Agios Nikolaos

About Ayios Nikitas, Greece

Book your next dream vacation to Agios Nikolaos or Aghios Nikolaos is a coastal town on the Greek island of Crete, lying east of the island's capital Heraklion, north of the town of Ierapetra and west of the town of Sitia.

There are not many other enchanting destinations in the world as is the Island of Crete. This is home to the oldest civilization of Europe, the Minoans. One can go far back in time by exploring the many archaeological sites, like the famous Palace of Knossos, that have inspired some of the most famous Greek myths. Sporting enthusiasts will marvel at the many mountains, plateaus, beaches and caves for exciting adventures. If sunbathing or playing in the ocean is more your thing than Crete is an absolute paradise with hundreds of organized or secluded beaches.
Crete is an island of contrast with incredible beaches to impressive mountains, from big cities to really small picturesque villages. Make sure to enjoy the wonderfully fresh and delicious Cretan cuisine reputed for its health benefits. If you looking for a quiet holiday the south and west side of the island are perfect, but party goers will be amazed by the vibrant nightlife offered in the north east. Crete caters to absolutely every desire you may wish for.

Beaches
The island is blessed with hundreds of beautiful beaches. There happening beaches surround by tavernas, wild untouched beaches, quiet bays and family oriented beaches. Here is a listing of some of the top beaches by prefecture:

Chania beaches are untouched and beautiful: Balos Lagoon, Elafonissi, Falasarna, Paleochora and Sougia

Heraklion beaches are organized and popular: Amoudara, Hersonissos, Malia and Matala

Lassithi beaches are picturesque: Elounda Beach, Havania, Myrtos and Vai, the famous palm tree lined beach

Rethymno beaches are quiet and calm: Bali, Panormos, Plakias and Platanias

Climate Crete is a mix of two climatic zones: the Mediterranean in the north and the North African in the south, basically guaranteeing an even climate year round. It can be quite humid, depending on the proximity to the sea. Winter is fairly mild but snowfall is common in high altitudes like in the mountains. If snow falls near the coast snow it only stays on the ground for a few minutes or hours. During the summer, average temperatures reach the high 20s or low 30s Celsius.

The south coast enjoys significantly more sunny days and higher temperatures throughout the year. The fertile region around Ierapetra is renowned for its exceptional year-round agricultural production.

Geography
The island of Crete, located in the Mediterranean Sea between the Sea of Crete and the Libyan Sea, is the largest of the Greek islands. In reference to the mainland, Crete is south of the Peloponnese. The island is approximately 260 km long and 60 km wide. Crete consists of four prefectures: Chania, Rethimno, Heraklion and Lasithi.

Crete is extremely mountainous, and its character is defined by a high mountain range crossing from west to east, formed by three different groups of mountains. Between the mountains there are fertile coastal plains and busy coastal metropolitan cities.

The island is very green in certain areas despite only having around 60 days of rain per year. The contrast between lush mountains and very dry, almost desert areas is striking.

History Excavations revealed stone tools at least 130,000 years old, hypothesizing that pre-Homo sapiens hominids from Africa crossed to Crete on rafts. But the confirmed history of Crete begins with the remains of a settlement found under palace at Knossos, dating to the 7th Millennium BC, preceding the ancient Minoan civilization by more than four millennia.

Crete was the center of the Minoan civilization, a sophisticated Bronze Age culture from 2600-1150 BC. Crete became a major center of politics, commerce, handwork and the Minoans flourished as a maritime power. This civilization wrote in the undeciphered script known as Linear A. Early Cretan history is related to famous myths such as those of King Minos, Theseus, and the Minotaur. The Minoan eruption of Thera devastated the Minoan civilization. The Minoan civilization was overrun by the Mycenean civilization from mainland Greece.

Crete was invaded by Romans in the year 69 and Crete became a Roman province. Crete became a part of the Byzantine Empire during the 820s, a time that brought much wealth to the island. In 1212 Crete became an overseas colony of the Republic of Venice for 4 centuries. The Ottomans conquered Crete in 1669.

There were several uprisings in Crete against Ottoman and finally became an independent Cretan State in 1898. Crete was joined in union with Greece on 1 December 1913.Crete was the site of an airborne invasion by German troops, and a spirited resistance by Allied troops and the people of Crete during the 1941 Nazi invasion of Greece.

Nature The geographical isolation of the Island of Crete is reflected in the diversity and uniqueness of the fauna and flora. The native animals of Crete are the Kri Kri goat, Cretan Shrew, Cretan marten and the Cretan Spiny Mouse. Also found on the island are the badger, dormouse, many reptiles, frogs, insects and molluscs. Rare birds can be spotted as well, like the Bearded Vulture, the Eleanora’s Falcon and the Golden Eagle. Leatherback turtles and Green turtles are endangered sea turtles found in Crete.

