About Lassithi Region
Lassithi is the easternmost region on Crete. Its capital is the picturesque town of Agios Nikolaos. Nearby are the villages of Plaka and Elounda, the latter being the port of departure for Spinalonga, formerly a Venetian fortress and leper colony. Further east is the pretty port town of Sitia, a stepping stone to the palm tree lined beach at Vai. Ierapetra in the south is the most southerly town in Europe. Don't miss the fabulous Lassithi plateau with its windmills and Diktaean Cave, reputed birthplace of Zeus.
During the Cretan fight for liberty from Venetian Rule and Turkish Occupation, the Lassithi plateau provided refuge to the persecuted fighters, a fact that forced the Venetians, in 1263, to forbid all establishment and cultivation in the area.
This region is steeped in ruins of ancient cities, settlements and buildings. There are quite a few spots worth visiting in Lassithi, like the archaeological sites of Gournia and Zakros, the Diktaeon Cave, the 15th century Toplou Monastery and the island of Spinaloga with its famous Venetian castle. The cosmopolitan air of the island blows strong in Elounda, while other - no less beautiful - cities, towns and villages, like Ierapetra, Aghios Nikolaos, Sitia and Makrigialos, complete the diverse picture of this corner of Crete. Unique to all of Greece, and a "must see" is the forest of Vai, an area filled with palm trees. The plateau of Lassithi is one of the most beautiful areas in Crete. This green, fertile valley is complemented by the 10,000 windmills, for which the area is famous.
The charming town of Agios Nikolaos is right in the heart of the glorious Bay of Mirabello with its breathtaking vistas, azure blue seas and pleasant climate. Agios Nikolaos is the place where tourism first began in Crete and it gradually became a much favoured area, thanks to the wonderful coastline, clean beaches (nine of which in the region have been awarded the European Blue Flag) plus the rich variety of ancient sites to visit. Agios Nikolaos has much to offer both young and old. It is ideal for walkers, for those who seek history and culture, and there is a wide selection of nightlife to suit every taste. It is also an ideal centre for all kinds of watersports, and various hotels and sports centres have swimming pools, basketball, volleyball and tennis courts. In the centre of the town is the picturesque harbour, with the curious little round lake of Voulismeni, and the cafes around provide a popular meeting point for locals and visitors alike.To add to the attractions, one of the most beautiful yacht marinas in the Aegean was built here in 1994.
Always appealing too are the numerous small shops to browse through in the town's winding streets. Many of these sell traditional Cretan craftwork, jewellery, embroidery and a wide variety of other goods. All round the centre of town you will find plenty of tavernas, and restaurants offering a wide variety of Cretan culinary specialities.
Istro (Kalo Chorio): In Greek, Kalo Chorio means “Good Village” perhaps because it sits on particularly rich and fertile soil, and also has some of the most beautiful beaches in the bay of Mirabello. It is often said that the southern coastline of the Gulf of Mirabello has something of the character of the Riviera, but with uncrowded beaches and only a few hotels. The village with a population of around 900, nestles attractively in the midst of a verdant hilly landscape, where olive groves and abundant, colourful Mediterranean shrubs and plants reach all the way down to the sea. Over the past years, naturally with tourism, part of the village has grown up nearer to the beach. There are three attractive bays with clean sand and pebble beaches, shaded by tamarisk trees, which provide safe swimming plus a variety of water sports. However, Istro is no bustling tourist village, and those who come to visit will live alongside the local people. It's easy to relax in the warm, welcoming atmosphere of the Greek tavernas, restaurants and kafenions, and the shops in the village provide everything you need on holiday. The distance from Heraklion Airport is approx. 75 km, which is about an hour’s drive by car, while Agios Nikolaos is approx. 11 km away. In all directions there are excellent bus connections, which offer the possibility to see much of the eastern part of Crete on a series of day trips. Apart from these there are beautiful walks in the area, and Istro is full of archaeological interest. The new village of Istro sits on the site of the ancient town of Istrona, remains of which are still being found today. Because of this, the land closest to the sea has a conservation order and no new building may take place, which leaves the beaches uncrowded and unspoilt. The delightful beaches of Istro Bay are regularly awarded a Blue flag for cleanliness.
Sitting on the banks of the second largest natural harbour in Crete, Elounda and Plaka are picturesque fishing villages along the coastal road to the north of Agios Nikolaos. The actual harbour is naturally well protected by a long peninsula and the island of Spinalonga, a former leper colony. Travelling north for about 4.5 km from the large village of Elounda with its vast central square, promenade and delightful marina, past various little landing places with moored fishing boats, you reach the quiet village of Plaka. Plaka has two shingle beaches and a selection of pretty little fish tavernas on the sea front. Some 2.5 km further on there is a mini market. A regular bus service links Plaka with Elounda and with Agios Nikolaos. This delightful region is ideal for extensive walks. The little traditional mountain villages of this area are unspoilt and give one a good sense of the original Cretan way of life. For sightseeing you may choose to visit the old Salt Pans, which are close to the ‘sunken city’ of Olous. And highly recommended of course, is a boat trip to the island of Spinalonga, the former leper colony with its old Venetian buildings. Thanks to the protection of the long peninsula, waters are very calm here and lend themselves particularly well to all forms of watersports. The beautiful sea with its clear, clean water, the magnificent countryside, as well as the tangible peace of this area will delight all visitors.
