RETHYMNO | GREEK ISLANDS | CRETE
This excursion focuses mainly on Rethymno’s Old Town. If you wish to combine it with swimming, avoid the crowded and bland organized beaches of the north and go through the remarkable gorges to discover the scenic and fairly untouched beaches of southern Crete. You can combine this expedition with trips to other destinations in Crete if you have time.
Why visit Rethymno?
Because of the attractive Old Town of Rethymno with its Venetian fort, its mosques and picturesque alleys. Because of the wild gorges, enticing beaches and historic monasteries. And of course because of the warm welcome by the locals.
RETHYMNO HISTORICAL INFO
The region was inhabited from prehistoric times but the zenith of the ancient city of Rithymna dates back to the 4th and 3rd c. BC. Here in 1204, the Venetians built a small port and a fortified town, but in 1646 Leo of Venice was defeated by Hussein Pasha. The town’s capture by the Ottomans put an end to any evolution in scholarship and culture and the inhabitants endured a lengthy period of dark oppression which was terminated, after endless struggle, in 1913 when Crete was united with the rest of Greece.
WHAT TO SEE & DO
Rethymno, with 24,000 inhabitants, is on a sandy shore 12 km long. Ancient Rithymna’s appearance and architectural style were repeatedly altered, until now at the end of the 20th c. it is divided into the old and new towns. The modern town is a concrete jungle of apartment buildings, but the old maintains the charm which not even the unchecked development of mass tourism can erase.
RETHYMNO OLD TOWN
There is much to admire in the sight of the facades of the Venetian buildings under preservation as you wander about the narrow streets with grand old houses.
THE FORTRESS (FORTEZZA)
In 1573, after the attack by Oloudj Ali, an Algerian pirate who burned and pillaged the town, the Venetians decided to build a fort with four battlements and three entrances, so as to be protected from attack by sea. On the site of their cathedral you can still see Ibrahim Khan’s mosque. If you visit it in the morning you will escape the crowds.
THE VENETIAN PORT
A scenic spot ideal for a cup of coffee and a rest from sightseeing, especially at sunset.
At the end of Palaiologou St. a typical Renaissance monument built by the Venetians in the mid 16th c.
On the north side of Petihaki Sq. Artistically sculptured and of unusual design, this fountain was erected in 1626 over an older one. Water flows out of the mouths of three lion-heads in relief.
Himarras St. (opposite the fort), tel. 00302831054668
Housed in the Fortezza, it contains finds from the Neolithic era until the days of Turkish domination. There are fine examples of ceramic and stone figurines, tools and stone jewellery of the Neolithic age from the Gerani cave, inscribed clay sarcophagi and inscriptions from Axos and Eleutherna. There is also an excellent collection of Roman statues and collections of Roman, Greek and Byzantine coins.
Ethnikis Antistasseos St.
A single-aisled basilica with a beautifully carved entrance door-frame and striking architecture, this was the church of a Franciscan monastery.
CHURCH OF KYRIA TON ANGELON
A triple-aisled church without a dome, of the order of Dominicans, dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene.
The Neratze mosque in the town’s Venetian square has the tallest minaret, while the Kara Moussa Pasha and Veli Pasha mosques, with their domes and minarets, add an exotic touch.
HISTORICAL AND FOLK ART MUSEUM
28-30 M. Vernardou St., tel.00302831023398
Traditional handwoven fabrics, embroideries, jewellery, objects and utensils are housed in an interesting old Venetian house with a lovely garden.
A delightful isolated village amidst thick vegetation in a gorge with a little stream. Its last inhabitants abandoned it 20 years ago. In the Middle Ages many water mills were built to meet the increasing needs of the district in flour milling. The path, about 300 m long, leading there from the road, is passable and a pleasant walk to the sound of birdsong. If you are seduced by the gorge’s beauties, continue your walk to the end of it (four more hours).
The district’s main village, it maintains the atmosphere of olden times and has a lot to see, such as the Konaki, the mansion of the Clodio family, later lived in by a Turkish Aga whence its name (Turkish konak = home); the fine Byzantine church of Panagia Kera, and Agios Eftyhios, a Byzantine church with devotional paintings of the 11th c. You will come across it 500 m before entering the village, taking the dirt track to the left. Have a rest in the cool and charming square of the village with its cafes.
A Byzantine monastery where resistance to the Ottoman occupation was particularly active, due to its strategic position.
The original construction, fortress-like, was built around the 14th c. and the church in 1587. In the uprising of 1866, women and children, monks and villagers, alongside the revolutionaries, fiercely resisted the forces — 15,000 strong — of Mustapha Pasha for two whole days. As soon as the Turks burst in, the monastery’s defenders, the abbot Gavriil at their head, blew up the powder magazine, burying themselves and the enemy under the rubble. Thus Arkadi, the old monastery built by an unknown monk probably named Arkadios, became the symbol of the Cretans’ fight for liberty. The monastery’s museum houses a collection of Post-Byzantine icons, religious vessels, weapons from the struggles and an ossuary of its unnamed defenders.
