Info about Crete
Formalities, transport, country information, things to see, useful addresses
With an area of 8,300 km², Crete is the largest island in Greece (see map of Greece), and the 5th largest island in the Mediterranean after Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus and Corsica. It is located in the center of the Mediterranean, equidistant from the three continents, Asia, Europe and Africa. It stretches over 250 km in length and 60 in maximum width.
Although distances are relatively short, it takes a minimum of 5-6 hours to cover the island from East to West (see table of distances-Crete-Heraklion and distances-Crete-Chania), and using the only available route, the northern one. There are a few stretches of highway, but mostly three-lane roads. The North-South transverse roads, which often cross mountainous regions, are very beautiful but you should not be in a hurry.
The main cities are: Heraklion (administrative capital, airport and port), Chania (Chania or Hania, airport and port), Rethymnon (port) and Agios Nikolaos (port). There are 600 000 inhabitants. (and ... 35 million olive trees!)
When to visit Crete
Crete is the sunniest island in Greece (more than 300 days of sunshine per year). The climate is pleasant all year round. The winter is mild with occasional thunderstorms.
The best time to go there is when the weather is good in April (Spring in Crete). At this time of the year, it is advisable to bring a little wool because in the evening you will appreciate its warmth. The tourist season starts at Easter and ends at the end of October.
The months of May and June are very seductive; the island is full of flowers and offers a wide range of perfumes and scents. These months are the most suitable for walks or hikes along the sea or at medium altitude. The months of July and August are obviously very hot but thanks to a small wind that often blows, the heat is never overpowering.
September is a pleasant month; most of the visitors have left the island, the weather is still good and the sea water is still warm. In October, the days are still very pleasant, we still swim and for the evenings a small sweater will suffice.
If you are not lucky enough to speak Greek, basic English will suffice. French is unfortunately losing ground, as it is all over the world. Forty years ago, French was synonymous with culture and distinction. Today, the Cretans still have a certain sympathy for France and the French. Finally, it should be noted that here people define themselves first as Cretans and then as Greeks. Does this remind you of anything?
Religion and traditions
The Cretans are very attached to their traditions and religion (they are almost 100% orthodox Christians). Therefore, avoid the behavior of an "entomologist" or a "Japanese" with phones and pictures. Be respectful and discreet. Women should wear decent clothes when visiting monasteries and churches. Men should also avoid visits in beachwear (yes, I've seen it!) or shorts.
The main orthodox religious holidays are:
Christmas. A party in the family warmth, bringing together all generations within a family in the broadest sense, decorated with a traditional cuisine with smells, perfumes, tastes of yesteryear.
Easter. The Cretan and Greek religious festival par excellence. Here, secularism is not a value of the Republic, even if with the help of progress..., religious holidays are becoming more and more secular. Some years ago, almost everyone went to midnight mass on Saturday night, and the faithful lit their large candles with the "Holy Light" which they then took home. The feast, can then begin, after the 40 days of fasting. On Easter day, the tradition is to make a lamb on a spit, the occasion of an exceptional meal, well-watered and with music, to celebrate the resurrection of Christ and the arrival of spring. The Cretan cities and countryside, in the middle of spring, vibrate to the sounds of traditional music, intoxicated by the smell of the mechoui and the vapors of local wines.
The dormition of the Virgin MaryThis is another important Orthodox holiday that marks the beginning of the end of the summer vacation. After August 15 the Athenians, having spent their vacations in the places of their origins, return to their city occupations.
The holiday of the Patron saint of each town and village (the feast of the parish saint, or votive feast, in the south of France), apart from the inevitable mass, a traditional meal is organized the day before, on the village square, which, in reality, covers the terrace of a café or a restaurant and the road that crosses it..., bringing together all the villagers around a Cretan music orchestra and ending with songs and dances.
At the restaurant
As the English, Scandinavians and Germans are the majority of Western tourists in Greece (the French only come in 3rd or 4th place, depending on the year), in some places the restaurant menus are so adapted to the dominant clientele, that the language of Molière is not enough to get to know the cretan diet. For a local population of 600,000, Crete welcomed in 2016 more than 4.5 million visitors who spent 3 billion €, which amounts to an income of 5,000€/inhabitant! On the one hand, it's a windfall, but fortunately they don't all come at the same time...
