Crete is Greece’s largest island, the fifth largest in the entire Mediterranean and the most southern region of the European Union. It lies south of the Aegean Sea, enjoying a privileged geographical position between three continents – Europe, Africa and Asia. The island has an area of 8,261 square kilometers and a coastline that stretches for 1,046 kilometres.
Administratively, Crete is divided into the four prefectures of Chania (capital Chania) in the west, Rethymno (capital Rethymno) and Heraklion (capital Heraklion) in the centre and Lassithi (capital Aghios Nikolaos) in the east.
If there was a beauty contest for Greek islands, Crete would surely be among the favorites. Indeed, some say there is no place on earth like Crete. This view is strongly supported by those fortunate enough to have visited the island. Crete, with a population of approximately 500,000, is not just sun, sea and sand; it is a quite distinct place full of vitality, warmth, hospitality, culture and of course an excellent infrastructure.
Crete can be approached both by sea or air. The two most important ports of the East Mediterranean Sea, the port of Heraklion and the port of Chania (Souda) connect the island with the Greek mainland primarily through the port of Piraeus, some of the Aegean islands and Peloponnese as well as other neighbouring European ports with a large number of ferries and cruise ships especially during the summer period.
Crete has two international airports, one in Heraklion and a second in Chania, with regular scheduled flights usually with a stopover in Athens or charter flights connecting directly the island with most of the European capitals.
Crete being is the largest island in Greece, crossed by imposing mountain-ranges, strewn with awe-inspiring gorges, featuring thousands of caves and numerous sandy beaches in addition to the island’s rich cultural and historical heritage, followed by tourism facilities, makes it hard to point out a limited list of options. However must see places can be narrowed down to the most visited ones with unique destinations of both natural beauty and cultural interest.
Chania Old Town with its Venetian Harbour lined with cafes, restaurants and winding cobbled alleyways steeped in history will amaze you with the beautiful historic buildings, where you will find Cretan handicraft shops, a weaver’s shop, boot makers on the Leather Street, and rows of shops selling hand carved Cretan knives. A stroll around the harbour gives the essence of its past and present naval activity in the view of fishing boats, yachts and pleasure boats, to finally reach the beautiful renovated lighthouse. A trip on a horse drawn carriage provides an insight on the heart of the old town.
Agios Nikolaos situated in Eastern Crete, is a town built around a picturesque lake which is connected to the sea by a short canal. The town has a cosmopolitan atmosphere and the modern marina hosts hundreds of boats and yachts. Lying just 10 km from Agios Nikolaos is the Elounda Gulf which is well known for its prestigious luxury hotels to often host the rich and famous, still retaining much of its old charm at the small fishing port of Elounda. Right of the coast of Elounda, Spinalonga Island with its Venetian fortification which was built to guard the entrance to the sheltered bay, also reveals parts of the rich local history. However Spinalonga, has been mainly renowned for hosting a leper colony from 1903 until 1957 where lepers from all over Greece were forcibly shipped to the island in order to avoid the spread of the disease, as being immortalised in Victoria Hislop’s bestselling book “The Island”. Nowadays the island, although being uninhabited, it can be visited by a short boat trip from Elounda, Plaka or Agios Nikolaos.
Just 25 km from the historic town of Rethymnon visitors find the most important site in the area of Arkadi Monestry, a living monastery with a heroic history being a national shrine. During the 1866 rebellion, the monastery served as a Cretan stronghold where hundreds of Cretan guerrilla fighters and their families took refuge as the Turks advanced and had the upper hand in the proceedings. After being surrounded by the Turkish army that lay siege for two days, the ammunition stores in the monastery were exploded deliberately on the orders of the Abbot where hundreds were killed in the internal blast, both Cretans and Turks, and consequently the Cretan survivors were put to death. There are celebrations annually on the anniversary of the 7-9 November blast. Nowadays there are still monks and a couple of nuns living at the monastery to ensure its preservation and maintenance of the church and the surrounding buildings and run the small museum where relics from the monastery and the church are kept.
