By Tiffany Ryes, International Banker
Sandy beaches against sprawling mountains; green palm groves against sun-bleached limestone; modern, bustling cities against centuries-old streets and architecture—Crete is truly an eclectic and diverse island of contrasts. However, if one thing ties the assortment of experiences in Crete together, it’s the clear, pristine water that envelopes this bustling Greek island in one disarming package.
The Crete experience
A memorable mix of experiences and sites can keep you busy on this island. Whether you’re a history buff, foodie, beach bum or simply out for a memorable getaway, the island offers a wide array of experiences and destinations.
The best time to visit Crete is from mid-May to June when the waters are warmer and the local wildflowers bloom, dotting its coastline with color. During September and October, the water is cooler and most of the tourists have already left, but Crete continues to provide places and activities to excite every traveler.
To help you plan your itinerary, below are some of the destinations you may want to explore as you take in all the sights, sounds and wonders of this magical Mediterranean island.
Traveling to Heraklion, the capital of Crete, introduces guests to one of the Mediterranean region’s most fascinating cities. This medieval area is full of history, attractions and activities; within it is Crete’s biggest and best-preserved Minoan site, The Palace of Knossos. Believed to be the mythical labyrinth of King Minos, this historical site features four wings built around a central courtyard, which includes living areas, ceremonial spaces, elaborate decorations.
Meanwhile, Koules Fortress is a 16th-century Venetian-style structure. Imposing and impressive, this fortress has grand, heavy wooden doors that open to period pieces such as old cannons, ancient pots and stone carvings. History buffs can also equally enjoy the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, which houses artifacts that span more than 5,500 years of history. The Morosini Fountain in Lions Square is also a must-see spot, a wonderful base site to further explore the city.
While the city offers several accommodations, most travelers looking for a top-notch getaway choose Faros Villa, nestled within 150 acres of private land and overlooking the Sigri port and the Aegean Sea. Perched on a peninsula on an elevated property, guests can enjoy a breathtaking 360-degree view of the Mediterranean Sea. Constructed to the highest standards with high-grade wood and marble as well as Italian furniture, the contemporary villa is truly a vacation home away from home.
This lavish private resort offers a seawater infinity pool perfectly perched atop a seafront cliff. To further soothe guests, the resort has a wide range of specially designed activities and experiences. This includes healing treatments and therapies, along with healthy cuisine from the property’s local chef and a well-manicured garden that is perfect for yoga and meditation.
East of Heraklion lies the coastal town of Agios Nikolaos, which invites guests to stay a little longer and fully explore its many sights and sounds.
At the heart of Agios Nikolaos is Lake Voulismeni, a sweetwater lake rooted in mythology—purportedly the lake in which the gods Athena and Artemis bathed. For centuries, people flocked to this mythical body of water for its healing properties. Today, it is framed by a plethora of bars and restaurants that serve a diverse mix of Cretan and international dishes to a flock of locals and tourists alike.
Many of the sights in this town offer firsthand mythology lessons, as around it abound sculptures, such as The Horn of Amalthea, which recalls a myth of Zeus, and the nearby Cave of Zeus, in which the god was believed to hide. Another sculpture is The Abduction of Europa, wherein Zeus was transformed into a white bull to approach a beautiful girl, Europa.
Museums in the area include the Archaeological Museum of Agios Nikolaos, which hosts pieces from different Minoan periods. The Folk Art Museum of Agios Nikolaos, meanwhile, offers guests a glimpse into the Cretan way of life, with ancient pottery, textiles and furniture on display.
For travelers looking to rest their heads and explore this fascinating town another day, a stay in Orea Villa provides a memorable experience in itself. Built and designed with opulence in mind, this state-of-the-art property boasts one of the best views on the island—of the Kalydon (Spinalonga) peninsula and beyond to the open sea.
The property beautifully recreates a traditional Greek town in every detail, from the stone pathways to the narrow streets, Cycladic houses and sunny terraces. With a gorgeous heated pool overlooking Mirabello Bay, guests are transported into a lush Mediterranean sanctuary all their own.
North of Crete is Georgioupolis, a town that is well loved because of its exceptionally long beach, the longest on the island. This town, once a fishing village, is now a thriving resort town, with the Lefki Ora (White Mountains) providing a resplendent backdrop. Georgioupolis is also home to another white structure, the iconic Agios Nikolaos Chapel, located at the end of a rocky causeway.
Meanwhile, the organized beach is lined with umbrellas and sunbeds, which offer tourists space to lounge and sunbathe before swimming in the water. Snorkeling and jet skiing are also popular activities here. For those who want to get away from the sea-loving crowd, Georgioupolis also offers the island’s only freshwater lake, Kournas Lake. Meanwhile, the Argyroupoli provides a wonderful view of its waterfalls.
One of the town’s most exquisite gems, however, are Levanda Villa and Jasmine Villa, two exclusive villas with a private pool each that overlook Falassarna Beach and the magical sunset beyond. The elevated villas offer guests a private space away from the busy beaches, taking them into a world of its own, with its classic Greek style that amazingly provides all the modern comforts to satisfy even the most selective traveler. The villas have fully equipped kitchens, private sea views from their balconies, gardens and complete barbecue facilities to provide guests with a sanctuary to enjoy with loved ones.
Located at the westernmost end of the island, soulful Chania maintains a charming, authentic Cretan style alongside more developed destinations. Holidays in Chania offer unique experiences with a rustic Mediterranean vibe, allowing tourists to feel its history while enjoying its splendid resorts and serene beaches.
One of its most popular tourist spots is Chania Town, which offers a walk back in time. Boasting traditional Greek, Venetian and Turkish architecture, this picturesque, historical settlement boasts an interesting array of establishments. Its well-preserved buildings and mansions have been restored and converted into shops, restaurants and taverns.
Another sight to behold is the landmark Venetian Lighthouse, erected in the 16th century. This sits at the farthest end of the Venetian Pier, one of the most important historical sites of the town. The harbor is lined with shops, cafés, pubs and restaurants offering traditional Greek and international fare.
Meanwhile, overlooking the harbor and bay is a striking, modern luxury property, Villa Kyma. Designed by a sea-lover initially as a dream-of-a-lifetime retreat, every detail of this villa has luxurious relaxation in mind. Three of its four spacious bedrooms and its two living rooms offer a generous panoramic view of the turquoise Mediterranean bay. Guests can enjoy outdoor dining, lounges and barbecues, with a perfect view of the sunset. This villa is also equipped with a 50-square-meter infinity pool that looks out onto the sea and a pathway to a saltwater sanctuary where guests can enjoy a private beach.
The ultimate luxury
Home of the most enduring legends and myths as well as one of the earliest civilizations, Crete is truly a Greek world all its own. It has a magnificent, magical atmosphere, and the island is large enough to explore and fully take in a wide mix of experiences. From exploring ancient structures to visiting museums, taking hikes along hills and mountains or walking on narrow stone paths in ancient villages, tasting the best Greek cuisine before laying down your head amidst a mix of modern comfort and Greek hospitality—the island offers vacation experiences that never fall short on splendor.
And with private properties that provide exclusive amenities and top-of-the-line services, any discerning guest can experience the utmost in luxury in all corners of Crete. In a word, serenity.