A spectacular landscape in which, along eighteen kilometres, the road is a sway of passages between vertical walls that compete to scratch the sky.

Also hidden in the mountain is the Arkadi Monastery, a beautiful complex with Renaissance and Baroque influences, to which the Greeks make a pilgrimage to honor the Cretan resistance against the Ottoman occupation. And back towards the coast, don’t miss the pretty villages that hang from the slopes or those others that, already in the sea, exude the essence of fishing. Among them, Agios Nikolaos, arranged around a lake in which, according to mythology, Athens and Artemis bathed.

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Joyful Delights

Many do not know that Crete holds the title of cultivating one of the healthiest cuisines in the world, something that can be verified in restaurants such as Eugonía (Milonogianni, 120) and To Koutourouki (Episkopou Chrisanthou, 731), in Hania; or at the renowned Veneto, in Rethymnon.

In any of them, lunch or dinner will culminate with a raki, the quintessential alcoholic digestif. An autochthonous Cretan drink that is made privately in each house or establishment, always subject to the control of the authorities. And that is, of course, a reason and consequence of the party, of the song, the dance and the Greek happiness.

If to all this you add accommodation in hotels as impressive as Blue Palace or Avli, the adventure will be perfect. The traveler looking for a well-rounded destination, one that doses itself with beach, cultural, gastronomic and nature experiences, will definitely fall in love with Crete, the island that has it all.