Photo: www.discovergreece.com

Hania

The region of Hania encompasses the Western-most part of Crete. Flanked on the North of the island by the electric blue Cretan Sea and on the South by the dark-hued waters of the Libyan Sea, it’s home to two peninsulas, the Bay of Souda, the largest gorge in all of Europe, the fertile Omalos plateau, Gramvousa island, traditional eco-friendly villages, old world taverna’s serving up an array of home-cooked Cretan fare, archaeological sites, caves, endless outdoor activities, and the charming city of Hania – arguably the jewel of the island.

Photo: www.discovergreece.com

The Hania region is perhaps the most visited in Crete and rightfully so due to the numerous sights and natural wonders it possesses. Visitors to this part of the island often begin their journey in the city of Hania after which the region is named. Hania’s history is as colorful as its lively residents and evidence of its previous ‘conquerors’ (including the Romans, Venetians and Ottomans) takes shape throughout the city’s unique architecture, music and food. Examples of this can be found in the Turkish mosque on the Old Harbour which is now a pottery museum and popular venue for art exhibitions, a Jewish synagogue which has seen itself reinvented as a bar and lounge that is a favourite haunt of local Haniotes, and the numerous Venetian style buildings bursting with color that pepper the small, wiry side streets.

Photo: www.discovergreece.com

Despite being a popular tourist destination for both Greeks as well as many Northern Europeans, Hania has maintained a formidable sense of self and visitors will be hard pressed not to fall prey to its magnetism. Spend an afternoon strolling through the charming maze of narrow passageways in the old town while stopping to admire the handiwork of local artisans, many of whom you will find labouring away in their studios on one of their exclusive creations. Keep in rhythm with the slow, steady heartbeat of the town during the daytime by sitting down to a midday ouzo and plate of freshly made savoury cheese pies or a refreshing dakos (also known as the ‘Cretan salad’ with tomato, cheese and rusk bread). For breathtaking views of the Old Harbor take a walk out to the lighthouse in the early evening, or simply while away the hours in one of the extraordinary waterfront seafood tavernas.

From the city of Hania the only challenge facing visitor’s is the decision of where to go next; popular attractions include Gramvousa (an uninhabited island dotting the Gramvousa peninsula which is crowned by an impressive Venetian fortress) lying about an hour’s drive west of Hania but does include a short ferry trip. It’s busy in the summertime but manageable, and once the ferry docks it’s easy to explore the tiny island in relative peace for a couple of hours. Hike to the top of the fortress for unparalleled panoramic views of Balos beach (also known as the Blue Lagoon), noted as one of the most pristine in the world. Those who enjoy snorkelling will revel in the shallow, crystal clear waters here.

Photo: GNTO/ Y.Skoulas

Venturing further into the interior of western Crete one will decidedly come across the real beauty of the island, found in its wild landscape and unmatched natural wonders. Driving through the mountains one will stumble across any one of the area’s fifty-four gorges, including the awesome Gorge of Topolia. This is but one stop visitors can make en route to Milia – now famous for being one of the top ecologically-friendly resorts in the world. During the picturesque drive (through a main road or less traveled coastal route) family-run businesses selling Crete’s famous thyme honey, organic olive oil, and herbs as well as spirits like homemade (spitiko) ouzo, raki and wine dot the roadside. Visitors will delight in the hospitality bestowed on them by friendly locals who will often insist they drink at least a small shot of raki before resuming their journey.

Continue on to the enormous stalactite cave of Agia Sofia (Saint Sofia) which was once a place of worship for the ancient Minoans. One of literally thousands of known caves on the island, spend an hour exploring the remarkable stalactites and stalagmites of this cavernous wonder. Elafonissos is about an hour’s drive from Agia Sofia and has some of the most picturesque beaches in Crete. If they think you worthy, locals will give head spinning directions on how to arrive at the other side of the beach’s much lesser known counterpart where one can find themselves a spot in complete solitude among bone white sand dunes and cedar trees. A stone’s throw from Elafonissos is the impressive monastery of Hryssoskalitissa, dedicated to the Assumption of the Holy Mother.

