Meet with your guide at the terminal of Cretan Spiti Travel at Eleftherias Square in front of Astoria Capsis Hotel at 08.30, to start the visit of the Heraklion Archeological Museum, the second biggest in Greece, after the Museum of Athens. The tour begin with introduction of the oldest findings of Crete from 6000bc, then of the highlight Minoan palaces of Knossos, Festos, Mallia, Zakros. The tour continues with objects from cemeteries, shrines, houses and ends with the Minoan frescoes of Knossos. At approximately 10.00, we start driving along the Northern coast of the island were we will visit the 12th century Byzantine church of Panagia Kera located 1km from the village of Kritsa. The church contains the finest-preserved Byzantine-era frescoes in Crete, and for that reason , has become one of the most culturally and historically significant churches on the island.
After we will visit Agios Nikolaos town, the capital town of Lassithi. Here, the bottomless salt lake Voulismeni dominates the area. A narrow channel of water connects the lake with the sea, while an imposing backdrop of red rock and trees adds to the natural beauty of the scenery. A small pine tree park lies above the lake, and a stone path leads to its southern section to a cute small harbour for fishing boats. The city boasts interesting Archaeological, Folklore, and Natural History museums, Byzantine churches, a well-organised marina, bustling pedestrian streets (ideal for leisurely walks), and traditional squares with buzzing cafés and restaurants. Optional lunch at “Basilikos Restaurant”. We continue our tour driving through the beautiful coastal road and village of Elounda, which lies 11 km north of Agios Nikolaos Town. Elounda retains its authentic character and offers a unique landscape with many coves and pristine beaches. One of them is the sea-front village of Plaka where we will board the boat to take us on the now deserted island of Spinalonga. Our guide will guide us through the ruins of what used to be a leper-colony from 1903 to 1957 where lepers could have a better life, medical help and economic support. Late in the afternoon at 18:30, we return to Heraklion. Dinner and overnight at the hotel.
After breakfast at the hotel, at approximately 08:30 we drive 5km to southeast off the city to visit the Knossos Palace which was built from 1700 to 1400 BC. Advanced architectural techniques were used in its construction, and sections of the palace stood up to 5 stories high. Settlements in Knossos date as far back as the Neolithic period. Neolithic remains from around 7000 BC are found throughout Crete. Explore the ruins of the ancient Minoan civilization. Knossos Palace featured 1,300 rooms connected by corridors, and a theater and extensive storerooms, which held large clay containers of oil, grains, dried fish, beans and olives – often with gold hidden beneath. The site was discovered in 1878 by Minos Kalokairinos. The excavations in Knossos began in 1900 A.D. by the English archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans and his team and they continued for 35 years. At approximately 10.30, we drive to Gortyna, the Roman capital of Crete and Cyrenaica and was first inhabited around 3200 BC. Stop at the Village of Plouti for an optional lunch at “ To Steki tou Chochliou”. After the visit, drive through valley of Mesara to visit the archaeological site of Phaistos and its palace, the most important center of the Minoan civilization, and the most wealthy and powerful city in southern Crete. Finally we arrive to Zaros, attractive, refreshingly unspoiled village famous for its spring water, which is now bottled and sold all over Greece, and an ideal base for walkers to explore the beautiful nature. Zaros also has some fine Byzantine monasteries, and delicious farm-raised trout served up in tavernas around town and on emerald-green Lake Votomos which will be visited. Dinner and overnight at the Hotel Idi in Zaros.
After breakfast at the hotel, at approximately 10.00, we start our drive to the traditional Cretan village of Vatos, a small village hidden in the green where we find all the elements of its tradition. Walking down the alleys we visit the old school and its fountain as well as the museum with the farming tools and utensils of earlier times. We finish at a cauldron of the village where you make Raki (the famous alcoholic beverage of Crete). Spili is our next stop known for its Venetian snake with a long line of 25 stone lion heads that run cool water from their mouths. Then we visit Lampini, the church and the museum of Panagia. The church is inscribed with a cupola, and depicts frescoes of the 12th and 14th century. It was an Episcopal church, since the village of Lampini once accommodated the seat of the famous Episcopate of Lampis, which had existed since 431. Drive to Gorge of St. Antonios, short walk through beautiful nature up to the cave of St. Antonios and enjoy your lunch at Drymos Restaurant (optional). After the lunch crossing the lush villages of Amarios we reach the Arkadi Monastery, which constitutes a landmark of architecture and civilization considering the magnificent facade of the church, the highly developed spiritual tradition as well as the flourishing development of fine arts. However, the holocaust, which took place in 1866, gave the monastery an eminent place in history, elevating it to an eternal symbol of freedom and heroism, recognized worldwide. Drive to Rethymno. Dinner and overnight at the Hotel.
Breakfast at the Hotel in Rethymno. At approximately 09.30 start our tour driving along the north coastal road, passing the resort city of Georgioupolis, popular for its fine beaches, to the city of Souda, port of Chania, to visit the Venizelos Graves at the historical location of Profitis Ilias in Akrotiri where the tomb of Eleftherios Venizelos lays, one of the long-standing prime Ministers of Greece. We continue to the city of Chania for a visit to the small market, where local products can be found, such as the famous honey, cheeses, souvenir shops etc, before descending to the famous Venetian harbor of the city with the Lighthouse Faros and then drive back to Rethymno, one of the most beautiful places in Crete, Greece. It is located between the prefectures of Chania and Heraklion and its capital boasts an elegant Venetian style of architecture. In the region you will find both popular seaside locations and secluded coves. We will stop at Zisis restaurant for an optional lunch. Then we will visit the Venetian stronghold of Fortezza which is built on top of a low hill above Rethymno Town. The hill is known as Paleokastro, which means old castle in Greek and suggests the existence of an older structure in that place. This huge fortress, with its turbulent history, was built between 1540 and 1570 by the Venetian maritime power as a bulwark against Turkish pirates. More than 100,000 Cretans on compulsory labor and over 40,000 pack animals were used in the construction of this mighty fortress. However, the Fortezza was conquered by the Turks in 1646. After many upheavals during the next three centuries, only the outer fortifications of the Fortezza remain intact and few buildings are still under restoration. The Fortezza is visible from every part of the town and provides the visitor a panoramic view of Rethymno town. The visitors enter from the East Gate through an impressive archway. After the visit we continue driving across the north side of the island along the Cretan Sea and crossing the coastal villages of Bali, Fodele and Agia Pelagia, and reach the city of Heraklion, and end our tour at the terminal in front of Astoria Capsis Hotel at 18:00.