Crete, The cradle of European Civilization

Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands.

Here, the visitor can admire the remnants of brilliant civilizations ( Crete was once the center of the Minoan civilization (c. 2700–1420 BC), which is currently regarded as the earliest recorded civilization in Europe ), explore glorious beaches, impressive mountainscapes, fertile valleys and steep gorges, and become part of the island’s rich gastronomic culture.

History oozes out of every orifice of this ancient island – whether strolling around the old Venetian town of Chania with its magnificent fortress and lighthouse standing guard over the bay, or exploring the beautiful nearby port of Souda, with its marvellous Archaeological Museum housed in a 16th-century Venetian church and its endless side streets overflowing with craft shops and eclectic architecture reflecting myriad epochs.

Also, you can take a cultural safari around the Palace of Knossos, with its colourful frescoes, famous architecture and Minoan antiquities. Or head back even further in time, to Idaion Antro – the cave where, according to mythology, Zeus spent his childhood.

The extraordinary Cretaquarium, home to hundreds of marine species, opens up a wealth of other oceanic mysteries and marvels.

One of the most famous places to see on Crete is the Samaria Gorge, Europe’s largest gorge. This National Park is 18kms long with unbelievable natural beauty. The walk through Samaria National Park is 13 km long, but one has to walk another three kilometres to Agia Roumeli from the park exit, making the hike 16 km long. The most famous part of the gorge is the stretch known as the Gates (or, albeit incorrectly, as “Iron Gates”), where the sides of the gorge close in to a width of only four meters and soar up to a height of almost 300 meters (1,000 feet). The gorge is open for hiking from May through October.

And if that all sound far too active, there’s always the island’s endless array of sands, from Falassarna in the west to Vai in the east, complete with its exotic forest of rusling palm trees.
At Chania, you can bike through Venetian architecture to colourful markets awash with the natural bounty of Crete – a kaleidoscopic array of virgin olive oils, fruits, meats, vegetables and legumes. Or, for the ultimate cultural immersion, there is Rethymno’s colourful carnival.

Every year in Rethymno, for almost a whole month, the city plays host to a succession of fun-filled celebrations, bringing together locals and visitors who participate in this carnival because they love to enjoy every moment of their lives. You will see groups of people sitting together in traditional cafés (kafeneia) drinking “tsikoudiá” (raki), tasting Cretan titbits and thinking up “mantinádes” (folk couplet songs) on the spot.

The whole town becomes one big party; people work together in order to organise all the festivities that take place in Rethymno and the surrounding areas. The most important work is done by volunteers, people of all ages who freely contribute their efforts and come up with ever more innovative ideas for the festivities because of their passion for the city’s carnival. Each year the carnival celebrations has a different theme, the element on which the main theatrical act of the dance groups will be based.

What you can not avoid when visiting Crete is the Greek traditional cuisine. Tzatziki, Suvlaki or Gyros, are just a part of the menu on which the list is, of course, the famous Greek salad. There is a great chance you will eat it every day because it will be the best Greek salad you’ve ever tried.

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Day Trips from Mykonos

Sure, Mykonos offers a plethora of things to do and places to visit that can make any traveller sigh with pleasure. However, there is still much more to discover on the neighbouring isles and all within a one-hour trip ferry or hydrofoil. These nearby day trip destinations provide idyllic escapes and plenty of charm for those who are looking for a break from the island’s renowned party atmosphere.

The island of Delos

The island of Delos is one of the most popular day trip destinations from Mykonos. This small dot in the Greek Cyclades group of islands is the place to go for both history and mythology enthusiasts to take a look at the reputed birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. Legends aside, this uninhabited island is one vast archaeological site where you will experience the sacred temples of Apollo, Artemis, and Hera.

There are also magnificent ruins of altars and tombs as well as numerous standing ionic pillars scattered around the area. The house of Dionysius and the House of the Dolphins are also worth exploring for their splendid mosaics. Other must-see sites include the Sacred Lake, the Minoan Fountain and the Terrace of the Lions, to name a few. Delos takes about 30 minutes by ferry from Mykonos.

