2 Weeks of highlights in Crete
Work started again in september but let's go back to a dreamy summer in Crete. I was there at the end of august for about two weeks with my family.
I love going to Greece because it has everything I love, to offer. And by this I mean: sun, sea, archaeology, good food with a lot of eggplants, mountains, snow,....
I choose 3 hotels, to be able to explore the most possible of the island.
The first hotel: Asion Lithos was at the Northern part of Crete, in the mountains behind Heraklion.
The second hotel was totally in the South; at Agia Galini.
The third hotel was near Chania (Platanias).
We visited most of the highlights of the island; The North, the West and the South, we only didn't visit the East side because it was too far away.
The archaeological sites are all around 6 euros. Knossos was 12 euros I think and the rest about 6. Some of them are even cheaper!
So now let's get onto what I visited each day. This is going to be a very long blog, but I'll add images to make it more interesting. If you want to go to Crete for two weeks, this can be a good travel guide! I'll lik the hotels & the museums in this article as well, jsut click on the link for more info!
We started our journey on tuesday august 17th: arriving in Crete, getting the car and off to Knossos.
Knossos is an old Minoan palace, first build around 4000 years ago.
It's known for the mythology of the minotair that used to live there. My honest review of this place: the palace complex is huge and it's crazy that you can wander around throug buildings that old... But the restorations were a bit too strong for me. It was Sir Evans who restored the place in he early 1900s but in my opinion wayy too strong. It kinda looks fake now. Fo those out there who don't like history and don't know a lot about it, might like it thoug... because the massive restoration made it look like a real palace again, rather than just a pile of old stones.
After the visit, we went to our first hotel: Asion Lithos. The hotel was a perfect tranquil oasis, right in the mountains nearHeraklion. The pool and the house had such lovely views. The breakfast there was traditional, which was perfect for me since I'm a massive sweet tooth and they served sweet homemade beignets almost every day.
Wednesday the 18th: a day filled with historical (minoan) places: Gortyn- Phaistos- Agia Triada near Phaistos.
We started with Gortyn. Goryn is an ancient city that was founded by the Ancient Greeks. It's famous for the Gortyn law. On the wall of a building there, there are inscriptions of the codex of the law. The Gortynians occupied Phaistos in the 3rd century B.C. During the Roman period later on, the city blossomed. After the Romans, Gortyn was the first city of Crete to accept Christianity, here you can spot one of the first churches ever too.
In the law inscriptions were some specific rules for women! How cool is that?
- Divorced women can have any property that they brought to the marriage and half of the joint income from her property.
- If the husband dies with children, the property is for the wife and children. If the children are of age upon their father's death, the property is divided between the children, with males receiving all of the land. If the husband dies without any children, the wife is compelled to remarry.
- Adultery & rape: women had way more rights than men!
Also, make sure to cross the street to check out the Apollo temple, this place is a hidden gem because it’s not open for tourists yet! Beware for the snakes though, they like the shade of the olive trees and I almost stepped on a snake, whoops!
After Gortyn, we went to Phaistos, another Crete highlight. Phaistos is -like Knossos- a Minoan palace but in the centre of the island. It's almost from the same time as Knossos. So if you're into such things, make sure to visit all of the archaeological sites there. They're one by one amazing and blew my mind!!
Close to Phaistos, is lesser known Agia Triada, another Minoan city with a villa/palace. It was not crowded at all, since not very much people seem to know about this place.
Thursday the 19th of august: On thursday we wanted to explore the Greek nature a bit, after all the touristic visits so we went hiking near the Zaros lake, uphills to the gorge. The hike was lovely but not super impressive. The lake is cute with the turtles and fishies there but that's about it. Knowing that is was around 40 degrees, it also wasn't our best idea to go hiking in the mountains haha! Maybe it's better to go there in the winter or the spring. In the gorge was also no water since it was summer, which made it very very hot there. At the Zaros lake, you can't go swimming or can't go near the water, but you can enjoy a meal at the restaurant/terrace there and feed the fish, which was also fun. BUT if you would like to go swimming near turtles, then continue reading because there's a much prettier place to visit them!
