Greece is an intriguing nation with a long history. It is often thought of as the cradle of Western civilization. Greek influence is prevalent throughout art, history, sports, politics, and especially philosophy. Heraklion is the capital city of Crete, the largest of the Greek islands and a popular vacation destination. The island offers such a wide variety of attractions that almost everyone finds something to love. Remnants of ancient civilizations, gorgeous beaches, mountains, and unique cuisine are just a few of Crete's marvels.
Summer is the ideal time of year to experience life and culture on the Greek islands. Greek summers are hot, and the warm waters of the Aegean Sea are perfect for swimming, water sports, and even swim-up bars. Almost all the activities and attractions on the island of Crete are accessible during the summer months. There are countless natural and cultural treasures to explore in the countryside, and a relaxing day on a boat observing the island's many features is a great way to recharge.
The Matala Beach Festival is a lively three-day concert at the end of June. Incorporating this festival into a fun summer holiday on Crete ensures an exciting vacation. A commune was established around the caves and beaches of Matala in the 1960s, and the Matala Beach Festival epitomizes their desire for a peaceful and joyful life.
Crete has an abundance of beautiful beaches. The Mýrtos and Matala beaches complement the bohemian style of the Matala Beach Festival. Free sunbeds are provided, and several ancient Minoan sites in the area offer hours of exploration. The isolated Sweetwater Beach is perfect for relaxing in nature and enjoying white sands with turquoise surf. Sweetwater Beach is only accessible by boat or on foot over winding trails.
Coffee is very important in Greek culture. The traditional Greek process of making coffee has been practiced for over 500 years. Think Tank in Heraklion, Crete is a cafe serving current popular beverages and traditional blends from Greece and Crete. Patrons can watch specially trained baristas prepare drinks with a wide variety of equipment, ingredients, and techniques. They even demonstrate traditional preparation using hot sand. The head barista at Think Tank takes coffee very seriously. He founded and runs a training seminar for baristas.
Several Venetian and Byzantine castles are open for public exploration. Castles of note include Kastelli and Frangokastello in Chania, the Fortezza in Rethymno, and the castle of Heraklion. Crete is also home to many fascinating museums. Three, in particular -- the Cretaquarium, the Museum of Natural History and the Historical Museum of Crete -- are a good starting point to learn the highlights of Crete's long history and varied civilizations.
Samaria Gorge is a national park famous for Portes or the Iron Gates. It is sure to entice those who enjoy hiking and climbing. The park is also one of the World's Biosphere Reserves and an ideal location for simply observing nature's beauty and wildlife. Hundreds of flowers, birds, and animals are native to this ecologically diverse region. Visitors can take part in organized tours ranging from a seven-hour hike to small, motorized carts, so everyone has an opportunity to enjoy the park.
The Cretan diet is a regional variation of the Mediterranean diet. Traditional dishes incorporate sea salt, cheese, extra-virgin olive oil, and artichokes. Small family-owned restaurants and cafes, known as taverna, offer local delicacies including a piquant cheese or graviera and many herbs and salad greens unique to the region. Staka is a local clotted cream made from sheeps' milk. Favored regional dishes include dakos rusk salad with tomatoes and myzithra cheese, fried snails, sweet cheese pastries known as kalitsounia, savoury cheese pies, and egg-lemon lamb with artichoke hearts. The world-renowned wedding pilaf, gamopilafo, also comes from Crete.
A delightful experience for familes with children is just south of Agios Nikolaos. The Walk With Donkeys Farm is a combination of animal rescue and tourist attraction. Older donkeys in retirement or given up by owners are cared for at the farm. Tours through the country and visits to local wineries, sites of olive oil or cheese production, and beautiful natural vistas are available year-round. The donkeys are doted on and live out their later years healthy and happy. Frequent shrieks of delight from visiting children are the best evidence of the joyful nature of this charming farm.
The capital city of Heraklion is a common entry point upon arrival in Crete, but it is a working city instead of a tourist town. Heraklion's claim to fame, and an important feature of Crete, overall, is the Palace of Knossus. People familiar with ancient history or mythology have heard of Knossus, the capital city of the ancient Minoan empire. Mycenaens from mainland Greece conquered the Minoans and took over Knossus. The Mycenaens are well-known too. They were the invading army that laid siege to Troy. Knossus is also central to the myths and stories of the Minotaur and labyrinth. The palace itself covers a huge area. Licensed guides and enterprising locals are more than happy to lead visitors on tours.
Chania has all the conveniences of a modern city, while the interior holds Venetian homes and architecture. Anyone wanting to experience Greek nightlife will be delighted when the sun goes down. The cafes, restaurants, and bars around the harbor light up in a dazzling display as revelers flood in for a night of fun and excitement. Discos and nightclubs crowd the inner harbor, and venues on the waterfront have small floating bars and tables joined by walkways of wood and rope.
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