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A Guide to Crete - The Island

Living in the Sun - International Property Sales

Information kindly provided by Living in the Sun - http://www.livinginthesun.com


The Island
This island with its clear, warm sea, boundless beaches lined with tamarisks, splendid plateaus and mild starry nights has more to offer than just its past, its gorges, snow capped peaks and climate........................ 

The evenings are enchanting spent next to the intoxicating aroma of a jasmine vine in an open-air cinema, seated in the comfortable chairs of a pastry shop, gathered round the table of a fish-taverna right by the sea, or strolling in solitude on a remote, deserted beach just a stone's throw from your very own Crete property....
crete property, crete properties, crete real estate

Geography
 
Climate Airports/Transport Crime
Language
 
Flora and Fauna Population History
Currency  

Geography

The largest Greek island, Crete is in essence a country on it's own, though for many it's the quintessential Greek island. Perhaps a little more expensive as a result, in terms of property, but there are chances to find cheaper, secluded properties, and some bargains that need a restoration carried out. 

Heraklion, the capital, is the fifth largest city in Greece, on the north coast. It has a venerable history, with much Venetian inheritance, and Knossos, the main Minoan site, is close by.

To the east of the capital lies the "Cretan Riviera", with many popular resorts and bustling beaches. Inland is the rich agricultural plain of Lasithi, famous for the irrigation windmills. On the east coast is Sitia, a busy port, and where a number of new residential projects are taking place, though this is still an unspoilt part of the island. Europe's only palm tree forest is at Vai on the east coast

In the south, the terrain is full of cliffs and gorges, which has limited development and infrastructure to some extent. There are beaches, and Artvi's micro-climate produces bananas and pineapples. Samaria Gorge in the White Mountains is the longest ravine in Europe and one of Greece's most visited natural wonders.

The west of the island is the least inhabited, with some resorts but less well developed ones than elsewhere. Rethimnon is the smallest of Crete's four major towns, but has an attractive Venetian harbour surrounded by fish restaurants, and a handsome old town characterised by the many 13th to17th century Venetian buildings. 

The Samaria Gorge - 43 km. from the city of Hania, this is the longest gorge in Europe, measuring some 18 kilometers and renowned for its awesome beauty. At some points the passage is just 3 meters wide and at times the steep sides rise to a height of 600 meters. The gorge is cut by a stream which flows between the highest peak of the White Mountains and Mt. Volikas. Hiking down the gorge is permitted from May to the end of October, depending on the weather. 

Lake Kournas - 48 km. east of Hania. A picturesque lake, the only one on the island. The mountains surrounding it are reflected in its calm waters. There are tavernas in the area for a bite to eat.

Hrissi - An islet lying exactly opposite Ierapetra 9 n.mi. away, reachable by small excursion boats. It too possesses lovely beaches and cedar trees.

Climate

It's noted for it's mild winter climate, with almost guaranteed sunshine though there is often snow on the highest peaks. Summers are hot! 
Airports/Transport

There are international airports at Heraklion and Chania, and also a small domestic airport at Sitia.

There are six ferry ports with frequent fast services in summer, reduced somewhat in the winter months as one would expect. 

A dual carriageway runs along the north coast linking the main cities and resorts, supported by a good bus service. The South is more rural and quiet, with a less frequent bus service. 

By ship you can reach Crete:

From Piraeus to Hania and vice versa (daily). (12 hours, tel.: 0821089240, Souda Harbor Police).

Kastelli (Hania) - Kythera - Antikythera - Monemvasia - Neapolis - Agia Pelagia Gythio - Piraeus and vice versa (once a week, tel.: 0822022024, Kastelli Harbor Police).

From Piraeus to Iraklio and vice versa (daily). (12 hours, tel.: 0810226073, 0810244934, 0810244956, Iraklio Harbor Police).

Iraklio, Agios Nikolaos and Sitia are linked by ship (year round) with the Dodecanese and Cyclades. For information, call the Harbor Police of Iraklio,

Agios Nikolaos (tel.: 0841022312) and Sitia (tel.: 0843022310). Information on all the above ship schedules can also be obtained from the Piraeus Harbor Police, tel.: 0104172657, 0104114785.

