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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
This pretty village house sits on the hillside surrounded by a very large garden and offers lovely views whether you are laying by the sparkling pool’s edge or lounging in the comfortable outdoor sofa. Georgos, the young owner, is a carpenter wh...
Villa Amvrosia is a ‘boutique’ style Villa with an up to date finish more in keeping with the sophisticated Cote d’Azur than a Villa on the edge of a small, albeit charming, village in Western Crete and it is this very incongruity which makes it, ...
In traditional Cretan fashion, this semi-detached cottage is built directly onto a rocky buttress that forms the far end of the Village Square giving it a hobbit like ambiance and reducing the building work by a quarter!
Outside the spacious, par...
From its lofty vantage point 2kms uphill from Vrisses, guests at Villa Avra are able to marvel at the fine views across terraced hillsides planted with olive trees and down wooded valleys to the sea at Georgoupolis, 6km distant.
2km from Vrisses, just inland from Georgeopolis, set on a terraced hillside in a remarkably peaceful setting, near the tiny village of Philipos, Villa Artemis with its own superb pool enjoys superb, panoramic views over green and verdant olive gro...
On the edge of the small rural community of Sfinari, the house stands on a large plot of land overlooking the sea, just where the little beach road from the village meets the coast and takes a left bend in the direction of the three fish tavernas...
Nynemia means peace in ancient Greek, a very appropriate name for a villa set in 6,000 square metres of land and surrounded by olive groves, for almost as far as the eye can see.
Standing on a terraced hillside a little under 1.5 km from Almirid...
An extravagant and contemporary three bedroom Villa just beyond the parameters of a small village on the west coast of Crete, Villa Meli has stunning sea views, is within walking distance of a choice of excellent tavernas, has air conditioning, w...
Villa Olivia, Vrisses, Crete
Turning off the road towards distant Sfakia, on the south coast, above the pretty village of Vrisses you enter a landscape of rolling hills, rich with olive and cypress trees and then, turning again, you find yourself...
Lemon tinted walls and baby blue shutters adorn the outside of Villa Clio, perched on a plateau towards the top of a small hill, with outstanding views. On the edge of a scattering of select Villas, privacy is secured by natural rock faces, gar...