Photo: GNTO/ Y.Skoulas

There are many more sights to behold on the south side of the island and one could spend days, even weeks exploring the seaside towns of Paleochora, Sougia, Agia Roumeli, Loutro and the striking village of Sfakia with its sapphire-hued waters. The method of transportation chosen to navigate the southern part of this region will play a large role in how visitors experience this area. This is due mostly to the fact that the Samarian Gorge quite literally cuts through the interior of the southern half of this region, making east to west travel impossible by car for much of it. For those who enjoy walking or hiking however, this can turn into one of the most enjoyable parts of their Crete experience. Many of the most idyllic beaches, towns and nature of the south-west coast can only be reached on foot from more densely populated areas or by boat. Residents of the delightful village of Loutro, tucked safely away in a small bite of the coastline, have no motorized transportation at all in town; their little piece of paradise can be accessed by boat from Sfakia or Agia Roumeli, or better yet from the E4 trail.

Photo: GNTO/ Y.Skoulas

Also known as the Long Distance Walking Path, the E4 trail covers a substantial distance between the east and west of Crete with a formidable portion along the southwest coast. Rumoured to take about three weeks to finish one major ‘leg’ of the path it can also be done in smaller bits for those who are looking to spend anything from a few hours to a couple of days hiking. The scenery and dramatic views of the sea, mountains and countryside along the path is exquisite and it’s a veritable Eden for those interested in photography or botany.

Wherever you go, however you get there, Crete’s stunningly wild landscape and tangible energy are sure to leave visitors with an unforgettable experience that will leave them yearning for more.

 

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Location - Hania

Agia Sofia Cave (Saint Sophia)

Once a sacred spot of Minoan worship the cave of Agia Sofia is now famous for its mammoth stalactites and stalagmites. A steep climb up the stone staircase and into the mouth of the cave visitors will first see a small chapel where they may light a candle or offer a prayer. Once inside it is fairly easy to make one’s way around (although the back of the cave is too slippery and dark to explore). Some of the stalagmites and stalactites are up to five or six meters in length with unique, almost otherworldly formations.

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Klados Gorge

Just west of its more famous sister, Samaria, the Klados gorge awaits. Offering up breathtaking scenery with its imposing jagged rockface and waterfalls, the Klados gorge is a remote and little traveled terrain. Its northern entrance begins from the Linosseli pass west of the Gigilos peak and is marked only by a few piles of rocks. This path, as with others along much of its route, is often blocked by bushes which only contribute to the danger by hiding its steep drops. Just before the entrance there is a very dangerous spot with loose gravel on a steep slope. Navigating the Klados gorge does require descending by rope in various areas. There are cascading waterfalls along the way and at the end a gorgeous beach called Tripiti.

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Lake Kournas

Set amongst a stunning backdrop of mountains Lake Kournas is the only natural freshwater lake in all of Crete and covers an area of approximately 579,000 square meters and is only 22.5 meters at its deepest point. Home to different species including Herons, Cormorants, Ducks, and Warblers. As one of only two freshwater lakes on the island, Lake Kournas is a wonderful spot to take a rented kayak and while away the day atop its calm waters. On site visitors can rent a pedal boat or canoe to travel around the area.

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The Central Market in Hania

If you want to see a city’s soul go to the market (also known as Dimotiki Agora). Hania’s Municipal market or ‘Agora’ is a bustling, lively center where tourists can rub shoulders with locals while meandering through the 76 small shops, restaurants, bakeries and stalls selling their fresh local products. A variety of bakeries and small restaurants serve up some of the freshest fare in the city. The restaurants may not be fancy but if it’s genuine Cretan cuisine you’re after, this is one of the best places to find it.