In general, avoid places that are too touristy and visit the kitchens when you are invited to do so to choose "de visu". Here we order all the dishes at the same time, starters, salads, the main menu. Among the meats, choose the lamb that is raised in Crete; fresh fish is rare and sometimes expensive, since it has to be fished further and further away and there is no shortage of fish lovers in summer. The " owner's wine The "national" dish is rice pilaf (rice cooked in the juice of old poularde or lamb from the garrigues, and served with this meat). The "national" dish is the rice pilaf (rice cooked in the juice of an old poularde or lamb of the garrigues, and served with this meat) that can be tasted on feast days at the Cretans provided that you are invited!
In the restaurant or in the tavern (don't try to find a difference except for the luxury restaurants, but you don't go to Crete for that...) you can have a complete meal from 12 €. Here, you don't reserve a table, you have lunch between 1 and 3 pm but the restoration is possible at any time of the day. Do not forget the tip...
At the bistro
Every village has at least one bistro, a place to meet, relax and talk, but only frequented by men... Often, even in small villages, there are two, frequented by men according to their affinities or, until recently, according to their political philosophy. You will meet mostly men, playing cards, "Tavli" (Backgammon) or teasing the "komboloi" (a kind of rosary, which, for the Cretans, and Greeks in general, is not an object of piety, but by sliding between the fingers the grains of amber threaded in a necklace, one occupies the hands and sometimes accompanies more or less deep thoughts ...).
During the hottest part of the day, between 2 and 5 pm, many stores close and many Cretans take a nap. The afternoon visits start after 5 pm and go on until late in the evening. Even today, the village bistro is at the same time a grocery store, a center for the distribution of information from various organizations and a mail dispenser. Apart from the Greek coffee, you can drink a good iced Nescafé or taste the local schnapps, the Tsikoudia or Raki. Be careful, don't raise your elbow too much if you are not used to it.
At the hotel
Except for some sites that become very touristy in summer, especially between July 15 and August 15, the average occupancy rate of the rooms is never at its maximum. In other words, you don't risk sleeping under the stars unless you want to, which can be a nice project. Apart from the classic hotels, you will find guest rooms, which are called "domatia", often referred to in English as "rooms to rent". This type of accommodation is very popular with some people because of the friendly atmosphere and the Cretan hospitality it generates. It is often spartan, but clean and cheap. In low season, you can discuss the price without offending the owner.
In general, all accommodation for rent is licensed and inspected by the tourist authorities and prices must be displayed. In addition, it should be noted that most of the small hotels or guesthouses are not heated. You will tell me that this is normal in a country with a temperate climate like Crete. However, the problem can arise at the beginning of the season, in particular in April, when the nights can be chilly! Take a little sweater and bring the bodies closer together... Moreover, in Crete there are about fifteen campsites and three youth hostels, in Heraklion, Rethymnon and Plakias.
(Editor: Nikos Papadogeorgakis / Degeorges Nicolas)
To see, to visit
The editor's tips
If you go to Crete in high season, during the months of July and August, book your flight several months in advance, otherwise you will not be able to choose the dates of your flight and find an accommodation that exactly meets your tastes. It should be added that if you have the soul of a backpacker, you can even in high season find a decent accommodation on site. The occupancy rate, even in July and August, never reaches the ceiling.
If you pass by Heraklion, visit its archaeological museum and the nearby site of Knossos, preferably in a group with a guide to better understand this illustrious Minoan civilization. As far as the duration of your stay is concerned, the ideal would be to spend two weeks there, one in the east and the other in the west. Otherwise, in one week you will have to make a choice between the sites to visit. (see our page "guided tour"). If I had to choose among my favorite places, I would have mentioned; Loutro, Kato Zakros, Chania, Samaria, Rethymnon...
Not to be missed (βλ. « sightseeing tour« , through the map of Crete)
Heraklion (Heraklion, Candie):
Administrative capital of Crete, and fifth city of Greece by population, Heraklion is a city without charm in contrast to Rethymnon and especially to Chania. Its airport, " Nikos Kazantzakis" Heraklion, located in the center of the island, is a hub of local tourism. Of the 15 million tourists who arrive in Greece by air alone, 5 million land in Heraklion. A must see is the brand new Archaeological museum of Heraklion, which presents a breathtaking collection of Minoan art.
