Captivating Crete – November, 2023

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Published: December 23rd 2023

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Wherever you are in Crete – in the region of Chania, Heraklion or over on the eastern shores in Lassithi -you’ll find an irresistible story of beaches, culture, mountains, valleys, villages, wine routes and people. And somehow, once you’ve sampled it all, it becomes part of your story. With incredible countryside and rich history, there are so many things to do here. The island of Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek Islands, with approximately 700,000 inhabitants – the capital and largest city is Heraklion.

Crete, a tapestry of splendid beaches, ancient treasures, and landscapes, weaving in vibrant cities and dreamy villages, where locals share their traditions, wonderful cuisine, and generous spirit. Here is where you will discover centuries-old ways of life, magnificent Ottoman, Byzantine, and Minoan ruins, with an Old Town (in Chania) whose maze-like streets simply beg to be explored – just a few reasons why the island’s prettiest city feels like a world away from the hustle and bustle of everyday living.

Crete’s most famous historical attraction is the Palace of Knossos, the grand capital of Minoan Crete, located some 3 miles south of the city of Heraklion. The setting is evocative

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and the ruins and recreations impressive, incorporating an immense palace, courtyards, private apartments, baths, lively frescoes and more. Entrance fee to the Palace of Knossos is 15 Euros ($16.53) and for another 5 Euros ($5.51) a pairing ticket for both the palace and the Heraklion Archaeological Museum can be purchased. Entry to Knossos is free every first Sunday from November 1st through March 31st.

A Little Bit of History: The first and original palace – believed to have been erected around 1900 BCE – was destroyed by an earthquake in 1700 BCE and then rebuilt to a grander and more sophisticated design. It was partially destroyed again between 1500 and 1450 BCE and inhabited for another 50 years, before finally burning down to the ground. After an initial excavation of part of the palace by Cretan archaeologist Minos Kalokerinos, the ruins of Knossos were then fully unearthed in 1900 AD by British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans. He was so enthralled by the site that he spent 35 years and $317,500 of his own money excavating and reconstructing sections of the palace. Although controversial in expert circles, his reconstruction helps casual visitors conceive of what it might have looked like

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in its heyday.

The first treasure to be unearthed in the flat-topped mound called Kefala, was a fresco of a Minoan man followed by the discovery of the Throne Room. The archaeological world was stunned that a civilization of this maturity and sophistication had existed in Europe at the same time as the great pharaohs of Egypt. The Minoans’ highly sophisticated society is further revealed by details like the advanced drainage system and the clever placement of rooms in relation to passages, light wells, porches, and verandas that kept rooms cool in summer and warm in winter.

Once you have explored this fascinating site, your next logical destination should be the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. This state-of-the-art museum is one of the largest and most important in Greece. The 2-story revamped 1930’s Bauhaus building makes a gleaming showcase for artifacts spanning 5,500 years from Neolithic to Roman times, including a Minoan collection of unparalleled richness. The rooms are color-coded, and displays are arranged both chronologically and thematically and presented with descriptions in English. A visit here will greatly enhance your understanding of Crete’s rich history – don’t miss it! The museum’s treasure trove includes pottery, jewelry, and sarcophagi plus

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famous frescoes from the sites of Knossos, Tylissos, Amnissos, and Agia Triada. The pieces are grouped into comprehensive themes such as settlements, trade, death, religion, and administrative. Along with clear descriptions, these bring to life both the day-to-day functioning and the long-term progression of societies in Crete and beyond. You need a minimum of at least 2 hours to view this extraordinary collection. Tickets are 12 Euros ($13.22) in the summer and 6 Euros ($6.61) in winter.

Still More to see in Crete:How does relaxing on a pink beach sound? Elafonisi Beach is in the southwest corner of Crete, about 47 miles from Chania. The waters are crystal clear, and the beach has rose-colored sand (hence the name). It is super popular in the summer (so get here early), with rentable sunbeds and umbrellas lining the beach. There are plenty of secluded coves nearby if you want to get away from the crowds. The water is shallow enough that you can walk out to the small island of Elafonisi, which has a tiny lighthouse and unobstructed views of the Mediterranean.

Consider exploring Chania (pronounced “Hania”) – this area has been inhabited since Neolithic times and was a major

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Minoan settlement named Kydonia. Today, Chania is the second-largest city in Crete and has a scenic Venetian quarter and harbor front lined with tavernas (small Greek restaurants), cafes, and shops. While here, check out the historic Firka Fortress (built in 1620) as well as the Maritime Museum located inside the fortress.

