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Rough Guide Crete 4e [Paperback]

Rough Guide
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Book Description

July 1 1998 4th ed
INTRODUCTION

Crete is a great deal more than just another Greek island. Much of the time, especially in the cities or along the developed north coast, it doesn't feel like an island at all, but a substantial land in its own right. Which of course it is - a mountainous, wealthy and at times surprisingly cosmopolitan one with a tremendous and unique history. There are two big cities, Iraklion and Hania, a host of sizeable, historic towns, and an island culture which is uniquely Cretan: the Turks were in occupation less than a hundred years ago, and the Greek flag raised for the first time only in 1913.

Long before, Crete was distinguished as the home of Europe's earliest civilization. It was only at the beginning of this century that the legends of King Minos, and of a Cretan society which ruled the Greek world in prehistory, were confirmed by excavations at Knossos and Festos. Yet the Minoans had a remarkably advanced and cultured society, at the centre of a substantial maritime trading empire, as early as 2000 BC. The artworks produced on Crete at this time are unsurpassed anywhere in the ancient world, and it seems clear, wandering through the Minoan palaces and towns, that life on Crete in those days was good. The apparently peaceful Minoan culture survived a number of major disasters, following each of which the palaces were rebuilt on an even grander scale. It is only after a third catastrophe that significant numbers of weapons start to appear in the ruins, probably because Mycenaean Greeks had taken control of the island. Nevertheless, for nearly 500 years, by far the longest period of peace the island has seen, Crete was home to a civilization well ahead of its time.

The Minoans are believed to have come originally from Anatolia, and the island's position as meeting point - and strategic fulcrum - between east and west has played a crucial role in its subsequent history. Control passed from Greeks to Romans to Saracens, through the Byzantine Empire to Venice, and finally to Turkey for 200 years. During World War II Crete was occupied by the Germans, and gained the dubious distinction of being the first place to be successfully invaded by parachute. Each one of these diverse rulers has left some mark, and more importantly they have marked the islanders and forged for the land a personality toughened by endless struggles for independence.

Today, with a flourishing agricultural economy, Crete is one of the few Greek islands which could support itself without tourists. Nevertheless, tourism is heavily promoted, and is rapidly taking over parts of the island altogether. Along the populous north coast, Crete can be as sophisticated as you want it, and the northeast, in particular, can be depressingly overdeveloped. In the less known coastal reaches of the south it's still possible to find yourself alone, but even here places which have not yet been reached are getting harder and harder to find. By contrast, the high mountains of the interior are barely touched, and one of the best things to do on Crete is to hire a Vespa and head for remoter villages, often only a few kilometres off some heavily beaten track.

The mountains, which dominate the view as you approach and make all but the shortest journey an expedition, are perhaps the most rewarding aspect of Crete. In the west, the White Mountains are snowcapped right into June, Psiloritis (Mount Ida) in the centre is higher still, and in the east the heights continue through the Dhikti and Sitia ranges to form a continuous chain from one end of the island to the other. They make a relatively small place - Crete is about 260km long by 60km at its widest (roughly the size of Jamaica) - feel much larger. There are still many places where the roads cannot reach.


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Excellent, and characterfully written. -- The Times, London, UK

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Where to go

Every part of Crete has its loyal devotees and it's hard to pick out highlights, but on the whole if you want to get away from it all you should head for the ends of the island - west, towards Hania and the smaller, less well-connected places along the south and west coasts, or east to Sitia. Wherever you're staying though, you don't have to go far inland to escape the crowds.

Whatever you do, your first objective will probably be to leave behind the urban sprawl of Iraklion (Heraklion) as quickly as possible - having paid the obligatory, and rewarding, visits to the archeological museum and nearby Knossos. The Minoan sites are of course one of the major attractions of Crete: as well as Knossos itself there are many other grand remains scattered around the centre of the island - Festos and Ayia Triadha in the south (with Roman Gortys to provide contrast) and Malia on the north coast. Almost wherever you go though, you'll find some kind of reminder of this history - the town of Gournia near the tourist enticements of Ayios Nikolaos, the palace of Zakros over in the far east or the lesser sites scattered around the west.

For many people, unexpected highlights also turn out to be Crete's Venetian forts - dominant at Rethimnon, magnificent at Frangokastello, and found in various stages of ruin around most of the island; the Byzantine churches, most famously at Kritsa but again to be discovered almost anywhere; and in Rethimnon and Hania cluttered old towns full of Venetian and Turkish relics.

