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Ierapetra – the Southernmost city in Europe

Built on a strategic location of Europe and truly blessed by nature, Ierapetra has been constantly developing since the early years of the ancient Cretan civilization. It has always been an important cultural center, full of action and interest.

It flourished during the Minoan, Roman and Byzantine eras, while it remained one of the most powerful shopping centers during the Arab, Venetian and Ottoman Rule, justifying its name as the “most southern gateway to Europe”!

Point of departure and destination

Ierapetra is the ideal point of departure for daily outings on the majestic, picturesque mountains and the seaside municipal communities.

From the forest of Selakanos in Malles up to the beach, from Myrtos and Gra Lygia on the west, up to Koutsounari, Ferma and Makri Gialos on the east, discover the villages of Anatoli, Kalamafka, Riza, Mournies, Gdohia, Mythi, Meseleri, Makrilia, Agios Ioannis, Orino, Schinokapsala, Vaina, Kentri, Stavros, Pano Chorio and Kato Chorio, Episkopi, Pachia Ammos, Kavoussi - All built among olive groves, pine trees, almond trees, gurgling waters and dense vegetation.

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Long Beach of St. John (Koutsounari)

Koutsounari is a small sea side village located 6km east of Ierapetra and 43km southeast of Agios Nikolaos, near the picturesque village of St. John.
It is situated in a lush green hill with many olive groves and pine trees around, just 1km north of the coasts of the Libyan Sea.

1km south of the village lies the Long Beach of St. John that has a length of 5km, being one of the longest in Crete. This wide quiet beach the characteristic wonderful coarse grayish sand of southern Crete, which in the sea turns to fine sand.

This is an interesting detail, because although you walk on the fine sand in the sea, when you get out your feet is clean because you step on the fine pebbles.

 

In many places there are large tamarisk trees and its great length makes it seem empty.

The beach is slightly organized in places (near hotels) and all around there are many hotels, restaurants, mini markets and a well organized camping site.

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Gra - Lygia (Ierapetra)

A seaside resort, 4.5 kms west of Ierapetra, on the way to Viannos. It is the places where a large quantity of early vegetables is produced, which stand out for their excellent quality in the European markets, where they are exported.

Sightseeing:

The beach of the village.

St. Constantine and St. Helen’s parish church, in the center of the village, built at the beginning of the century.

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Makrigialos Village in East Crete

Makri Gialos is 35 km far from Sitia and 29 from Ierapetra. The name Makri Gialos means "long beach", which indeed it is the long sandy beach with crystal clear, shallow waters, is perfect for children and non-swimmers, and further out for more experienced swimmers.

The beach is lined with a good variety of tavernas to suit all tastes, the fishing port being the most picturesque part of the village.

 

From the port, there is a boat which leaves each morning for the beautiful island of Koufonisi, returning late afternoon.

Makri Gialos has a very good suply of shops, tavernas and watersport facilities and attracts visitors of all ages.

From Makri Gialos you can visit also Monastery of Kapsa.

The excavations brought to light a minoan villa. In the same region a villa from the Roman period has been excavated.

 

A few years ago Makrigialos was a little harbour with a few storehouses.

The local people (who in that time used to live in the surrounding villages in and around the mountains) used to store up and then, export their goods, like olive oil, wine, raki, sultanas, carobs beans, corn, and live animals. Around this time, there were only a few families living in the area and a few men, spending the night while they were fishing.

There weren't many roads for transfers, because the land is very mountainous.

It wasn't until after the last war and between the 50s - 70s that the government started building roads. Also, during these years, most of the local population moved to the big cities in Crete, Athens, and other Greek cities. A large number of them also went to Germany and to Australia for work.

 

Today the resort of Makrigialos has a population of around 1000 people who come mainly from the villages of Agios Stefanos (Saint Stefano) and Pefki (Pine trees).

Makrigialos consists of two settlements;

Makrigialos and Analipsi.

The village has grown very fast between 1980-1995.

The two beautiful villages of Agios Stefanos and Pefki are 7 km from the sea and are 420 m above sea level. Both villages are now connected by a new asphalt road.

There are still some very old people living there.

 

Surrounding Makrigialos are several mountain villages steeped in history with narrow winding streets, old and beautifully renovated stone houses encircled by Geraniums, Bougainvillea, and vines. Lemon and Orange trees too numerous to count and of course the occasional goat or donkey being led through the streets.

 

On the Afendis Stavromenos mountain top of 1500 m. you can enjoy a fantastic and unforgettable view of the eastern Crete area, Ierapetra, Agios Nikolaos, Elounda and all surrounding islands.