For the hikers reading this: Samaria Gorge is the place for you! This is one of Greece’s National Parks and a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. The main hike is a 10-mile trek that offers wonderful views of the White Mountains and finishes at the beach town of Agia Roumeli. Keep in mind that this is a long, rocky hike that takes around 5-7 hours to complete. Because of the length of the trail, you aren’t allowed to start it after around 2pm (you can still do part of it, but you will have to turn around at a certain point). But for nature lovers, it’s well worth it, and you can grab a beer at one of the seaside tavernas when finished. Try to avoid mid-summer as temps can reach up to 104°F and there’s no shade. The park is open May-October and admission is 5 Euros ($5.51)

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Take a trip out to Spinalonga Island located in northeastern Crete, where the Venetians built a large fortress here in 1579 to protect Mirabello Bay and Elounda Bay from the Ottomans. The defenses held strong until 1715 when the Ottomans sieged the island. When the Ottomans left in the late 19th century, the island became a leper colony and remained that way for decades. Visitors can now take a boat there and walk a short trail that takes you through the ruined church, a leper disinfection room, a hospital, and a cemetery. Admission is 8 Euros ($8.81) and it’s open from April-October.

Aptera – an ancient 12th-century monastery is located just 8 miles outside of Chania. During your visit, you can admire the restored monastery as well as the remains of the original fortified tower, a temple from the 5th century BCE, a city gate, monastic walls, Roman cisterns and baths, and an amphitheater. There was also a Turkish fortress built here in 1872 that overlooks Souda Bay. Admission is 4 Euros ($4.41).

The Lassithi Plateau in eastern Crete stands 2,952’ above sea level. To get there, you must drive up winding mountain roads overlooking the Dikti

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mountain range (which is dotted with white windmills). While here, you can visit Psychro, home to the Dikteon Cave that, according to Greek mythology, is the birthplace of Zeus and the place where he was hidden as an infant to be protected from his father. It’s 6 Euros ($6.61) to visit the cave, or you can combine it with a full-day ATV experience across the plateau for 75 Euros ($82.62).

If you’re interested in the more modern history of Crete (from the early Christian period to the mid-20th century), the Historical Museum of Crete in Heraklion is awesome. It’s small, but there’s a lot to see, including two stunning paintings by El Greco: The Baptism of Christ and View of Mt. Sinai and the Monastery of St. Catherine. There’s also a giant model of the city from the Venetian era (around 1650 AD) before its Turkish occupation, and a re-creation of author Nikos Kazantzakis’s study where he wrote Zorba the Greek (a popular novel-turned-film written in 1946). Admission is 5 Euros ($5.51).

For something a little different, take a Cretan cooking class. Greek food is legendary, and after eating your way around the island, you might want to

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bring a taste of your trip home with you. By taking a cooking class, you can learn how to make uniquely Cretan dishes like dakos (a Cretan version of bruschetta), kalitsounia (sweet cheese pastries), and tsigariasto (a stewed meat dish). Vamos Village and Cretan Cooking Classes both offer a variety of classes starting at 75 Euros ($82.62) per person.

Dive deep into the island’s olive oil tradition by visiting a farm and taking a tour to learn more about this iconic staple. The aptly named Cretan Olive Oil Farm and The Olive Farm in Chania both offer tours of the groves and production facilities, which also include tastings. Both farms also offer a variety of other classes and workshops, including wine tastings, cheese making, and other cooking classes. Tours start at 45 Euros ($49.57).

Travel Costs for Crete:

Budget hotel prices – Budget two-star hotels start at 25 Euros in any of the main cities during the summer. In the off-season, prices start around 20 Euros per night. Expect basic amenities like free Wi-Fi and free breakfast. Airbnb is available everywhere in Crete. For a private room, expect to pay at least 40 Euros, while an entire

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home/apartment averages closer to 150 Euros per night (you can find them for half that if you book early though).

Food – Traditional Greek cuisine is very healthy with a lot of fresh vegetables, olive oil, lamb, fish, pork, cheeses (especially feta), and yogurts. Filo pastries stuffed with meat or spinach and cheese are a local favorite as are souvlaki and gyros. Crete also has its own unique dishes, such as snails in cracked wheat (kohli bourbouristi), slow-cooked pork with potatoes (psitos), Cretan dakos (Crete’s version of the Greek salad), and horta (wild greens). Street food like gyros or souvlaki costs about 4.50 Euros each, or less. A hearty Greek salad also costs about 4.50 Euros, while a warm cheese pie (called kalitsounia) is about 2 Euros. A combo meal at McDonald’s costs about 11 Euros.

If you stick mostly to traditional Greek dishes, you can eat very well on a budget in Crete. A plate of pork souvlaki is around 9 Euros while calamari is about 7.50 Euros. A hearty dish of moussaka starts at 7 Euros, while a platter of grilled chicken or beef costs between 8-11 Euros. A beer to go with it costs 3.50

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Euros. At a higher-end restaurant, you can get an appetizer and a seafood or steak entree for about 25 Euros. Pasta dishes are about 16 Euros, while a vegetarian main starts from about 12 Euros. A glass of local wine is another 4.50 Euros. Crete, like the rest of Greece, is very budget friendly. But if you’re looking to cut down your expenses even more, here are some great ways to save money:

· Use the Greek salad/bread rule – If the bread cover is .50 Euros or a Greek salad is less than 7 Euros, the restaurant is cheap. If the cover is around 1 Euro and a salad is 7-8.50 Euros, the prices are average. Anything more than that and the place is expensive. Use this rule to figure out how to eat at cheap restaurants.

