A Guide to Crete - The Island
Information kindly provided by Living in
the Sun - http://www.livinginthesun.com
|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....
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
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.
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!
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
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
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
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.
As elsewhere in Greece, crime is far less of a problem then
elsewhere in Europe.
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.
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).
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.
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.