Sitting on the slopes leading down to Mirabello Bay in the north coast of eastern Crete, Agios Nikolaos is a honeypot of some of the island’s best luxury resorts. Once you’ve arrived, you’ll soon see why so many tourists are attracted to this pretty little town. Surrounded by sandy beaches, breathtaking landscape and close to some fascinating sights, this isolated corner of the island offers visitors equal chance to explore and relax.
Seven Must-Visit Spots
Even those who don’t class themselves as a sun-worshipper can appreciate the beauty of this stretch of golden sand, Crete’s most tropical beach. The yellow shore backs on to a magnificent jungle of nearly five thousand palm trees, making it Europe’s largest palm grove! Day-trippers find this a popular spot to rest and recuperate, thanks to the tranquillity of this remote location. The best part? The land is owned by a local monastery so you won’t find towering buildings or tacky tourist facilities, making it the ideal spot for escaping the crowds.
Top tip: visit outside peak season, in June and September, to avoid the hordes of families and get the place almost entirely to yourself.
For a change of scenery, travel inland to the fertile plains of Lasithi Plateau. From the surrounding hills, you’ll be treated to a magnificent view of the plain that rises 840 metres above sea level, spot the rural villages and abundant orchards that are scattered throughout this agricultural landscape. You might also see some classic white windmills common in the area, which used to pump water as part of the old irrigation system.
Top tip: visit Zeus’s supposed birthplace, the Diktean Cave, filled with fascinating rock formations and renowned for its mythical stories.
Just eight kilometres from town, Elounda boasts quite a different scene. Along the coast between Schisma and Plaka, this destination is a hotspot for the rich and famous, drawn to the area’s abundance of luxury resort complexes and A-list villas. If you’re not interested in star-spotting, Elounda still offers spectacular views over the sparkling sea in Mirabello Bay and the Mediterranean islet of Spinalonga.
Top tip: if you’re feeling indulgent, treat yourself to a massage or beauty treatment at one of the five-star wellness centres.
If local history is more your thing, an excursion to this small island will be of interest. It may be small, but this islet has a long story to tell. In the seventeenth century it was fortified by the Venetians as part of a protection strategy against Turkish invasion, today, walking around the ruins gives the place an atmosphere of desolation. Later on, from early to mid-twentieth century, it was used to house a leper colony who built their own little self-sufficient society.
If you’re craving some authentic Cretan life, make your way to this lovely village just eleven kilometres southwest of Ayios Nikolaos. You’ll find iconic whitewashed homes built into the hillside, clusters of olive groves offering shade from the Mediterranean sun and a traditional main square lined with cafes and tavernas – the perfect alcove for an afternoon coffee. If you’re looking for a relaxing day out, this is the place to go.
The Church of Panagia Kera
On your way to Kritsa, I’d highly recommend stopping at this humble whitewashed thirteenth-century church – the perfect spot to stretch your legs. It might not look like much from the outside, but the building’s interior offers wonderful preserved Byzantine frescoes, some of the best on the island! You’ll see a number of biblical scenes, from the Nativity to the Last Supper.
Top tip: ensure you’ve dressed appropriately when visiting the religious attraction – both men and women should cover their shoulders and legs.
You’ll spend many an evening or afternoon wandering around this cliff-lined lake. Ayios Nikolaos centres on Voulismeni which, according to legend, was the bathing place of the goddess Athena. The lake gives the town a beautiful backdrop for the open-air cafes and excellent seafood restaurants, it’s especially beautiful at night when lit by the gentle glow of candles and fairy lights.
Fun fact: Voulismeni was originally a freshwater lake, before being connected to the sea by a channel dug in 1870.
Where to Stay
Minos Beach Art Hotel – Just ten minutes from the beach and featuring its own art gallery, you get a dose of culture and relaxation at this Art Hotel. You can choose from a variety of accommodation options, from suites to private villas. Spend an hour unwinding at the hotel’s health and wellness centre and then treat your taste buds to delicious haute cuisine at the waterfront restaurant. If you’re planning a trip to Elounda, there’s a regular bus service from the entrance to the village.
Victoria Hotel – excellently located just one minute from the beachfront, this accommodation is a great base for exploring the town. All rooms have access to free WiFi, come furnished with an ensuite, fridge and that all-essential air conditioning.
Lato Hotel – Although a little further from the centre than the other hotels (a twenty-minute walk away), the Lato boasts the best views of Mirabello Bay. Surrounded by verdant gardens that include a swimming pool and hotel bar, all the rooms come complete with free WiFi access, air conditioning, a TV and fridge.
How to Get There
There are a number of providers that offer a total of twenty-two flights a week to the island of Crete, Sun-Air is a popular choice. The short flight, only 3 hours 45 minutes, means that finding a deal is fairly easy, especially if you choose to travel outside peak season – anytime between November and June is a good choice. Once you’ve arrived, I’d recommend using Shuttle Direct to provide a pre-booked airport transfer. Their experienced drivers will get you to your resort in less than an hour, giving you more time to explore.
About Shuttle Direct
Shuttle Direct is an experienced and leading provider of airport transfer throughout Europe and Northern Africa. Our teams of friendly, knowledgeable drivers know their regions like the back of their hand and have been helping our customers get from A to B for years.