Crete villa holidays guide

Crete is the biggest, the furthest south, and the hottest of the Greek islands.

Our destinations

Crete villa holiday guide

Crete is the biggest, the furthest south, the hottest and arguably the most diverse of the Greek islands. Its people have a reputation for being tough, proud, and unforgiving—ask the ghosts of any of its invaders. Yet they are also famous for their hospitality and their loyalty to family and friends. Crete is big enough to be an independent country, and Crete’s Minoan civilisation pre-dates that of Classical Greece. Crete holidays take you to beaches like Vai or Elafonissos that are a match for any in Europe, and some of the most photogenic scenery in the Med.

Towns and Villages in Crete

Chania and Rethymnon, each gathered around a Venetian castle, lighthouse, and harbour, are the haunt of fishermen; their old towns are like sepia photographs. The capital, Iraklion is bigger, more cosmopolitan, but also with an old town, harbour, and castle in golden Venetian stone. Agios Nikolaos, with an enviable hillside setting, great views of the Crete’s eastern mountains, and an allegedly bottomless lake, is the most relaxed and carefree of the four. It has less history and architecture; more chutzpah and joie de vivre.

Bay of Chania

The Crete Countryside


Drive the serrated coast and fine beaches between Plakias and Sfakia; climb hairpin bends up into Sitia Mountains; walk the spectacular Samaria and Zakros gorges; cross the fertile, peak-ringed Lasithi Plateau; visit, on foot or via the ferry, the tiny fishing village of Loutro; or traverse the placid market gardens around Ierapetra. Crete has fine hotels and modern facilities, but road signs that are still peppered with gunshot dents; farmers on donkeys; and village elders with long beards and even longer boots.

Lasithi Plateau

Arts and culture in Crete

Look out for rustic pottery in Thrapsano, and for local textiles in Kritsa and on the Lasithi Plateau. Pay respects to the island’s greatest writer, Nikos Kazantzakis, famous mainly for Zorba the Greek: at his grandparents’ house (now a museum) in Mirtia, at a reconstruction of his study in Iraklion’s Historical Museum, and at his tomb high on the walls of the capital. In Fodele, just outside Iraklion, visit the birthplace museum of El Greco, Crete’s most famous painter. And for music take a look at the Labyrinth Workshop in Houdetsi.

Traditional Crete textiles

Walking and climbing in Crete

Crete is divided by three mountain ranges, all of which offer exhilarating, if hard, walking and climbing. Explore Mount Psiloritis, at 2,456m the island’s highest, the famous Samaria and ImbrosGorges, and the lesser known Zakros Gorge. A less taxing but equally fascinating area is the Lasithi Plateau, high in the eastern mountains, its flat patchwork of fields surrounded by serrated, cave-peppered peaks; its windmills, when their sails are set, look like blooming flowers.

Mount Psiloritis

Eating and drinking in Crete

Cretan restaurants bag all the best spots. You will find them on thundering surf beaches, high in the mountains beside tumbling streams, on the lips of precipices, in the lofts of traditional houses, in Venetian mansions, and in every village square on the island. As well as standard Greek cuisine, Cretans glory in their own specialities, such as mutton with rice cooked in mutton broth, and snails with cracked wheat. In the towns you can eat seemingly never-ending olive based foods off rough wooden trestles, or fine-dine by candlelight off linen tablecloths. Everywhere, wash it down with Sitia wine, made from the Cretan Liatiko grape, followed by a shot of Tsikoudia, its powerful local hooch distilled from the grape leftovers.

Traditional Restaurant in Crete

History in Crete

Crete’s Minoan civilization was Europe’s first, and its golden age, from 1900 to 1450 BC, pre-dates that of Greece by a thousand years. Minoan sites pepper the east of the island—the must-visits are the Archaeological Museum in Iraklion and the palace of Knossos just outside. Evidence of Crete’s succession of oppressors abound: the tiny Byzantine church of Panagia Kera in Kritsa; the Venetian fortress—later a leper colony—on the island of Spinalonga; the mosque of the Janissaries on Chania’s waterfront, built to celebrate the Ottoman conquest. War cemeteries—German in Malame, Allied in Souda Bay—bear witness to the Cretans’ heroic resistance to the Nazis during World War II.

Knossos

Relaxing in Crete

Enjoy the beach and the tavern, certainly, but look out too for alternative diversions. Religious festivals, especially at Easter, involve colourful street processions. May Day picnics, a wine festival in Rethymnon, the cultural Iraklion Festival, the Sitia sultana festival, and many more are all an excuse to down tools and let the hair down. If you find yourself caught up in a Cretan wedding, you will find yourself plied with food and drink, even though you are a stranger. And if you hear gunfire, do not be alarmed: shooting into the sky is a tradition at celebrations. 

Rethymnon

The Crete Coast

From Hora Sfakion, Allied evacuation point during the 1941 Battle for Crete, take the ten-minute ferry ride to blue-and white fishing village Loutro. Swim off the beach below ruined Frangokastello castle. Climb to the monastery of Preveli, refuge for British soldiers during World War II German occupation, or explore the labyrinthine caves of Sixties hippy playground Matala. Further east, drive around mountain-girt Mirabello Bay, spend a day in busy Agios Nikolaos or upmarket Elounda, and visit the fortress-island of Spinalonga. Or, further east still, lie under the waving palm trees of Vai.

Loutro