Crime

As elsewhere in Greece, crime is far less of a problem then elsewhere in Europe. 
Language

Greek - see our Useful Links page for a good learning source. Off the beaten track you may need your phrase book, but elsewhere you will find much English spoken.
Flora and Fauna
A botanical and ornithological paradise, it's a great place for walkers.
Population

There are 500,000 people living here, and Crete attracts almost a quarter of all visitors to Greece. It is the most popular region for holiday homes, and therefore has a high number of ex-patriots living there.

There are hundreds of cafes where one can sit in the shade of a spreading plane, oak or mulberry tree and sip a "sweat" or "medium" coffee, or a glass of "tsikoudia" (raki) while playing a game of cards or "tavli" (backgammon).

There are dozens of tavernas and ouzeries serving some tasty "meze", a specialty of the area. Yogurt and honey, sweet tarts (kaltzounia), pies made of wild greens flavored with fennel, fried cheese (staka), rabbit stew, cheese pie from Hora Sfakion, cockles, boiled goat. In the city of Hania, at Malaxa, at Vrisses, and other villages in the area, in Rethimno, in Iraklio and its villages, and in the whole district of Lassithi. Fish, sea urchins, octopus and cuttlefish cooked on charcoal and fried squid to be tasted at seaside tavernas.

And everywhere the delectable Cretan wine. Every saint's feast day is celebrated with gusto at dozens of villages throughout the island; all Crete throbbing to the sound of the Cretan lyre and the rhythm of the local dances, the pentozali and the sousta. Meanwhile the housewives are preparing a steamed Cretan pilaff and special holiday fritters (xerotigana).  

History

This island's fertile soil and towering peaks witnessed the development of one of the most important civilizations on Earth, the Minoan (2800 - 1150 B.C.). In successive phase, the Minoans built palace-states - the famous palatial centers of Knossos, Phaistos, Malia, Zakros (1700 - 1450 B.C.). 

. A geological catastrophe - the eruption of the volcano of Santorini in 1450 B.C. - halted the Minoan civilization at its height. But life did not cease. Through shipping, commerce and trade with other peoples - the Phoenicians, Syrians, Egyptians - opened up new horizons. With the invasion of the Achaians and the Dorians on the island the new cities of Lato and Aptera were founded. Lato became the most important city on Crete (7th century B.C.). Until the Roman occupation (69 - 330 A.D.). The most distinguished center in those days was Gortyn. But Christianity came to the island early. During the Byzantine era the wealth of Crete was shown off in the mosaic floors of its basilicas and in half the churches of Greece. 

First Crete fell into the hands of the Arabs (824) for one and a half centuries (961). Handak, present-day Iraklio was founded. Then in 1204, the island passed to the Venetians. They fortified the old castles at Handak and built new ones at Gramvoussa, Spinalonga, Frangokastello, Ierapetra, Paleohora. They broke the ground for new cities (Hania and Rethimno) and built the fortifications essential to their defense. Inside the walls the cities developed with narrow, convoluted alleyways and small residential blocks, interspersed with decorative piazzas, fountains, churches and palaces, remains of which can still be seen today. Although the island was shaken from time to time by the rebellious populace, it continued to develop both economically and culturally. Painting and literature flourished. Domenicos Theotocopoulos (El Greco), Damaskinos and other iconographers painted exquisite portraits of the Virgin and Christ. Under the vaulted gates and arched windows troubadours passed singing ballads by Hortantzis about the suffering of Erotokritos and Erophili.

 In 1645 the Muslim conquerors set foot on the island for the first time. In 1669 the whole of Crete fell to the Turks. Not until 1913 was the island united with the rest of Greece. 

Currency

The Euro is now the official currency of  EU member states including Greece. Foreign currency can be exchanged at all banks, savings banks and bureau de change. Exchange rates can fluctuate from one bank to another, so shop around.

Travellerís cheques in all major currencies are widely accepted and can be exchanged easily at all banks. Generally, banks in Greece charge an exchange commission of 2 per cent. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers are advised to take travellers cheques in Euros, Pounds Sterling or US Dollars.

Credit & Debit cards are widely accepted although less so in petrol stations.

Currency restrictions: The import of local and foreign currency is not restricted provided any amount exceeding Euro 10,000 is declared on arrival. The export of local and foreign currency is allowed although amounts over Euro 2000 require an import Declaration form issued on arrival.

Banking hours - Mon-Thurs 0800-1400; Fri 0800-1330. Banks on the larger islands tend to stay open in the afternoon and some during the evening to offer currency exchange facilities during the tourist seasons. The GNTO bureau in Athens can give full details.




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