Eastern Crete

Crete

The eastern end of Crete remains one of the island's least visited regions, yet it encapsulates everything that makes a holiday relaxing, enjoyable and memorable. Majestic landscapes, unspoilt sandy beaches, local archaeological treasures, simple but delicious food and acceptance into the unhurried local lifestyle all combine to make it a place that those in the know return to time after time.

The pretty port town of Sitia, famous for its wine, now even available in our supermarkets, and its excellent olive oil, is the heart of the area. Here you can visit the recently restored fortress, followed by a leisurely lunch on the wide waterfront watching the locals absorbed in backgammon and the ferries and fishing boats come and go. The excellent sandy beach is perfect for a relaxed afternoon swim followed by a doze before joining the locals in their pre-dinner stroll along the paved waterfront.

For a truly relaxing beach holiday in the traditional style, the charming village of Palekastro is hard to beat. Only half-an-hour's drive from Sitia, Palekastro is a proper Cretan village, where you can experience true friendliness and hospitality mingling with the locals in the central village square whilst dallying over a coffee, or even a raki, after purchasing your daily needs in the local shops. The square and imposing local church are also the scene of regular local festivals and weddings and everyone is welcome to participate.

There are two main beach areas, each a couple of kilometres from the centre of the village. Chiona Beach is a protected archaeological area as well as being home to an excellent fish taverna; Kouremenos Beach has two further tavernas and extends to the little working fishing harbour. Both beaches are ideal for spending lazy days swimming, snorkelling and reading. In between the two beaches a recent addition to the area is an extremely well run windsurfing school.

The immediate surroundings provide excellent opportunities for walkers to explore the footpaths and discover hidden coves. Slightly further afield is the wealthy Toplou Monastery, the site and beach of Itanos and the famous palm beach at Vai, although the latter is crowded each day with day trippers from the island's busier resorts with the ranks of sunbeds and jet skis making it appear light years away from Palekastro. In the other direction the site and beach of Kato Zakros make a much more relaxing day out, as does a drive around the small villages in the hinterland.

Down on the eastern south coast, Makriyialos has grown from the sleepy fishing port it once was into a small, friendly resort, thanks to the 'long beach' from which it takes its name. The magic of Makriyialos lies hidden behind an unpromising row of buildings in the one main street. You need only take a few steps onto the beach and the seemingly horizonless Libyan Sea is your only vista or take a short walk in the direction of the mountains and you will be in entirely agricultural territory. It is the ideal choice for those who wish to swim, walk or explore by day but crave a little more variety in the evenings and is an especially good choice for families with differing interests.

The area has a wealth of lesser known archaeological sites and monasteries as well as countless walks, (try the seven-kilometre walk from Pefki at sunrise, rounded off by breakfast on the beach in Makriyialos). If all that is too energetic, the beach is well provided with sunbeds and umbrellas and some low-key water-sports are available. As night falls the waterfront bars and tavernas become a magnet with something for all tastes.

Heading westwards from Makriyialos, it is a short drive to Ierapetra, the largest town in southern Crete, reputedly the sunniest in Europe. The town now derives its main income from the fruit and vegetables grown in the ubiquitous plastic greenhouses but for the centuries between Minoan and Roman times it was an important trading port. The relatively few visitors stroll along the lively waterfront choosing where to eat, or mingle with the locals in the maze of streets in the centre of town and hunt for bargains as well as the remains of the town's former glory. Most visitors to Ierapetra however are passing through to embark on a boat trip for a day's relaxation on the sands of the idyllic Chrissi Island.

Beach near Palekastro

Beach near Palekastro

Beach near Palekastro Makriyialos harbour Sitia harbour Makriyialos beach Xerocampos Makriyialos Beachside taverna near Palekastro Sitia town centre Harbourside tavernas in Makriyialos Makriyialos beach Sitia 's sandy beach Makriyialos beach East coast near Palekastro Early morning at Vai beach The rugged coastline at Mochlos Kouremenos Beach, Palekastro

Accommodation in Eastern Crete:

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