Crete is the largest island in Greece and boasts a 1,000km long coastline with pure, turquoise seas, lapping at its beaches. If you are going to Crete simply for sun and sand, you will not be disappointed, as dotted along the coast are a myriad of sun-captured bays, sheltered coves and warm and welcoming peninsulas. But to come to Crete and not explore the islands’ amazing historical beauty would be a sacrilege, as it has some of the most finest and important archaeological sites in the world. What with the Greek legends that permeate every inch of the island, you can visit the famous old buildings and relics of the past, whilst honing up on your Greek history at the same time. But the best thing about Crete is the way the ancient architecture marries up with the modern way of living. For instance, if you have had your fill of sight-seeing, then you can just as easily find water-sports galore on lively beaches, or if you love hiking then walkers will love the wild and rugged Samaria Gorge, which is a sturdy hike from the hills to the sea. As for food, there’s fast food, gourmet dining and fresh fish dishes in a multitude of bars, restaurants and traditional tavernas. For the shoppers amongst you, you can look forward to being spoilt for choice for stunning jewellery, leather bags, boots and belts, and arty studio ceramics. So here are a few things we thought you could not visit Crete without going to see.
There are the stunning stalactites in the cave of Psychro, which is said to be the birthplace of Zeus, the Greek God of the Sky. The Cave of Psychro is an awe inspiring cavern, full of stalactites that was once a Minoan sanctuary. It is now best known as a popular tourist attraction on the plateau. You can approach the cave on a short path from the large parking lot on foot or, if you prefer spending a bit of money and a not so comfortable ride, on a donkey. Many important archaeological finds have been discovered at the Psychro cave, including figurines of animals, various objects of ornamentation and dress, swords, daggers, knives and arrowheads. There are also many double axes of bronze or gold sheet, votive miniatures of the basic tool used by the Minoans, which has established itself as the most characteristic symbol of Minoan divinity.
Palace of Knossos
Now if you want to visit a place steeped in Greek history then the Palace of Knossos is the place to go. According to Greek mythology, the palace was commissioned by King Minos and designed by Dedalos, a famed architect of the times, who planned the palace with such complexity that no one who went into it could ever find their way out. King Minos then imprisoned Dedalos to ensure that he could never reveal the palace plan to anyone. Dedalos, who was also a great inventor, built two sets of wings so he and his son Ikaros could fly off the island, and so they did. As they were escaping, Dedalos warned his son not to fly too close to the sun because the wax that held the wings together would melt. Ikaros, being young, arrogant and impulsive, did not heed his father’s advice and flew higher and higher until the sun rays dismantled his wings and the young boy fell to his death in the Aegean sea.
If you go on your holidays to walk, then do not pass up the opportunity to tread in the footsteps of fortunate others, along the 14km gorge through some of Europe’s most spectacular natural scenery. You can take it easy for the frst part of the walk up the gorge from south to north, but the last 3km, up the Xyloskala or ‘wooden staircase’ is extremely tiring. Most tourists take an organised tour or if not, approach the top of the gorge by public bus from Chania and begin their walk from there. You can also get a bus from nearer towns and ferries from the mouth of the gorge. If you only want to walk along part of the scenic route then go to the southern entrance at the Iron Gates, which is near the narrowest part of the gorge, and you can then return to the sea. You have to pay an entrance fee, at either end of the gorge, with tickets checked on on exit to ensure that no one remains in the park overnight.
The CretAquarium was officially opened in December 2005. It was built very gradually so as not to spoil the delicate balance of the thriving eco system inside it. Holding over 100 different forms of marine life, 1,800 fish and other marine organisms in 1,500,000 litres of sea water, within 32 tanks and 50 viewing points, it provides its visitors with an ultra special experience. It gives tourists a glimpse into the underwater world of the Mediterranean Sea with all its creatures. The Crete Aquarium, apart from being a huge attraction for Crete, also provides information on marine life and will be a valuable tool for scientists and marine researchers. Built by the Greeks but for the whole world, for the first time in living history, it is now easy to observe and record the secrets of sea creatures, in an environment very close to their natural habitat.