Crete is the largest of all the Greek islands and is steeped in history. “Megalonisis” (The Great Island) as it is called was the cradle of one of Europe’s most ancient and advanced civilizations, the Minoan. Between 3000 and 1100 BC this unique civilization developed and flourished on the island of Crete. The Minoans built palaces and established trade routes across a wide range of the Eastern Mediterranean, trading extensively with Syria, Asia Minor, and Egypt, as far west as the island of Sicily.
One of the most important aspects of this trading was not of goods but of ideas. In their dealings with the civilizations of Egypt and South west Asia they were able to transfer the ideas and technology from these societies and so shape the budding civilizations of Europe. The Egyptian influence in Minoan art is very evident and the exchange of ideas influenced later export trade, notably the exchange of pottery and foodstuffs such as oil and wine in return for precious objects and materials such as copper from Cyprus and ivory from Egypt.
No trip to Crete would be complete without a visit to the ruined palace of Knossos. It’s approximately 5 km south of the main town of Heraklion and is easily reached by bus which departs from the main bus station in Heraklion. Knossos was the most prominent centre of the Minoan Civilisation. It is the largest archaeological site discovered on Crete. You can explore the labyrinth of corridors and see the throne room and the grand staircase as well as the beautiful brightly coloured frescoes.
The Herakleion Archaeological Museum is one of the largest and most important in Greece and houses artefacts from Neolithic through to Roman times. It also boasts the most magnificent collection of Minoan art and culture in the world.
For sightseeing Rethymnon Old Town is definitely worth a visit. This beautiful old town with its Renaissance-style Venetian architecture is the perfect place to idle away a few hours in the late afternoon. Its Venetian harbour is peppered with tavernas and is the perfect place to stop for a bit to eat.
The city of Heraklion is also a fascinating place to explore. This walled city has plenty to offer its visitors. A good place to start is at the harbour. Here you will find some of the largest city walls in Europe. Liondaria, or Lion Square with its decorated fountain is the heart of Heraklion. This is a great meeting place and is bustling with plenty of places to eat and drink.
For a perfect afternoon walk or a day trip Lake Kournas is an ideal spot. This is the only freshwater lake in Crete, set in a beautiful location, nestled in a valley among the hills about 4 km from Georgioupolis, western Crete. You can swim or ride a pedalo on the waters of the lake. It’s a great spot for a picnic but alternatively you could enjoy a meal at one of the many tavernas where you can eat beside the lake and enjoy the spectacular views.
For beach lovers Matala beach is a must. This large, sandy beach is very organised with sun loungers and umbrellas. The water is very clean. This beach with its formations of sandstone rock cliffs and famous caves make it a popular tourist destination.