About Heraklion Region
The Prefecture of Heraklion is the largest administrative division of Crete. The northern part offers attractive resorts with luxurious hotel complexes and fine sandy beaches. The bustling modern city of Heraklion lies almost in the middle of the north coast on the site of the once small harbour that was the seaport of ancient Knossos.
The city of Heraklion, historically Candia, takes its name from the ancient Roman port of Heracleum, which likely occupied the same site. Arab Saracens who conquered Crete in 824 AD, destroyed the capital and built a new one at the location of present-day Heraklion, which took the Arabic name Khandaq (Moat), later corrupted to Candia by the Venetians to whom the island was sold in 1204. Most of the extensive system of walls built around the city by the Venetians survives to this day. In 1669, the city was ceded to the Turks after a siege that lasted more than 20 years. During the long Turkish occupation, which ended in 1897, Candia was known as Megalokastro. The Turks allowed the harbour to silt up and caused it to lose its former commercial pre-eminence. Turkish rule ended in 1898 after the Great Independence War that began in 1821 and ended with the formation of the independent Cretan Republic. Finally, in 1913 the union with Greece was realised. During the German invasion in 1941, the city suffered heavy damage from bombing. After WWII, it gained considerable commercial prominence, with a new harbour, an airport and many hotels.
This area is the richest in Crete in terms of archaeological sites. 5km east of Heraklion, Knossos is the most important and well known ancient site in Crete, inhabited since Neolithic times and famous for the Palace of Knossos built around 1900 BC.
Phaistos, the second most important palace-city of Minoan Crete, is about 65 km of Heraklion, while 34 km east of the capital is Malia, the 3rd Minoan place found on Crete.
Second to size and importance only to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Heraklion's outstanding Archaeological Museum is rich in exhibits, including pottery, jewellery, figurines and sarcophagi, as well as the famous frescoes from Knossos.
The Historical Museum of Heraklion deals with the history and folklore of Crete since 1000 AD, housing among its collections a painting by El Greco, who was born near Heraklion. The area has a number of magnificent Byzantine monasteries while the countryside is strewn with small and larger churches, picturesque chapels and small temples carved inside rocks.
Aghia Pelagaia stretches along the shores of an attractive sheltered bay, which is beautifully protected from the occasional summer winds. It is the long beach with enticing golden sand, and white shingle which accounts for the popularity of the resort. This former fishing village with its quiet small bays is ideal for surfing, water skiing, and scuba diving. There are friendly tavernas, shops and bars, which make this a great place to unwind and to have a wonderful holiday.
Hersonissos is well known as one of Crete's liveliest resorts, and there is a wide range of tavernas, shops, cafes, discos and other tourist amenities. Its sand and shingle beach offers a wide variety of water sports. Nearby on the hillside the villages of Koutouloufari and Piskopiano are quieter and offer visitors a much more relaxed and lower key style of holiday. The neighbouring coastal resort of Stalis has sandy beaches and a rather laid-back atmosphere. There is a wide choice of nightlife in Heronissos and Stalis.
The typical Cretan farming village of Kamilari, just over one and a half hour's drive from Heraklion, has kept its original character, and remains largely untouched by tourism. Kamilari is on a hill, with fabulous panoramic views over the Ida mountains, over the fertile Messara plain and to the sea beyond. Thanks to Greek hospitality, the warm welcome given to children and rural village life, it is the sort of place where one quickly feels at home. Alongside the small shops there are Greek tavernas and kafeneions, givinga flavour of Cretan village life. Around the village there are lots of places to explore, perhaps by setting off on foot along some of the country footpaths, or going further afield by car. Among some of the possible outings to choose from are the Minoan archaeological sites at Phaistos and Agia Triada, only 3 km away, and Matala with its famous cliff-side caves. For those seeking the sea, the kilometre long sandy beach of Kalamaki is 2.5 km away, with its cliff sides and wooded areas, as well as the 12 km sandy beach of Komos. At both of these places there are further tavernas, and little shops.
The little fishing village of Lentas lies on the south coast of Crete, at the foot of a mountain range. Lentas sits on a promontory in the shape of a crouching lion which runs down to a 300 metres long strip of fine shingle that merges into the azure blue of the Libyan Sea. According to mythology, one of the lions, which pulled the goddess Rhea's chariot was turned into stone here, thus giving the area its name. Until very recently the village had no electricity and was reached only by a tiny unpaved road. Today, however, Lentas is a small holiday resort, which attracts many visitors, drawn by the natural beauty of the area. There are lots of tavernas on the beach, but the village retains its quiet simple character. In ancient times, Lentas was probably the port of the old Roman capital of Crete, Gortys, which is also well worth a visit. There are old Roman remains to be seen if you are walking in the area of Lentas, such as the two ancient pillars of the Temple of Asklepios.
Matala is a place saturated in history. The town of Matala in ancient times was the second most important of the Minoans. It is just over one and a half hour's drive from Heraklion and only 10 km from the famous and atmospheric Minoan site of Phaistos. Many hundreds of years after the destruction of Phaistos, Matala became the Roman harbour for the town of Gortys. Today, a beautiful 300 metre half crescent shaped sandy beach is protected on both sides with great cliffs forming a pretty little bay. In the 60's and the 70's Matala became renowned as hippies came from around the world to live in the caves carved out of the cliff sides of the bay. These famous Stone Age caves are now undergoing archaeological research so, unfortunately, spending the night in a cave is not an option! About 2 km from Matala, lies the beautiful long sandy beach of Komos with its clear waters, where visitors will find only the smallest hotels, pensions, tavernas and shops. There is much to explore in the surrounding area. Apart from the second largest Minoan Palace of Phaistos, there is the Minoan Palace of Agia Triada, the famous ancient Roman capital of Gortys, the tiny village of Vori with its ethnological Museum, the mountain villages of Kamares and Zaros with their countless natural springs, and much more.
Where to visit