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Chrissi Island - Ierapetra

One of the 81 uninhabited islands of Crete is Chrissi or Gaidouronisi (donkey) island.
The residents of Ierapetra call it "the Island" as there is a special relationship between them. Chrissi lies 8 miles away from Ierapetra's coasts, in the Libyan sea.


Chrissi is almost flat with colorful volcanic rocks covered in gold sand, purple shells and sand dunes. It is 5 km long and has an average width of 1 km and an average height of 10m.

The highest hill is on the east part and is called "Kefala" 31 m high.

From over there the visitor can have an impressive view of the Libanon cedar forest, probably the last existing in Europe.

The density of these trees is approximately 28 trees per hectare and in an average age of 200 years old.

On the west part of the island the visitor can see the well-preserved old chapel of Agios Nikolaos (possibly built in the 13th century), the salt pan which still gathers salt, the old port, the Minoan ruins, some Roman carved graves and the light house.

At the Byzantine era the main source of income was fishing, salt export and the export of "porfira" a scarlet dye produced from shells for the cloaks of Europe's royalty.
Later pirates forced the inhabitants to flee Chrissi for safety in Crete and used the island as a hide-out. Many pirate and merchant ships have sunk in the area.

In the sea around the island the variety of the marine species is impressive.
Around 54 different species of fossils were set on the volcanic rocks 350000 to 70000 years ago, when Chrissi was covered by water. A number of them still live in the sea around.

As a result all the northern costs (Belegrina, Hatzivolakas& Kataprosopo bays) are full of shells. The turquoise waters around the island are shallow. Up to 1 Km north and south, the depth does not exceed 10 m.

This makes Chrissi the best place for snorkeling. Chrissi looks like the last paradise on Earth.

A place to dream, swim and go walking.


About 700 m east of Chrissi is a small rocky island " Mikronisi".

On Mikronisi hundreds of herring seagulls make their nests. For the well-preserved rare ecosystem and its beauty, Chrissi is protected as an "Area of Intense Natural Beauty".

From the middle of May till late October there are daily excursions to the island.

The departure is from Ierapetra at 10.30 a.m. and the return is around 16.00 p.m.

 

The duration of the voyage is about one 50 min. (depending on the weather).

Passengers disembark at "Vougiou Mati" on the south part, where there is a tavern.

From the tavern there is a path along the southern beach. Turning north, it leads to the eastern side of "Belegrina" bay (shells beach).

Within a day trip the visitor has enough time to walk around, bath in its turquoise waters and have a snack at the tavern.  In Chrissi's unspoiled and fragile environment visitors must act with utmost respect towards nature.

It is not allowed to litter, to collect rocks, shells, plants, to light fires, to walk outside the designated paths and to camp.

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The Fortress

The Fortress, which was built by the Venetians – the people from Ierapetra call it “Kales”- was constructed on the most southern pier of the ancient port, to the side of “Sarakina”.

It is one of those monuments of the past that have been preserved due to their sturdy construction and their usefulness up to the last days of the previous century.

It has always reminded us difficult periods of history for our nation, but it has also made us wonder and has taught the younger ones how to avoid the mistakes of the past.

The first official reference is on the 13th April 1307, on an official document of the Venetian Senate, where it was mentioned that a fortress was being built in Ierapetra.

The next reference to the fortress is in the 16th century, when Sammicheli supervises its renovation after the destructive earthquake in 1508 and the ottoman raids. It seems, though, that the damage was too extensive for any reconstruction to be made.

In 1647, when the Turks laid hands on the city of Ierapetra, the Fortress, despite the hardships it suffered during the war, was preserved in order to serve the conquerors’ defense purposes and although a lot of reformations were made, plenty of Venetian features were maintained.

Its present name “Kales” comes, of course, from the Turkish word “Kule”, which means tower.

The Fortress, which was built by the Venetians – the people from Ierapetra call it “Kales”- was constructed on the most southern pier of the ancient port, to the side of “Sarakina”. It is one of those monuments of the past that have been preserved due to their sturdy construction and their usefulness up to the last days of the previous century.

It has always reminded us difficult periods of history for our nation, but it has also made us wonder and has taught the younger ones how to avoid the mistakes of the past.

The first official reference is on the 13th April 1307, on an official document of the Venetian Senate, where it was mentioned that a fortress was being built in Ierapetra.

The next reference to the fortress is in the 16th century, when Sammicheli supervises its renovation after the destructive earthquake in 1508 and the ottoman raids.

It seems, though, that the damage was too extensive for any reconstruction to be made.

In 1647, when the Turks laid hands on the city of Ierapetra, the Fortress, despite the hardships it suffered during the war, was preserved in order to serve the conquerors’

defense purposes and although a lot of reformations were made, plenty of Venetian features were maintained.

