Lassithi region is famous for its authentic and well-preserved mountain villages, its beautiful landscapes and its untouched character. Vai Palm Tree Beach forest, the famous Toplou Monastery, Sitia town and many other signature destinations and beaches of Eastern Crete are at a driving distance from The Island Concept hotel , which also offers direct access to its own private beach.
The city of Agios Nikolaos or "Agios", as locals say, is located 65 km east of Heraklion, and dominates the beautiful gulf of Mirabello, in the Lasithi prefecture of Eastern Crete.
The city has a population of just 10,000, yet is one of the largest cities in Lasithi, the most eastern department of Crete. Agios Nikolaos was one of the first cities to have been created in Crete. its famous city centre lake continues to attract visitors year after year. Finally, the city features many beautiful beaches, which annually get certifications for their cleanliness and amenities.
Vai is famous for its palm forest located right on the beach. It is the largest palm forest in Crete and these trees are native Cretan palms (Phoenix theophrastii) and were not imported by Saracene pirates (as some would like you to believe). This superb beach, discovered by a few hippies in the 70s became a favourite with long term campers in the 80s. In due course, it was declared a protected area, camping was forbidden, the beach became fenced off and entrance only allowed during day time. The beach itself is free but there is a small charge for parking.
Kato Zakros truly lies at the eastern end of Crete. A green oasis in a stark landscape, in a bay very well protected from most winds, the only reason that it has remained a small and unspoiled spot is due to the Minoan palace of Zakros which was discovered in 1961 is still not fully excavated. Nevertheless, a few rooms, apartments and studios are in evidence and Kato Zakros is a peaceful little place in the morning and evening, with most visitors coming during the day by tour buses and private car.
Itanos ancient city is a very important archaeological site due to its long history, located at the base of Akrotiri Iron in the most northeastern tip of Crete.
Although currently uninhabited, ancient Itanos was one of the most important cities in Crete, especially in the Hellenistic and Greco-Roman times. Itanos was a major port and station of transit trade between East and Crete. The city grew rich from the glass handicrafts, fisheries and trade of Tyrian purple – the red dye derived from shell extract.
The power of Itanos was expressed through the imposing marble buildings, temples (Asklepios, Zeus, Tyche, Athena) and minting its own currency with the face of its protectress, Athena. Today, visitors can walk through the city and admire the various ruins, such as the large tower on the west acropolis, the large Christian church in eastern citadel of the Hellenistic settlement, the two Early Christian churches at the foot of the hill leading to Vai and the cemetery outside the city.
Also, the area around Itanos offers the possibility for visitors to enjoy sandy beaches, crystal clear sea waters and a panorama of rare natural beauty.
Palekastro is a large village (1,100 inhabitants) with most people working in agriculture. But with its good beaches the area around Palekastro has started to attract tourism and slowly facilities are emerging for the independent traveller and holiday maker. The village is set back from the sea. Palekastro is a living village, not a tourist resort. So it is lively but 'Cretan lively'. The tourists who come as far are here are mainly looking for peace and quiet and what could be described as the 'real Crete'.
Sfaka is a small picturesque village with about 400 inhabitants, in Lassithi, Crete. Located off the Sitia-Agios Nikolaos National Highway, it is 33km from Sitia and 40km away from Agios Nikolaos. The name of the village comes from a bush with the name Sfaka (Flomis bushy, Phlomis fruticosa). It was said that passers by constantly sat in the shade of this bush and would often plan to rest there as part of the journey and so the location came to be known simply by the name of the Sfaka bush alone. The village was first mentioned in the Venetian census of 1583 under the name ‘Sfaca’ while its older name was Milia.
Sfaka is one of the most beautiful villages of Eastern Crete and, along with its natural harbour Mochlos, is an ideal choice for a quiet holiday visit. Mochlos itself has a rich history as does its small island ‘Psillos’ where important Minoan findings have been found during the last decades.
Mochlos is one of the few remaining havens of unspoilt tranquility on the North coast of Crete. A main feature of Mochlos is the island of the same name that is only 150m from the shore. Most probably connected to the mainland in Minoan times and a significant harbor, no isthmus remains but the site is still being excavated. Mochlos is located about 35 km from Agios Nikolaos. It is off the main road so you will need a car or taxi to get there. There are no public buses to Mochlos but you can get off in Sfaka (on the main road between Agios Nikolaos and Sitia) and take a taxi from there. The atmosphere in Mochlos is very quiet and relaxed, with a few restaurants and cafes too for whiling away the time.
