Crete enamoured the author with its stunning landscapes, warm sandy beaches, and remarkable architecture. Crete’s famous pink sand beach offers a bustling yet picturesque setting for leisure and aquatic activities. Moreover, the island is a haven for history, delectable cuisine, and amiable locals. The author highly recommends visiting the west end of Crete, particularly Heraklion, for a serene and memorable stay. The region boasts breathtaking drives and treks leading to a pristine lagoon and the world’s oldest surviving olive tree at Villa Sofia. Additionally, the Venetian port city of Chania allures with its picturesque streets, historic charm, and iconic Venetian lighthouse, providing an unforgettable experience for travellers.
- Heraklion, the largest city in Crete, boasts a population of approximately 200,000 and serves as the hub for public services and major scientific centres on the island. As the commercial heart of Crete, it is home to the main port and airport. Once a picturesque city adorned with unique traditional Venetian and Ottoman monuments in the early 1900s, Heraklion has a storied historical significance in the Mediterranean. However, the city has undergone a transformation, evolving into a vibrant urban landscape dominated by concrete, with much of its former aristocratic grandeur lost. This shift was prompted by the rapid expansion required to accommodate refugees following the Asia Minor Catastrophe of 1922 and efforts to “modernise” Heraklion by repurposing its beautiful old buildings into residential blocks.
- Chania, the second largest city in Crete, is often hailed as the “Venice of the East” due to its enchanting Venetian character. With a population of over 60,000 residents, this picturesque city has preserved its historic charm, unlike many other cities in Crete. The Old Town and the Venetian Harbour remain virtually unchanged, offering visitors a unique experience with its narrow streets, the majestic lighthouse at the small harbour’s entrance, and many remarkable monuments that exude the timeless allure of Chania. Believed to have been built on the site of the ancient Minoan city of Kydonia, Chania’s rich history is evident in the excavations at Kastelli Hill. The city flourished during the Byzantine era, becoming fortified, and was later transformed by the Venetians into a formidable castle with robust walls. In 1850, Sultan Abdul Mezit’s decision to establish a naval base in the Gulf of Souda led to Chania becoming the capital of Crete until 1971. Following the island’s liberation from the Turks in 1898, Chania experienced a period of significant development, marked by the construction of grand buildings in the city and its suburb of Halepa. The pinnacle of Chania’s glory was the historic hoisting of the Greek flag in the fortress of Firkas in 1913, signifying the ultimate union of Crete with Greece after centuries of subjugation. Furthermore, Chania played a pivotal role in the Battle of Crete during World War II, with the nearby airport of Maleme serving as the focal point of the valiant struggle against the Germans. Notably, Chania was the final European city to be liberated from German forces in April 1945.
- Rethymnon stands as a prime example of a Cretan Renaissance city, showcasing a blend of Venetian and Ottoman influences within its charming streets and historical landmarks. With a population of approximately 30,000, it ranks as the third largest city in Crete, situated on the ancient site of Rithymna dating back to the 4th and 5th centuries BC. The city’s old town beckons visitors to embark on a journey through time, with its well-preserved Venetian and Ottoman architectural nuances that have withstood the test of modernization. Unlike its counterparts, Heraklion and Chania, Rethymnon predominantly retains a Greek Renaissance character, attributed to the prevalence of Greek nobles during the Venetian Period. Notable attractions within the vicinity encompass the expansive Fortezza, the largest fortress in Crete, nestled amidst the old town’s narrow streets. Additionally, the quaint Venetian harbour, adorned with a lighthouse, the Venetian Loggia, Rimondi Fountain, Rethymno Park, Santa Maria, Historical Museum, Nerantze Mosque, St. Francis Basilica, Great Gate (Porta Guora), Mosque of Kara Musa Pasha, and Venetian mansions in Street Arkadi, all contribute to the city’s rich tapestry of historical and cultural landmarks. Completing the experience, visitors can indulge in the vast sandy beach that stretches east of the port of Rethymnon, offering a serene setting for relaxation and leisure. Rethymnon stands as a prime example of a Cretan Renaissance city, showcasing a blend of Venetian and Ottoman influences within its charming streets and historical landmarks. With a population of approximately 30,000, it ranks as the third largest city in Crete, situated on the ancient site of Rithymna dating back to the 4th and 5th centuries BC.