Who says that during your summer holidays all you can enjoy is sun-kissed beaches and water sport activities? Well, in Crete at the same time you can enjoy night life to its maximum, live for a while like a millionaire, sunbathe with the beau monde and find peace of mind on a serene island teeming with history that has inspired best-selling famous writers. Try some of the things on offer, or why not? Try them all!
1. Ayios Nikolaos, or just “Ayios” as the locals call it, nestles alongside beautiful Mirabello Bay, on the northeast coast of Lassithi Prefecture in East Crete. Mirabello or Merabello Bay is the largest natural bay in Crete. The name of the bay comes from the Italian “mira il bello” (loose translation: “admire the beauty”), a tribute to the wonderful sea views from the bay.
Why would you choose to start your journey here?
• Ayios Nikolaos is an extremely popular resort that draws crowds of entertainment-seeking visitors every summer. Numerous restaurants, bars, and night clubs give the place its characteristic cosmopolitan atmosphere.
• A beautiful lake dominates the place. Legend has it that the goddesses Athens and Artemis used to bathe in its waters that are connected with the volcano on Santorini. A narrow channel of water connects the lake with the sea, while an imposing backdrop of red rock and trees adds to the natural beauty of the scenery. Near the lake, an open theatre hosts artistic and cultural events throughout the summer.
After enjoying the intense night life of Ayios Nikolaos, it’s time to be treated like an ancient Cretan king or queen. Where? In Elounda, of course.
2. Elounda lies 11 km north of Ayios Nikolaos, and is noted for its coves, rocky coastlines, the beautiful village of Elounda itself, the fishing harbour, the sunken city of Olous and the remains of a Byzantine basilica. But what is really amazing here is the impressive selection of luxury hotels, resorts and restaurants. The outstanding natural beauties of secluded Elounda bay and the first-class accommodation services have made Elounda the number one favourite for world leaders, royalties and celebrities alike.
You may not believe it, but it’s true. Below are just some of the services on offer:
• Luxurious spa treatments to be enjoyed in pools and bubble tubs, private steam rooms and saunas, and an endless selection of treatment suites, relaxation lounges, and meditation rooms.
• Limousine service, helicopter and private jet services, car and yacht hire.
• Daily fitness programmes, and numerous sport activities (volleyball, badminton, mini golf, water skiing, windsurfing, sailing, etc.)
• Sightseeing excursions and boat trips to Spinalonga, Ayios Nikolaos, fishing trips and sunset cruises.
• Accommodation specially designed for families and daily activity programmes to entertain children (such as fun competitions, animation programmes, etc.)
If you have already tried out the activities above, it’s time to take a caicque and head for Spinalonga, also known as Leper island.
“Spinalonga. She played with the word rolling it around her tongue like an olive stone. The island lay directly ahead and as the boat approached the great Venetian fortification which fronted the sea […]. This, she speculated, might be a place where history was still warm, not stone cold, where the inhabitants were really not mythical”….
… as Victoria Hislop wrote in her best-selling book “The Island”. Here, on an island where lepers from Crete and the rest of Greece had been kept in isolation until 1957, a story about love and pain, separation and fear was born.
Although it is small and known as the island of the outcasts, Spinalonga has a rather interesting story to tell. The island forms a natural defence “mechanism” for Elounda harbour, and in 1579 the Venetians built a mighty fortress here on the ruins of an ancient acropolis. The Venetians kept control of the island even after the rest of Crete fell to the Ottomans in 1669 and it remained under their control for almost another half a century until its capitulation in 1715. Today thousands of tourists visit Spinalonga by boat from Ayios Nikolaos, Elounda and Plaka each summer as it is the most popular archaeological site in Crete after Knossos.
A walk around Spinalonga –with some of the finest views of the clear blue waters that surround the island– will guide you through the pages of the novel. Strolling around the island takes about an hour, but the serenity of the place and the remnants of its recent history will certainly tempt you into spending much longer. A left turn by the old town hall takes you down to the beautiful seafront; take advantage of the opportunity to take some time for a swim here.
Take the boat from Ayios Nikolaos, Elounda or Plaka. As well as the trip to Spinalonga you can also enjoy a swim off the beaches behind the Kolokytha Peninsula, before returning to Ayios Nikolaos in the afternoon.
Getting to Ayios Nikolaos
By ferry from Piraeus. Ayios Nikolaos has boasted a large harbour since ancient times. The city of Heraklion is quite close to Ayios Nikolaos, so you can take the plane or ferry to Heraklion and then head towards Ayios Nikolaos by bus, taxi, your own vehicle, or rent a car. Ayios Nikolaos is only an hour’s drive away along the north road axis of the island. You can reach the town from the other main cities of Crete, such as Hania (about 3-3.5 hours’ drive), or Rethymno (app. 2.5 hours’ drive).