If you visit the Greek island of Crete, you’ll find many bits of fascinating folklore. One of the most telling among these tales is that visitors often never go back home. There are many reasons to travel to Crete. The Mediterranean island’s history and glorious seascapes are legendary, as are its nature and healthy lifestyles. But there is only one reason to stay away from the birthplace of mighty Zeus: once you spend a few days on this incredible island, you’ll have to be dragged back home.
’ve written more than a hundred stories about this serene land once ruled by the enigmatic Minoans. From tales of Knossos and the Minotaur to stories of fabulous beaches, remote mountain villages, and unbelievably friendly locals, this place is one of those rare and indescribable destinations where something inexpressible and imponderable exists. It was the world-famous author of “Zorba the Greek,” Nikos Kazantzakis, who said it best when he told of a land possessed of; “something which makes you rejoice that you are a human being, and at the same time tremble.” So, this is the latest of my ongoing stories of Crete adventure, a preview for future travelers to Sitia and the region of Lasithi, in the east.
Situated in the east of the island, Sitia is a small port city in Lasithi province just east of Agios Nikolaos and northeast of Ierapetra. Historically, this part of Crete was inhabited since Neolithic times and was a center of Minoan Civilization throughout the Bronze Age 3000-1050 BC. The Venetians were here, as were the Aegean and African pirates, followed in more recent times by the notorious Ottoman Empire. Architecture and relics from all these periods still stand on what is the largest of the Greek isles.
Kato Zakros and the Minoan Palace – Archaeological Sites
For readers with an archaeological penchant, the Petras historic site is by far the most impressive place to visit. Situated on a small hill overlooking the sea you can see the remains of a once fabulous minor Minoan palace and later buildings too. Here you’ll also find the small Venetian period tower known as the House of Kornaros, which is believed to have belonged to the family of the famous 16th-17thcentury Sitian poet, Vitsentzos Kornaros. The Sitia Archaeological Museum, as well as countless monasteries and remnants of Venetian times, also beckon those interested in unusual places of antiquity.
If natural attractions are your bag, then Sitia will surely entice you to stay forever. One pristine example is Richtis Gorge, a hiker’s and nature lover’s dream of abundant vegetation, animal life and manmade wonders such as the old stone bridges and water mills along its course. The Richtis Waterfall (above) is another, as is the beach of the same name farther along its leading path to the sea. Visitors will also find Chochlakies Gorge, Kouremenos Beach, and scores of other natural landmarks are in this area too. Tales of people who came and never left are common in this region, since back to the days of hippy communes in the late 60’s. In every village, you’ll find someone from Warsaw or Washington state, who became a bartender or real estate broker transplant.
Lassithi Plateau and view to the north..
Another of the area’s most interesting sites for me is the nearby palm forest at the beach of Vai, which is the largest natural palm forest in Europe. Standing on the beach looking at this wonder, anyone can envision what this part of the island must have been like during Minoan times. Surely Plato must have described this place as part of the greater Atlantis, for the iconic beauty the palms and olive trees, and other forms of flora and fauna.
Sitia today is a lesser-known holiday destination than Malia and Hersonissos or distant Chania to the west. Well-known for its culinary customs and style, not to mention Cretan traditional crafts, shopping, and a host of touristic treasures, the city has the island’s third big airport too. The travelers who do reach the city almost certainly dine at Zorba’s Tavern, for simple local cuisine and bouzouki music. Oinodeion is another traditional Cretan restaurant for those seeking out the best Saganaki (fried cheese), souvlaki, and octopus (again Mihaela’s favorite). There are dozens more to choose from, for it anything is sacred on Crete, it’s the food.
Palm Beach Vai
Countless secluded beaches dot the coastline near here, and other natural wonders and archaeological magic bear visiting too. Among these are the Gorge of the Dead (at Kato Zakros above), Itanos and Mochlos, the fabulous Moni Toplou monastery, and innumerable tiny mountain villages only a few kilometers distant. A few of these are the lively hamlets of Zou, Ziros, and Handras, where you’ll find the beating heart of this island.
Getting to Sitia is not what you would call “convenient” by western standards. The best choice for sightseeing and getting to know the island is by car from Heraklion. This trip is about two and a half glorious hours driving the coast road past magnificent land and seascapes. There are also numerous bus departures from both Heraklion and Agios Nikolaos. Another great way to visit Sitia, enjoying the trip along the way, is to take the ferry from either Pireas (Athens) or the one leaving Agios Nikolaos on its way to Rhodes. Finally, from April through end-October there are direct charter flights to Sitia and Heraklion Airport.
Sourse: Phil Butler – Argophilia Travel News