Diktaean Cave

The impressive cave of Zeus, the Diktaean Cave, is located above the village Psychro in Lassithi Plateau at an altitude of 1025m. In Psychro there is plenty of parking space, with plenty of restaurants nearby. Two paths leading to the cave start from the parking area. The easiest path is the left one, because in the right path (the oldest) the stones are worn by thousands of tourists and are slippery. The route to the cave is magnificent as the view to the Lassithi Plateau is breathtaking. If you do not want to walk, there are donkeys for transfering the visitors to the cave. Near the entrance of the cave there is a kiosk where you can buy tickets for a small price. The cave, which has an area of 2200 sq.m, is well lit and the paths in it come along a well-designed path of 250m length.

Near the entrance, on the right there is a hall, while the great hall starts at a lower level. Southeast of the chamber there is a large stalagmite complex. Also, there are some buildings. A smaller hall is located on the northwest side. While moving inside the cave, the visitor enters the great hall with the largest part of it being covered by solid rock and large stalagmites. In the second part of the cave, there is a large and very spectacular stalactite, called as the “mantle of Zeus”. Unfortunately, this stalagmite has been damaged by visitors. The entire great hall has impressive decor with large columns, stalactites and stalagmites. 

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Preveli Palmbeach

Preveli is located about 35km south of Rethymno and 10km east of Plakias. Beach of Preveli, also known as Lake Preveli or Phoenix, is located at the exit of the imposing Kourtaliotikos Gorge, where the Grand River (Megalos Potamos) flows. It is certainly the most famous beach in south Crete, accepting thousands of visitors every summer. During the '60s and '70s, it was a favorite destination for the hippies. On the banks of the Grand River there is a large colony of Theophrastus palm trees, which give the region a sense of a tropical landscape. The river, forming a small lake, 500m long, before emptying into the sea, has water all year round. You can walk along the river, under the shade of palm trees and other trees, and start ascending in the beautiful canyon. You can swim in the cold ponds formed in the gorge.

A big fire in 2010 burnt almost everything of this paradise, but paradoxically the palmgrove recovered most of its damage. At the exit of the river, a sandy beach with pebbles and sand is formed, with sea water being very cool due to the river. In the eastern part of the beach, there is a beautiful rock reminding of a heart. The beach is not well organized because the area is protected, without any umbrellas.

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Elafonissi Beach

Elafonisi is located 76km west of Chania and 5km south of Chrysoskalitisa Monastery, in the southwesternmost tip of Crete. Elafonisi is an oblong peninsula, which often breaks in two parts by water giving the impression of being a separate island. It is a Natura 2000 protected area. The island is full of sand dunes with sea daffodils and jupiners. The endangered loggerhead sea turtle and several more rare animals and plants find shelter on the island; it is strictly forbidden to remove any plants, animals, shells and sand from the area.

Exotic beaches with white sand and turquoise water, reminding of the Caribbean, are formed on either sides of the peninsula. The sand is pinkish in many places, taking its color from millions of crushed shells. Near the breaking point of the peninsula, the sea water does not exceed 1m in depth, creating a small lagoon, ideal for children. You can easily cross the lagoon in order to reach the opposite site of the peninsula, while carrying your staff with you, because the water is very shallow there.

The eastern side of the beach, in front of the lagoon, is well organized and has the most people. There are umbrellas, showers, lifeguards, snack bars and changing rooms. Also, near the beach there is a huge area for parking and, even further, a few rooms to let. Opposedly, the beaches on either sides of the island are less crowded and are the most beautiful, with amazing azure colors. If you want to stay completely secluded or nude, you can walk along the peninsula until you find a quiet cove that you like! There are some coves available for naturists near the west end of the peninsula.

You can come by car (1.5 hours) or by bus from Chania. The road to Elafonisi is narrow and full of turns, but the beauty of the landscape is stunning; you will cross the beautiful lush green village Elos and the imposing gorge of Topolia . Moreover there are many options for accommodation at Chrisoskalitissa village, 5km to the north. You can eat at Chrissoskalitissa or at Elos (on the way back to Chania).

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Balos Lagoon

The famous lagoon of Balos is located approximately 56km northwest of Chania and 17km northwest of Kissamos, formed between the Cape Gramvousa and the small Cape Tigani and below the range of Platiskinos. Balos is surely the mostly photographed beach in Crete, a very favorite subject of all tourist guides for Greece. It is no coincidence that Prince Charles and Princess Diana visited Balos with their private yacht many years ago.

Balos is famous for its turquoise waters, the wild natural beauty and the beautiful exotic scenery. During the summer, it is visited by thousands of people, who arrive mostly by the ferries running from Kissamos port. If you do not like crowds, you’d better avoid to visit the beach in July and August. Also, a perfect idea is to arrive at Balos in the morning, before the boats arrive from Kissamos. These few hours of remoteness in such a heavenly place will remain etched in your memory forever.

