Explore Crete

Dramatic Landscape

Being the largest island of Greece at 8261 square kilometers Crete is often referred to as ‘Megalonisos’ (big island). It is in fact the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean.
Crete, which lies south of the Aegean Sea, in the center of the East Mediterranean basin (where Europe, Asia and Africa meet), is a long and narrow island with east-west orientation (260 km long and widest part at 60 km).

This island has been blessed with an extraordinary fusion of landscapes some of which include snow-capped mountains, gorges, caves, rolling hills, cascading valleys, plains, endless citrus and olive groves, rivers, lakes, natural and man-made ports, harbors and countless kilometers of varied coastlines.
The Lefka Ori (White Mountains) are snow-capped in the winter and the snow is still visible at the start of the summer – wonderfully contrasting sight where the light of summer defines each twist, bend and cliff of this massive mountain. It is for these reasons, as well as the fact that they are covered in a whitish- light grey colored limestone rock, that these are called the White Mountains. With over 55 peaks this mountain range rises well to 2,452 meters above sea level at Pachnes and falls to the southern shores. It is this decline which has created several beautiful and most impressive gorges such as the well-known gorge of Samaria beginning at Omalos and home to the unique species of wild goat (locally known as the ‘kri-kri’), and others such as Therisso gorge, Agia Irini gorge and Imbros gorge.

Crete is dotted with several traditional and interesting mountain villages some of which include the historic Therisso village, Kandanos, Vamos, Vrysses and Melidoni village. Mountain retreats are a unique experience at any time of the year.
The northern coastline has large bays, a multitude of larger beaches and the largest natural harbor, Souda Bay. Scattered in the sea are a number of islets such as Agii Theodori, Agii Pantes and Spinalonga.
Some of the most famed beaches are Elafonisi beach, Falassarna beach, Balos lagoon, islet of Gramvousa and Gavdos islet. Elafonisi beach – a destination in itself - is on the south-west corner of the island and has fine white sand and shallow warm waters. Falassarna beach on the northwest corner has incredible length and a wide section of sandy beach before the sea. The Balos lagoon and the islet of Gramvousa (again north-west Crete) are quite ‘tropical’ in style with turquoise waters and magical beaches. Gavdos islet (48 kilometers south of Chora Sfakion), accessible only by boat is a get-away destination.
The southern coastline which faces the Libyan Sea has smaller indentations; smaller beaches, caves and ports such as Sfakia, Loutro, Agia Roumeli, Paleochora, Plakias, Agia Galini (all coastal villages with varied beaches).
Lake Kournas, just 4 kilometers from Georgioupolis, is the only freshwater lake on Crete and is protected under Natura 2000 as it is an important wetland and home to ducks, eels, water snakes and the Diamondback Terrapin (a rare species of terrapin/turtle with a patterned shell). Most enjoyable place to relax at with views to mountains, the sea as well as the lake – even while it sits just 20 meters above sea level.

The Diktaean Cave and the Idaean Cave are the most important caverns on Crete and are known since Neolithic times.
A land of contrast and surprise is heartwarming to be in; while in the west you are surrounded by citrus and olive groves which alternate with mountain plateaus and while in the east, taken aback by the number of palm trees around. Stunningly beautiful natural landscapes provide exciting incentives to venture out, explore Crete and discover its beauties in art, culture, gastronomy, natural surroundings and traditions.

Strong Local Culture

Crete’s strong local culture is instrumental in the daily lives of the people of Crete. Cretan music, traditional dances, Cretan food, Christenings, weddings, festivals, religious celebrations and holidays are just a part of this integral and deeply intimate cultural heritage.
Famous Cretan hospitality is very much still alive; locals are friendly and offer directions and tips freely, neighbors frequently bring over fresh eggs, vegetables and fruits from their plots or even a meal or dessert they have prepared.
The music of Crete, as distinct as its people, can be heard and seen at festivals all over the island and even at social gatherings amongst friends and family. The ‘lyra’ (lyre), a musical instrument which is held vertically, is played like a violin while the ‘laouto’ (lute) is played like a guitar. Rhythm and melody stem from these and the pace and passion of Cretan music is easily identified through these.