Finally Cretan countless beaches both touristic and unexplored are not to be missed by any visitor. Within the periphery of Chania, Elafonisi is the most distinctive and popular one, situated on the west cost of the island. Here the visitor will find something exotic and distinctive where small beaches cluster with pink sand and shallow never ending waters, splashed with rocky small islands. Fragkokastello imposed by its Venetian castle, is at the end of the sandy coast with the lagoon of green – blue waters. At the end of Gramvousa cape is the beautiful Balos beach, in the west side of the island is Falasarna with an amazing sandy beach and smaller isolated bays while Maleme is another great in length sandy beach. Right outside the city of Rethimno is a 12km long beach, having all the organized beaches on the north side of the area, while the south coast tend to have more isolated beaches such as Ammoudi with imposing rocks standing in the sea. Finally Preveli beach is located in exotic scenery composed by a river, waterfalls, palm trees and fine white sand. At the north coast of Heraklion beats the heart of the touristic industry of the whole island at beaches like malia, Chersonissos etc. On the south coast more tranquil beaches can be found like Matala, also being known for the excavated caves inhabited by hippies during the 1960s. The prefecture of Lasithi has numerous sandy or pebbled beaches usually being very busy and organized usually close to luxurious hotels like Elounda or Ierapetra. The most exotic beach or the area is Vai being the only seaside palm tree forest around the country.
Sightseeing & Monuments
Crete has been the birthplace of the European civilization in 7000BC, where the Minoan civilisation flourished between 2700 BC and 1450BC. The Palace of Knossos which lies just south of Heraklion is the largest of the preserved Minoan palaces and thought to be the centre of Minoan civilization. Being known as the legendary home of King Minos as well as source of the mythical Labyrinth which held the Minotaur, the palace was excavated and partly reconstructed by British Archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans in 1900. The site monuments include Knossos Palace, The Little Palace, The Royal Villa, The Frescoes House and the Temple Tomb.
The Heraklion Archaeological Museum is located in the centre of Heraklion City with its exhibits covering a period of 5,000 years, from neolithic era to Greco Roman period. It contains the best Minoan art examples in the world such as the Phaistos Disk, the Snake Goddess, Bull Leaping and King of the Lillies Frescoes.
Things To Do
The lovers of nature cannot miss a walk through the Samaria Gorge of 16km total length situated in the prefecture of Chania, which is one of the longest gorges in Europe. The spectacular gorge is a National Park and boasts magnificent flaura and fauna. Only accessible during the summer period as in the winter a river runs through the gorge gives the visitors the chance to enjoy a long 5 to 6 hours walk, although tiring, is a well worth experience.
The outdoor adventurers find their paradise in the island of Crete, because of its large size and the morphology of the land, mountains, canyons, rivers and forests wait for you to explore them. Rock climbing or rappel, cannoning and caving, river trekking and kayak, hiking and mountain biking or even 4X4 jeep tours are some of the visitor’s available activities to enjoy within some of the most outstanding landscapes around the country.
Befitting its reputation as a fiercely independent island, Crete is self-sufficient all year-round producer of olive oil fresh fruit, legumes, wild herbs, greens and vegetables, as well as seafood, meat products and especially lamb. While products undergo minimal processing or even none at all, no wonder why Cretans are the longest living European citizens.
The freshness of the ingredients available at the island make any gastronomic attempt from traditional cooking to high end gastronomy, a certain success. Amongst the numerous traditional meat and vegetable dishes widely served in restaurants and taverns across the island, visitors cannot miss the widely known dakos salad made with rusks, the local rice dish traditionally served in weddings, as well as snails. Dairy products like graviera cheese myzithra and anthotiro or local yogurt, take milk products to another level. Kalitsounia or famous spoon sweets are excellent local deserts while every meal is accompanied by either raki or wine. Raki or tsikoudia is the local hard drink usually home produced and therefore rarely bottled alike wine, both vastly consumed by the locals and highly appreciated by the visitors who often enjoy the locals treats.
With its marvelous climate, unique natural beauty and vast conference and tourist infrastructure, Crete is the ideal destination for every kind of congress, summit, business meeting, incentive, seminar and product presentation. In addition, the. island offers unique opportunities for research Into Minoan, Byzantine and more recent cultures, as well as studies relating to natural sciences and folklore.
In addition to a number of specialized conference centres, there is an enormous variety of facilities at hotels in the main towns and resorts, fully equipped with state-of-the-art sound and lighting installations, simultaneous translation systems and other amenities. Many of the hotels also provide technical and secretarial support, plus a full range of office machines, computer and telecommunications systems. Some travel agencies based on Crete also specialize in organizing conferences and incentives, offering complete packages that include all necessary arrangements from start to finish, as well as special programmes for delegates and accompanying persons before, during and after the event. These programmes typically compose sightseeing trips or short tours and entertainment, all tailor-made to meet the requirements of each particular group.
The standards of professionalism of the people Involved In the congress organization sector on Crete is very high, owing to the experience acquired following the island’s success In attracting many major Greek and international events.