Welcome to Greece (Hellas), officially the sunniest place in Europe. The famous Greek sun (helios) is always present in these ancient islands, warming the splendid Aegean scenery and the cleanest beaches in Europe.
There are 1400 islands in Greece of which 169 are inhabited, so one can easily find what one seeks. The largest of the Greek Islands is fabulous Crete (sometimes spelled Krete or Kriti), which is also the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea.
The story of European civilization really begins on the island of Crete, where a highly sophisticated culture grew up around palace centers: the Minoans (ca. 3000–1400 BCE). What they thought, what stories they told, how they narrated their history, are all lost to us. All we have left are their palaces, their incredibly developed visual culture, and their records.
They were a people of magnificent social organization, culture, art, and commerce. There is no evidence that they were a military people; they thrived instead, it seems, on their remarkable mercantile abilities. This civilization began at least a millenium before the Age of Athens and almost eight hundred years before Homer.
( See http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~dee/MINOA/MINOANS.HTM )
Crete straddles two climatic zones, the Mediterranean and the North African, mainly falling within the former. Its climate is primarily temperate, with fairly mild winters. Snow fall is practically unknown to the plains, but quite frequent in the mountains. Probably the best time to visit Crete is spring and autumn. Visitors can arrive at the island through two international airports in Iraklion and Hania, or by boat to the ports of Iraklion, Hania, Rethimno and Agios Nikolaos.
Tucked in on the northeast coast of Crete, Agios Nikolaos (pronounced eye-yoss nikor-lowse), capital of the Prefecture of Lasithi, is one of the most highly developed tourist towns in Greece. It has a population of around 9,000 but in the year 2000 the Municipality of Agios Nikolaos, which takes in part of the surrounding villages, claimed around 19,000 inhabitants. Usually simply called “Agio” by locals, it is at once a sleepy, arty town and a cosmopolitan center throbbing with life, with elegant shops, restaurants, tavernas, bars, discos etc. The sea in Agios Nikolaos is superb and the surrounding area of the city is noted for its sandy beaches and beautiful bays.
Agios Nikolaos is accessible from the mainland and the whole of Europe via the Nikos Kazantzakis airport in Heraklio and many daily ferry services in Heraklion Port. Two ships directly connect Agios Nikolaos daily with the ports of Piraeus, Milos, Santorini, Siteia Karpathos, Kassos, Kos, and Rhodes. The city is about 40 miles from Herakleion Airport (HER), 45 – 60 minutes by car or taxi.
If you are into history, the museum of Agios Nikolaos is the second finest Archaeological collection in Crete. Splendid archaeological finds from the prefecture of Lassithi are displayed in its eight galleries. A unique “idol” from the Pheleketo Cave of Zakros, grave goods from Agia Fotia Sitia, early Minoan vessels, Vases from Vasiliki, the “goddess of Myrtos”, items from Ierapetra, Mohlos, Myrsini, Tourloti etc are to be found in the eight rooms of this very interesting museum. Also worth a visit is the charming Byzantine chapel built on the spot called “Nissi” during the 7th century AD (from which the town got its name). The chapel has interesting old frescoes and rewards the visitor with a breathtaking view of the town and the bay.
The landmark of the city is a small lake, known as “Voulismeni” (pictured at the top of the page), that is located in the center of the city at the foot of the cliffs. Its shape is circular with a diameter of 137m. According to the mythology, the goddess Athena used to take her bath in this lake. The lake was connected to the sea in recent history, with a canal opened in 1870. It is an especially picturesque site with many open-air cafes and restaurants along the bank. Small boats leave the harbor to visit the Venetian fortress of Spinaloga, near Elouda .
(See http://www.interkriti.org/visits/stnik.htm )
In all, if you love Greece or have always wanted to visit, Crete and the city of Agios are wonderful places to start (and finish!). Crete at its best is often Greece at its best. Give it a try; you won’t be disappointed!
Some websites you might want to explore for further information:
http://www.interkriti.org/ -Your gateway to Crete
http://www.travel-to-crete.com/ -A complete guide to Crete
http://www.explorecrete.com/ -The guide about the real Crete
http://www.cretetravel.com -An excellent Crete travel guide
http://www.uk.digiserve.com/mentor/crete/ -Crete in pictures
http://www.agiosnikolaos.gr/ -About Agios Nikolaos
http://www.greeka.com/ -A fine guide to Greece
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