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The island of Crete has an extraordinary reservoir of natural wildlife, including birds. There is no need to visit designated sites in order to observe many species. Spring and autumn are ideal to observe birds on their migratory routes to and from Africa and other parts of Europe, while the rainfall in winter encourages the presence of more species along streams and rivers. Here’s a list on the birds of Crete and their photos: www.cretewww.com/birds/list.htm

Photo: trolvag

Georgioupolis Lake

Just south of the town of Georgioupolis is the lake of Georgioupolis which is home to a number of different species of birds such as Herons, the Black-winged Stilt, Waders, various species of Ducks and Geese, as well as Coots and the Great Reed Warbler.

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Imbros Gorge

Easily one of the most beautiful gorges in all of Crete, the Imbros gorge is often overlooked by hikers who choose Samaria instead, but this gorge is impressive in its own right. Again regarded specifically as a hiking site, the Imbros Gorge is a fantastic natural habitat for a variety of birds including the Raven, the Griffon Vulture, the Falcon and the Alpine Swift.

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Lake Agia

One of only two freshwater lakes on the entire island, Lake Agia is a manmade lake in the Northwest of Crete. Initially built as a water supply for the island, no-one anticipated the ecosystem that would one day flourish here. Today, this tranquil setting is home to over 200 different varieties of birds. Species that can be found here include Ducks, Geese, Wood Sandpiper, Swallow, Black-winged stilt, Reed Warbler, Pelican and Little Crake to name just a few.

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Lake Kournas

Set amongst a stunning backdrop of mountains Lake Kournas is the only natural freshwater lake in all of Crete and covers an area of approximately 579,000 square meters and is only 22.5 meters at its deepest point. Home to different species including Herons, Cormorants, Ducks, and Warblers. As one of only two freshwater lakes on the island, Lake Kournas is a wonderful spot to take a rented kayak and while away the day atop its calm waters. On site visitors can rent a pedal boat or canoe to travel around the area.

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Lefka Ori (White Mountains)

A UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves site, the White Mountains offer an incredible opportunity for the hiker in both winter and summer. Generally regarded for its fantastic hiking, the White Mountains provide an ideal habitat for bird lovers and nature enthusiasts looking for species of large birds like Eagles and Vultures, the Golden Eagle and the Red-Billed Chough.

Find Out More

Lake Kournas

Set amongst a stunning backdrop of mountains Lake Kournas is the only natural freshwater lake in all of Crete and covers an area of approximately 579,000 square meters and is only 22.5 meters at its deepest point. Home to different species including Herons, Cormorants, Ducks, and Warblers. As one of only two freshwater lakes on the island, Lake Kournas is a wonderful spot to take a rented kayak and while away the day atop its calm waters. On site visitors can rent a pedal boat or canoe to travel around the area.

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With over 250 gorges criss-crossing the island’s rugged terrain and 54 in the region of Hania alone (giving it the illustrious nickname ‘prefecture of the gorges’), canyoning aficionados and Crete are a match made in adventure heaven. Devotees of the sport can thank the tumultuous geological history (including more than a few earthquakes) of this area for creating a place so ripe to explore. Only the seasoned canyoneer will have the experience necessary to navigate most of these wild areas, although there are a few gorges that even the novice with a good level of fitness can enjoy by hiking or biking and which don’t require ropework or other wilderness techniques to explore (Samaria, Rokka, and Imbros Gorge being the most popular).

Photo: www.discovergreece.com

Safety Precautions
*It is important to note that many of these lesser traveled gorges (including Klados, Tripiti and Eligia) have very little, if any, infrastructure to assist the visitor and therefore all safety precautions should be taken. It is imperative to explore in groups and a guide is recommended, even for experienced canyoneerers. Also imperative in trip planning is proper clothing, adequate food and water, and an accurate weather report because sudden rainstorms can cause flash floods, particularly through narrow passageways.

Aradena Gorge

Just less than 20 km west of Sfakia lies the Aradena gorge which begins on the softer southern hills of the White Mountains and ends at the cobalt coloured waters of the Libyan Sea. Pictures of the gorge’s dramatic sloping edges falling into the sea are unforgettable and it is easily one of the most picturesque in the Hania region. The gorge is approximately 7km long and takes approximately 3 to 4 hours to hike. There is an area where hikers must descend a metal ladder attached to the cliff, although there is an alternate route with a handrail. The descent itself is difficult but manageable but hikers should be forewarned about falling stones. At the end of the hike there are paths to Marmara, Loutro and Sfakia.