On friday the 20th we went to the the Lasitihi plateau and the cave of Zeus (Dikteon or Psychro cave). After that, we went to the archaeological site of Malia.
The plateau is famous for it's windmills but to be honest, we did a very long drive, to come all the way there, without finding them. We found like 3 or 4 but not like on the internet, dozens haha... I think that there used to be many of them but that they're all broken and not replaced. The mountains there are lovely though but to me not worth the drive since the mountains on the west side are way cooler. On the plateau, you find the Dikteons cave or the cave where Zeus was born, zccording to the legend. This was also kind of a bummer since the cave is super small. We took the tour twice, to enjoy the money spent haha! It's cool to know that this has been a holy place for thousands of years...
After the mountains, we went to the archaeological site of Malia. Another palace from the Minoan times. This site was super cheap once again because it's not well known. In my opinion is was definitely worth the visit! Behind the palace, under the shelter, was an entire village, still fully intact. You can see it in the gallery here. You could see houses, workshops, villa's,... it was so cool that there was still so much left of it. You didn't need much fantasy to imagine what the city would've looked like 4000 years ago.
Saturday: off to our next hotel where we stayed for a couple of days. The hotel was called Palazo Grecco and was stunning! The sea view in each hotel room is just amazing! After dropping off our luggage, we went to the Agiofarago gorge. Another hidden gem in Greece.
To get here, you need to be a bit adventurous. The road was... off road haha! But After the bumpy ride through the gorge, you find a parking lot to leave the car. It even had a small shop to get drinks and foods. Then it's a short hike (about 35 minutes) through the gorge, to the hidden beach. The beach is a great place to go swimming and snorkeling. We saw some octopusses there!
The entire day there, I din't have cell phone reception, so you need to be aware of that. It's pretty hidden, right? I did have Libian cell network though haha!
Sunday the 22th: Matala hippie town. The town of Matala is rather small but very lovely and is has a pretty beach in the centre of the town. We didn't go to the beach because there was a crazy wind and the sand was flying all around. We did visit the town itself though. The town is very cute. It has a lot of cool shops and bars. Matala is famous for it's hippie vibe since the '60s. Still, each year, the hippies come to Matala to celebrate life & their artistic view on life. The streets get a lot of paintings in the floors, during this festival. Each year, when the artworks start to fade, new paintings come to replace the old ones. It's a fun activity to check all the artworks out and to search for the ones you like the most. I think that the painting of this fish, was pretty epic!
You can also explore the burial caves in the rocks there. It's not sure how old these caves are. Some think that they're Roman, others think that they're from the first Catholics, others think that they're even older. Make sure to wear decent shoes to explore the caves, the paths are very steep and slippery. I was on my flipflops there so I just took them off.
Monday, the 23th of august: We visited one of the prettiest places in Crete, the Preveli palm beach and the near gorge called Kourtaliotiko. Wherever you come from on the island to this beach, you need to pass the Kourtaliotiko gorge. The road just passes through this gorge. There are some parking spaces to stop your car and take pictures.
We started our day by taking the pics there and then going to the beach because we wanted instaworthy, empty beach shots. You can also stop at the gorge first and explore the waterfalls in the gorge, these ones are the only big waterfalls in the entire island of Crete during the summer. On Google it's also literally located as "big waterfalls"!
You can swim in the waterfalls or explore them by foot from the bridge. The fierce power of the water is so refreshing for the mind...
After the gorge, we went to the beach. We parked our car at the beach next to the Palm beach, since there's a big parking lot and resto for food and drinks. You can also rent a chair on that beach. Then it's a 10 minute hike to the Preveli beach itself. Come here early because the beach gets super crowded once the busses and boats pass by. My tip: if you want a tranquil beach, go to the beach where you've parked the car! Then we went hiking through the palm forest. It seems that this is a totally natural palmforest, which is pretty cool. It might seem fake, since the path through the forest is pretty touristic but apparantly it's not... When you go further uphills, to the start of the gorge, you'll notice less people and more adventure coming up. The path goes all the way through and above the water, untill you don't see any palmtrees anymore...