The houses in traditional style, with arched windows and gates are in harmony with a beautiful landscape. Olive trees cover the little hill on which the village is built. There are remnants of the ancient city, Apollonia’s, walls, aqueduct and giant reservoirs, and from here comes the Archaic statue of a woman’s torso now in Heraklio’s archaeological museum.
They say that Queen Margarita, delighted by the beauty of the countryside, built this village, which today has 720 inhabitants, famous for their hospitality and their pottery.
A seaside village of 370 inhabitants, believed to be on the site of ancient Panormos, the port of Eleutherna, once called Kastelli. The scenery is splendid, but it has long been discovered by holidaymakers who throng the tavernas and bars of the picturesque little bay.
This village is worth a visit mainly for its 25 fountainheads which bring the water straight from the top of Mt Psiloritis (Ida). The water flows from the mouths of sculptured lions amid flourishing greenery. Visit the old church of the Metamorphosis tou Sotira with frescoes depicting the daily life of the damned.
From the village of Koxare, take the road for Asomatos to get to this stunning gorge, with its breathtaking sheer cliffsides.
As you exit the Kourtaliotiko gorge with its dense greenery, you are met by the sight of the monastery perched on the summit of a bare hill. It is dedicated to Saint John the Divine and was founded in the 16th or 17th c. The double-aisled church was built in 1836 and, having been destroyed, renovated in 1911. If you believe in miracles, see the cross set in gold, with precious stones and wood from the Holy Cross, kept in the church and considered to be miraculous. Also visit the museum and the library of the monastery.
This cave in the foothills of Mt Psiloritis, between Rethymno and Heraklio and near the village of Zoniana, has remarkable natural phenomena and is considered the island’s most spectacular cave. It has four chambers and descends 140 m. Locally they call it Sendoni.
Close to Zoniana and the Sfendoni cave is the village of Anogeia, where during the Ottoman domination revolutionaries established a resistance centre, which was reactivated under the German occupation. The locals speak in the Cretan dialect, wear their traditional costumes and it is rumoured they never gave up their weapons which reappear as if by magic at weddings, feasts — and also during quarrels. Have a glass of raki (fiery locally-brewed spirits) at the village cafe and see the admirable local handicrafts in the shops. The path to the summit of Mt Psiloritis (Ida), starts here.
BEST BEACHES IN RETHYMNO
Boat trips from Rethymno to various beaches and caves of the area are organized, lasting from 2 1/2 to 5 hrs. However, we suggest you head south for the best beaches of this trip.
PREVELI BEACH (FINIKAS)
At the exit of the Kourtaliotiko gorge and at the mouth of the Kourtaliotis river, Preveli beach is one of the island’s most attractive. You’ll have to pass along a steep but manageable path over boulders to reach it. Have your camera with you to record the unequalled scenery of the route. The beach, although crowded in summer, has limpid waters and palm trees and if you walk along the riverbed, among lush foliage, you will discover crystal-clear pools of river-water among the boulders, ideal for a dip.
Were it not for the large hotel complex near it, this sandy beach would be isolated. There is, however, a particularly delightful spot, a smaller beach left of Damnoni and before Ammoudi — reachable by a dirt track. Surrounded by rocks, the waters are transparent and a magnet for nudists. From nearby Plakia beach there are daily departures for Agia Galini and Preveli beach.
A good sandy beach.
A beach with sand in Plakia Bay, with palm trees and a taverna popular with
RETHYMNO TIPS & INFORMATION
HOW TO GET TO RETHYMNO
By air from Athens airport El. Venizelos to Chania or Heraklio with Aegean Airlines.
By ferry from Piraeus, Piraeus Port Authority, Tel. 0030 2104226000
HOW TO GET AROUND
To explore Rethymno’s Old Town for the principal sightseeing of this trip, on foot.
If you want to visit Arkadi, Moni Preveli and the other beaches and have no car, you can hire a car.
BEST SEASON TO VISIT RETHYMNO
Spring and autumn. The climate is warm enough for sea-bathing. Also a good choice for other times of year.
WHAT TO BUY IN RETHYMNO
Rethymniot embroidery, ceramics from the village of Margarites and handwoven fabrics from Anogia.
RETHYMNO USEFUL TELEPHONES NUMBERS
Rethymno Town Hall 00302831022245
Rethymno Tourist Bureau 00302831056350
Rethymno Police 00302831022331
Rethymno Hospital 00302831027491, 00302831027814
Rethymno Port Authority 00302831028971
Rethymno Taxis 00302831025000, 00302831024000