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Eligia Gorge

Just east of Samaria is the very narrow, verdant Eligia gorge with its steep drop and abundant foliage. The path to its entrance begins at the Katsiveli mountain shelter. It is more walkable than either Tripiti or Klados, marked with small piles of rocks along the way, but there are a number of secondary paths that can lead visitors to become easily lost so a guide is recommended. At the end of the gorge the isolated village of Agia Roumeli with its pebble beach and breathtaking views of the Libyan sea is approximately a one hour hike away. Agia Roumeli is only accessible by boat or on foot and well worth the hike

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Imbros Gorge

Easily one of the most beautiful gorges in all of Crete, the Imbros gorge is often overlooked by hikers who choose Samaria instead, but this gorge is impressive in its own right. Again regarded specifically as a hiking site, the Imbros Gorge is a fantastic natural habitat for a variety of birds including the Raven, the Griffon Vulture, the Falcon and the Alpine Swift.

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Klados Gorge

Just west of its more famous sister, Samaria, the Klados gorge awaits. Offering up breathtaking scenery with its imposing jagged rockface and waterfalls, the Klados gorge is a remote and little traveled terrain. Its northern entrance begins from the Linosseli pass west of the Gigilos peak and is marked only by a few piles of rocks. This path, as with others along much of its route, is often blocked by bushes which only contribute to the danger by hiding its steep drops. Just before the entrance there is a very dangerous spot with loose gravel on a steep slope. Navigating the Klados gorge does require descending by rope in various areas. There are cascading waterfalls along the way and at the end a gorgeous beach called Tripiti.

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Lissos Gorge

To reach the Lissos Gorge visitors can take a small boat from neighbouring Sougia (about 20 minutes), or can arrive by foot which is about a 2 hour walk. The entrance begins at the harbour of Sougia and a good deal of the pathway is uphill. The entrance begins at the harbour of Sougia and a good deal of the pathway is uphill. There is beautiful vegetation throughout the gorge and towards the end of the path a gorgeous pine forest offering up a view of Lissos below. At the bottom of the hill lies ancient Lissos including the temple which can be explored on foot. (See Lissos in the archaeology section).

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Rokka Gorge

Located in the small, aptly named village of Rokka this gorge is a big departure from Samaria and some of the other’s with rougher terrain but it is just as beautiful and has just as much flora and fauna to keep visitors preoccupied. Nearly vertical rock faces loom overhead and at less than 5 meters wide and 200 meters deep the gorge is extremely imposing. A remarkable view of Kissamos awaits hikers who reach the plateau and the steep hill known as Trouli above the village is the site of the ancient Venetian castle (see archaeology section).

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Samaria Gorge National Park

More famous with each passing year, the Samarian Gorge is synonymous with Crete. Each year thousands of tourists flock to the Omalos plateau to begin their descent into the mouth of this stunning exploit.

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Sirikari Gorge (Polyrinia Gorge)

Compared to many of its sister’s, the Sirikari gorge (also known as Polyrinia gorge) is an easy alternative for those looking to get out into nature but not suffer too much the next day. A protected habitat, the gorge descends into a beautiful river bed with abundant, flowering vegetation. From the village of Sirikari the pathway ascends to the ancient settlement of Polyrinia with its glorious view of the bay of Kissamos. Altogether the hike is approximately three hours (and 11 km long). Visitors should beware however, that along the pathway there are areas not well marked by signposts and it can become easy to get turned around.

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The Gorge of Agia Irini

Just over an hour’s drive southwest of the city of Hania is the gorge of Agia Irini. Easily accessible from the village of Agia Irini the entire hike is approximately three hours and stretches out over 7.5km. At its most narrow point it closes in at just 10 meters while its walls climb to a height of 500 meters. Most of the pathway is easily navigated and the trail itself well cared for although there are both uphill and downhill areas and along the riverbed visitors have to traverse the rocky terrain. There are a couple of picnic spots along the way and washroom facilities. Lush vegetation, flowering herbs and gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains and abundant pine and cypress trees await travelers here. At the end of the pathway there is a main road that leads to the charming village of Sougia.