The lagoon of Balos has white sand and exotic white, vivid blue and turquoise waters. The sea is very shallow and warm, ideal for young children. In many places the sand has a lovely pinkish color, because of millions of crushed shells. Beyond the rocks at the boundaries of the lagoon, the water is deeper and colder, ideal for a snorkeling. The lagoon and the wider area, with rare species of flora and fauna, are protected under the Natura 2000 program. Eleonora falcons, shags and cormorants nest in the caves of the area. Moreover, the area is a shelter for the protected monk seal and the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta). Despite the protection, some canteens and umbrellas have appeared on the beach in recent years. You can buy water from there and from the bars of the ferries.

Some drawbacks of the lagoon is that the seabed is muddy and the shallow waters facilitate the growth of microorganisms, which sometimes cause an unpleasant smell. Lastly, the locals say that the sea currents transfer rubbish or tar to Balos.

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Samaria Gorge

The Samaria Gorge is the most famous trekking gorge in Europe and a part of the European E4 hiking trail. Thousands of tourists flock here daily in the summer season to walk from the top to the bottom. For many visitors, it is the sole purpose of their visit to Crete. The length of the gorge reaches 14.5km and takes almost 5-7 hours to hike from Xyloskalo at Omalos plateau to Agia Roumeli beach, depending on the trekking pace.

Initially we descend from Xyloskalo to the riverbed of Samaria Gorge: The gorge is locarted at the south of Chania Prefecture in the larger uninhabited area of Europe, where no roads even exist. It was created by the river flowing between the main massif of the White Mountains (Lefka Ori) and the range of Volakias. There are many smaller gorges vertical to Samaria Gorge, some of which have never been crossed by humans and require canyoning equipment. One of these, Perdika, has the highest waterfall in Crete (220m).

There are many fresh-water springs along the route. Water is potable: While the gorge is officially 15km long, this distance actually refers to the hiking distance between the settlement of Omalos on the northern side of the plateau Omalos and the village of Agia Roumeli. In fact, the gorge is 13 km long, starting at an altitude of 1,250m at the northern entrance, and ending at the shores of the South Cretan Sea in Agia Roumeli. The walk through Samaria Natural Park is 13 km long, i.e. from the ticket kiosk at Xyloskalo to the kiosk at Agia Roumeli old village, but you have to walk 1.5 more kilometers to reach the beach of Agia Roumeli, making the hike totally 14.5km.

Saint Nicholas chapel: The most famous part of the gorge is the stretch known as the Iron Gates (Sideroportes), where the sides of the gorge close in to a width of only four meters and soar up to a height of 500 m. The gorge became a national park in 1962, particularly as a refuge for the rare Cretan ibex, which is today restricted to the Lefka Ori National Park, the island Thodorou and several more islets. There are several endemic species of fauna and flora in the gorge and surrounding area.

Cretan Ibex: the famous resident of the gorge: The desert village of Samaria lies just inside the gorge. It was finally abandoned by the last remaining inhabitants in 1962 to make way for the park. The village and the gorge is believed to take their names from the village's old church of Mary of Egypt (Osia Maria).

The abandoned village of Samaria: A "must" for visitors to Crete is to complete the walk down the gorge from the Omalos plateau to Agia Roumeli on the South Cretan Sea. From there the most visitors get the ferry to the port of Chora Sfakion and catch a coach back to Chania. The walk takes 4-7 hours and can be strenuous, especially at the peak of summer.

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Agiofarago Beach

The beach of Agiofarago is located about 80km south of Heraklion city, at the exit of the Gorge Agiofarago. To get there you must either cross the gorge, by easy hiking of about 25-50’, or catch a boat from Matala, Agia Galini, Kokkinos Pirgos or Kali Limenes. We definitely recommend the first option, as the route within the vertical walls of the gorge is breathtaking. On the way you will see the large caves were some hermits from Odigitria monastery still live and the chapel of St. Anthony with a small well with brackish water. The beach at the exit of the gorge is stunning, with fine pebbles and clear blue water, which is usually calm. West of the beach a beautiful rocky arch is formed, beneath which you can swim. Vertical cliffs surround the beach. Naturiism should be avoided here, as the wider area is one of the most religious places of Crete.

If you have your sneakers with you, in the afternoon you should climb the cliffs on the east and reach the top. The view from there is fantastic. If you walk southeast you will meet a hidden saltish lake, called Vourvoulitis, surrounded by vertical cliffs. It is an open sinkhole communicating with the open sea by an undersea passage. You can descend to the lake, but it’s extremely dangerous.

If you want to get here from Heraklion, you should drive the road to Sivas village and then to Odigitria Monastery. From Odigitria you should take the dirt track heading to church of Saint Anthony (the road on the right hand heads to Vathi)  After 4km you have to turn right (there is a road sign to Agiofarago) and continue till you reach no end, in a small plateau used for parking. Do not leave your car under any tree for shade if you don't want to see it ruined by goats, that get on the car roof to eat leafs from the tree. Then walk through the gorge for half an hour until you reach the sea. On the way to the beach, you'll meet the small church of Saint Anthony and the cave of Goumenospilios. If you come by boat, you can visit the rocky islet just opposite Agiofarago, that is called Papadoplaka  with some small ponds with clear sea salt, usually gathered by the locals.