The island of Tinos

For a romantic day trip from Mykonos, hop on a hydrofoil and get to the island of Tinos in just 15 minutes! If you take the ferry, you will be there in about 40 minutes so not too bad at all. Tinos is home to hundreds of lovely churches and a famous pilgrimage site for the miraculous Church of Virgin Mary Megalochari. Even if you do not believe in miraculous idols, the church is worth checking out for its lovely architecture.

The island is also a favourite jaunt for its picture-perfect villages, clinging to the picturesque mountainous terrain, such as Pyrgos, Volax and Dyo Choria. The beaches of Kionia, Agios Romanos, Agios Sostis and Agios Fokas are also favourite hang-outs of day trippers in the area. If you go for a scenic drive, you will find various intricately designed white structures – these are dovecotes. They are usually adorned with geometric patterns which serve as perfect resting places for the area’s many doves.

Syros

Next up is Syros, which is ideal for those who are on the lookout for the less travelled route. Although it is the seat of government for the entire Cyclades, it is one of the least touristy places to visit. It takes about 1 hour and a half by normal ferry from Mykonos but you can easily reduce travel time to an hour if you take the hydrofoil. Syros’ capital, Ermoupolis, enchants visitors with its marvellous Neoclassical and Venetian architecture.

You can enjoy lazy strolls around the beautiful Miaouli Square and marvel at its exquisite design, which is best admired from any of the site’s many elegant cafes and restaurants. Of course, you do not want to miss the imposing Town Hall right smack at the heart of the plaza. For breathtaking views of Ermoupolis and the sparkling blue Mediterranean Sea, go for a walk uphill, all the way to the quarter of Ano Syros where you can take in a gorgeous panoramic view of the island and also visit the spectacular Church of Resurrection.

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Attractions in Euboea

Euboea or Evia is the second largest island in Greece and also a popular tourist destination. It is a perfect place for both nature lovers and history enthusiasts alike. It also features several fine beaches that would delight any tourist in the area.

Those looking for a fantastic historical excursion will find plenty of special locations in Euboea. First, there is the awe-inspiring archaeological site of Ramnous located about 19 miles from the city centre. Here you will discover a fortress, marble ruins, sanctuaries, burial grounds and a beautiful view of the Euboean Gulf at the distance.

You can also check out Avlonari and the ancient column drums of the 12th century Ayios Dimitrios church. If you want to see more of ancient churches, visit the village of Ayia Thekla where you will find a 15th-century church with beautiful frescoes inside.

Those who are complaining of some body aches and pains should visit the spa facilities of Kamena Vourla to unwind and pamper yourself. It is beautifully situated in a wooded headland opposite the island and makes for a good day trip destination. A nice sandy beach is also nearby for those who want to work on their tan or go for a swim. You can also visit the charming fishing village of Ayios Konstantinos or the archaeological site of Kalapodi while visiting this locale.

You can also check out Loutra Aidipsou, another popular thermal resort in the northern part of the island. There are ancient baths on site fed by hot spring waters whose therapeutic effects have benefited countless individuals since Roman times. The other parts of Euboea’s northern coast also deserve more than a few days of attention while you are visiting the island.

Check out the small town of Limni for the typical Greek charm of white washed houses sprawling on cliff sides and the local attractions of Zoodokhos Piy chapel and the convent of Gelataki. There is also the nearby village of Rovies and its scenic olive groves as well as the monastery of Ossiou David Geronta. Finally, check out the medieval castle in Orei where you will find the island’s popular icon, the gigantic 4th century B.C. marble bull.

If you want to get the most of the Euboea beaches, the seaside town of Karystos is a must. Beach bums will enjoy the popular and fully equipped beaches of Gallida, Psili and Kavos. However, if you are looking for a more tranquil and less visited alternative you can head out to the more remote but no less picturesque beaches of Agios Dimitrios, Kallianu and Archaboli. Ancient site enthusiasts will be delighted with the Temple of Poseidon in Platanistos, located only 6 miles away. Karystos also features the Archaeological and Folk Museums if you are into organized exhibits of ancient artifacts.