Ierapetra is the most southerly town in Europe and is known for its particularly mild climate. It has existed since ancient times when it had important trade links with North Africa. Roman remains, a Venetian fort, a Turkish mosque and minaret still exist. In the centre of the town is a long promenade with lots of shops, tavernas and hotels, and the little harbour with its Venetian fort. Many of the local inhabitants of the area around Ierapetra work in agriculture, and so it is common to see the long greenhouses for growing vegetables, while inland there are lovely pine forests and olive groves. The kilometre-long sand and shingle beach with numerous attractive little coves, has two beaches which have been awarded the Blue European Flag. Near to Ierapetra, there are many little villages. The region of Ierapetra lends itself particularly for walking, or for boat trips to the nearby bays, to the golden Island of ‘Crisi” or Koufonisi with its unusual crushed-shell beaches. From here it is also possible to visit Agios Nikolaos, the vast Lassithi Plain with its windmills, the Butterfly Gorge or the beautiful palm strewn beach at Vai.
The little seaside resort of Makrigialos, 25 km east of the town of Ierapetra on the Libyan Sea, is an ideal spot for a relaxing beach holiday. The village is named after the long stretch of sandy beach, which, with its shallow waters, offers safe swimming for children. Makrigialos has a good choice of tavernas, cafes and bars and the little harbour with its traditional fishing boats is a favourite meeting point for locals and visitors. Enjoy fresh fish and local specialities looking out over the sea, stroll along the small promenade or have a coffee in one of the Cretan kafenions. The authentic villages in the hills behind Makrigialos are worth a visit and there are regular bus connections to the larger towns like Ierapetra and Sitia.
Kato Zakros is an impressive traditional fishing village, hidden away in the southeast corner of Crete. The beautiful tamarisk-fringed pebble beach hosts several excellent fish tavernas where visitors can sample local delicacies. The area is also home to a Minoan Palace, which is one of the most significant archaeological sites on the island. Some keen walkers may want to explore the “Valley of the Dead”, which leads down from Pano Zakros to the sea at Kato Zakros. Although the village attracts many visitors during the day, Kato Zakros becomes peaceful towards the evening, and offers an ideal setting for those trying to escape from the bustle of daily life.
Mochlos is a small island in the Bay of Mirabello, some 40 km east of Agios Nikolaos. The little fishing village opposite the island has the same name and is famous among Cretans for its specialities served in the local harbour tavernas. In Minoan times Mochlos was an important port in eastern Crete and still now one can take a small boat to the island, which lies only 150 metres off the bay, to visit the excavations of that time. Today Mochlos is a peaceful village with a picturesque harbour and clear waters and it is therefore an ideal spot for those travellers who are looking for a quieter holiday. The bays around Mochlos are mainly rocky and great for snorkelling and one can find a small shingle and a sandy beach in the area.
The white buildings of Sitia sit in tiers like an amphitheatre, with little streets and steps climbing all the way up to the Venetian Castle. It was known as La Sitia by the Venetians, who built a fortified wall and castle, and the walk towards the harbour has all of the charm one hopes to find in a Greek waterfront. The steep climb up from the harbour front leads to the fort with views down over the esplanade and ferryboat quay. The sweeping beach, with its fine white sand, sun loungers, umbrellas and invitingly safe clear waters, is ideal for beach lovers and has been awarded the Blue European Flag. The most interesting day excursions from Sitia are to the Minoan ruins at Zakros, Vai beach, Palekastro and Topolou monastery, or the Valley of the Dead.
The old village of Palekastro is 19 km from Sitia and is a typical original farming village that has grown and become more lively in recent years, yet still very much retains its delightful character. From here travelling in various directions, there are numerous outings or sightseeing possibilities, for example, the clean beaches of Chiona and Kouremenos, which both have Blue European Flag awards, and are also very good for windsurfing. The tiny village of Agathia with its pretty sky-blue domed church, can be seen from afar. Other worthwhile outings are to Itanos, the smaller version of Vai, with white sand and slender palm trees, the Monastery of Toplou, as well as to the Minoan Palace of Kato Zakros. There are plenty of opportunities to go walking, and there are lots of gorges in this area. The most famous gorge is the ‘Valley of the Dead’, a sheltered, fertile, almost sub-tropical valley. The renowned beach of Vai is 8 km away from Palekastro, and this has also has been awarded the Blue European Flag. It is very inviting with its pale silken sandy beach, fringed by tall date palms, and offers delightful swimming conditions. The extensive ‘oasis’ of palms, extends quite some way inland and the area is under a conservation order, apart from the front beach area. You will find a variety of water sports available and there are some beach-cafes serving snacks and drinks.
Where to visit
Agios Nikolaos is right in the heart of the Bay of Mirabello with its breathtaking vistas, azure blue seas and pleasant climate.
Elounda and Plaka are picturesque fishing villages along the coastal road not far from Agios Nikolaos.
Kato Zakros is an impressive traditional fishing village, tucked away in the south-east corner of Crete.
The little seaside resort of Makrigialos, east of Ierapetra on the Libyan Sea, is an ideal spot for a relaxing beach holiday.
An island in the Bay of Mirabello. The fishing village opposite (also called Mochlos) is famous for the specialities served in its tavernas.