Wildflowers are rampant on the island: common species include camomile, daisy, gladioli, hyacinth, iris, poppy, cyclamen, tulips and 200 different species of wild orchids. Crete has a rich variety of indigenous herbs including sage, rosemary, thyme, and oregano. Rare herbs include the endemic Cretan dittany and Ironwort. Common trees on the island include the chestnut, cypress, oak, olive tree, pine, plane, and tamarisk.

Crete is extremely mountainous, has many valleys, fertile plateaus and a number of gorges. The most popular ones with visitors are:

- Samariá Gorge National Park; the most famous part of the gorge is the stretch known as the Iron Gates, where the sides of the gorge close in to a width of only four meters and soar up to a height of 1,100m. If you are up for a hike the trail is 16km long in total with some exhausting stretches. Coach tours are also available, sparing you the hike.

- The Lasithi Plateau is a large scenic plain located in the mountains. Lasithi plateau is famous for its white-sailed windmills that have been used for decades to irrigate the land. Visit the Ideon Andron, the cave where, according to Greek Mythology, Zeus was born and grew up.

- The Zakros Gorge runs several kilometres down towards the sea and ancient palace ruins of Zakros. It is also known as the "valley of the dead" due to the ancient Neolithic tombs in the valley wall.

- The stunning turquoise Elounda lagoon conceals the sunken city of Olous which can be reached by snorkelling or diving.

- The palm beach of Vai features the largest natural palm forest in Europe, made up of the endemic Cretan Date Palm.

Unique to Here Crete’s history is the source of one of the most famous tales from Greek mythology. The king of Crete, king Minos, refused to sacrifice the beautiful snow-white bull sent to him by Poseidon and had a plain bull sacrificed instead. Poseidon found out about the switch and exacted his revenge by forcing Minos's wife to fall in love with the bull. Their copulation resulted in the birth of the mythical beast, the Minotaur. Minos had a gigantic labyrinth constructed to hold the Minotaur captive.

Minos sent seven boys and seven girls every seven years to be sacrificed by the Minotaur. When the third sacrifice approached, Theseus, son of king Aegeus, volunteered to slay the monster. Ariadne, daughter of Minos, fell in love at first sight, and helped him by giving him a sword and a ball of thread, so that he could find his way out of the Minotaur's labyrinth. Theseus killed the Minotaur. On his return home, Theseus neglected, however, to put up the white sail, indicating his victory. King Aegeus, from his lookout, saw the black-sailed ship approaching and, presuming his son dead, committed suicide by throwing himself into the sea named after him, the Aegean Sea.

Airport :
Heraklion International Airport Airport Tax : A departure tax of 12 Euro, per person, is to be paid when leaving the country. Distance from Airport : 60 km Tourist Office : 21, Akti Koundourou Street Agios Nikolaos, Crete 72100, Greece. Tel:+30 28410 22357 Tourist Season : April to June, and September to October Festivals & Events February Apokries, the Greek Carnival

May 21- Celebration of the Battle of Crete, in Chania and Rethymnon.

July Yakinthia Festival in Anogia Kornaria Festival Rethymno Renaissance and Wine Festival

July to September Heraklion Summer Festival

August Paleohora Music Festival

October/November The Tsikoudia Festival, in Voukolies, is dedicated to the strong distilled spirit, also called Raki. During the festival the spirit is often served with honey.

Transportation There are three airports on Crete: Nikos Kazantzakis at Heraklion, the military airport Daskalogiannis at Chania and Sitia airport. International travellers usually arrive at Nikos Kazantzakis. Sitia is mostly used for domestic flights. There are daily flights from Athens airport by Olympic Air, Aegean Airlines, Athens Airways and Sky Express. Many budget airlines also fly to Crete from other European airports.

If you plan on arriving by ferry, you can find services from Athens and Thessaloniki, to Heraklion, Rethymno, Kastelli-Kassamos, Sitia or Chania. Summer ferries operate routes from Crete to Rhodes, many other Greek islands, and to the Peloponnese. Keep in mind these are all long trips.

Car rental agencies are present throughout the big cities. Driving in Greece can be a challenge. Stop signs are rarely respected by locals and Cretans usually drive aggressively. Most roads are one-lane but being cut off on the opposite lane is common or headlights will be flashed to drive you into the safety lane so they can pass.