There are five dances, each with its own colorful character which can be found in most parts of Crete; ‘Maleveuziotikos’ (also known as ‘Pidiktos’) which required endurance as it has small, quick steps as does ‘Pendozali’ (meaning 5 steps). These are both exciting dances which include both men and women dancing in a chain-like fashion - skill is a pre-requisite! ‘Siganos’ is a wedding dance and most often the first dance after the church service. ‘Sousta’ is danced in pairs and can be described as the dance of flirtation. And lastly ‘Sirto’, a very popular dance, danced to a wide variety of songs. This is sure to attract most to the dance floor.

‘Mandinades’ (Cretan folk song/poetry) is often said and sung. These are the most common form of folk song- eloquent and poetic songs that speak of love, nostalgia, admiration, heart-felt wishes, death and all aspects of daily life. With this 15-syllable rhyming couplet in Cretan dialect, locals improvise coming up with impressive combinations instantly.

Cretan food and the abundance of it at festivals and any type of celebration needs little explanation. Cretan cuisine, besides being the ‘secret’ to longevity and always prepares with extra virgin local olive oil includes delicacies such as ‘chochlious’ (mountain snails), ‘dakos’ (barley bread, sprinkled with olive oil, topped with grated fresh tomato and ‘mizithra’ goat cheese), ‘gamopilafo’ (a local wedding pilaf), ‘staka’ (a roux dish made from goat milk fat), ‘kouneli stifado’ (rabbit stew with baby onions) ‘kolokithoanthous’ (stuffed zucchini flowers) and ‘kalitsounia’ (Cretan fried or baked cheese pies). All these dishes (and so many more) which are so simply put together are to our palates delight. Of course, local Cretan wine accompanies good food at all times.

Much of the Cretan and Greek culture revolves around Greek Orthodox traditions. Locals celebrate their namedays (feast days of saints) as every day or the year is dedicated to a Christian saint or martyr and in Crete and Greece alike one’s nameday holds more significance than one’s birthday. For all namedays the wish is ‘Hronia Polla’ which translates to ‘many years’ as this is a wish for many more years of life, good health and prosperity. Villages also celebrate the nameday of their church and in this case, the festivities start the day before the name day and include the actual day. Food, drink, lively music and dance usually at the village square or perhaps in one of the village taverns.
In the summer months there are several events, festivities and cultural gatherings both in the cities and smaller villages. Music concerts, theatre productions, parties, competitions and other festivals are frequently held.
At these it is common to find several in their tradition Cretan costumes.

Agricultural August is one of the largest festivals held in the month of August and usually lasts approximately two weeks. At this festival, people from each village around Chania set up their stand with local produce, tapestries, lace made products etc. to display, sell products and promote their region. Nights are filled with Cretan dance, music, small theatrical productions. All in all it is an event not to be missed.

The ‘Laiki’ (farmer’s street market) is a street market held in various parts of Chania and other Cretan cities at least three times a week. These are locals who produce goods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, honey, cheese, fresh eggs, fish even textiles, embroidery, clothes and shoes and set up their stalls on the street to sell their goods. Locals frequent these as they are a marvelous place to easy get access to the freshest produce. The sights, smells, sounds and activities in these markets truly allows you to sample Crete and it’s humble, well intentioned locals.
Worry beads are the rosary of Greek men. They hold these in their hands and either twist and flip or count each worry bead making their way to the end and start all over again.
The Cretan Dagger/Knife proves to give valuable evidence about the history of the Cretan people and their fight for freedom and independence. The art of manufacturing hand-made Cretan daggers sold at the ‘maheradika’ (knife shops) is slowly being lost as its use in daily life is not necessary Nonetheless, these remain a part of this lands culture and several stores, which exclusively sell these daggers still exist.

Cretan folk art and crafts. Tapestry and lace making are just two of the fine examples of hand-made creations of the Cretan people – a skill which is deeply embedded in the culture. Both these show influences from the Minoan civilization, the Roman and Byzantine Empires, the Venetians and the Turk.
‘Apokries’ (Carnival) meaning ‘to stay away from meat’ takes place three weeks before Easter (during the 40 day Easter fast period). This is time for being merry and cheerful, for masquerade, for color, fun and float creation. The streets are filled with locals and travellers alike, dressed up in varied costumes, singing and dancing.

 

 

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