Discover Crete – where Europe was born

May 10, 2024

Crete is the biggest Greek island and one of the most beautiful mediterranean destination. Beaches, gorges, caves and beautifull small towns and villages are convincing millions of tourists to visit it every year. But did you know that beside beautiful nature and beaches Crete is the place where Europe was born? There is a beautiful blend of history and mytology in Crete, like elsewhere in Gree, and sometimes you cant make diference between myth and reality, but there are historic facts and by them Crete is place where western European civilisation was born. It was Minoan civilisation that was flourishing in antiquity. Remains of that culture can be seen even today in archeological sites of Knosos or Falasarna and many other sites around Crete. But mythology also have very interesting story about the birth of European civilisation as we know it today that was happening in Crete thousabnds years ago. Crete is the birthplace of Zeus, the father of gods and men. Once grown, Zeus fell in love with the beautiful Europa, the Phoenician princess. In order to win her heart, Zeus transformed himself into a bull, abducted her and transported her to Crete. From their union under the evergreen plane-tree of Gortyna, which still stands tall to this day, Minos, Rhadamanthus and Sarpedon were born. Minos would later become the king of Crete, the island on which the first European civilisation flourished, whereas the continent where everything took place was named after his mother: Europe.

If you want to discover Crete – the bearthplace of Europe, for your first time you will have to choose the region that you want to explore, because Crete is big island, and there is no possibility to see all major sites of interest in 5 or 7 days. All regions have their beauties and interesting sites, but if you want to spend time exploring beautiful beaches, there is no better place in Europe then region of Chania in western part of Crete.

The city of Chania, a monument in all respects, is built on the ruins of Minoan Kydonia, while the traces left behind by the Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, and Ottomans are still evident everywhere; the walls that surround the old city, the dry docks, the Egyptian lighthouse, the monasteries, the mosques, and so many more sites for visitors to discover in just a few hours. Just outside the city, amphitheatrically positioned, is the tomb of statesman Eleftherios Venizelos, while in the historic Chalepa district visitors encounter the great politician’s Home – Museum, as well as the newly built Archaeological Museum of Chania. A tour of the many remarkable museums of Chania will complete the image of the area’s historical wealth for visitors.  Ancient Aptera, one of the most important city-states of antiquity, is located above the bay of Souda, one of the largest natural ports of the Mediterranean.

Day and night, Chania is a lively city, with Cretan delicacies mingling with the finest cuisines, the sound of the Cretan lyra followed by music from all over the world, drinking, talking, and dancing. Beyond the city, the provinces are filled with hospitable villages, olive groves, orange groves, vineyards, and vegetable gardens, with the scattered ruins of ancient settlements, Byzantine churches, Venetian villas, and Ottoman forts. This is also the home of the most famous and award-winning beaches in the world, such as Balos and Elafonisi or Lafonisi, while the landscape changes completely from north to south, offering a wealth of experiences to visitors.

The north, with Agia Marina, Platanias, Georgioupoli, etc., has been developed for tourism, with large hotel units, organised beaches, and lots of infrastructure. The south offers a wilder and more unique landscape, with mountains coming all the way down to the sea, the deep waters of the South Sea of Crete, and sandy beaches that alternate with beaches with pebbles and large stones, in Sfakia, Paleochora, Sougia and elsewhere. Gavdos, the southernmost tip of Europe, is a particularly special destination, with its singular aura, its unique landscapes, and its people.

Falasarna beach has been voted as one of the most beautiful beaches of Europe. It is streching on the western side of Crete, just 45 minutes by car from Chania town. It is very long beach, more then 3 kilometers, it is with sandy and rocky parts, but what is the most interesting about this beach is its pink sand which is unique for beaches of western Crete. At the end of this long beach, you can visit ancient site of Falasarna. Antique city-state of Falasarna was powerful ally of Macedonia during antiquity and it was famous for its wariors and mercenaries. After fall of Falsarna, during Roman interventions, Falasarnians became pirates.

Beside Falasarna beach, there is very famous Balos beach and Elafonisi beach, both in west part of Crete, but beach that is not so famous but equally beautiful is beach of Kedrodasos. You can walk to this beach from Elafonisi. It is pleasant walk of 30 minutes, through forests of Cedar pine trees. Cedars are all over the beach and that is the reason of the name of Kedrodasos. With crystal clear waters, sand dunes and cedar trees this is one of the most exotic beaches of Europe. You will feel as you are in Africa or Asia and not in the middle of Europe.

Beside beautiful beaches of western Crete there are cultural aspect of visiting this island. If you are considering visiting to Crete during the spring season, it is best to visit it during Easter. Greek Orthodox Easter this year was in beginning of May, and it is perfect timing to open tourism seasons of 2024. If you want to blend into local culture and meet real local people and not just visiting museums and tourists sites, Ester week is perfect part of the year for it. After 40 days of fast it is ending at midnight before Easter Sunday and everyone are ready for meat again. Typical Cretan menu for this occasion is a meal of mayiritsa – a soup based on lamb tripe, rice, and lemon -it is quite usual in Crete and overall in Greece At the stroke of midnight, all lights in each crowded church are extinguished and the congregation plunged into the darkness which envelopes Christ as he passes through the underworld. Then there is a faint glimmer of light behind the altar screen before the priest appears holding aloft a lighted taper and chanting “Afto ot fos … ” (This is the light of the world). Stepping down to the level of the parishioners he touches his flame to the unit candle of the nearest worshiper and intoning “Defte, lavethe fos” (Come take the light) to be greeted by the response “Hristos Anesti” (Christ is risen). 

Many restaurants and tavernas are open after the midnight service and many Cretans celebrate the Anastasi and Easter at a taverna or a place with live music. Easter Sunday the tradition is lamb roasting and family with friends usually get together for a big party with plenty of food, wine, music, and dancing. Traditionally, families meet with children and go to their original villages to celebrate this very special day. The lamb of Easter Sunday is a symbol for the sacrifice of Jesus, who was sacrificed like a lamb for the salvation of people.