Taxis are a great way to get around because they are very reasonably priced. Taxi driver must always charge by the meter price which he must turn on as soon as you get into the cab. In daytime make sure the meter has the 1 lit, not 2 which is night time fares.

Bus services are available between towns. There is no railway system. Since there are no roads along the southwest coast there is a ferry line connecting many of the coastal villages. The public transportation buses of the bigger cities are reliable, frequent and cheap.

Activities & Sports
With such a varied landscape active visitors have a wide selection of sport activities to try. With beaches galore there are innumerable places to practice water sports, swim in the ocean and just take in the sun. The more developed beaches often have rental services that offer water-skiing, wind-surfing, sea kayaking, pedal-boats, canoes scuba diving and snorkelling. For yacht owners, marinas are available in Heraklion, Rethymno and Chania. This is also where you can find charter boats for fishing excursions.

The many mountains of Crete offer up plenty of mountaineering opportunities, whether you are into leisure walks on paths, serious hiking or rock climbing. You can either go explore on your own or join an organized excursions through one of the Mountaineering Associations.

The Crete Golf Club is a championship course, the only 18-hole golf course on the island of Crete and one of the most impressive courses of the Mediterranean. Parks, sports centers clubs and the larger resorts sometimes allow the use of their swimming pools, tennis courts, mini-golf courses, basketball and volleyball courts and gyms.

Archaeology Crete was the center of the Minoan civilization, a sophisticated Bronze Age culture from 2600-1150 BC. There are several fascinating archaeological sites to visit with the vestiges of this advanced society, all rolled up with fascinating mythology. Some of these ruins include Gournia, Zakros and Malia to name a few. The most visited ones we will see more in detail below. Most palaces have been destroyed and rebuilt several times over.

The largest palace complex is the Palace of Knossos which dates back to the Bronze Age. It was the main centre of power, religion and culture of the Minoan civilization in Crete. Knossos was commissioned by the legendary Cretan king Minos. Built very much like a maze, the palace is said to have had 1300 rooms, over several floors, connected with corridors of varying sizes and direction. From the palace flourished the myth of the Labyrinth and the Minotaur.

Phaistos was the second largest palace during the height of Minoan civilization. Unlike Knossos the layout was much more orderly and functional. Phaistos was the seat of king Radamanthis, brother of king Minos. Many objects have been uncovered here during excavations but the most important discovery was the clay Disc of Phaistos. There are 241 tokens on the disc, comprising 45 unique signs. Many represent easily identifiable every-day things yet to this day it remains undecipherable.

The disk now resides in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. This museum displays the most important and representative finds from Minoan civilisation and excavations across the island of Crete. Also includes a number of finds from Classical Greek and Roman periods. If you have the time it is suggested to visit the museum, visit a few of the ruins and then revisit the museum.

For a change of pace there are also some Roman ruins you can explore in Gortyn. The ruins include the seat of the Roman Governor of Crete, the Agora, the temple of Apollo, Roman baths (thermae) and a Roman theater.

Attractions & Sights Without a doubt, the main attractions here are the many Minoan archaeological sites which are discussed in the Archaeology section of this guide. But there are many other things to see while on the island of Crete.

All the major cities have several fascinating museums to explore. At the top of the list are the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, the Nautical Museum Chania, the Natural History Museum of Crete, the Battle of Crete Museum, the Lychnostatis Open Air Museum and the Folklore Museum.

There are also several ancient monasteries on Crete: the Monastery of Saint Catherine of the Sinaites, the the Gonia Monastery, the Moni Toplou, and the monastery at Prevelli to name a few.

Other varied attractions include:

- If you go to Gortyna for the ancient Roman ruins, make to check out also the early Christian Byzantine Cathedrals. - The Kazarma fortress, a 13th century Venetian fortress. - The old windmills of the Lasithi Plateau, still used for grinding wheat. - The Walk with Donkeys Sanctuary, a sanctuary for unwanted, injured and abused donkeys. There are organized walking tours with the donkeys and rides for kids. - Visit the lovely villages of Agia Roumeli, Bali, Zaros, Archanes Village and Matala. - There are two aquariums - Aquaworld in Hersonissos and Cretaquarium near Heraklion.

Nightlife Crete is known as a serious party destination…if you know what part of the island to go to. The north and north east are particularly tailored for party goers with nightclubs staying open till the sun rises. Check out the clubs in Heraklion Malia, Hersonissos, Agios Nikolaos and in the touristy beach resorts of Elounda, Makrigialos, Sitia, Neapolis and Ierapetra.

