Ammoudi beach. Photo by Olaf Tausch.
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Why holiday on Crete?
is the largest Greek island at 260 km long by 60 kms wide (162 x 37 miles) and arguably the most interesting, though nearby Santorini is also in the running. So holidays in Crete are not necessarily just about sand, sea and sunshine, there's a fascinating, deeply ingrained culture and long, dramatic history attached to the island. But if the visit also involves beach time then Crete is a winner there too as it has the longest beach season of all the Greek islands, due to its extreme south Mediterranean latitude.
The remains of the once magnificent Palace of Knossos, North Entrance. Photo by Lapplaender.
Crete's famous ancient site is the Palace of Knossos and core of the super-sophisticated Bronze Age civilization of the Minoans - who may have been the advanced seafaring people of the Atlantis legend (See Santorini).
Conveniently near Crete's large city of Heraklion, Knossos has been partially reconstructed as it may have been several thousands of years ago.
Arkadia monastery in Venetian baroque style, also known as Moni Arkadiou. Photo by Gerard Janot.
Crete (also spelt Krete) has been ruled by many and varied civilisations, including the sophisticated Minoans (2,700-1,420 BC) who were terminally devastated by the eruption and tidal wave of nearby Thira (Santorini), the even more sophisticated Romans who Veni, Vidi, Vici in 69 BC, the Byzantine Empire took control in 300 AD, the Venetians in 1212, the Ottomans in 1669 and finally the Germans briefly in 1941. And those are just a few of the occupying powers!
The island of Crete is positively humming with a colourful stories, and then consider the mythology - Crete was the birthplace of the number one Greek god Zeus, home to the Sirens, Muses, Icarus and the Minotaur, visited by Athena, Hercules and Theseus.
Samaria Gorge. Photo by Lapplaender.
Got the culture out of the way? How about a little walk? From the Samaria Gorge to the Lasithi
plateau hikers will enjoy the spectacular surroundings while culture-vultures are spending hours in Heraklion's museums and the
Minoan ruins of Knossos.
Most travellers, however, are primarily in Crete for the beaches -
with a touch of culture, perhaps to keep their intellects functioning
while they bake in the sun and pickle their brains in Ouzo.
Elounda and Matala are typical of many of these superb beaches - soft sand, clear water and rather
too many neighbours.
Crete's best beaches are generally thought to be on the island's west
coast, Falasarna and Elafonisi.
Elounda beach. Photo by Deror avi.
The Balos lagoon on the Gramvoussa peninsula. Photo by Olaf Tausch.
Agios Nikolaos town, aka Ayios or Aghios. Photo by C.Messier.
The island's worst tourist resort and arguably Greece's primary destination for binge-drinking is Malia, on the north-east coast, which leads Europe in ultra-violence, often perpetrated by Brit-on-Brit. Cheap - yes, pleasant old town - yes, pulsating with people you normally cross the street to avoid - yes.
The famous Cretan palms and beach of Vai, east Crete. Photo by Marc Ryckaert.
Sitia Port in Lasithi province. Photo by Sekundenschlaf.
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When to go to Crete
The very best months in Crete are mid-May and June for less crowds, better ambience, lower accommodation prices and nice weather without extreme heat.
Summertime brings masses of visitors and considerable heat with occasionally blasts from the meltemi wind which cools things off but blows beach-goers and their kit all over the place. However, anytime from May to the end of October is possible as the southern location extends the tourist season.
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