Crete is the largest of all Greek islands with a total surface of 8,336 km², 1,100 km of coastline and approximately 600,000 inhabitants. Crete is also considered to be one of the most prosperous areas in Greece. Development on the island has been favoured by its geographical location, climate and diverse natural beauty, as well as its unique cultural and historical heritage. Crete is renowned for its breathtaking mountain ranges and long sandy beaches and clear blue seas. The climate and geography of Crete favour many different species of wildlife. Over 100 different kinds of flowers and plants can be found on the island, scattered in the high mountains and the thirteen deep gorges (the most famous being the Samaria gorge).
The Venetian fortress “Koules” dominates the entrance to the Venetian port of Heraklion. The Venetians used to call it “sea fortress” (aka Castello Mare or Rocca Mare), but today it is known by its Turkish name “Koules”, which stands for water-tower. This fortress is one of the most famous and beloved monuments of Crete, and the symbol of the city of Heraklion. Today, Fortress Koules, proudly looking over the sea, reminds us of the glory of the Venetian Chandax and the courageous Cretan rebels who had been tortured in its moist and dark cells.
Archaeological excavations at the city of Chania have shown that it was built on the ruins of Cydonia, a known ancient city. Cydonia was built in prehistoric times by Cydon, son of Hermes and the nymph Akakalidas, daughter of Minos. The ancient writers considered “Cydonia”mother of the other Cretan cities.
In the past, Fortezza went by the name Paleokastro (meaning “Old Castle”). It was said that on the hill of Paleokastro stood the site of the ancient acropolis Rithymna with its Apollo temple and the sanctuary of Artemis, although it has not been proven to date. During the Byzantine period (10th – 13th cent. AD), the small walled-in settlement was founded east of the hill and was initially named Paleokastro, then Castrum Rethemi or Castel Vecchio or Castello Antico, and later Fortezza, as the Venetians used to call it. Venetians, in fact, had intended to use the city of Rethymno as a shelter and an intermediate base between Heraklion and Chania.
Lassithi is the eastern regional bloc on the island of Crete, to the east of Heraklion city. Its capital is Agios Nikolaos, and its other major towns are Ierapetra, Sitia and Neapoli. In the gulf of Elounda, there is the island of Spinalonga, formerly a Venetian fortress and a known leper colony. At the foot of the mountain lies Dikti Lassithi Plateau, famous for its windmills. Another very popular attraction in the area is the palm forest of Vai.
Knossos, the famous Minoan Palace, lies 5 kilometres south-east of Heraklion, in the valley of the Kairatos river. The river rises in Archanes, runs through Knossos and reaches the sea at Katsabas, the Minoan harbour of Knossos. In Minoan times, the river flowed all year round and the surrounding hills were covered in oak and cypress trees, where today we see vines and olives. The pine trees inside the archaeological site were planted by the archaeologist, Evans. Constant habitation for 9,000 years has brought about great changes to the natural environment, so it is hard to imagine what the Minoan landscape was like.
Traditional Cretan diet is known as one of the healthiest in the world. Its strength lies in the quality and freshness of its ingredients, the extensive use of wild herbs and greens, the purity of taste and last but not least, the generous use of olive oil; Crete’s liquid gold! Cretan countryside abounds in wild herbs and flowers. Oregano is perhaps the most common herb used, but sage, thyme, parsley, oregano, basil, fennel and dill play a prominent role as well. You can consume them in salads and in main dishes, or in nutritious herbal/tea infusions.
The Central Market, built in 1866, is located in Heraklion city centre. The street starts from Meydani and proceeds to Cornaro area. There you can find tourist shops, cheap clothes and shoes, fruit, vegetables, herbs, spices, cheese, meat shops and small cafes and restaurants. In the vertical cursor on the left and right side of the market, there are more shops, a supermarket, a bank and inside parking. Also, near the end of Karterou street, there is a fishermen market with seafood and fresh fish.
The area of Anissara, where all the hotels are found in the immediate vicinity of the peninsula, boasts some of the best nightlife on the island of Crete. If you want to stay away from the quiet Anissara, only 1.2 miles separate you from the queen of nightlife. If you seek for more relaxation, you can visit the beautiful traditional villages of the upper peninsula: Koutouloufari and Piscopiano, situated on a hilltop over the peninsula ‘s picturesque squares, shops and art galleries and local folk art.
Along the coastal road leading to the peninsula, you will find small coves that are hidden behind the beaches. Much like the sandy “Stalis” beach, which deepens gradually, and is ideal for children. This beach has lifeguards, beach umbrellas/chairs, water sports and there are also restaurants and cafes. Along the longest coastline, in Gouves, you can see the most wonderful beaches, for everyone’s taste: ranging from rocky ones that offer greater privacy, to long, sandy beaches that offer comforts, such as sunbeds and parasols.