And everywhere on the island you can find a quieter bar, hopefully one with traditional Cretan music. The Lyra is the dominant folk instrument on the island. It is often accompanied by the askomandoura (a type of bagpipe) and the Cretan lute. The Tabachaniotika songs are a unique Cretan musical style.

Tsikoudia, more commonly know as Raki, is predominant alcohol drink produced and consumed by the locals. It contains 35%–60% alcohol by volume and it is made from the left over distilled wine. It has a grapey taste and is usually served with a selection of small dishes (meze). Even though Raki production is strictly controlled by alcohol taxing laws, it is often home-produced by individuals. It can be flavored using lemon rind, rosemary, or honey.

Between August and October, try to visit a "rakokazano" which is local a raki distillery. They are not usually in touristic areas but more in the mainland and you need to be invited by a local. You will leave the party drunk so plan a return to your hotel ahead of time. Open to all is the Tsikoudia Festival, in Voukolies, in October and November.

Side Trips The island of Crete is pretty isolated from the rest of the Greek Islands distance wise. The only one you could visit in a day, if you go by plane, is beautiful Rhodes. Rhodes is a very popular destination due to the many beaches, archaeological sites, and particularly its medieval town. If you are there for a day focus on seeing the city of the same name than the island. Rhodes is the oldest inhabited medieval town in Europe.

The Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the best preserved and most extensive medieval towns in Europe. The most impressive medieval building is the Palace of Grand Masters was originally built as a citadel during the Byzantine era by the Knights of St John. Approximately 24 rooms are open to the public where you can admire the stone halls, beautiful Roman and Hellenistic mosaics, and Greek statues.

Many attractions are housed in medieval buildings, such as the Archaeological Museum is housed in the Hospital of the Kings. The Municipal Gallery has a large collection of 20th-century Greek painting. There is a Modern Art Museum and for a change of pace there is an Aquarium at the Institute of Marine Biology. Also visit the remains of the ancient Acropolis of Rhodes, the Archbishops Palace, the Annunciation church, the Town hall, Theater and Government House.

Accommodations
You will find quite a large variety of accommodation to choose from while on the Island of Crete. There are small budget hotels, luxury resorts, villas, apartments, hostels, bed & breakfasts and camping sites.

Choose your town according to the type of trip you are looking for. If you want to party then head to the Eastern side of the island which is more developed for tourism. Chersonissos and Malia are known for their nightlife. Western Crete is a quieter destination with an urban twist. For example Chania is an attractive destination for sightseeing, eating and shopping with a bit of beach on the side. If quiet beaches are your main focus then try the Southern side of Crete.

Eating Out Good tavernas and small local restaurant offering the local cuisine are the best places to rub shoulders at the dinner table with the locals. Just keep in mind they eat around 10 or 11 PM. Make sure to ask the waiter what are the specialties of the day which will not be in the menu. A must is a stop in a traditional cafe, called kafeneia. Here you can enjoy a real Greek coffee which is prepared with the grounds left in. It is a thick, strong black coffee, served in a small cup either sweetened or unsweetened.

The Cretan Diet is famous for its great health benefits and nutritional value. The emphasis is more on grains, fruits, vegetable and olive oil, less on meat. The traditional cuisine was widespread in the island until the 1960s, when with improving living standards, alimentary patterns changed towards more meat and other animal-derived produce.

Fresh and dried fruits, beans and legumes, wild herbs, rough cereals and various vegetable salads are consumed in great amounts and constituted the base of the Cretan cuisine during that period.

Soups are enjoyed as well. The Kotosoupa aoup is a chicken based soup with a lemon sauce, the Fakkes is a tomato soup with lentils, the Fasolatha is a hearty been soup in a tomato base and the Nisiotiki is a hearty seafood soup.

Very tasty and popular Cretan cheeses are the Graviera hard cheese, the Myzitra which is made ewe's or goat’s milk, and the Anthotiros mild, soft sheep milk’s cheese.

In the last decades meat has gained in popularity. Smoked ham (apaki), smoked sausages (loukaniko), goat or lamb, snails, and.Cretan pilaf (chicken and lamb risotto served with goat's butter) are common dishes.

Shopping There are a few local products that are made in Crete. Look for Cretan honey, Cretan Wines, local cheeses, jewellery, knives, local embroideries, leather goods, copper, bronze, pottery and hand wooden.

The bigger towns of Heraklion, Rethymno, Chania and Agios Nikolaos offer more shopping opportunities but you will find quaint shops in all villages. In Chania you will find a bigger selection of shops for clothes, shoes, books, beauty items, etc. There are a few weekly street markets in the towns. An impressive covered one, called the Agora, is in Chania and dates back to 1913

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