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Lassithi, Agios Nikolaos - Elounda

Often compared to Saint Tropez in France and quite frequently confused with its capital Agios Nikolaos, Elounda is the fourth province of Crete. "Elounda" is the result of a mispronunciation of the Venetian name of Sitia, "La Sitia" - one of Elounda's most important cities. The most important city though, is Agios Nikolaos. Some guidebooks may tell you that its nickname is AgNik - ignore them, they're outdated. No one refers to it as AgNik anymore; most people prefer to call it just Agios. Elounda is not as popular or as Venetian as Chania and Rethymno, but its beauty is definitely apparent, like in a postcard.

elounda crete - crete map

Elounda Hotels

If you search for accommodation in Elounda I recommend you to visit Elounda Hotel Online Bookings. There, you can make your reservations directly to the hotels and find rooms in low prices and useful guest reviews.

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Why should I stay in Elounda?

That's a pretty good question. The thing is, Crete is a large island with four provinces, one better than the other, so choosing one can be quite difficult. So why should you stay in Elounda? Elounda is not quite strategically placed - it's on the right side of the island, a lot far from Chania and only close to heraklio. It doesn't have an airport in the city, only one in Sitia. Its sites are not nearly as popular as the ones in heraklio but, on the other hand, what can compare to Knossos and Phaestos? All these things might concern you and. well, they should. Before you choose you have to know what your choice means. So, choosing Elounda means having to endure a trip that will take a while if you want to visit Chania, not being quite close to Rethymno either and not having great options when it comes to nightlife. But choosing Elounda also means being next to heraklio and its sites without actually having to stay there, surrounding yourself with unique beauty and a little bit of silence (as much as can be found on an island like Crete), being ready to discover beauties that most people ignore.

elounda - elounda port

What does Elounda look like?

elounda crete - lassithi windmills

Crete's easternmost province is also a varied province, meaning you will find lots of things there, all of them characterizing it but none of them prevailing. The plateau, the windmills, the cave and the ruins or forts in every other village or town make Elounda a quite special place with a touch of nature and history. On the other hand, Agios Nikolaos is perhaps the most cosmopolitan and touristy capital of Crete, with the best luxury hotels.

Personally, I never managed to understand what Elounda is. That's not a bad thing, really. Well, what I mean is, Rethymno was always the Venetian town with the comely harbor, Chania was the province next door, with lots of tourism and a side of tradition, while heraklio was the big city, the 'mother' and capital of Crete. But when it came to Elounda, I could never quite describe what it was and is. It's all-in-one-in-small-portions, a different province, a part of Crete I never really got. This might be just me, but I always thought this is the feeling Elounda gives, a mixed sense. It's magic, really, unique. You should feel it.

Which are the places I should visit in Elounda?

As I said before, Elounda may not have I-know-you've-heard-a-lot-about-me places like Knossos and Phaestos or the Samaria Gorge, but there are a couple of places that you will be glad to have discovered.

Like the Diktian Cave (or is it Diktean? I've seen it written both ways). The cave is actually Elounda's main attraction. The myth says that Rhea, Zeus' mother, fled from her child-eating husband Cronos to protect her son. The inscription of the Hymn of the Kouretes (the young men who banged their shields in order to drown the baby's cries) that was discovered in Paleokastro intensifies this myth.

Anyway, the Cave is at the top of a steep path and the descent is slippery, so make sure you wear rubber-soled shoes. You can either walk or ride one of the donkeys for hire.

Then there's Lake Voulismeni. Legend holds that this lake is bottomless, its deep and dark waters leading to the abstruse abyss of the world beyond. The locals have given it names like Xepatomeni ('bottomless') and Vromolimni ('dirty lake'). But the lake isn't bottomless. It's 64m deep, despite its modest diameter, and it's fed by an underground river that reappears there.

elounda - vouliasmeni lake

The Elounda Plateau is one of the most famous parts of Elounda. It was declared a forbidden territory by the Venetians in 1253 and it remained closed for 200 years. It was finally reopened in 1463 due to shortage of grain.

elounda - lassithi plateau panoramic view

Apple and pear groves, fields of crops and almond trees, metal windmills with white canvas sails, they are what you will find in the plateau, which is located 900m above sea level.

Eighteen villages are near the Plateau circumference and most of them are worth a visit too. Tzermiado, for example, is near a sacred Minoan cave and peak sanctuary. Agios Konstantinos has the most souvenir shops, with Moni Kristalenias just above it in a panoramic spot. Agios Georgios, finally, has a lovely folk museum.

A town you should definitely not miss though is Sitia. Quiet, off the tourist trail, Sitia is a pleasant, traveler-friendly city with beautiful somewhat Venetian buildings and a wide bay with a beautiful sandy beach. But the underlying difference between Sitia and the rest of Crete is that there, you suddenly stop being a tourist and you become a visitor, if you get what I mean. Don't forget to taste one of Crete's best wines in Sitia and visit its small, well-preserved fortress.