Knossos (Cnossos): In 1900, the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, highlighted the ruins of the Minoan palaceKnossos, a prodigious palace, of a brilliant civilization that shone between 2800 and 1450 B.C. It evokes the myths of King Minos, the labyrinth, the Minotaur, Daedalus, Icarus ... Preferably, visit the site of Knossos early in the morning or late afternoon, especially during the months of July and August, because of the heat. Join a group with a guide, it is not expensive and the trip back in time will be guaranteed, unless you are already a connoisseur of the Minoan civilization... (see our page)
The Lassithi Plateau:
At an altitude of more than 800 m, the Lassithi plateau, embedded in the mountains, was once famous for its 10,000 windmills that irrigated crops and provided water. Today, with the help of progress, they have been replaced by motorized pumps. Nevertheless, the plateau still offers peaceful and bucolic scenes of daily life. The Trapéza cave bears witness to traces of occupation dating back to 1850 BC. To the south of the plateau, the village of Psichro, the starting point for excursions to the famous cave where, according to Greek mythology, Zeus was born.
The most important Minoan site of Eastern Crete. In 1961, an impressive palace was discovered which is surpassed in size only by that of Knossos. 6 500m² and about 300 rooms distributed on two floors. It is also a small corner of paradise with its bay (Zakros Bay), its banana trees, its beach and its taverns. Nice hike to do in the gorge that connects Ano Zakros to Kato Zakros (about 1h30 walk, marked and signposted). This path is called " Valley of the dead ", name that refers to the tombs of the pre-Minoan era (2,600 - 2,000 B.C.) dug into the rock walls. Take the opportunity to visit Xerokambos by following a road, little frequented, crossing beautiful landscapes, wild gorges and beautiful creeks to reach the beach ofAmbelos, below Xerokampos, among the most beautiful in Crete. (see our page)
Capital of Crete until 1972, the city is the most charming of the island. Even if the bombardments of the second world war made big damages, the Ottoman and Venetian vestiges, restored slowly but with taste, the old harbor of Chania, its charming streets, its restaurants and handicraft stores, its covered market with oriental smells, and its beautiful maritime, archaeological, historical and eco-museum, make Chania a city that never leaves you indifferent. If we add that the city can be the starting point of many tours and hikes, especially those of Samaria and Aradena, we can say that one week is not too much to discover this beautiful county. (see our page)
The Cretan hike by excellence, a classic of its kind, a bit overused now, but almost unavoidable, in the gorges among the longest in Europe (16km) and in the opinion of the Cretan who writes these lines, the most beautiful... From 4 to 8 hours of walking, according to the chosen or imposed rhythm, this hike is within the reach of everyone provided that you are in good physical condition and have a sure foot. Following the river bed, the Samaria gorge débouchent sur Agia Roumeli, petit village côtier accueillant, avec ses cafés et restaurants donnant sur la mer et sa belle plage de sable. C’est une randonnée que l’on oublie pas. (voir our page).
Exceptional natural site, charming village, peaceful, without cars, and accessible either on foot, for the hikers, from, in particular, Aradena or Hora Sfakion, or by the boat which makes the connection (every hour in high season) between Paleochora - Sougia - Agia Roumeli - Loutro - Hora Sfakion. There are many tavernas and rooms for rent. For soloists and hiking enthusiasts, Loutro is a really dreamy place without any exaggeration! (voir our page)
En Crète, la nature, les montagnes et la mer sont très belles, mais il ne faut pas s’attendre à trouver partout des plages de sable fin comme à Phuket en Thailande. Le plus souvent vous aurez des galets. Si vous êtes accros à ces plages de sable fin, voilà quelques-unes. A l’ouest de l’île, Falassarna, Elafonissi, Balos. Au sud de Rethymnon, Frangokasstello, Preveli. A l’est de l’île, la plage de Vaï, entourée d’une forêt de palmiers. Jolie, mais aux mois de juillet et d’août, beaucoup de monde. (voir our page)
(Editor: Nikos Papadogeorgakis / Degeorges Nicolas)
Getting there, moving around
How to reach Crete
The main accesses are: Heraklion (port and airport), Rethymnon (port), Chania (port and airport)
A. By plane
National airlines (Air France, Swiss, Lufthansa, Alitalia ...) serve Athens or Thessaloniki. Then you have to connect with local airlines (Aegean, Sky Express, Olympic Air) to Heraklion, Chania (Hania or Chania), Rhodes, Corfu, Kos etc. The flight time from Paris to Athens is about 3:30 hours. Charter flights to Crete, generally available from April to October, are offered at prices ranging from 150€ to 450€ depending on the period and the competition, and sometimes even much cheaper. Most of them land in Heraklion and a little less in Chania (west of the island).
