Crete Island

Crete is the largest of the Greek islands. Situated between Europe and Africa. Crete has a varied landscape, mountains, deep gorges, fertile valleys with small villages surrounded by olive trees rich farmland. In the villages you will be able to find a taverna where can take refreshments and listen to the sound of Greek music and watch the locals going about their daily life.

Crete is also well known for its beautiful beaches, where you can sunbathe or swim and dive in the crystal blue waters of Mediterranean Sea. Crete is also world famous for its historical sites for example Knossos plus a host of other sites such as monasteries and castles.

The night life has something for everybody from discos to quiet taverna`s with local cuisine and music.

Crete (Kriti) is one of the most fascinating, historically significant, culturally rich, and varied regions of Greece. Although it would take a traveler several months to see Crete thoroughly, and years to experience it all, spending as little as a week in Crete can recharge you and fix firmly into your mind the desire to return for longer visits later on.

Because Crete is so large, so varied, and so full of things to do, we don’t recommend going unless you have at least a full week to spend on the island. If you only have a week at your disposal, we suggest that you choose one of the four regions to explore. If you have more time, you might wish to visit them all, as all have a great deal to offer the visitor. Crete is divided into four regions, or prefectures: Chania, Rethymno, Irakleio, and Lasithi. Even within each prefecture there is great variety. All four have abundant beaches on both the Aegean and Libyan Seas; all four have cities; all four have museums, villages, mountains, and great natural beauty.

The best way to visit Crete is to come for at least two weeks, and to rent a car. It is not necessary to have a 4×4 unless you wish to access some of the more remote beaches. Crete has a decent intercity bus system, but its connections do not serve the attractions so much as the city centers. If you are interested in visiting the smaller, less well-trafficked historical sites and beaches, you will be glad to have your own transportation. We do not recommend staying at one or even two hotels during your stay. You will learn much more about the island if you move around, staying in a new town or city every few days. If you are looking for pure relaxation, however, Crete offers plenty of resorts right on the beach.

Accommodation in Crete

Crete is an Island for unforgettable vacations. You can choose among several accommodation options – Hotels, Motels, Villas, or Airbnb rentals. It is recommended to check the prices of the hotels and book them at least few months ahead since towards to hot-season most of them get fully booked and it’s very difficult to find available rooms.

You can try to start your search by looking for low cost hotels, which are regular hotel but with cheap prices and provide great value for money. The main cities in Crete are as follows:

Geography

Crete is the largest island in the Greek archipelago with an area of 8355 kilometres. It includes the island of Gavdos, the most southerly point of Europe, just 300km from Africa.

Crete is 250 km long, and 600km at its widest point and 12km at it’s narrowest. The coastline is measures 1046km. The major mountains are the Lefki Ori (the White Mountain) in the west; Mount Psiloris which lies in the centre of the island, and on the eastern side of the island lays the Lasithi Mountains.

Mount Psiloris with a height of 2447m is the highest mountain on the island. The interior of the island is mountainous, where olive trees and shrubs grow along with wild herbs.

The Mesara Plain with a length of 40 km and 20km wide is the most fertile and cultivated area on Crete. Lake Kournas just outside Chania is the only lake on the island.

Environment

Sad to say but Crete has not achieved as of yet, an awareness to environment and ecology issues. Despite the huge influx of tourists there is little or no recycling programs to cope with the rubbish created in the summer season.

Though the cities are kept clean and free from rubbish, inland you can come across dumps with rotting and smelly rubbish.

Crete’s water is safe to clean and safe to drink and air pollution is minimal. Crete’s flora and fauna are under pressure from farming, there is very little replanting of trees, as the 90,000 goats on the island would eat the saplings before they got a chance to establish themselves.

In the past the use of pesticides, has destroyed many of the bird and plant life on the island. Along the coast the marine life has suffered, by the use of dynamite by the local fishermen.

Culture in Crete

Crete has one of Europe’s most rich and history and cultural heritage.The island offers a lot of traditional celebrations, festivals during all the year around.