· Travel in the off-season – Crete is one of the rare Greek islands that has a sizeable year-round tourist population, so hotels and attractions are almost always open (unlike places like Santorini and Mykonos). If you come during the shoulder season or off-season, you can find lower accommodation rates and tour prices while still getting the best of what

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the Greek islands have to offer.

· Go to museums on their free admission days – Most museums have some days when admission is free.

· Bring a water bottle – The tap water here is safe to drink so bring a reusable water bottle to save money and reduce your plastic use.

· Eat super cheap – Gyros (and other street snacks) usually only cost a few euros. They are quick and easy and can keep you full for less than 10 Euros per day!

Bus – Buses make up Crete’s only public transportation. You can search for bus routes and schedules on e-ktel.com or ktelherlas.gr. While buses around the heavily populated north coast of the island are frequent, buses to the south or southeast are often few and far between (and even less common during the low season). It makes it difficult to get around without a lot of planning. Most buses cost between 4-10 Euros per trip. For example, a 90-minute trip from Heraklion to Rethymnon costs around 6 Euros, while a three-hour trip from Heraklion to Chania is about 10 Euros.

Scooter Rental – If you want more flexibility

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in getting around, a scooter rental is the way to go. They cost as little as 14 Euros per day. There are lots of rental companies, but Greenways seems to be very popular among tourists.

Bicycle – Daily rentals start from about 20 Euros per day for a mountain bike or road bike but decrease the longer you rent. Joyride is an excellent company to rent from, though since scooter rentals are cheaper you might as well get one of them instead!

Taxi – Taxis in Crete charge about 1.20 Euros per kilometer and have a 1.80 Euro starting charge. There is usually a surcharge to and from the airport. In short, skip the taxis if you can as they add up!

Car rental – Car rentals can be found for as little as 25 Euros per day for a multi-day rental when booked in advance. Drivers must be at least 21 years old and have had their license for at least one year. An International Driving Permit (IDP) is required.

Climate – Crete has lovely weather year-round, with temperatures rarely dropping below 61°F in the coldest months and averaging 79°F daily during the summer. May

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to the end of September are the busiest tourist months, so if you want to avoid the crowds and inflated prices, come during the shoulder seasons (spring and autumn). October is a particularly nice time to visit, as the average daily temperature is still pleasant 69°F, and the crowds are virtually gone. That said, it’s a big island so there are always places here during peak season without crowds if you don’t mind getting off the beaten path. Unlike other Greek islands, Crete has a large year-round population. While some businesses are seasonal, you won’t have any problem finding a place to stay, and most museums and attractions are open all year.

Staying Safe in Crete: Crete is a very safe place to travel. Violent crime is rare and petty crime (like pickpocketing) is your only real concern (and even that is uncommon). Keep your valuables close when visiting tourist attractions and while on the beach and you should be fine. If you’re driving, be extra cautious on Crete’s winding roads. Local drivers can be erratic. Moreover, some of the roads are underdeveloped and there’s no real signage. Drive cautiously. Solo female travelers should generally feel safe here, however,

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the standard precautions apply (never leave your drink unattended at the bar, don’t walk home alone intoxicated, etc.) If you’re going hiking, bring lots of water and always wear sunscreen and bring a hat too. It can get sweltering hot in the summer!

If you experience an emergency dial 112 for assistance. Always trust your gut instinct. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones so they’ll know where you are. The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance (I swear by Allianz). Travel insurance protects you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it.

Did You Know?

– John Anthony Aniston (real name Giannis Anastaskis)- father of American actress Jennifer Aniston – was born in Chania.

– Crete measures 160 miles long and 35 miles wide at the widest point.

– The legend of Icarus took place in Crete. According to the myth, the son of Daedalus wanted to fly so he created wind and conquered the sky, until he flew too close

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to the sun.

– The island has healing powers. Even Hippocrates preached that the island’s air produced miracles and healed the sick. He must have known something, after all Hippocrates is the father of western medicine.

– Olive trees have blossomed in Crete since ancient times. Studies reveal that they have been growing here for thousands upon thousands of years.

– Crete’s waters are so clear you can see at least 180’ down from above – the waters and coastlines are the clearest in Europe.

– The Minotaur, the mythical monster, lived and breathed here. According to folklore, the human consuming monster lived in the labyrinth under the Palace of Knossos.

– Thanks to Hercules, all animals on Crete are harmless. Legend has it, to honor Zeus and his birthplace, Hercules removed all harmful animals walking from the island.



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