The central part of Crete hosts the most fertile planes on the island, with vast olive groves and vineyards, watered by the massifs of Psiloritis and Dikti. This fertile land was the main growth driver for the development of the greatest cities since the ancient times and still feeds the main population of the island. If you stay in Heraklion or Rethymnon area, consider visiting the following places.
To get there you must either cross the gorge, by easy hiking of about 30-50’, or catch a boat from Matala, Agia Galini, or Kali Limenes. We definitely recommend the first option, as the route within the vertical walls of the gorge is breathtaking. On the way you will see the large caves were some hermits still live and the chapel of St. Anthony, with a well outside.
Matala is famous for the carved caves in the rocks and the hippies of the ‘70s. It is located close to Phaestus, the second largest palace of the Minoan civilization. Matala was the port of Phaestus, and on the Roman Times, it became a port of Gortys.
Agia Pelagia (Santa Pelagia) is located 21km west of Heraklion, on the west side of a long peninsula, which has many small coves with beautiful beaches. Agia Pelagia, initially a small and picturesque village built from the residents of Achlada village, transformed into a very popular tourist resort with many hotels, restaurants, cafes, bars, internet cafés, ATMs, taxi, etc., that is connected with regular bus services to Heraklion.
The gorge of Agios Nikolaos, Gafaris or Rouvas is bounded by the peaks of Ambelakia from east and Samari from west. This is the most important gorge of Psiloritis and central Crete and took its name from the homonymous Byzantine church in the south entrance. This is an ecosystem with rich flora and fauna, smaller canyons and interesting geological formations and cliffs of rare beauty.
Knossos was the most important city on Crete before the Roman Era and the center of the first brilliant European civilization, the Minoan. The palace of King Minos is the most visited archaeological site in Crete with more than 1.000.000 visitors per year.
Arkadi Monastery is located near the village Amnatos, 23km east of Rethymno. It is built at an altitude of 500m, on a fertile plateau with olive groves, vineyards, pine, cypress and oak trees. Around the monastery there are several picturesque chapels and from there starts the beautiful Arkadi gorge.
The imposing Ida Range has the highest peak of Crete, Timios Stavros at 2546m altitude. For reaching Timios Stavros, there are many ways from both north and south sides. The view for the peak is amazing towards all directions.
Ancient Eleftherna is located 25km southeast of Rethymno, close to the Monastery of Arkadi. The town is the most important archaeological site in the prefecture of Rethymno, which has not fully been excavated and it is expected to give archaeologists many more discoveries. The first organized excavations here started in 1985 by the University of Crete.
Cave Zoniana, Sfendoni or Sfendoni's Hole, is located 1km north of Zoniana village in Mylopotamos, about 43km west of Heraklion and 52 southeast of Rethymno. It is shaped on the southern slopes of the hill Halepa at an altitude of 630m. The cave is accessible and is the most beautiful cave in Crete and one of the most beautiful in Greece, with rich stalactite and stalagmite decoration. It belongs to the Natural Park of Psiloritis, which is protected by UNESCO.
The archaeological site of Gortys (or Gortyna) is located 45km south of Heraklion, near the village of Agii Deka and next to the road connecting Agii Deka with Mires. The town covered a large area along the river Mitropolianos (or Litheos) with vast olive groves.
Phaestus (Phestos or Festos) was a Minoan city on Crete, the ruins of which are located 55km south of Heraklion. The city was already inhabited since 6000BC and prospered concurrently with the city of Knossos, till the 1st century BC.