On these pages we will try to keep you updated, with news and info about Cretan culture, such as festivals, concerts, art exhibitions and more

Cretan Music

Music in Crete is an integral part of life on the island. The main instruments are the lyra, similar to violin, the mandolino (mandolin) and the laouto (lute).

A form for musical expression is the mandinades, couplets of 30 syllables that reflect the fate of life, love and death. These are usually improvised songs; the musicians try to outdo each other when they meet at festivals.

The rizitika is another music form which is centuries old, based on love songs from the Byzantine Empire. There are two types of rizitika – “tis tavlas” (table), which is played at feasts and “tis stratas” (round) which accompany travellers. Many of the songs are about history and heroes. The most famous one is about the hero from Sfakia, Daskalogiannis who fought against the Turks in 1770, the song has an impressive 1034 verses.

Crete has many fine musicians, the composer of who “pays the ferryman”, Giannis Markopoulos. Also the late Nikos Xylouris, who was very popular and still is, and Vassillis Skoulas are just three of many who keep the Cretan music alive today.

Dance

Besides its own traditional folk dances, Crete has many folk dances from the mainland. Many of the dances are derived from ritual dances performed in ancient Greece. The dance Syrtos which is often depicted on Greek vases, are danced in a ring formation this is to ward of evil spirits. Male dancers love to dance the pendozalis, which includes leaping to a fast musical beat. Other dances include Sousta, Kastrinos and maleviziotikos.

Feasts and Public Holidays

January 6th.
The feast for the three Three Holy Kings and the blessing of the seas, celebrated in the harbours around the island.

March 25th
Public holiday in remberance of the resistance against the Turks in 1821.
A carnival is held in many places around the island to celebrate that it is 40 days to Easter.

April 23rd
The feast for St.Georg, the Patron Saint of the sheperds, large feasts in the villages.

Easter
The dates vary and do not coincide with ours.Easter is the time for the largest feast in the Greek Orthodox religion. Widespread celebrations around the island.

May 1st
International workers day. A time to take a picnic and go out into the country.

May 20th.
Feast for the Saints Konstnin and Helena, celebrated in churches and monastrys named after them, the largest celebration is held at Moni Arkadiou.

June 24th
The feast for St.john the Baptist.

Late in June the Marine Week is held mainly in the Souda bay.

Summer
The Arts Festival is held in Heraklion throughout the summer months,from July to the middle of August there is a culture festival (Kornaria) held in Sitia. In August and September a International reneassance festival, with drama and music in Rethymnon.

July
Late in July the Rethymnon wine festival is held, two weeks of wine tasting with music and dancing.

August 6th
Metamorphosis consists of church services and feasts, mainly at Voukplies near Chania, Males and Zakros.

August 15th
Public holiday for Marias accension.

August 25th
Feast for Agios Titos, Cretes Patron Saint. Celebrated all over the island.

Middle of August.
The Sitia raisin festival is celebrated for the whole week, the celebrations are not just for the raisin but the grape and the wine distilled fom it. Lots of parties.

Late in August.
A traditional Cretan wedding is helded in Kritsa and all visitors are welcome.
Also in the Fort at Sitia on the night of the last full moon, there is an evening of culture.

September 14th.
The feast for Agios Stavros which is celebrated in the villages around Chania.

October.
In the middle of October the Chestnut feast is celebrated in Western Crete.

October 28th.
Ochi Day is celebrated in remberance of the Greek General Metaxas, who gave a resounding “Ochi” (No) to Mussolinis request to allow Italian troops into Greece in 1940.

November 7th. – 9th.
Remembers the women and children who died in the explosion at the Arkadi Monastry in 1866.

November 21st.
Local holy day in remberance of Gods mother, church service in the cathedral of Chaniá.

December 6th.
Feast for Agios Nikolaos Patron Saint of sailors, celebrated in the town of Agios Nikolaos and other villages with the same name.