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Theriso gorge

Found close to the city of Hania, the Theriso gorge is approximately 6km long and can also be visited by car. Easily navigated with a well laid pathway this is a good opportunity for people with families to take to the outdoors and do some hiking. The Theriso gorge sits amongst the foothills of the White Mountains; a small stream runs through part of the gorge and adds to the abundant plant life which makes for fantastic natural scenery and an abundance of greenery everywhere.

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Topolia Gorge

A delightful surprise to walk or drive through, many visitors to western Crete remember the Topolia gorge not from hiking it but rather from driving along the winding road that cuts through it (and part of a mountain where a tunnel was dug to allow the road continue). Known to locals as the ‘Gorge of Caves’ because of the many that are found along its route, this majestic gorge is located just south of Kissamos and is rich with vegetation. Its path begins just after the village of Topolia and extends for approximately 1.5 km. One of its most impressive features is the shadows that fall onto its rock faces mid-afternoon – a stunning sight to behold.

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Tripiti Gorge

West of Samaria this gorge can be accessed from the same pathway as Klados gorge, beginning in Linosseli. Breathtaking views of its steep rock walls, climbers will be delighted its nature and wildlife. Dangerous in spots and not for the novice. Beware of loose rocks and plan well.

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Agia Sofia Cave (Saint Sophia)

Once a sacred spot of Minoan worship the cave of Agia Sofia is now famous for its mammoth stalactites and stalagmites. A steep climb up the stone staircase and into the mouth of the cave visitors will first see a small chapel where they may light a candle or offer a prayer. Once inside it is fairly easy to make one’s way around (although the back of the cave is too slippery and dark to explore). Some of the stalagmites and stalactites are up to five or six meters in length with unique, almost otherworldly formations.

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Cave of the Holy Fathers

Located approximately 6 km northwest of Paleochora near a small village called Azogires, the Cave of the Holy Fathers is an impressive cave system with a moving spiritual history. Over 20 meters high and more than 100 meters long the cave is accessed by ascending through its mouth which is approximately 10 by 5 meters. Once inside there are steel ladders leading you down into the cave which houses a number of wondrous dripstone formations. The Cave of the Holy Fathers has still not been fully investigated and it is relatively difficult terrain – a flashlight and sturdy hiking shoes are an absolute necessity. Any questions can be directed to the friendly locals at the nearby Alfa Cafe and Information Center.

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Gourgouthakas Cave

Also known to many Greeks as the ‘deepest cave’ Gourgouthakas is located in an area of the White Mountains (Ta Lefka Ori) known as Atzinolakos. Sitting at an altitude of 1500 meters it is 1208 meters in depth and 900 meters in length making it one of the deepest caves in the entire world. Initially discovered in the early nineties, Greek speleologists were the first to investigate the cave; a couple short years later a team of climbers triumphantly conquered it. The area around Gourgouthakas Cave is extremely beautiful and worth exploring on its own. Only those who are the most qualified and experienced climbers should consider this expedition.

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Crete is world-renowned for its mouth watering cuisine and is a food lover’s paradise. Its fertile soils and unpolluted waters make for an endless supply of locally sourced fresh vegetables, fruits, cheeses, meats and seafood; not to mention the regional herbs, outstanding olive oil and honey. Since cattle are not native to the island most of Crete’s meat dishes are prepared with either lamb or pork.

Photo: www.aksychanion.gr

The lamb in particular is of unparallel quality and probably due to the fact that herds graze outdoors on the 1000 or so native greens endemic to the island. These nutrient rich dark leafy greens (also known as horta) grow all over the island and are also an essential part of the Cretan diet. Served simply with olive oil and lemon they appear at almost every meal in Cretan households.