Of course, you cannot miss the attractions in the major town of Khalkis. Start from the Turkish inspired Kastro and experience the ruins of its ancient walls, the 5th century church of Ayia Paraskevi and an ancient aqueduct. Just two miles away from Khalkis is the enticing Kastelli, a 13th-century Venetian castle of Lilanto, which is also worth visiting.

If you are a hiker and a nature lover the nearby town of Steni Dirfios, with its forested areas, rolling hills and sparkling streams, is the perfect place to explore on foot. If you want, you can go further and take on the challenge of conquering the summit of Mt. Delfi. After four hours of a rigorous climb, you’ll be greeted with fantastic vistas from the summit which makes the climb all the more worth it.

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Sightseeing Around Rethymno

Another popular destination in Crete that usually entertains a substantial amount of tourists during summer is Rethymno. It offers beaches galore, historical attractions and beautiful architecture. The touristy gimmicks at the beachfront can get overwhelming at times but all you have to do is to explore the Old Town and the nearby villages and you can easily get lost in their charms.

Stunning coastline

Rethymno boasts of approximately 12 miles of stunning coastline. With such a long stretch of silky sandy beach, finding your own perfect spot should not be a problem. You can spend hours on end basking under the glorious Grecian sun and enjoying the crystalline Mediterranean waters, however you might want to leave your bliss for a moment to explore the area’s historical gems.

Venetian harbour

First, visit the picturesque 13th-century Venetian harbour and take lazy strolls along the waterfront lined with lovely Venetian and Turkish buildings. There are plenty of tavernas scattered around and they usually offer al fresco seating especially during summer. So pick a good spot where you can sit down, chill out and watch the passers-by.

Fortezza Castle

From there, head to the nearby car park where the steps to the looming 16th century Fortezza Castle can be found. Climb uphill to Palaiokastro to explore the remains of a splendid Venetian castle where you will discover interesting crumbling ruins, some tanks and artillery, a magnificent mosque, and panoramic views of the town and the coast. The site also makes for a romantic and scenic walk especially during sunset.

Venetian Loggia

Also easily accessible from the harbour is the 16th century Venetian Loggia that still remains incredibly preserved to this day. It served as a meeting place for the nobility, politicians and other VIPs back in the day but it now houses the Archaelogical Receipts Fund. It is the place to go for history buffs who want to get their hands on a good archaeological guide book or an impressive cast souvenir of famous Greek sculptures.

Rimondi Fountain

From the Loggia, head straight along Paleologou Street then turn right to Platanos Square where the Rimondi Fountain can be found. The decked-out fountain was built back in 1626 and continues to serve passersby with fresh water since then.

Impressive architecture of the churches

Continue your walking tour of Rethymno’s Old Town and check out the impressive architecture of the church of Our Lady of the Angels, the Nerantze Mosque, and the church of St. Francis. If you love the elegance of Venetian mansions, you do not miss a stroll along Arkadiou Street where some of the most beautiful examples are prominently displayed.

Museums

Love museums? Drop by the Archaelogical Museum where you will experience a plethora of valuable collections of artifacts from the Neolithic to the Roman Period. There is also the Historical and Folk Art Museum where you can check out elaborate historical costumes, exquisite embroideries, ceramics and historic photographs, among many others. If you are still looking for more, the Centre of Contemporary Art, the Marine Museum, and the Ecclesiastical Museum may be of interest to you.

Biotopoi Nature Park

If you want to find out something more about Cretan flora and fauna, you can visit the Biotopoi Nature Park. Biotopoi Nature park is located near a historical centre of the city. The Park has the concept of a rich biodiversity ecosystem of Crete. The visitors will be guided though the rich wild vegetation of the park with the plants of Cretan traditional cookery, the aromatic medical herbs, the beautiful wild flowers from Crete and a lot of animals that live in this ecosystem.

Villages near Rethymno

Finally, the charming villages near Rethymno are also worthwhile visiting. Bali and Plakias are perfect side trips for those who love to go beach-hopping away from the main crowd. And, the lovely village of Margarites is also a must-visit for its exquisite ceramics.

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