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Bramiana Dam Lake

The artificial lake of Bramiana was built in 1986 at Bramiana to meet the 30.000 of the greenhouses of Ierapetra. It is located 5km northwest of the town, in the road connecting Ierapetra and Kalamafka village.

The lake covers an area of 1050 acres and has a capacity of 15 million m3, making it the second largest wetland of southern Greece, after Potami Dam at Amari valley.

The water is supplied mainly from sources in Kefalovrysi by Kalamafka, Krygios River that comes from Selakano Wood and Males area, from the springs of Malavra and from the springs of Korakas Gorge by Meseleri.

The Wetland.

This artificial lake, in the middle of an arid area, has become an important wetland and a stopping point for migratory birds. Today, it attracts the largest populations of waterfowl in Crete. According to Natural History Museum of Crete, over 218 different bird species have been recorded in the region  (2010), a very large number for such a young lake. All these reasons have contributed to the characterization of Bramiana as a national park.

Mallard ducks that had disappeared from the island since 1975, have started nesting in the dam. Ferruginous ducks, moorhens, herons, pewits, gulls and terns are some of the waterfowl species of the lake. Apart from these, there have been observed eagles, falcons, partridges, turtle doves, larks, swallows, etc.

During spring and autumn, Bramiana dam is overwhelmed by thousands of migratory birds.

In winter, the lake is a haven for birds wintering there, many of which are threatened with extinction worldwide (ferruginous duck, black stork, lanner falcon, kestrel etc). Other animals such as frogs, hares, hedgehogs, bats, shrew, turtles, water snakes and lizards are met in the area.

The vegetation around the lake is characterized by reeds, plane trees, pines, poplars and tamarisks.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cFWThaZ2KEU

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Myrtos & Beach of Myrtos

The village

 

Myrtos is one of the jewels of Crete – a quaint seaside village in the southeast coast of Crete, near Ierapetra, in the regional unit of Lassithi. Myrtos and 4 other villages in the area constitute a municipal unit, with Myrtos being its capital. There are about 500 inhabitants (according to the 2001 census), most of whom are farmers, something that is obvious from the great number of greenhouses in the area.

In the summer, a lot of tourists visit the village of Myrtos, as they can easily find hostels, family hotels, restaurants, taverns, café-bars, supermarkets and a gas station. Unfortunately, there is no chemist’s, bank or an ATM, but Ierapetra, where you can find anything you wish, is not too far away. You can reach Ierapetra either by car or by bus –there is bus service every couple of hours.

The beach in Myrtos

 

In Myrtos there is one of the best beaches in the area, with grey sand and crystal clear waters - it is absolutely worth taking a dive and enjoying the blue sea there. A very important advantage is that etesian and strong north winds, which frequently prevail in other southern regions of Crete, especially near Ierapetra, do not affect the area.

The main beach in Myrtos is right in front of the numerous taverns and cafés and extends to the west, where it becomes wider. If you move on even more towards the west, you can find beaches where you can camp, while another excellent beach is in the village Tertsa (4 kms away).

On the east side, on a parallel road to Ierapetra, there is a thick-pebbled beach with a few tamarisks. If you decide to come here, you will probably be alone, as most people prefer the much nicer beach of Myrtos.

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Matala

Matala (Greek Μάταλα) is a village located 75 km south-west of Heraklion, Crete, Greece.

Matala is part of the community of Pitsidia within the municipal unit of Festos, Heraklion regional unit.

The artificial caves in the cliff of the Matala bay were created in the Neolithic Age. Matala was the port of Phaistos during the Minoan period. In the year 220 BC., Matala was occupied by the Gortynians, and during the Roman period, Matala became the port of Gortys. In the 1st and 2nd centuries, the caves were used as tombs. One of the caves is called "Brutospeliana" because according to the legend it was frequented by the Roman general Brutus.

Matala was then a fishing village. In the 1960s, the caves were occupied by hippies who were later driven out by the church and the military junta.

Now Matala is a small village living mainly from tourism.

Canadian folk singer Joni Mitchell's experiences with the Matala hippies were immortalised in her 1971 song "Carey".

When Zeus seduced the princess Europa in the form of a white bull, he crossed the sea and brought her to the beach of Matala. There he changed into an eagle and flew her to Gortys where he had sex with her.

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Agia Galini

The history of Agia Galini goes back millennia, as does that of most places in Crete.

Agia Galini was the historical harbour of Syvritos, a Minoan city that flourished in the Late Minoan period in the foothills of Mt Psiloritis, where the villages of Thronos and Agia Fotini stand today.

In antiquity, Agia Galini was called Soulia and there was a great temple here dedicated to the goddess Artemis. A few finds from the ancient city were discovered during excavations for the foundations of new houses.

