By Tiffany Ryes, International banker
S.andy beaches against sprawling mountains; green palm groves against sun-bleached limestone; modern, bustling cities contrasted with centuries-old streets and architecture – Crete truly is an eclectic and diverse island of contrasts. However, if there is one thing that holds the diversity of Crete together, it is the clear, pristine waters that wrap this bustling Greek island in a disarming package.
The Crete Experience
An unforgettable mix of experiences and sights can keep you busy on this island. Whether you’re a history buff, foodie, beachgoer, or just looking for a vacation to remember, the island offers a wide range of experiences and travel destinations.
The best time to visit Crete is from mid-May to June, when the water is warmer and the local wildflowers are in bloom and the coast is dotted with color. In September and October the water is cooler and most of the tourists have already left, but Crete continues to offer places and activities that will delight any traveler.
To help you plan your itinerary, below are some of the destinations you might want to explore while enjoying all of the sights, sounds, and wonders of this magical Mediterranean island.
A trip to Heraklion, the capital of Crete, introduces guests to one of the most fascinating cities in the Mediterranean region. This medieval area is full of history, attractions and activities; Inside is Crete’s largest and best preserved Minoan site, the Palace of Knossos. Considered the mythical labyrinth of King Minos, this historic site consists of four wings built around a central courtyard and encompassing living areas, ceremonial rooms, and ornate decorations.
The Koules Fortress is a 16th-century Venetian-style structure. This imposing and formidable fortress has large, heavy wooden doors that open to antique pieces such as old cannons, antique pots and stone carvings. History buffs can also enjoy the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, which houses artifacts from more than 5,500 years of history. The Morosini Fountain on LÃ¶wenplatz is also a must-see, a wonderful base from which to explore the city further.
While the city offers multiple accommodations, most travelers looking for a first class getaway choose Faros Villa, which sits on 150 acres of private land and overlooks Sigri Harbor and the Aegean Sea. Located on a peninsula on an elevated property, guests can enjoy a breathtaking 360 degree view of the Mediterranean Sea. Built to the highest standards with high-quality wood and marble as well as Italian furniture, the modern villa is a true home away from home.
This spacious private resort features a seawater infinity pool that is perfectly perched on a cliff by the sea. To keep guests calm, the resort offers a wide variety of specially designed activities and experiences. These include healing treatments and therapies, as well as healthy cuisine from the property’s local chef, and a well-tended garden perfect for yoga and meditation.
East of Heraklion is the coastal town of Agios Nikolaos, which invites guests to stay a little longer and fully explore its many sights and sounds.
In the heart of Agios Nikolaos is Lake Voulismeni, a freshwater lake rooted in mythology – allegedly the lake where 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 multitude of bars and restaurants that serve a varied mix of Cretan and international dishes for locals and tourists alike.
Many of the attractions in this city offer firsthand mythology lessons as there are numerous sculptures around them, such as the Horn of Amalthea, which evokes a myth of Zeus, and the nearby Cave of Zeus, where the god is said to be hiding . Another sculpture is The Abduction of Europe, in which Zeus was turned into a white bull to approach a beautiful girl, Europa.
Museums in the area include the Archaeological Museum of Agios Nikolaos, which houses pieces from various Minoan eras. The folk art museum of Agios Nikolaos offers its guests an insight into the Cretan way of life with old pottery, textiles and furniture.
For travelers who want to rest their head and explore this fascinating city on another day, a stay at Orea Villa is an unforgettable experience in itself. This state-of-the-art property was built and designed with opulence in mind and has one of the best views on the island – of the Kalydon Peninsula (Spinalonga) and beyond to the open sea.
The property beautifully recreates a traditional Greek town in every detail, from the stone paths to the narrow streets, Cycladic houses to sunny terraces. With a gorgeous heated pool overlooking Mirabello Bay, guests are transported to their own lush Mediterranean sanctuary.
North of Crete is Georgioupolis, a town that is very popular because of its exceptionally long beach, the longest on the island. This town, once a fishing village, is now a thriving resort with the Lefki Ora (White Mountains) as a magnificent backdrop. Georgioupolis is also home to another white structure, the iconic Agios Nikolaos Chapel, which sits at the end of a rocky dam.
Meanwhile, the organized beach is lined with umbrellas and sun beds that give tourists space to relax and sunbathe before swimming in the water. Snorkeling and jet skiing are also popular activities here. For those looking to get away from the sea, Georgioupolis also offers the island’s only freshwater lake, Lake Kournas. Meanwhile, the Argyroupoli offers a wonderful view of its waterfalls.
One of the city’s most exquisite gems, however, are Levanda Villa and Jasmine Villa, two exclusive villas each with a private pool that overlook Falassarna Beach and the magical sunset beyond. The elevated villas offer guests a private space away from the busy beaches and take them into a world of their own with their classic Greek style that amazingly offers all the modern comforts to please even the most picky of travelers. The villas have fully equipped kitchens, private ocean views from the balconies, gardens, and a full BBQ area to provide guests with a retreat to enjoy with loved ones.
Located at the westernmost end of the island, soulful Chania retains a charming, authentic Cretan style alongside more developed travel destinations. A vacation in Chania offers unique experiences with a rustic Mediterranean atmosphere that allows tourists to feel its history while enjoying the magnificent resorts and quiet beaches.
One of the most popular tourist attractions is Chania, which offers a walk back in time. This quaint, historic settlement with traditional Greek, Venetian and Turkish architecture offers an interesting range of facilities. The well-preserved buildings and mansions have been restored and converted into shops, restaurants and taverns.
Another attraction is the Venetian lighthouse built in the 16th century. This is at the far end of the Venetian Pier, one of the city’s most important historical sites. The harbor is lined with shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants that offer traditional Greek and international cuisine.
Overlooking the harbor and bay is a striking, modern luxury property, Villa Kyma. Designed by a sea lover, originally as a dream-of-a-lifetime retreat, every detail of this villa has luxurious relaxation in mind. Three of its four spacious bedrooms and two living rooms offer a generous panoramic view of the turquoise Mediterranean bay. Enjoy al fresco dining, lounges and barbecues with a perfect view of the sunset. This villa is also equipped with a 50 mÂ² infinity pool overlooking the sea and a path to a salt water reserve where guests can enjoy a private beach.
The ultimate in luxury
Home to the most enduring legends and myths, as well as one of the earliest civilizations, Crete is truly a Greek world of its own. It has a great, magical atmosphere and the island is big enough to explore and enjoy a wide variety of experiences to the full. From exploring ancient structures to visiting museums, hiking up hills and mountains, or strolling narrow stone paths in old villages to sample the best of Greek cuisine before settling down amid a mix of modern comfort and Greek hospitality, the island offers Holiday experiences that never miss out on splendor.
And with private properties that offer exclusive amenities and first-class service, every discerning guest can experience the highest levels of luxury in all corners of Crete. In one word, serenity.