Almost a third of all Cretans live in this prefecture. It’s the area where most visitors arrive by airplane or ferry on Crete. It’s a business city and you can stay here for a day or 2, but not for a fortnight, than we need to move to the suburbs. There are lots of shops, and very good hotels. Heraklion is famous for the 2nd best Archaeological Museum of Greece. We find on show here the objects that were found in the various excavations around Crete. Some date back 2000 years before the birth of Christ and they show us that the Cretans were real artists in making jewellery, sculptures, ceramics, paintings etc. (The museum itself is closed until 2012 for restoration – in the basement they have organized a temporary exhibition with some of the most important finds).
Crete is proud to be known as the roots of the European Culture and more physical evidence we find in the excavation of Knossos, 5 Km. south of the city. The remainder of the palace made by King Minos and his people belongs to the top 3 of ancient sites in Greece. Nobody leaves Crete without a visit to Knossos, even though if some parts are fake and restored accordeing to the ideas of Sir Arthur Evans.
South from Knossos starts the main agricultural activity of the prefecture, which is grape growing for consumption and the wine. Many countries claim to be the inventors of the “drink of the Gods”, but in Vathipetro we find the oldest wine press factory from 3000 years B.C. In the small museum of Archanes are huge mill stones used for grape pressing. Today we do this is in modern factories and some are open for a wine tasting session, don’t drink too much if you are en-route. Archanes is probably the best preserved village on Crete and we recommend a visit. In the nearby village of Myrtia one can visit the museum of Nikos Kazantsakis, the most famous writer born in Crete. His most famous books are Zorba the Greek and Life and Death. On his grave is written: “I do not fear for something” I do not hope for something” “I am free” The airport of Heraklion is named after him.
The country side on the south is divided into 2 parts by the Psiloritis Mountains and the Asterousia Mountain range. The latter lies direct on the south coast line and that’s why it is not so much developed for tourism. The village Lendas is a small but remote exception; here and also Kali Limenes is good for peaceful holidays. West of this lies the tourist resort Matala, with hotels and apartments and the sand caves on the beach, which are famous as a Minoan burial site, as the home for the poor and the hippies. It’s here, as the mythology says, that Zeus landed disguised as a white bull with his princess Europa, but nearby is Komo, an ancient Minoan harbour, so it’s more likely that this was the place, but it’s only fairy tales as we know now.
Between Asterousia and the southern slopes of the Psiloritis, lies the Messara plain, Crete’s vegetable area, with greenhouses for tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, flowers etc. In the middle of the plain there’s the village Vori with an award winning Ethnological Museum of Crete. The second important Minoan site, the palace of Phaestos and the Agia Triada villa, is also nearby. It was the palace and residence of Radamanthys (Minos brother) and his people. Here they found a bronze disc with probably the first written language in Europe (on display in the museum in Heraklion). Going into the direction of Heraklion city we pass Gortina, the old Roman capital after the birth of Christ. A visit to the nearby orphanage/monastery of Kalyvianna should be on your list.
West from the Cretan Capital Heraklion is a very interesting area. First we meet the tourist resort Agia Pelagia. A village with a couple of big 5 star hotels, but more pensions and apartments run by the local families. A holiday here has certainly some charming aspects, because sitting at the beach of the village you can enjoy good meals and a glass of wine.
Nearby is the monastery of Savathianos, a nunnery with over 50 women living in the houses which are all beautifully decorated and with gardens so nice and well taken care of, that I have seldom seen on Crete.
The village Fodele is the birthplace of the great Cretan painter Dominikos Theotokopoulos, born in 1541. He later worked in Spain where decorated many Catholic Churches with wall paintings. He had there the name El Greco, “the Greek”, under which name the world knows him.
The last district we describe is the north-east part of the prefecture. Here you will find tourist resorts like Chersonnisos, Malia, Stalis, Gouves, etc. When you meet with friends at home talking about their holidays on Crete, there’s a 50% chance that they stayed in one of these places. On offer are strings of hotels, bars, discos, fast-food places, and any other tourist-related business you can think of. As you have gathered, tourism is the main activity here. Your holiday here is going to be a week or fortnight with party, party…..
Visit the more traditional villages in the mountains like Koutouloufari, Piskopiano, Kastelli, Arkolochori and others.
The water park “Watercity” is a nice place to cool down from all the hot nights in Chersonissos.