Cretan cheeses are also prepared from sheep or goat milk and include kefalotyri, graviera and ladotyri. Cretan yogurt is another surprising delight; made from sheep’s milk its high fat content allows for its creaminess and it is often served drizzled with honey and walnuts as a dessert. Breads are typically dense and made from either rye or barley; rusk breads (paximadi) are particularly common in Crete and are served as small rounds of barley bread twice baked (making them hard as a rock) but when served are wetted, then drizzled with olive oil, tomatoes, feta and thyme which softens them (also known as ‘Dakos’ or the Cretan salad).

Photo: www.chaniatourism.com

Many farmers in Crete have kept true to tradition and continue to produce their fare with traditional methods making for some of the tastiest and highest quality food in the country. Locally sourced olive oil is one treat that won’t be missed as the Cretans use it in virtually everything they eat. Its importance to Cretan cuisine is of paramount importance and its nutritional value has long been thought to be the reason for the Cretans’ incredible longevity and good health.

Finding a taverna that serves truly authentic Cretan fare can sometimes be tricky amongst the barrage of restaurants and tavernas catering to mass tourism, but there are many hidden jewels and standouts amongst the crowd.

The Central Market in Hania

If you want to see a city’s soul go to the market (also known as Dimotiki Agora). Hania’s Municipal market or ‘Agora’ is a bustling, lively center where tourists can rub shoulders with locals while meandering through the 76 small shops, restaurants, bakeries and stalls selling their fresh local products. A variety of bakeries and small restaurants serve up some of the freshest fare in the city. The restaurants may not be fancy but if it’s genuine Cretan cuisine you’re after, this is one of the best places to find it.

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In a land of traditional old world villages and spectacularly high mountains inaccessible by modern means of transportation, hiking is a wonderful way to see the stunning beauty of the island’s natural landscape while also providing an opportunity to meet the residents. With the sheer number of mountainous terrain and rural villages there is literally limitless potential for hiking excursions.

Crete’s most famous hiking route, the E4 trail (also known as the European Hiking Path), cuts across the entire island with a large section hugging the waters of the southwest. Recently, there are also a number of ‘green routes’ being promoted as alternatives to their more well-known counterpart.

Photo: www.eparxies.com

Lefka Ori (White Mountains)

A UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves site, the White Mountains offer an incredible opportunity for the hiker in both winter and summer. Generally regarded for its fantastic hiking, the White Mountains provide an ideal habitat for bird lovers and nature enthusiasts looking for species of large birds like Eagles and Vultures, the Golden Eagle and the Red-Billed Chough.

Find Out More

Lefka Ori (White Mountains)

A UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves site, the White Mountains offer an incredible opportunity for the hiker in both winter and summer. Generally regarded for its fantastic hiking, the White Mountains provide an ideal habitat for bird lovers and nature enthusiasts looking for species of large birds like Eagles and Vultures, the Golden Eagle and the Red-Billed Chough.

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Arts and crafts in general have always been a big part of Cretan culture and pottery has been an integral part of the island's artistic history since Minoan times.

Photo: www.regroup.gr

Verekinthos Arts and Crafts Village

Nestled between Souda and Tsikalaria is this exquisite little village that has grown into a model for artists everywhere.

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Agia Sofia Cave (Saint Sophia)

Once a sacred spot of Minoan worship the cave of Agia Sofia is now famous for its mammoth stalactites and stalagmites. A steep climb up the stone staircase and into the mouth of the cave visitors will first see a small chapel where they may light a candle or offer a prayer. Once inside it is fairly easy to make one’s way around (although the back of the cave is too slippery and dark to explore). Some of the stalagmites and stalactites are up to five or six meters in length with unique, almost otherworldly formations.

