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East Crete Day Trips

Travel in East Crete and enjoy the best of it with a hire car from Eurocar

Our travel suggestions in East Crete use Heraklion as a starting point, but the same instructions apply to other towns in Crete as well, for example Hersonissos or Malia.

Toplou Monastery – Hiona beach – Vai palm beach (approximately 3 hours’ drive)

vai palm beachLeave Heraklion and take the highway to Agios Nikolaos. It’s a long drive to Vai beach, so we recommend you leave early in the morning. The road after Agios Nikolaos has a lot of bends but there is a lovely view of the inlets and blue sea of Istron. Be careful on the straight bit near Gournia, as there is often a police speed trap there.

After about 2.5 hours’ drive you’ll arrive in Sitia, where you can stop at the beautiful beach for a coffee, or continue for another 20 minutes to the historic Moni Toplou (Toplou Monastery). The monastery, dedicated to the Virgin and St John the Divine, is in a good state of preservation and welcomes thousands of visitors every year. It was built in the 14th century, destroyed in a great earthquake in 1612, rebuilt by the Venetians and destroyed once again by the fury of the Turkish invaders. The monastery houses a museum of old Byzantine icons.

Continuing along the road from Moni Toplou, we suggest you stop at the beautiful Hiona beach for fresh fish and tasty mezedes (tidbits) at one of the seashore tavernas. After lunch, carry on to the famous palm grove of Vai. Walk under the date palms, climb the small hill on your right to admire the view, dive into the blue sea to cool off, relax and enjoy the beauty of Crete.

Kera Monastery – Lassithi Plateau – Diktaion Antron Cave – Krassi (60 km from Heraklion)

Lassithi plateau, windmillThe road to the Lassithi Plateau starts near Hersonissos and winds upwards through the villages of Potamies, Avdou and Gonies. Shortly before entering the plateau you will see the Monastery of Our Lady Kardiotissa (Moni Keras Kardiotissas), which was built in the Byzantine period and contains rare 14th-century wall paintings. There is also the famous miracle-working icon of Our Lady Kardiotissa, painted by St Lazarus in the 9th century.

After Kera, the road climbs up to the entrance to the plateau, which is guarded by a few windmills. Drive down into the beautiful Lassithi Plateau, famous for its many old windmills, its great history and its tasty potatoes. Near the village of Psychro is the Diktaion Antron or Dictaean Cave, the birthplace of Zeus according to one version of the legend. Enter the cave and admire the impressive stalactites, but remember to wear suitable shoes because the wet floor is very slippery.

The road through Lassithi Plateau curves round in a large circle through pretty little villages. There are cafes and tavernas, while you can also buy woven fabrics and other souvenirs. If you decide not to stop for food on the plateau, take the road back and stop at Krasi with its great plane tree and running spring in the village square. Cool off in the shade of the plane tree and enjoy tasty mezedes at one of the many tavernas.

Knossos – Arhanes – Peza (20 km from Heraklion or 30 minutes’ drive)

knossos throne roomKnossos, the most famous Minoan Palace in Crete, is situated 5 km south of Heraklion in a beautiful green valley. The first palace complex was built around 1900 BC, destroyed and rebuilt before being abandoned after the final destruction in 1350 BC.

The layout of the palace was ingenious; it was designed to use natural lighting as well as fresh air, and there was a drainage system and an aqueduct providing the palace with fresh water. Beautiful frescos with nature motifs decorated the rooms, while agricultural goods were stored in giant pithoi in the palace magazines.
The Palace of Knossos is definitely worth a visit. There are freelance archaeological guides at the entrance to the archaeological site, offering their services to independent visitors.

After the visit to Knossos you can drive to the village of Arhanes, 10 km to the south. Arhanes is a pretty traditional village which has won a European Union award as one of the best-preserved traditional villages in Europe. At Arhanes you can visit the Archaeological Museum, housing finds from the surrounding area, enjoy a coffee or a meal in the main square and stroll through the narrow village streets with their restored traditional houses.

Just outside Arhanes was found the oldest wine-press in Europe, and the whole area is covered with vineyards. This is the chance to end your excursion with a visit to the wineries at Peza, a few kilometres from Arhanes. You can try the local wines, watch documentaries on the history of Cretan wine and buy a few bottles for yourself and your friends.

Gortys – Phaistos – Matala (65 km from Heraklion or 70 minutes’ drive)

GortysStart from Heraklion and take the road to Mires. In about 45 minutes you’ll come to the village of Agioi Deka. Just beyond it is the archaeological site of Gortys, the Roman capital of Crete, said to have had a population of 100,000 at its peak. This is where the Laws of Gortys, the oldest code of law in Europe, were discovered. Here, in the shade of the great plane tree, Zeus coupled with Europa, and their three sons Minos, Sarpedon and Radamanthys became the three great kings of Minoan Crete. Gortys was also the site of the first episcopal seat in Crete, with the church of St Titus. St Titus was a disciple of the Apostle Paul and the first bishop of Crete.

About 10 km south of Gortys, on a hilltop, stands the Palace of Phaistos, one of the most important archaeological sites in Crete. Here you can admire the same view over the plain of Mesara and the peaks of Psiloritis as did the king of Phaistos 4,000 years ago.

After a tour of Phaistos, it’s time to cool off with a swim at Matala beach. This is a long sandy beach right in front of the tavernas and tourist shops. To your right are the famous caves of Matala, where the hippies lived in the sixties.

Arolithos traditional village – Anogia – Zoniana cave (1,5 - 2 hours drive)

zoniana caveLeave Heraklion on the Rethymno road. A short distance outside Heraklion, take the exit to Gazi and then turn towards Anogia. A little further on is Arolithos Village, a hotel containing a recreation of a traditional Cretan village with its houses and shops. The shops are furnished with traditional furniture and everyday items, and there is also a small café and a smithy where the smith works with his bellows and anvil.

Continue towards Anogia on the narrow uphill road, through small villages still untouched by tourism. Enjoy the wild beauty of the mountainous Cretan landscape on the way. When you get to Anogia, you will find it’s a relatively large village with modern houses. This is because Anogia was razed to the ground by the German Army during the Second World War, for aiding the abductors of General Kreipe, the German Commander of Crete.

The inhabitants of Anogia are known for their pride and courage, and are famed as brave and indomitable fighters in all the struggles against the many conquerors of Crete. Most of them are shepherds and they dress in characteristic black shirts and trousers.

In Anogia, look round the shops selling woven fabrics in the lower square, have a coffee in a traditional café and try the local dishes of macaroni with hard white cheese or the tasty lamb chops.

The road continues up towards the village of Zoniana, with its waxwork museum and the famous Sfendoni Cave. This is one of the most beautiful caves in Greece, richly decorated with stalactites and stalagmites. The guide will tell you all about the wonderful dark world of the cave and the creatures that live in it.

As there is no reason to return to Anogia from Zoniana, you can continue on to Drosia and Maratho. The route is particularly lovely, making up for the tiring drive. Go on past Arolithos again and turn onto the national road towards either Heraklion or Rethymno.



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