Exploring Crete’s hidden gem: Akrotiri
Crete has just been voted as #3 out of the 10 best islands in Europe. If this isn’t reason enough to go, let me tell you about a hidden gem on this beautiful island: Akrotiri.
Guide books usually leave out this stunning region and instead point tourists towards places like Heraklion, Elounda, Rethymno or Chania. Don’t get me wrong, these places are all spectacular (especially the last two), but if you’re looking for something different then read on.
The boyfriend and I usually base ourselves in cities with access to public transport to avoid renting a car. This time I wanted something different though and chose the quiet village of Kalathas, about 20min by car from charming Chania (pronounced “Hania“) which is the capital of the prefecture with the same name.
This prefect has so much to offer and you can easily spend two weeks dicovering all of its sights, history and treasures. Chania is home to some of the world’s best beaches such as Elafonisi and Balos. But even Akrotiri, the small peninsula to the north east packs a punch. It is related to the founding of the nearby ancient city of Kydonia, one of the most powerful cities of ancient Crete. Akrotiri really has it all:
Our local beach in Kalathas was quiet and beautiful but if you take a short drive to Stavros you have a famous beach. It’s where Zorba the Greek was filmed and where Anthony Quinn danced the famous Sirtaki Dance in 1964! There is also Marathi beach which has spectacular views towards Souda Bay and the White Mountains. All these beaches are clean and they are awarded the European Blue Flag each year.
Impressive mountains and gorges
The peninsula is rocky with rugged hills, the highest point being 528m, and you can see them from almost everywhere. If hiking is your cup of tea you’ll be spoilt for choice with over a hundred caves and five gorges that can be explored. Some of them end in the sea and create dazzling little coves.
Breathtaking view points
Around each corner awaits a magnificent view, however the Tombs of Venizelos are by far the most popular and famous view point on the peninsula. Here lies Eleftherios Venizelos, a famous Greek statesman and one of the most important figures in modern Greek history. It’s a beautiful spot in a peaceful park with a 16th century monastery and a statue of fighter Spyros Kayales. Several cafes and restaurants can be found here, each offering a terrace to take in the panoramic view over Chania, the White Mountains and the Cretan sea.
History and ancient ruins
Akrotiri is home to Crete’s oldest monastery: Katholiko. According to legend, St John the Hermit lived in a nearby cave and founded the monastery in the 11th century. It is built into a cliff and the impressive ruins can only be accessed through a trail starting from Gouverneto Monastery, about a 30 minute walk.
Akrotiri is also known as the “Holy Mountain of Crete” due to its many monasteries and churches. The largest and most beautiful is Agia Triada. which dates back to the 17th century and was founded by Venetian monks. The drive there is a real pleasure and will take you through an olive and orange grove edged with cypress trees.
Once you arrive you enter through an impressive stair case, then walk through an arched doorway and suddenly find yourself in a picture–perfect courtyard with orange, lemon and mandarin trees and numerous cats lazing in the sun. Admire the marvellous Venetian-style church, then climb a set of stairs for another fantastic view of the monastery and its beautiful domes.
The monastery is still active and the monks that live there grow organic grapes and olives. A museum shop sells traditional olive oil + soap, wine and honey.
About 10,000 people live in 20 villages and settlements on the peninsula and it is here where you’re most likely to find Cretan hospitality and good, honest food at a great price. Many restaurants (and sometimes even shop owners) produce their own wine of which they are extremely proud. Definitely try the red wines – you’ll be surprised how tasty most of them are. If you find one you really like, just ask the restaurant if you can take a bottle home. It’s incredibly cheap and you’ll make their day!
If you’ve checked off all the above, well done! Now go and relax by the pool with some delicious vino. We rented this apartment on Airbnb and loved every minute. Alexander and Gabi are great hosts and go above and beyond to make your stay comfortable.
Akrotiri is still relatively untouched by tourism so explore this gem now before (my) word gets out! 😉