Only a breath away from Agios Nikolaos you will find Spinalonga Island, north of the Kolokytha Peninsula. The island has a ruined but still comely Venetian fortress that was built in 1579 to protect Elounta Bay. But what makes Spina-longa so blood-tingling is the truth that hides behind its nickname, 'the Island of the Living Dead'. A leper colony until 1953 when the last leper died, the island that has been uninhabited ever since, gives a chilling sensation with its cemetery with the open graves.

elounda crete - spinalonga island

elounda crete - lassithi church

Hmm. Now, what other places should you visit? There's Kritsa, a truly charming village which is also the location of the film He Who Must Die that starred Melina Merkouri. There's Moni Toplou (Toplou Monastery), the Byzantine Church of Agios Nikolaos and the Church of Kera Panagia that is like no other church on the island. There's Itanos port, a Minoan site that, unfortunately, not much remains of. Oh, and there's the archaeological museum too. OK, it might not be what you cam e to see, but you won't be wasting your time if you pay a visit to it.

So, see? There's lots of places in Elounda and don't tell me you're not intrigued by the legends and the mystery of the Lake and Spinalonga respectively, I'll know you're lying! I personally liked them both, but the Cave was what excited me the most, rather funnily, since I didn't feel like visiting it when I did. Don't miss any of these three; you'll miss out on great experiences, really!

Does Elounda have any historical sites?

I'm going to be honest with you. once again. Elounda's historical sites are limited, but they're definitely worth your time.

elounda - lato ancient city

For example, take the ruins of Lato. This ancient city was one of the few that weren't Minoan. Lato was founded in the 6th century BC by the Dorians and it was one of the most powerful cities in Crete. Now, combine the extensive remains of this Greco-Roman city with the superb views it has. Can you see why it's a must? With two acropolises, stunning views down to the Golf of Mirabello, the remains of a theatre and the prytaneion, it's anyone's guess why it's far less visited than Crete's Minoan sites.

Unfortunately, there are no buses to Lato. But it's only 4km north of Kritsa and even if you don't have your own transport, the walk is quite pleasant through olive groves along the road.

elounda crete - gournia minoan town

The Minoan site of Gournia could be considered the most important site of Elounda. See, its ruins are the best preserved of the island, ruins of streets and houses of a Minoan town, overlooked by a small palace. The ruins date from 1550 to 1450 BC.

The site of Malia, on the other hand, is actually as worthwhile as Knossos, even though it's far less known. No reconstruction has been done by Evans so the place is just the way it was. It is divided into two areas, the Royal palace and the craftsmen's living quarters.

As you exit the Valley of the Dead (named so because of the Minoan burial places that have been discovered there), you will find the 4th largest Minoan palace on Crete, which you can visit every day except Mondays.

Are there any beaches I should visit?

To be completely honest, yeah, I can name a few, none of them is something quite spectacular but they're all nice enough and picturesque. Voulisma, for example, is a pretty, sandy beach next to Istron, with crystal-clear waters. Pahia Ammos ('Thick Sand') is near the village that is built on the ancient city of Minoa; it's large and beautiful, but it can get rough. Agios Pandeleimonas, Kolokytha and Plaka Beach are the rest of your options.

elounda crete - lassithi beach

What about eating?

elounda crete - dakos crete food

Well, when it comes to eating, you are spoilt for choice. Sandwich stalls, chic restaurants, worthwhile tourist-oriented places, Greek-only tavernas and oinomayiria (a rough translation = 'wine cook houses'), you can find all these in Agios Nikolaos, in prices reasonable and not so.

Two exceptional places are Barko and To Koutouki, on Eloundaou Street, with tasty Cretan food, mezedes and dolmades and snails, or chochlioi, as the Cretans call them. Believe me, you will want to eat snails, they're not even remotely as disgusting as you imagine; on the contrary, they're absolutely delicious.

Aouas Taverna on Konstantinou Paleologou has the best herb pie you'll ever taste, along with other sounds-eww-but-it's-delicious odd dishes. Taverna Itanos on Kyprou, on the other hand, serves traditional Cretan food that is combined greatly with its atmosphere.

Pelagos, on Katehaki Street, is delightfully set back from the lake, a reputable restaurant that specializes in fish of all kinds: crayfish, swordfish fillets, sea urchins served with soup. You will have to make reservations for dinner though and, if you do, make sure you ask for a table in the garden beneath the trees: that'll set the tone.

Want other options? Avli on Pringipa Georgiou, Faros on Kitroplatia Beach, Neon and Migomis on Nikolaou Plastira, you should check some of these out. All of them serve delicious dishes; order the lamb with cheese in Faros, chicken and spinach in Migomis or some seafood in Neon. I guarantee you will not get disappointed.

Does Elounda have a wild nightlife like Chania and Heraklio?

Erm. No. I'm sorry, but Elounda is unfortunately quite little in the way of nightlife. Of course there are a couple of places you could visit, like Caf du Lac on 28 Oktovriou Street or Armida Boat on Akti Koundourou, but nothing like in the rest of Crete's provinces. Your best options are Alexandros with its background music, Kri-Kri with its live Greek music and Lipstick, a dancing disco-bar.

elounda crete - nightlife

How do I get to Elounda?

Unfortunately, Elounda is hard to reach when you're coming from abroad. See, your sole option is to take the plane to Chania or heraklio (preferably, since it's a lot closer) and then the bus or a taxi (something that will probably cost you some money). If you're in Athens, things are a lot easier, since Elounda has a port and there are trips to it almost every day.

So, you can understand that you will have to make a clear plan before anything, so if you decide to stay in Elounda after all, you will know how you'll get there and how you'll make your route worthwhile. For example, you could start with Chania and take the provinces one by one, visiting the sites and maybe spending the nights, before you finally arrive to Elounda. Or you could go to heraklio and arrive to Elounda sooner. It's all really up to you.

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