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Richtis Gorge

The gorge of Richtis is located in Lasithi Prefecture, on the north side of Crete, between the cities Agios Nikolaos and Sitia. The trail starts just outside the village Exo Mouliana and ends on the Richtis beach, east of the village Kalavros. The total length of the route is approximately 3 kilometers and the elevation difference between the starting point and the beach is about 350 meters. The gorge, even in summer, has enough water, which is used for local crops. The gorge collects the water from the peak Drymias (918m) of Orno range through the streams of Lachanas and Mesa Mouliana which merge near the starting point.

Hiking to the beach takes approximately three to four hours, depending on the hiking pace. The route starts from the stone-arched bridge of Lachanas (19th century) where, during the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey, it is said that the Christians killed the Turks of the region, who were trying to reach Sitia and get the ship to Turkey.

The route continues in a lush landscape along the river, within an amazing scenery of East Crete. Platans, oleander and sage are everywhere and the smells of fresh herbs change constantly. Impressive also - footprint of the past - is the old water mills that the visitors meet in the path. 

The highlight of the gorge is, however, the beautiful waterfall Richtis with a height exceeding 20 meters and the smal pond formed below it (richtis means waterfall in the Cretan dialect). The waterfall has water even in summer and is a great place to have a refreshing dive. The path ends in the beautiful pebbly beach of Richtis. The beach has a small park with tamarisk trees, with stone seats and tables around and water fountain with potable water.

Tip: Most visitors leave their car in the central road at Exo Mouliana and walk down the paved road to meet the bridge Lahanas. You can gain around 30' minutes of walk if you drive and park next to the bridge of Lahanas; from there reaching the waterfall takes around 1.5-2 hours. However the lazy way to reach the warfall is to drive in the narrow paved road to the beach of Richtis and walk for around 30' in the opposite direction. 

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Minos Palace in Knossos

Knossos was the most important city on Crete before the Roman Era and the center of the first brilliant European civilization, the Minoan. The palace of the city is the most visited archaeological site in Crete with more than 1.000.000 visitors per year. The palace is located just 5km south of Heraklion, atop hill Kefala next to the banks of Knosano Gorge. It can be accessed via Knossos Avenue, which connects Heraklion with Skalani village. Apart from the palace itself, the area is full with several more archaeological finds, which makes sense considering that Knossos was a town with more than 100,000 people.

Magazines and pots: The palace was the seat of the legendary King Minos and has been associated with famous Greek myths, like that of Daedalus and Icarus, the Labyrinth and the Minotaur. Minos was not a person, but a series of kings with the same name (as we say Pharaoh in Egypt). He was deified and he was thought to be the son of Europa and Zeus, as described in the story of the Rape of Europe.

The palace of Minos was the heart of the city of Knossos, with constant presence in the historical events of Crete from the Neolithic era till the early Byzantine era. The first excavations at Knossos were made by the Cretan archaeologist Minos Kalokerinos in 1878, who found many old storage pots and other objects.

Tavrokathapsia ceremony in frescoe: However his work stopped shortly due to the Cretan – Turkish wars and was later continued by the Englishman Arthur Evans. The work of Evans started in 1900 and was completed in 1930, with the end of his restorations. Evans has received harsh criticism because of the large-scale restoration works in the palace using cement. However, one can discern that the perception of the palace today would not be so good, if all buildings were kept torn down, as found by Evans.

The earliest traces of habitation date back to the Neolithic period (7th-4th millennium BC). Later, the place was inhabited till 1900BC when the old buildings were demolished to give room for building a bigger palace. The new palace occupied area of ​​22 acres and appears to have been destroyed by an earthquake in 1700BC. On the site of the old palace, the most magnificent Minoan palace ever was built. In 1600BC an earthquake caused severe damages, which were repaired very quickly with the addition of several new buildings. This specific palace version is the main palace we see today in the archaeological site of Knossos. In 1450BC the palace suffered a devastating damage caused either by an earthquake or a tsunami caused by the eruption of Santorini volcano. Later, when the Achaeans arrived in Crete (1350BC) the palace was flattened forever. However, the city of Knossos continued its history till the 500BC.

Knossos remained the most powerful city on Crete for several centuries after the destruction of Minos Palace. It competed several other Cretan cities, like Gortys (the next capital of Crete during the Roman times) and Lyttos. In 221-219AD Knossos campaigned against Lyttos and flattened it, while its men were missing in another campaign. However, Gortys gradually increased its power and became the new capital of Crete.

The coins of Knossos, which you can see in Heraklion Archaeological Museum, depict the Minotaur, the Labyrinth, ancient gods, etc. Symbol of Knossos was labrys (double ax), while the double bull horns were the symbols of Minoan religion.

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