Find Out More

Klados Gorge

Just west of its more famous sister, Samaria, the Klados gorge awaits. Offering up breathtaking scenery with its imposing jagged rockface and waterfalls, the Klados gorge is a remote and little traveled terrain. Its northern entrance begins from the Linosseli pass west of the Gigilos peak and is marked only by a few piles of rocks. This path, as with others along much of its route, is often blocked by bushes which only contribute to the danger by hiding its steep drops. Just before the entrance there is a very dangerous spot with loose gravel on a steep slope. Navigating the Klados gorge does require descending by rope in various areas. There are cascading waterfalls along the way and at the end a gorgeous beach called Tripiti.

Find Out More

Lake Kournas

Set amongst a stunning backdrop of mountains Lake Kournas is the only natural freshwater lake in all of Crete and covers an area of approximately 579,000 square meters and is only 22.5 meters at its deepest point. Home to different species including Herons, Cormorants, Ducks, and Warblers. As one of only two freshwater lakes on the island, Lake Kournas is a wonderful spot to take a rented kayak and while away the day atop its calm waters. On site visitors can rent a pedal boat or canoe to travel around the area.

Find Out More

The Central Market in Hania

If you want to see a city’s soul go to the market (also known as Dimotiki Agora). Hania’s Municipal market or ‘Agora’ is a bustling, lively center where tourists can rub shoulders with locals while meandering through the 76 small shops, restaurants, bakeries and stalls selling their fresh local products. A variety of bakeries and small restaurants serve up some of the freshest fare in the city. The restaurants may not be fancy but if it’s genuine Cretan cuisine you’re after, this is one of the best places to find it.

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According to historical research there is evidence to suggest that humans settled in Crete as early as 128,000 BC. With the island’s long history of conquerors and fighting come many interesting archaeological sites. In the region of Hania one may stumble across anything from the remains of tiny stone churches (some of which were erected by the Cretans as places of ‘secret’ worship while they were occupied) to significant monasteries, Byzantine churches and even remains of the ancient Minoan civilization which existed on Crete from approximately the 27th century BC to the 15th century BC.

Photo: www.zarpanews.gr

Enthusiasts of this sport will not be disappointed by the sheer number of places Crete offers to explore. At last count the Greek Speleological Society had recorded over 3,000 caves in Crete. Not only are they astounding feats of nature, captivating in their own dark and mysterious way, they are also points of great archaeological and historical significance to the island.

Photo: www.aera.gr

Photo: www.botanical-park.comThe nature found on Crete is both striking in its beauty and its sheer abundance. Springtime is an especially beautiful time of the year as the island is bursting with blooming flowers, plants and trees. Categorized by botanists as Mediterranean forest, woodlands and scrub, the Cretan flora is divided into what grows at low, mid, and high elevations. The Natura 2000 program in Crete has found 55 unique ecotopes and of approximately 1600 species more than 150 are native to the island itself.

Botanists and nature enthusiasts have been visiting Crete for years to have a chance to observe the illustrious flora of the island. Many of the herbs found are used for medicinal purposes or in cooking such as thyme, chamomile, oregano and sage. Visitors will also become familiar with the Cretan Mountain tea (ironwort) which is very popular with the Cretans and usually prepared with fresh lemon and honey.

Photo: www.allincrete.com

Just a hint of the incredible flora found on the island includes the Vai Palm (famous from the Palm beach of Vai on the east of the island), Oleander, Myrtle, Carob, Almond, Maple, and Chestnut trees as well as the infamous Masticha plant from which many Cretan products (including ice-cream, liquors and gum) are made. Herbs found on the island include oregano, thyme, chamomile, and sage.

There are a handful of animals native to Crete but no animal is more famous (or dear) to the Cretans than the Kri Kri mountain goat. Originally thought to have been transported millennia ago from Persia, the Kri Kri is now considered to be native. It is no surprise to anyone familiar with the Cretans that they identify so much with the tough, independent spirit of this animal.

Photo: www.botanical-park.com

Now a protected species, Samaria gorge and a couple of tiny Cretan islands have been declared habitat sanctuaries for the goat. As for native mammals to the island there are only two – the Cretan Shrew and the Cretan Spiny Mouse – neither of which are likely to draw huge numbers of tourists to the island but are nevertheless part of the island’s historical wildlife.

Photo: www.botanical-park.com

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