During the last 3 years I’m spending my vacations in Crete (even got married there) as my husband comes from the island. His village is located in the center of Crete (literally), so we can venture out either to the west or the east in (almost) equal time! In the past we took road trips mostly to the west in the regions of Rethymno and Chania, as there are more interesting beaches there, including Elafonisi, one of the Greek beaches you shouldn’t miss!
This year though I decided to take a road trip to the east, visiting Agios Nikolaos, Plaka and Ierapetra, all in the Region of Lasithi. Agios Nikolaos is around 63 km (39 miles) from Heraklion and the road condition is pretty good. From there on towards Plaka to the north and Ierapetra to the south the road gets narrower.
Agios Nikolaos is a small city compared to Chania, Rethymno and Heraklion and it doesn’t have a Venetian fortress like the other 3 cities! It does have a lake that used to be a cave (but the top collapsed many many years ago) and a nice promenade where you can walk next to the sea from the marina towards the port and the lake (not ideal at midday though!). Around the lake there are many restaurants and cafes!
We didn’t spend much time in Agios Nikolaos and after our walk we headed north to Plaka for lunch.
You might have read (or heard about) the book The Island. If not (I haven’t ), let me tell you that it takes place in this area. Opposite Plaka is a fortress island called Spinalonga. This island was already a fortress since the antiquity but it was the Venetians who gave to the island its current name and fortified it further. From 1905 until 1957 lepers were banished there so as not to come in contact with the rest of the population. In 1957 the inhabitants of Spinalonga where cured with antibiotics and the island was abandoned. Nowadays you can take a boat from Plaka or Agios Nikolaos and visit it.
While in Plaka, stop for fresh fish and seafood at Ostria at the northern end of the village. There is a pebble beach next to it with crystal clear waters if you fancy a swim too!
After lunch it was time to resume our road trip and head south!
Ierapetra is the southernmost city in Europe. In front of you is the Libyan sea and on a perfectly clear day you can see all the way to Egypt! Despite the heat we walked along the promenade, which is lined with cafes and restaurants, until we reached the fortress (built by the Venetians as well).
For the return back home (to the village of Agia Varvara) we chose the south road, which is more scenic, has less traffic, but is in worse condition! Unfortunately I have no photos from this route as we were pressed for time!
If you do have a lot of time in Crete it is a road trip worth taking (to Ierapetra at least). You can drive further to the west as well and visit Siteia, as well as Vai, which is the largest natural palm forest in Europe!
Have you visited Crete?
For more wanderlust inspiration here are snapshots from previous vacations in Crete!