The mountains and valleys of the interior also deserve far more attention than they get. Only the Lasithi plateau in the east and the Samarian gorge in the west really see large numbers of visitors, but almost anywhere you can turn off the main roads and find agricultural villages going about their daily life, and often astonishingly beautiful scenery. This is especially true in the west, where the Lefka Ori - the White Mountains - dramatically dominate every view, and numerous lesser gorges run parallel to the Samarian one down to the Libyan Sea. But there's lovely country behind Iraklion too, in the foothills of the Psiloritis range, and especially on the other side of these mountains in the Amari Valley, easily reached from Rethimnon. The east also has its moments, in the Dhikti range and in the spectacular cliff drive from Ayios Nikolaos to Sitia.

As for beaches, you'll find great ones almost anywhere on the north coast. From Iraklion to Ayios Nikolaos there's very heavy development, and most package tourists are aiming for the resort hotels here. These places can be fun if nightlife and crowds are what you're after - especially the biggest of them, like Malia and Ayios Nikolaos, which have the added advantage of being large enough to have plenty of cheap food and accommodation, plus good transport links. Malia also has sand as good as any on the island (if you can find it through the crowds), but Ayios Nikolaos really doesn't have much of a beach of its own. Further east things get quieter: Sitia is a place of real character, and beyond it on the east coast are a number of beautifully tranquil places - especially Zakros - and Vai, very busy with day-trippers. To the west there's another tranche of development around Rethimnon, but the town itself is relatively unscathed, and a rather lesser cluster of apartments and smaller hotels near Hania, the most attractive of the big towns. Other places at this end of the island tend to be on a smaller scale.

Along the south coast, resorts are far more scattered, and the mountains come straight down to the sea much of the way along. Only a handful of places are really developed - Ierapetra, Ayia Galini, Matala, Paleohora - and a few more, like Plakias and Makriyialos, on their way. But lesser spots in between, not always easy to get to, are some of the most attractive in Crete.

When to go

As the southernmost of all Greek islands, Crete has by far the longest summers: you can get a decent tan here right into October and swim at least from April until early November. Spring is the prime time to come: in April and May the island is relatively empty of visitors, the weather clear and not overpoweringly hot, and every scene is brightened by a profusion of wild flowers.

By mid-June the rush is beginning. July and August are not only the hottest, the most crowded and most expensive months, they are also intermittently blighted by fierce winds and accompanying high seas, which make boat trips very uncomfortable, and at their worst can mean staying indoors for a day or more at a time. The south coast is particularly prone to these. In September the crowds gradually begin to thin out, and autumn can again be a great time to visit - but now the landscape looks parched and tired, and there's a feeling of things gradually winding down.

Winters are mild, but also vaguely depressing: many things are shut, it can rain sporadically, sometimes for days, and there's far less life in the streets. In the mountains it snows, even to the extent where villages can be cut off; on the south coast it's generally warmer, soothed by a breeze from Africa. You may get a week or more of really fine weather in the middle of winter, but equally you can have sudden viciously cold snaps right through into March.


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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars A book for backpackers. Oct. 10 2000
By Sailoil
I travelled to Crete on a package holiday and stayed in the popular (read overdeveloped) resort of Hersonnosis. I found that the Rough Guide had no interest in covering this particular area and is particularly scathing towards package holidays. It is written as a guide to backpackers, and is probably useful for finding cheap restaurants and rough hostel accomodation. It is not as useful as a travel guide. I had travelled to Crete previously on an archeological tour and I know a good deal about the Minoan sites, the Venetian harbours and the Natural amenities such as the Samarian gorge. I found that the rough guide had litte to say about what was important and much to say about what is not important to the package holidaymaker. It was a lesson to me, in future I will be careful to choose the right kind of guide for my holiday!
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4.0 out of 5 stars The best guide to Crete, but flawed Sept. 10 1999
The largest Greek island is well described in this entertaining book, which is very thorough in its coverage of all the major and minor sites. An essential aid for any visitor, it is marred only by some out of date information which should have been checked before this latest edition was published
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The best guide to Crete, but flawed Sept. 10 1999
By John Stedman (stylish@looksmart.com) - Published on Amazon.com
The largest Greek island is well described in this entertaining book, which is very thorough in its coverage of all the major and minor sites. An essential aid for any visitor, it is marred only by some out of date information which should have been checked before this latest edition was published
11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A book for backpackers. Oct. 10 2000
By Sailoil - Published on Amazon.com
I travelled to Crete on a package holiday and stayed in the popular (read overdeveloped) resort of Hersonnosis. I found that the Rough Guide had no interest in covering this particular area and is particularly scathing towards package holidays. It is written as a guide to backpackers, and is probably useful for finding cheap restaurants and rough hostel accomodation. It is not as useful as a travel guide. I had travelled to Crete previously on an archeological tour and I know a good deal about the Minoan sites, the Venetian harbours and the Natural amenities such as the Samarian gorge. I found that the rough guide had litte to say about what was important and much to say about what is not important to the package holidaymaker. It was a lesson to me, in future I will be careful to choose the right kind of guide for my holiday!
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