Sitia is the main town of East Crete. With 9,000 inhabitants it is a lively little town with a lovely beach and unspoiled by tourism. Sitia is about 2-3 hours from Heraklion by car. There are buses to Agios Nikolaos about 5 times a day. Sitia is a working town with a busy atmosphere but also manages to stay laid back. It is also a very pretty town and features a pleasant sea front lined with cafes and tavernas.
Beaches in Eastern Crete
The sandy beach of Almyros is just a few minute drive from the centre of Agios Nikolaos (about 2 km) and is the closest public breach from The Island Concept hotel complex (also accessible on foot, approx. 300m. away). It is located at the exit of the homonymous river that goes down the reeds and next to a wetland. Because of the river that expands to the beach, its waters are frozen in several places, but crystal clear and shallow. The beach is organized with lifeguards, umbrellas, sun loungers and water sports.
Ammoudara sandy beach is located 2 km south of Agios Nikolaos. It is considered to be one of the best beaches in the area offering many sports activities as well. It is easily accessible by car from the main road.
The organized beach Agios Panteleimonas, approximately 13 km away from Agios Nikolaos, named after the homonymous graphic church built on the beach, is sandy and well organized with umbrellas, showers, water sports, etc.
Karavostasi beach, approximately 13 km away from Agios Nikolaos, is accessible from its western edge. It is a relatively long beach with pebbles and sand, and is not very organized. Along the beach there is a dirt road and there are plenty of trees that offer shade.
In the coastal road from Agios Nikolaos, on the north-eastern coast of Crete, and approx. 37 km away from the centre of Agios Nikolaos, is Mochlos, which apart from natural beauty has also great historical interest. A few metres away from the village and in the islet of St. Nicholas, visitors can clearly see the remains of a vital Minoan settlement. The Minoan city flourished here during the mid-Minoan period and was one of the most important ports of eastern Crete. The main feature of Mochlos is the island with the same name which is just 150 metres from the coast, while the other small beaches around the village also have special features.
The beach Tholos (Kavoussi) is located approximately 30 km away from Agios Nikolaos and is a quiet beach with pebbles and green water. It is formed at the outlet of a valley with huge groves which reach up along the sand. Also on the beach there are several very large trees that offer shade to visitors.
Voulisma (Gold Coast)
The Gold Coast or Voulisma as the locals call it is the largest municipal beach of Kalo Chorio, just 15 km away from Agios Nikolaos. This is a vast sandy beach, unique in Crete for its white sand which makes the waters clear and exotic.
Sitia with its lovely long beach is the last major town in eastern Crete, located approximately 70 km away from Agios Nikolaos. Visitors can enjoy swimming and then can visit some of the many shops and taverns of the area.
About 4 miles east of Sitia and approximately 58 km away from Agios Nikolaos is Agia Fotia, a small coastal village with a clean beach and crystal-clear waters, on the coastal road from Sitia to Vai-Toplou.
Approximately 52 km from Agios Nikolaos is the long beach of Ierapetra, with a length of 2.5 km! Ierapetra is the southernmost city in Europe and has countless options for swimming and excellent beaches.
Perhaps the most famous beach in eastern Crete, Vai, is known worldwide because of the palm grove that surrounds it and is the largest in Europe. It is located 93 km away from Agios Nikolaos and has crystal clear waters and exotic landscape.
About 3 km north of Vai and 93 km from Agios Nikolaos is the beach of Itanos, a small and quiet cove beneath the ruins of an ancient castle in classical times which also was a naval base. The great and indisputable advantage of this beach is its quiet and unique landscape.
Guided hikes in the gorge and the impressive waterfall Richtis.
The amazing gorge of Richtis is located in Lasithi Prefecture, on the north side, between Agios Nikolaos and Sitia. It starts just outside the village Exo Mouliana and ends at the Richtis beach, east of the village of Kalabro. The total length of the route is approximately 3 kilometres and the elevation difference between the starting point and the beach is about 350 metres. The gorge, even in summer, has plentiful water and is popular with locals.
Hiking in the gorge takes about three hours. The route starts from the stone-arched bridge of Lachanas and the route continues in a lush landscape in the river, an amazing scenery of East Crete. The highlight is, of course, the beautiful waterfall of over 20 metres in height and with a small pond formed beneath it. The path finishes in the beautiful pebbly beach of Richtis. The beach has numerous tamarisk trees, with stone seats and tables all around.
Toplou Monastery, one of the most significant monasteries in Crete, was founded around the mid 15th century and is located in a dry and barren area in the Lassithi regional unit. It is about 6km north of the village of Palekastro and 85 km east of Agios Nikolaos. The monastery was originally called Panagia Akrotiriani but its current name literally means "with the cannonball", thus called by the Turks for the cannon and cannonballs it had in its possession for defence purposes.