Crete – Truly One of a Kind

Posted by bwarner on Jun 11, 2012

Complete with white-sand beaches, ancient archaeological sites, charming seaside towns, and mountainous landscape, Crete is an ideal honeymoon destination for couples seeking a little bit of everything.

The Greek island – located about 200 miles south of Athens – is truly one of a kind. To put its distinctiveness into perspective, Crete features more than 4,000 years of history and yet often feels untouched by time.

With deserted strips of sand, lush gorges, rugged peaks, and historic cities containing cobbled alleyways and hilltop fortresses, the island begs visitors to come discover for themselves. What they’ll find is a diverse and fascinating destination that will leave an imprint for the rest of their lives.

Active Pursuits

No doubt some of the most incredible landscape in Crete can be found at Samaria Gorge, considered one of the longest ravines in Europe. It was established as a national park in 1962 and now contains many hiking trails, narrow rock walls (known as the “Iron Gates”), historic chapels, and abandoned villages.

The path begins from the Xyloskalo (AKA “Wooden Stairs”, about 27 miles south of Chania) and leads down an 11-mile trail to the seaside village of Agia Roumeli. As your reward for reaching the end, sip some wine and enjoy delicious Cretan cuisine at a local taverna.

Meanwhile, since the island offers hundreds of miles of scenic coastline, be sure to sit back and relax at a few of Crete’s finest beaches. Many of the island’s most secluded spots can be found on the south coast, while the northern beaches are closest to the big cities and often packed with vacationers.

In terms of our highest recommended beach detours, start with the group of gorgeous beaches just west and southwest of Chania, including Elafonisi with its crystal-clear waters and the often-deserted beach at Falasarna. In the east, check out the palm-tree-shaded beach at Vai. This spot is home to one of the largest natural palm forests in Europe. In the south, about 45 miles from Heraklion, the beach at Matala is backed by remarkable cliffs and seaside caves.

Historical Sites & Museums of Crete

Crete has no shortage of can’t-miss museums and prominent historic sites. Even if you aren’t huge history buffs, there are still several notable attractions on the island that we consider “must-see.” Start with The Archaeological Museum in Heraklion, which features the world’s finest collection of art and artifacts from the Minoan civilization. Next, head a few miles outside of town and visit The Palace of Knossos, certainly one of Europe’s greatest archaeological sites. This major landmark contains the remains of two Minoan palaces constructed as far back as 2000 BC.

Best Towns to Explore

While there are numerous towns and villages worth visiting on Crete, Rethymno and Chania are certainly two of the most intriguing.

The elegant waterfront city of Chania – located in the northwest part of the island and set against an amazing backdrop of undulating mountains and turquoise waters – features waterfront promenades, eucalyptus-lined streets, and cobblestone alleyways perfect for romantic strolls.

The city has had a turbulent history, being conquered and controlled by the Romans, Turks, and Egyptians, among others, and it’s easy to see its diverse past. Most of the city’s top sites can be found in the old Venetian quarter near the picturesque harbor. Ramble among the backstreets and alleyways and be sure to peruse the stalls at the covered market.

The Splantzia Quarter is gorgeous with its narrow alleyways, wooden balconies, and cobbled backstreets. The waterfront site Fort Firkas has an appealing museum and hosts many theatre and events during the summer months. The town is also ideal as a base for exploring western Crete, especially the gorgeous shoreline areas that stretch west.

About 43 miles east, Rethymno is Crete’s third-largest town and known as the country’s version of Venice. The city features a charming old Venetian quarter, a beautiful harborfront, plus shaded squares, fountains, and a gigantic castle known as the Fortezza.

The Fortezza dominates the town above the inner harbor area and was built to defend the town against pirate attacks in the 16th century. The waterfront is now packed with appealing taverns, bars, and shops.

Check in at Avli Lounge Apartments (starting at $155), an all-suites boutique hotel in Rethymno that blends modern luxury and ambience with traditional Cretan architecture. Rooms here are extremely spacious and include balconies overlooking the stunning streets of the Old City. Also, guests will enjoy four-poster beds, crystal chandeliers, marble bathrooms, and private terraces.