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Crete is the largest of the Greek islands and has a very distinct identity. People are proud to call themselves Cretan first, and Greek second. For the visitor this means an experience you will find nowhere else in the Greek islands. The sheer size of the place - 160 miles from east to west and 37 miles wide at its widest point - means that it's an island given to exploring, and you'll have to give some thought to where you want to be based, depending on your interests.
Crete is like a small country, and has a wide range of attractions. If you like hiking then there's the Samarian Gorge, one of the longest in Europe, as well as other gorges and mountain hikes. There are numerous archaeological sites, of which Knossos is the best-known, and the island is ringed with gorgeous sandy beaches. The Cretan Diet is one of the healthiest in the world - and one of the tastiest - and you can sample it at its best in pretty harbour towns like Chania and Rethymnon, as well as in the capital, Iraklion. Add in a fascinating modern history too, and the result is a Mediterranean island not to be missed.
Mike Gerrard's introduction to the cultural side of Crete
The original palace at Knossos was the heart of the Minoan civilisation, with over 1,200 rooms when it was built in about 1900BC. Some of these rooms have been recreated to give a hint of the splendour of the royal court that existed here, with over 100,000 people living at Knossos at its height. It was a palace that was doomed, however. Destroyed by an earthquake in about 1600BC, it was rebuilt 50 years later only to disappear again, possibly under a tidal wave from the volcanic eruption on Santorini. It's justifiably the most popular visitor attraction on Crete.
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The Minoan palace at Phaistos is southern Crete's equivalent of Knossos – though usually much less crowded. The ruins are in a splendid setting on a hill overlooking the surrounding Messara Plain, showing why the site was chosen. There are some remains from the original 1900BC Old Palace, destroyed by earthquake in about 1700BC, but more from the replacement New Palace, in use till the Minoan civilisation came to an end in 1450BC. The most famous discovery here was the Phaistos Disc. Baked in clay it shows a spiral of pictograms which have never been fully explained.
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Known – if not renowned – today as a beach resort with rowdy nightlife, the small north-coast town of Malia is also home to another of Crete's great Minoan palaces. It shares a history of being built in 1950BC, destroyed in a 1700BC earthquake, rebuilt 50 years later and then destroyed for good in 1450BC. In a lovely setting right by the sea, it's pleasant to stroll among the remains and visualise what the palace was like. Work on the site is ongoing, and it's known that it was far more extensive than what has so far been uncovered.
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Heraklion Archaeological Museum
The most important museum on Crete is in the capital, Iraklion, and naturally contains the best finds made at the many archaeological sites on the island. These include the surprisingly small Phaistos Disc, and extensive collections of finds from Knossos and Malia. It's the most important museum in the world for Minoan art but its collections range from Neolithic times in about 5000BC till the Roman period of the 4th century AD. The highlights are on display in a temporary exhibition while the main building is undergoing extensive renovations.
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Crete has a rich history that goes way beyond the ancient archaeological sites. There are a number of important monasteries, of which the most significant is the Arkadi Monastery, built in 1587. The monks took part in a failed 1821 uprising against the Turks, but it was a stronghold again for the 1866 Cretan Rebellion which began a three-year war against Turkish rule. Several hundred people died here in an explosion when the Turks burst through the gates in pursuit of resistance fighters, but their sacrifice was the beginning of Cretan freedom. It is a powerfully moving place.
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Heraklion Archaeological Museum by Shadowgate
Arkadi Monastery by Robert Young
Holiday Rentals in Crete
Alkyonides villas are two separate detached private properties. These lovely self- catering holiday rentals are special for all ages. Each villa can accommodate 8 people. There are 4 bedrooms with own bathrooms, a fully- equipped kitchen and a liv...
Villa annaniko Chania Crete is the ideal place for total relaxation in an opulent setting. One of the most luxurious Crete villas, offers the highest of standards and lies on a majestic hillside surrounded by olive groves with great views of bo...
"Christos Place" these are our 6 cottages in Anidri - a small paradise in the middle of a large olive grove. From our, with love and care, furnished cottages, you can enjoy the tranquility and breathtaking views of Use Libyan Sea, protected by the...
EOT licence no. MHTE 1042K92003042801
Our lovely villa is set on the hillside above Kambia village and provides the ideal location for a quiet relaxing holiday. It is set in an acre of ground including an olive grove, a newly planted orchard and ...
Perfectly situated to offer the peace and tranquillity of a countryside retreat blended with the sophistication and excitement of nearby Rethymno town, Villa Ahlades is ideal for couples,groups of friends and families alike.
Constructed of stone ...
From the terraces you can see the Libyan Sea and the small islands of Paximadia.
From the garden you can admire the village, the plain of Messara and Psiloritis Mountains in the background.
Living romantic and unforgettable moments enjoying every ...
Incredible 2 bedroom villa in Maleme that sleeps 4. With the long swathe of Maleme beach virtually at the bottom of the garden this individual architect-designed property, quite simply, enjoys the most stunning of settings. Constructed along simpl...
Lovely 4 bedroom villa in Sfakaki that sleeps 8. This spacious, family villa makes the most of its magnificent views to the sea and the mountains with numerous balconies and terraces and large patio doors creating a light and airy feel.
Great 5 bedroom villa in Daratso that sleeps 10. Beauty and memorable moments abound at Villa Joy.
Boasting a unique, sophisticated design with clean lines and high ceilings, it resonates with a style reminiscent of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. ...
Beautiful 3 bedroom villa in Sfinari that sleeps 6. Sleeps (Max): 6
Shower Rooms: 3
Maid Service: Twice weekly
Pool: Private 51 sq m
A contemporary three bedroom Villa just beyond the parameters of a small village ...