Your arrival at Heraklion
LocationThe northern center of the island is a little more than 250 km long. It takes 1 hour to get to Rethymnon (80km) or Agios Nikolaos (70km), and two hours to Chania (160km). : The northern part of the island is served by an expressway, which connects the east with the west. The airport of Heraklion, "Nikos Kazantzakis" is 5km from the city center. To get there, you can choose between a cab and the bus line N°1, in front of the terminal. In Heraklion city center, there are two bus stations, one to the east of the island and another to the west with departures, in summer, every half hour.
B. By car and by ferry
1. from Italy
The journey takes at least 3 days if you go through Italy. In any case, the duration of the trip makes it difficult to envisage a stay in Crete of less than 15 days.
From Italy, via the Greek mainland: take the highway along the east coast of the peninsula to Ancona, Bari or Brindisi, 3 ports from which ferries leave for Igoumenitsa (north-western Greece, opposite Corfu) or Patras (north-western Peloponnese); from there, drive to Athens-Piraeus (approx. 3 hrs. drive), to take a boat to Crete.
You can also head to one of the 3 ports of the southern Peloponnese: Kalamata, Gythion, Neapolis, towards Kissamos (Kasteli) in western Crete.
2. From Greece
* By boat from mainland Greece : 3 or 4 departures every evening (around 8-9pm) from Piraeus, the port of Athens, to Heraklion, Rethymnon or Souda (the port of Hania). Arrival at 6 am. These are ferries that load motorcycles, cars, caravans, campers and trucks. Two companies share the destinations: Anek Lines and Minoan Lines. Minimum price (without cabin): 35-40€.
* By boat from one of the 3 ports of the southern Peloponnese : The ferry will take you to Kalamata, Gythion, Neapolis, to take the ferry to Kissamos (Kasteli) in the west of Crete. The company is "ANEN Lines" Tel: 003028210 24148 or 24187. https://www.ferries.gr/anen-lines/
* By boat from Santorini, and arrival in Heraklion
* By boat from Rhodes, via the islands of Karpathos and Kassos. The arrival is at the ports of Sitia or Agios Nikolaos
As a general rule, it is preferable to make the Piraeus - Crete crossings at night, and we advise you to book a berth if possible, as the nights are very uncomfortable on the pullman seats. For further information: Maritime connections in Greece. Ferries_in_Greece
Driving in Crete
When you leave the northern axis of the island (expressway), the road network is composed of paved roads, certainly, but not always well maintained. Winding roads, crossing mountains and villages, crossing pedestrians and ... goats. So, be very careful!
Here, we are not in Switzerland! Here, we have the highest number of road accidents in the EU. The continuous white line, separating the lanes, is not respected when overtaking, the indicators are random, and the hard shoulder is used to turn around and let yourself be overtaken by another car which announces its intention by urgent headlights calls. So drive in that hard shoulder to let yourself be passed. It is allowed (tolerated?) but be careful in case another car is parked there. The old Cretan peasants, otherwise friendly and welcoming, but with their old Toyota farm pick-up, believe that the road belongs to them, and park at their convenience.
Often, seatbelts are not worn, some motorcyclists ride without helmets, speed limits are often exceeded, traffic lights are sometimes ignored. I would add that, at night, one must be doubly vigilant. Fatigue and especially alcohol make the roads dangerous because of the excessive speed of some and, especially, overtaking. So, be careful! Finally, if you have an accident, serious or not, you must not leave the scene. The same goes for the other vehicle involved. Take a picture of its plate, just in case. There are drivers who drive without a license and sometimes are not insured! Call 112 (emergency service, throughout the EU), and/or 100 of the police, and if you have a rental car, call the rental company immediately.
Have a good trip and a good vacation on this beautiful and welcoming island!
(Editor: Nikos Papadogeorgakis / Degeorges Nicolas)