Lassithi Travel Guide - Island of Crete
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Lassithi is the easternmost region of Crete. Although few villages are largely developed in tourism, such as Elounda and Sissi, the rest of Lassithi remains totally off the beaten track even in high season. Holidays in Lassithi can be cosmopolitan or totally remote, depending on your preferences. A drive around will bring visitors to traditional villages, ancient sites, secluded beaches, impressive gorges, old monasteries and Medieval Castles, such as the Minoan palace of Zakros and the famous islands of Spinalonga and Chrissi (mostly known as Gaidouronisi). Agios Nikolaos, Sitia and Ierapetra are also tourist developed places without losing their authentic character. One of the best beaches of Lassithi Greece is Vai, an amazing place with an impressive palm forest and crystal water. All the beaches have crystal water and relaxing atmosphere.
Agios Nikolaos is the capital of Lassithi. This beautiful city lies on the northernmost point of Mirabello Bay, the largest bay in Crete. Today, the modern town of Agios Nikolaos with its cosmopolitan port constitute the commercial centre of Lassithi. Given that is one of the most popular tourist resorts in Crete, the town offers various amenities and numerous shops. In this attractive town the traditional houses blend harmoniously with the neoclassical buildings whereas the port of Agios Nikolaos is ideal for relaxing and romantic walks, especially at night. In Agios Nikolaos, visitors will experience some unique holidays and enjoy the pristine beaches. The byzantine churches and Voulismeni Lake are definitely worth seeing as well as the several remains of ancient Lato, the city where Agios Nikolaos is built.
The beautiful coastal village of Elounda lies 11 km north of Agios Nikolaos Town and has some of the most popular and beautiful beaches in Crete. It retains its authentic character and offers a unique landscape with many coves and pristine beaches. Elounda beach is a well-organized beach with many sundecks, umbrellas and water sports offered to visitors. Along its length, the waters are crystal clear and the shore is sandy. Due to the cosmopolitan influence on the village, this part of the coast offers all facilities you may need. Elounda is among the most popular tourist resorts in Crete. The ruins of ancient Olous (or Olounda) can be seen under the sea nearby Elounda Village and Shisma. The remains of a Byzantine Basilica can also be visited in the area.
In Elounda you will find small, pretty beaches, visit the island of Spinalonga, walk along and swim at the peninsula of Kolokitha (the word means “pumpkin”), and explore the many little villages (Mavrikiano, Plaka, Skisma, Epano Elounda) far from the sea, offering a window into times gone by.
Elounda's sea, as described by Mr. Anestis Makridakis, glows like a sapphire under the azure light of the sky, rose-hued in summer afternoons, silvered on moonlit nights. It is a sea whose light infuses you gently but swiftly, having the power to touch you emotionally. To float in this sea, or to observe it from further away is like dreaming with open eyes.
In 1578 the Venetians fortified the island for protection against the Turks and continuous pirate raids. They created blockhouses at the highest points, as well as a fortification ring along the coast of the island that closed out any hostile disembarkation, rendering Spinalonga an impregnable sea fortress, one of the most important in the Mediterranean basin. Following the Turkish occupation of Crete in 1669, only the fortresses of Gramvousa, Souda and Spinalonga remained in Venetian hands. Many Christians found refuge in these fortresses to escape persecution.
At the end of the Turkish occupation the island was the refuge of many Ottoman families that feared the Christian reprisals.
In 1903 the Turks left the island and it was subsequently used as a leper colony, from 1903 to 1957. It is notable for being one of the last active leper colonies in Europe. The last inhabitant, a priest, left the island in 1962. This was to maintain the religious tradition of the Greek Orthodox church, in which a buried person has to be commemorated 40 days, 6 months, 1, 3 and 5 years after their death. There were two entrances to Spinalonga, one being the lepers' entrance, a tunnel known as Dante's Gate. This was so named because the patients did not know what was going to happen to them once they arrived. However, once on the island they received food, water, medical attention and social security payments. Previously, such amenities had been unavailable to Crete's leprosy patients, as they mostly lived in the area's caves, away from civilization.
Today, the unoccupied island can easily be accessed from Elounda and Agios Nikolaos. Boat trips only take 15 mins (from Elounda) and since there is no accommodation on the island, tours only last a few hours.
BEST BEACHES OF LASITHI
In the northeast of Crete, you will find the world famous Bounty Beach or Vai Beach. It is surrounded by a palm forest that makes you feel that you are at a tropical island instead of in Europe. This beach is very popular and can get very crowded in the high season. At the nearby parking lot, you can rent beach beds and umbrellas. Vai Beach is easy to reach by car from Agios Nikolaos, Sitia or Ierapetra.
Chrissi Amos Island (or Gaidouronissi)
Chrissi (which means "Golden") or Gaidouronissi ("Donkey Island") is an uninhabited island some twelve kilometers off the coast of the town of Ierapetra. It is five kilometers long and on average one kilometer wide. The island is renowned for its white beaches, sand dunes and forest of pines and junipers. The western tip of the island has some remains of past settlement: a few Minoan ruins and a 13th century chapel dedicated to Agios Nikolaos (Saint Nicholas). It was inhabited into Byzantine times. The main sources of wealth were fishing, salt export, and the export of porphyra (Tyrian purple), a scarlet dye made from shells. After the Byzantine period the island was abandoned, although later it was used as a hideout.
Nowadays the island is protected as an "area of intense natural beauty". Especially in summer, the island attracts many tourists. As camping is forbidden on the island, only day trips are possible. Visitors are not allowed to roam freely over the island, but only on designated paths and some beaches close to the eastern tip of the island. There is a small tavern at the ferry landing. 700 meters to the east of Chrissi Island lies the rocky islet of Mikronisi (Small Island).
Istron Bay beaches
The most famous beach in the Istron area on Crete is called Voulisma Beach or Golden Beach. It is a beautiful and large sandy beach where you can rent sunbeds. Voulisma Beach is popular, and here it can be busy in high season. The area is quiet and green, with olive groves, vineyards, orange and lemon trees. The main road runs through the village of Kalo Chorio.
Xerokambos is located in the southeast of Crete in a fairly remote area. The long sandy beaches are absolutely beautiful, the turquoise colors of the sea water are breathtaking. There are also a few taverns on Xerokambos beach. Those who love peace and nature will experience a wonderful vacation here. The road to Xerokambos goes through the mountains and offers a beautiful view too. If you decide to visit Xerokambos, it is advisable to rent a car. You can then make trips to Kato Zakros and the monastery of Toplou and other beaches such as Vai.
Koufonissi or Koufonision is a small low and flat island facing the coast of Crete in the southeast. The island is located opposite the village of Goudouras and boat trips to this island are organized from Makrigialos until the end of September. Koufonissi is an island that is covered with a thick layer of sand, just like the Chrissi island. There are 36 beaches, and all are remarkably clean. There are four smaller islands around Koufonissi, three of which are very small. Trachilos is the largest of these four and has a sea cave that is visited by boat.
Sandy or pebbled, secluded or organized, beaches in Crete offer something for everyone. They charm visitors with their authentic beauty and their clear waters. Almost every year Greece is ranked by the Blue Flag Programme among the top three countries in the world with the best quality beaches and coasts. Many of these beaches are in the island of Crete.
Please click on the map to read more about the individual regions of Crete