Stories & life on Crete

All over the island you will come across streets and squares, named after one of Cretes greatest sons, Eleftherios Venizelos (1864-1936). Born in the village of Mournies near Chania, he was in the resistance movement against the Turks. In 1910 he became Greece,s prime minister and during his term of office Crete finally became a part of Greece.

Why the women wear black?
Traditionally the women wore black clothing as a sign of mourning, they wore black for three years after the funeral.Because of centuries with foriegn oppressors on Crete, death came all to quickly and the mourning period seemed continous, that today black has become a national colour.

Keep it in the family.
It is normal for three generations to live under the same roof, helping and caring for each other.If one brother is a taxi driver and drives you to his brothers taverna it is not nepotism, but a way of the Cretan family lifestyle.The generation gap is a unknown saying on Crete, youngsters sit and talk with their elders, they learn the stories of their forefathers and keep the Cretan spirit alive.

Guest and Stranger
The Greek word “xenoi” has a double meaning; it can mean stranger and guest. Therefore a stranger is always a guest in ones country or home, you can be suddenly surprised over this generosity, and they can offer you a drink or a meal with the family. It is hard to return this generosity as the Greeks love to give; just a simple thank you is all you can say.
Thank you in Greek is “Eftharisto”

The “kafenion” (cafe)
The cafe to the Greeks is what a pub is to Englishman, a meeting place where the men come to drink coffee and maybe a brandy and play backgammon; they also discuss politics or just have a good gossip. Greek women rarely go to these cafes but tourists are welcome.

Volta (The Evening walk)
The Volta has been adopted from the Ventians and is a occassion where all the family despite their age, walk around the village square or along the promanade and stop to talk to their friends and neighbours.The young men and women exchange gossip and flirt with each other.It is a time to see and be seen.

 

Climate

The climate in Crete is stabile, with many sunny days and said to be one of the healthiest in Europe. Mediterranean costal areas are known for mild winters and warm summers.

The average yearly temperature is about + 20 degree Celsius. Rainfall is largest on the eastside of the island in the spring and autumn.

In autumn months strong northerly and northwest winds blow across the island, but in the summer months, the so called “meltemi “winds blow, which creates a comfortable temperature.

In the summer months there can also blow southerly and southwest winds from Africa, which can course large damage to the crops.

Flora

Crete has about 2000 species of plants and wildflowers and about 160 are indigenous to the island. Early spring is the best time to see the island in flower.

In Eastern Crete you will find crimson poppies on the edge of the beaches, these flower in April to May. Along the coast you will find sea daffodils blooming in August and September.

Away from the beaches you will find junipers, poppies, lupins and oleanders these flower in May through to September. Orchid’s lovers will find a large variety of them on the slopes of the hills and on the Lashiti Plateau

Fauna

Crete has a varied bird life both resident and transient species, making the island an eldorado for bird watchers. Rare hawks migrate from Africa to nest on small offshore islands.

The mountains are the domain of the buzzard and large vultures. The rare bearded vulture which is threatened with extinction can be seen in the Samaria Gorge. A wide range of other species is to be found all over the island.

Most of Crete’s mammal wildlife has been hunted into extiction. Crete’s most famous animal is the Kri Kri a wild mountain goat, and can be found in the Samaria gorge. Wild cats are said to roam on the island but this is thought to be a legend told by the shepherds, the only proof so far is in 1996 a cat weighing over 5 kg, was caught in a trap, but has never been proved if this was a truly wild cat or domesticated cat running wild. No other sightings have been made, so this still remains a legend.

Loggerhead Turtles are to be found on the beaches around Chania, Rethtmnon and in the Mesara Gulf. The turtles make nests on the beaches during the summer months, due to the host of tavernas and hotels being built close to the beach, the safety of these nesting sites have become an issue of concern.

The female turtles are easily stressed and in this state they will not lay any eggs. When the turtles hatch during the night they find the sea by the reflection of the moon, but due to the myriad of lights along the sea front they get confused and disoriented. The Turtle Protection Society has the following advice to tourists,

Do not leave rubbish on the beach; plastic bags etc. can be fatal for the young turtles.

