Ancient ruins, chic cities, and a whole lot of caves – it’s no wonder holidays to the Lassithi area pull in the punters. And that’s before you even start on the first-rate beaches…
Set on Crete’s east coast, Lassithi has its fingers in more than one pie. For starters, the region has some really lively beaches. In Agios Nikolaos and Elounda, for example, the stretches of sand are metres away from the town centres, so you can go from beach to bar to shop in a matter of minutes.
History is easy to come by in the Lassithi area, too. The timeline of Agios Nikolaos – one of the main holiday towns here – can be traced back to the Bronze Age. Plus, the famous leper colony of Spinalonga is less than a half-hour boat ride from Elounda harbour.
If one of Lassithi’s feet rests in the past, the other one is firmly in the present. Agios Nikolaos takes the crown as one of Crete’s chicest towns. Expect harbour-side wine bars, upmarket jewellery shops, and late-night ice cream parlours.
Things to See and Do in Lassithi area
When it comes to beaches, Lassithi has done pretty well for itself – the coastline here is fringed with swathes of gold sand and cute-as-a-button pebbled coves. The most popular stretches are around the town of Agios Nikolaos, but venture further afield and you’ll find off-the-beaten-track spots where you’ll have just a handful of other sun-seekers for company.
The big beach
The most popular spot in these parts is Havania Beach, about a kilometre north of Agios Nikolaos. It pulls in the crowds during the high season, thanks to its soft sands and clear, toddler-friendly waters. There are plenty of sunbeds and parasols up for grabs, and backing the sand you’ll find traditional tavernas rubbing shoulders with barefoot cafés.
The secret beach
For something a bit more low-key, head east from Agios Nikolaos to Tholos Beach. It’s a quiet, pebbled bay with lovely, calm water. If you like things simple this is your place – parasols are replaced with shady tamarisk trees, hordes of tourists are switched with just a few clued-up holidaymakers, and instead of a non-stop strip of bars and restaurants you’ve just got a couple of laid-back tavernas to choose from.
The markets in Agios Nikolaos and Elounda – 15 minutes down the road – are worth a good rummage. Agios Nikolaos’ offering takes place on a Wednesday morning next to the marina, and Elounda’s one leaps into action in the main square on a Friday. In both places, you’ll be able to pick up traditional products like thyme honey and olive oil for mere pocket change.
Olive wood shops do a roaring trade in eastern Crete. Their hand-crafted product ranges include everything from chess boards to fruit bowls. Prices start from 10 or 20 euros and go up to 100. Do a lap of the streets surrounding Lake Voulismeni in Agios Nikolaos and you’ll find a handful of shops well worth a mooch.
If you’ve got money to burn, you can set it alight in style in the jewellery shops of Agios Nikolaos. The road leading from the harbour up to Lake Voulismeni is full of artisan shops, which design and make their own gold and silver pieces.
The Lassithi area has got laid-back evenings down to a fine art. If you’re in Agios Nikolaos, Lake Voulismeni is the place to go after dinner. The water is edged by lots of great ice-cream parlours with plenty of outdoor seating. Elounda, 15 minutes from Agios Nikolaos, aims to please, too. Some of the restaurants in the harbour have tables set on private jetties.
Agios Nikolaos more than holds its own in terms of after-dark entertainment. Martiou Street is home to a pick and mix of bars, ranging from live music joints to cocktail bars. If you’re up for going further afield, Lerapetra is worth a visit. It takes 40 minutes to drive here from Agios Nikolaos, but you’ll be rewarded with a cluster of pretty cocktail bars by the waterfront, and a scattering of rock and disco bars around Kirba Street.
Wherever you go in Crete, you won’t be far from a cheese pie. Every town puts its own twist on the recipe. In this neck of the woods, kalitsounia are made from rolled dough and filled with sweet myzithra cheese. The seasoning of choice tends to be mint.
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you’ll probably be a big fan of lychnarakia. It’s prepared with sweet pastry and stuffed with ingredients like vanilla, honey, lemon rind and cinnamon. You won’t necessarily come across them on restaurant menus, but you’ll find shelves stacked with them when you pop into a local bakery.
This is eastern Crete’s upgraded version of the island’s famous pilaf dish. It’s made by boiling rice in meat stock and adding laces of spaghetti. It may sound odd to serve rice with spaghetti, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
Stuffed courgette flowers
Courgettes are part of the bedrock of the Cretan diet. For this dish, the flowers on the tops of locally grown courgettes are stuffed with cheese and fried. Some restaurants pour a sauce over the top, others leave it plain and serve it as part of a meze platter.
In most Cretan villages, there’s a local who is licensed to produce Tsikoudia. The clear spirit is made from the skins of grapes, and it’s knock-your-socks-off alcoholic. Most locals keep a bottle in their freezer and sip it slowly with dishes.
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Crete’s beach destinations have a right ding-dong when it comes to who’s number one, and this place has plenty of clout to back up the claim. There are seven stretches that have been given the nod by Blue Flag, ranging from pebbly pockets to sand-strewn sections. They’re spread out along the cusp of Mirabello Bay, and the swanky Blue Flag marina is the cherry on top.
If you’re looking for a taste of traditional Greece, you can’t go wrong with a stay in Sissi. This fishing village attracts locals and tourists alike to its seafront tavernas, which have earned a reputation for serving up some seriously good seafood. Although this place is up-and-coming, with a cluster of new hotels and restaurants springing up over the last few years, it’s kept its low-key, laidback feel.
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