Tuesday: my sister Sofie had to go back home so mom and I dropped her off. On the plane that she was taking, were my dad and other sister Carolien arriving, so it was a day to change the Greece visitors haha. When they arrived, we wanted them to be in full on vacay mode instanly, so we visited the Knossos palace once again.
After the visit, we went to our third hotel called Ideal beach resort. This was close to Chania, on the west side of the island.
Wednesday the 25th: When I was googling the way to the monastery that was on my planning, I came across an archaeological site called Aptera. I love using google Maps to plan my Iterinary, then I zoom out on the route to find out if there aren't any other cool places to check out as well. I found out that close to our route, there was another site to explore so I wanted to make a pitstop there. It was beyond worthy. It's pretty new there. It's been open to public for only a couple of years now. It's an old Roman city, that was founded by the Greeks. It also has a couple of medieval houses there. The highlight is the theatre. It was first a Greek theatre, that became Roman afterwards. The Romans only did a couple adjustments there. The place was extra magical, since there's music playing there as well. It's very lovely! Make sure to check out the cisterns (water reservoirs) as well, they are huge!
Our actual road was to the Agia Triada monastery.
The Agia Triada monastery or Tzagarolon Monastery is one of the most beautiful monasteries in Crete. To me, also one of the prettiest monasteries I've ever been to. It's built in 1634. The central church is covered in gold and is amazing. The garden of the central square that you can visit, is very lovely. On the internet it's said that you should dress decently but there are scarves available there.
After the visit, we wanted to cool off in the sea nearby. One of the prettiest beaches in Crete is super close to this monastery. The beach there is called ‘Seitan Limani’. I've never seen such a blue sea! The sand is super white, which makes the sea even more blue than on the rest of the island. The beach is in another gorge so you need to take a small hike in the rocks to get there. The beach is very popular for young adults so it can get very crowded. You should know this in advance...
Thursday: On thursday we went visiting Chania city and then we did some beach/hotel time. We wanted to visit Chania because it seemed to be another highlight, close to our hotel.
We went to the city centre, close to the harbor. The streets are very narrow and cute. The view over the water is very pretty. Make sure to go to the pier on the small harbor, there you'll get a lovely view over the medieval part of the city and the mountains in the back. After the harbor, we went to a mosque, that's also a church, cool, right? The place is called: Saint Nicholas' church at the Splantzia Square. It's a free visit there. Make sure to enter the church because it's yet another covered in gold-church. During the Turquish times, this church became a mosque for a while, so that's why it has a minaret as well. We also visited another Minoan place, right in the middel of the city. It's just crazy that an entire modern city was founded, right above a city that's 4000 years old. The old city is called Kydonia.
Friday: On friday we went to the famous Kournas lake. This is one of my best Cretan memories. The springwater lake is located in the mountains, not far away from Chania and Thetymno. The water is cristal clear and turquoise. It even has white sand. In the lake, there were a lot of cute turtles. We rented a pedalo boat, to check them out. The lake also has beautiful koi fish..and snakes. The snakes are harmless though! They're called dice snakes and they only eat small fish or insects... After the lake, we went to the beach nearby, to enjoy the waves as well.
Saturday: On saturday the 28th we went back to the South, to show Caro the stunning Preveli beach. On our way there we made a history nerd- pitstop at the Late Minoan Cemetery: Armenoi. I also found this while googling our route... The place was yet another undiscovered gem. It has over 160 graves. It's a holy burial place from the Minoans. You can even enter some graves. This was so cool! The tombs are about 3500 years old. Some of them are small, for animals or even wine or jewelry... other ones are for kings and important people.
This place was literally on the road to the South so it was the perfect pitstop to make a beach day, another brain-day!
On sunday the 29th of august it was already our last day there. After going to the South, we needed to go back to the North, to the Heraklion airport. We made some pitstops on our way, to show my sister them, to get the full experience of Crete... and then we went back home. (these were the otherhistorical places such as Gortyn and Phaistos.
So, this was my entire trip. Would you want to go to Crete one day?