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Crete, Greece ~ Where European Expansion Began

The land of the Minoans, great gorges and birthplace of the gods

A destination high on the list of any child who has studied Greek mythology in school, Greece’s largest island entices with rich culture and heritage, glorious beaches, impressive mountainscapes, fertile valleys and crazy steep gorges.

Crete edges both the northern Aegean and southern Libyan seas and given it’s proximity to ancient Egypt and the Middle East, Crete is credited as the first documented civilization in Europe. Mythologically revered as the birthplace of Zeus (Diktean Caves) and rooting the Bronze Age with the Greece's largest Island - CreteMinoan civilization (about 2600 BC – King Minos & the Palace of Knossos), Crete is rich in legend and history.

The mega-tsumani from the creation of the Santorini Caldera effectively ended the ancient Minoan civilization.  Crete, being such a vital influence in the expansion and development of the old European culture, was fought over by the Arabs, pirates, Romans, Venetians and Ottomans through the centuries. That influence and history can be seen in the fortresses, ancient palaces and venetian-influenced cities (Chania) blending to become today’s cultural Crete.

Crete’s beauty in sites

Palace of Knossos – the age of the Minoan civilization began a staggering 46 centuries ago (over 4 millenia) and became the original model of todays justice administered by King Minos. First to take the rural tribes and organize them into the early quasi city-state entities around the Minoan Palaces, King Minos was a fair and firm judge doling out justice to the Bronze Age King Minos' thronepeoples. It is said the wooden replica of King Minos’ original throne currently is the President’s seat at the International Court of The Hague.

The Palace of Knossos and the myth of the Labyrinth of the Minotaur draws many tourists seeking to see this fabled labyrinth – sorry to say the labyrinth is a myth and doesn’t truly exist. As the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur goes, the labyrinth most likely relates to the passageways under the enormous palace and the complexity of this network. Theseus, with Ariadne’s help, used string to navigate the passages, kill the minotaur beast and escape from the palace victorious.

Palace of Knossos, CreteVisiting the Knossos Palace did enlighten me to the grand scale, the colorful beauty and inventive mythology for such an ancient culture so many centuries ago. Booking a Viator Tour of the Knossos Palace also options a tour of the Heraklion Archaeological Museum exploring the richness of the ancient Cretan culture. [GoGirlfriend recommendation: Just outside the Archaeological Museum in downtown Heraklion – take a walk down Dedalou St. and the pedestrian-only streets to the Morosini Lion Fountains. Pick a restaurant for great food and drink to sit outside and watch life unfold]

Samaria Gorge - The southern and western coasts of Crete are mountainous and contain a number of breathtaking gorges, the Samaria Gorge being the most popular and stunning (also reputed to be the longest gorge in Europe). Clocking in at 10 miles in length beginning 4500 ft high at the trailhead, the first 2 miles in steep decent, the Samaria Gorge hike follows a riverbed of water and rocks skirting cliffs thousands of feet high in places and the breathtaking Samaria Gorgegorge only 8 ft wide at it’s thinnest point. Samaria Gorge is within Samaria National Park, part of the White Mountains Range with the hike’s trail ending at the seaside village of Agia Roumeli. No roads lead out of this remote coastal village, a ferry to Sfakion your only path out.

This hike is not for the faint of heart or anyone without the ability to traverse a strenuous pathway. Proper steel-shank hiking boots, a water bottle and protein/energy bars are necessary for this 32,000 step hike adventure. Once you begin, there is no way back out except to make it to the coastal village at the end. For serious injuries or emergencies, donkeys are available to carry injured hikers. Ranger stations, outhouses and water stations are available every few miles. From the trailhead, hikers are pretty grouped up for the initial 2-mile decent, but hikers then spread out naturally as they find their own pace. Rocks falling from the super-high cliffs are not uncommon – their posted advice … walk faster!!

Danger - Falling Rocks ... walk faster!Expect 6-7 hours to traverse the hike, to enjoy the stunning scenery, and to take blissful enjoyment of this gods-country beauty. The hike ends with 1.5 miles still to go to the coastal village - for those too exhausted to finish, shuttles are available for a few $$. Restaurants to refuel surround the ferry pier for the daily ferry shuttling hikers out to Skafion (an hour’s ferry ride) to pick up your bus and head home. Our adventure from the north coast resort area was 6 hours to get to the trailhead, 6.5 hours to hike the gorge and another 6 hours bus ride to get back to the resort. An absolutely spectacular adventure worth every ounce of effort for this experience.

Book this Full Day Tour to Samaria Gorge with Viator or the Samaria Gorge Full Day Excursion with Expedia and see what other visitors have said about Samaria Gorge Hikes on Tripadvisor.

Beaches to visit in Crete - Being the largest of the Greek Islands, there is plenty of coastline and numerous opportunities for Greek beach awesomeness. From the north, Aegean sea side sample beaches of soft white sand and crystal clear waters (Balos Beach near Chania, Istro Beach near Agios Nikolaos or Vai Beach in the Lasithi Region). The southern Libyan Sea’s offers more rocky and secluded beach options (Matala Beach, Keratokambos and Leraperta). With so many beaches around Crete, many of the unorganized beach spots and hidden bays are perfect for naturist sunbathing opportunities.

What to Do in Crete ~ so many opportunities

Covering over 3200 sq miles with 650 miles of shoreline, Crete can almost be a country in and of itself. Check out some of these other “must visit” destinations and activities:

  • Plaka and Spinalonga (courtesy of east-crete.com)Plaka and Spinalonga – a small timeless fishing village mainland to the now-uninhabited fortified island (dating back centuries) with ancient acropolis, more recently hosting a leper colony til into the late 1950’s.
  • Caves of the Lasithi Platueau – located in east central Crete, the Psychro and Dictean caves are a sacred cave network higher in the mountains used for millenia as a worship site of the Greek gods of mythology.
  • Minoan Palaces – the Palace of Knossos is the largest and most well-known but consider an archeological visit to the other Minoan palaces like Phaistos (southern coast), Malia (north east coast) and Zakros (far Eastern shore).
  • Dionysus = great winesChania’s Venetian heritage – the old Venetian harbor in Chania dates back to the 1300’s with old fortifications, lighthouse, harbour and modern hotels, shops and restaurants to explore.
  • Agios Nikolas and the Lasithi Region – this medium size town has three distinctly different waterfronts – it’s “three faces to the sea”, described as an artsy, leisurely, sleepy yet bustling place to visit.
  • Wines of Crete – Are wines and greek mythology not synonymous (remember Dionysus)? Wine tourism opportunities are abundant with over 20 wineries dotting the island. Archaeologists have dated the oldest vineyards in use in Europe here near Kato Zakro dating back 4000 years! Them’s some good grapes …
  • Cretan thyme honeyCretan honey – from high in the White mountains on the southern face of the island near Sfakia, this natural untouched area produces native thyme, sage, oregano, pine trees, acacias and eucalyptus – thyme being a naturally paired favorite of the region to create a delightful sweet treat.

Whether your passion is history, geology or touring Crete’s beauty while taking in a gorgeous beach, your glass of wine will be full with sights to spare.

Have you visited Crete and want to add something to our list? We’d love to hear. Drop a comment below or tell us on Facebook or Twitter.

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