Do not handle young turtles as they make there way to the sea.
Keep of the beach at night during May and October.

Respect all wild life on the island; do not disturb any nests or sites used by the wild life.

Transportation

Heraklion airport

Serves the eastern and central areas of the island, the airport lies about 5 km outside the city. Taxis and buses are available outside the terminal. In the terminal you will find the usual offices for car hire companies, bureau de change as well as cafes and bars. During the summer months they can be delays due to the amount of charter traffic. From the airport you can travel to other islands, Rhodes, Santorini plus many more.

Bus

Route no.1 takes you into the city, fare cost ca 1 euro. Departure every few minutes.

Taxis

Always use registered taxis as there are a number of pirate taxis operating out of the airport. Always make sure the taximeter is on or agree on a price before the journey starts. If you have any trouble with a registered taxi, note the number on the sign and report to the tourist police. Fare to the city cost ca. 8 euro in the daytime, plus a baggage charge.

Chania airport

Serves the western area of the island, the airport lies about 15 km outside the city of Chania. The usual offices are to be found here, car hire companies etch, several flights a day to Athens. There also goes daily flight to Thessaloniki.

Bus
There are no regular bus services from the airport, buses meet up for arrivals; most people take the taxi to the city. Daily bus connection to and from Rethymno (Olympic airways coach)

Taxi
The trip to the centre of the city cost ca, 9 euro. The same rules apply here as in Heraklion as to the use of taxis.

Sitia airport

Sitia airport is under expansion and takes for the time being mainly charter flights.

Ferries

From the mainland port of Piraeus there are daily sailings to Crete. There are also ferries from other islands and from Cyprus and Israel. Make sure you leave plenty of time when travelling by boat as there can be delays, due to weather and ferry departures times can be altered. Taking the ferry from Piraeus can be a bit of a trial, as the ships do not always dock at the correct quay. So make sure you take the time to find the right ferry.

Car hire

Cars can be hired from international car hire companies based at the airport. Cars can also be hired from private companies, in towns and main tourist areas. There are age restrictions to hire cars, you must be a qualified driver, and been driving for at least 1 year and 21-23 years old. Be sure when hiring a car that it has full insurance and unlimited mileage.

Driving whilst under the influence of alcohol or drugs is strictly forbidden, and if stopped can result in very heavy fines or imprisonment. Seat belts are compulsory for all passengers; children less than 10 years must sit in the back seat. Local drivers have a more aggressive driving style, so drive carefully and keep a cool head.

Scooters and Motorcycles

Can be hired in the towns and tourist areas, a driving licence is required fro the class of motorcycle/scooter you wish to hire. Helmets must be worn on any motorcycle over 50cc. Check that the brakes work and the hire bike is in good condition before you hire it.

Bicycles

Though not a popular mode of transport in Crete, due to the terrain they can be hired in tourist areas.

Tourist information

Agios Nikolaos

Situated north of the bridge between the lake and the sea. Phone 28410-22357

Heraklion

Situated opposite the archaeological museum.
Phone: 2810-228203,244462

Chania

Kriari 40, nær the plateia .
Phone: 28210 92943

Rethymno

Situated on the eastern end of the promenade towards Plateia Iroon. Phone: 28310 29148 or 56350

GENERAL TIPS

Water: is safe to drink on Crete, but if you preferring bottled water it is widely available in the shops.

Medicine: If you take medicine make sure you have enough for the duration of your holiday (Check at you does not take any medicine that contains codeine, as this is forbidden in Greece).

Weather: The weather can get very hot in the summer months, so make sure you use a good sun lotion and a hat. Drink lots of water to prevent dehydration.

Health insurance: EU citizens must take form E-11 (endorsed by their local insurance office), normally you have to pay then get a refund when you arrive home.

Further Reading

Continue reading more on Crete:

Read Previous

Lakonia

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