The name Soulia may not mean anything to you, but it is linked to a famous myth, the escape of Daedalus and Icarus with their wings of wax. Legend has it that King Minos had imprisoned Daedalus and his son Icarus, but they escaped, took refuge in ancient Agia Galini and, from the great rock that rises to the right (east) of the harbour, flew far from Crete. This myth is commemorated by the two statues of Daedalus and Icarus in Agia Galini.

Destruction by the Arabs


Soulia, as a coastal city, suffered from raids by Arab pirates, who destroyed it in 640 AD. It flourished for a second time in the Venetian period, and later its harbour was used several times for resupplying during the risings against the Turks, and also for exporting olive oil and other products from south Crete. However, there was no permanent settlement at Agia Galini until 1884, when villagers from nearby Melambes and Sachtouria moved here and built the new village.

Agia Galini today


Tourist development began in the 1970s, and today Agia Galini is considered one of the largest tourist resorts in south Crete.

Seeing the tourist development of Agia Galini, unavoidable due to the beauty of its unique landscape, you cannot help but wonder what it looked like a few years ago.

What would this sweet little harbour be like without all the tourist signs, without the many tourist restaurants and tavernas, which may draw the tourists but certainly do not blend in with the local scenery.

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Preveli

The beach of Preveli, Finikas (Phoenix) as it is officially known, is situated at the southern coast of Crete, some 40 kilometers far from Rethymnon at the South. It is a unique sandy beach, very beautiful, with a forest of palm trees, which make it quite exotic. The mouth of the river Kourtaliotis is at this beach; the river has enough water even in summer, and just before flowing into the sea it forms a small lagoon; thus, if you choose this beach for swimming, you might have the chance to bathe both in salted and sweet water! Walking up the river is a fascinating experience; the palm trees grown on the banks of the river give a rich shade and the soil is even and sandy. In times you may think that you are in an African oasis.

Due to this scenic and unusual landscape, the beach is a very popular destination since the 70's when the hippies used to camp here, making huts from the leaves of the palm trees, a practice that went on until the end of the 80's.

The beach is open to the South and affected by the southern winds.

Fortunately, this small paradise is not very organised; there are some facilities for food and drink but not for accommodation. The last few years there used to be also facilities for swimming and sunbathing (sunbeds and umbrellas), but it seems that recently it has been decided to remove them, in order to keep this unique environment as natural as possible.

There are two ways to access the beach, the comfortable one and the hard one. If you choose the former, you have to go to Plakias (by bus or by private means) and catch the boat that makes the daily excursion to Preveli. It departs at about 10.00 in the morning and returns at about 4.00 in the afternoon. You will arrive at the beach without being tired, but you will miss the view of the beach from above, which is extraordinary.

The hard way is to drive to the Preveli Monastery (by private means), leave your car at the parking some 1,5 kilometer from the Monastery (the parking is signed) and then start walking (or, better, hiking) down the path with many steep steps.

Descending is easy enough, but then you have to climb up, and this is the difficult part of the story.

It will take you some half an hour to descend and some more to climb back.

If you choose the hard way, don't forget to take water with you and cover your head, as the sun is burning a lot especially from 11.00 to 16.00.

Although difficult, this way of getting to the beach will reward you with a marvelous view of the beach from above.

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Vai

Vai beach has fine golden sand and pebbles at its north end.

You can leave your car in the car park behind the forest, which costs 2.5 euros (2009 prices).


The beach is 200 m from the parking area and is fenced, as is the forest, in an attempt to protect the area. The beach is fully organised, with sun loungers, straw umbrellas and wooden walkways for easy access. It costs 6 euros to rent an umbrella and lounger, but the palm trees offer free shade to anyone quick enough to spread their towel underneath.

Naturally such a popular place as Vai has thousands of visitors each summer. If you come in July and August, be prepared for the crowds. If, on the other hand, you visit Vai at the beginning or end of the tourist season, you will enjoy the scenery and sea far more.

At the side of the beach, near the steps to the viewing platform, is a restaurant and a cafeteria with chairs and tables set out in a pretty, flat space among the palm trees.

The cafeteria is the only one near the beach, and its prices are normal for Crete in spite of the fact that it has a virtual monopoly. There are also toilets on the beach and outdoor showers for washing off the salt after your swim.

You can also try watersports at Vai, including banana boat, jet-skiing and wakeboarding.

If you feel like a walk, climb the steps at the side of the beach to the viewing platform, which offers a panoramic view of the whole area and the beautiful palm forest of Vai.

Here you can take wonderful pictures and see the small neighbouring beach, 5 minutes’ walk north of Vai.

If you decide to go for a walk in the palm forest, you will see - if you’re lucky - a small lake formed by rainwater among the trees. This phenomenon is more frequent in early summer or in September.