DISTRICT OF LASSITHI
Town of Aghios Nicholaos.
This is a beautiful port and the capital of the prefecture of Lassitthi. It is small but particularly picturesque with a small lagoon used as a fishing marina. It has now become a major tourist destination but it has kept most of its local colour and atmosphere. The archaeological museum contains very interesting finds from a number of the ancient sites of eastern Crete. The town is ideal setting off point for exploring the eastern districts of Crete.
Gournia: The best preserved and one of the most interesting of all Minoan cities in Crete, about 16km SE of Aghios Nicholaos, close to Ierapetra. Dating from the Late Minoan I (1600-1450 BC) period, the site has yielded many well preserved small houses, roads and stairways and a small palace atop a hill. Many of the finds are displayed at the museum in Aghios Nicholaos.
Kato Zakros: near the south coast, 115 km SE of Aghios Nicholaos, this is the site of a remarkable Minoan era palace, the fourth in importance in Crete. A large number of finds are now at the Iraklion museum. The palace had a total area of about 8000 sq.m. and included apartments, stores and workshops. A cemetery, temples and cave tombs have also been found nearby. It was the major naval base of the Minoan civilisation and had close trading connections with Egypt and Anatolia. It was destroyed at the same time as most of the other settlements in Crete, at about 1450 BC, probably following the great Santorini volcanic eruption.
Petras, Miros, Psira, Makrigialos: Remains of another Minoan cities and settlements have been unearthed in these sites but a lot more excavation needs to be carried out. Makrigialos has also yielded the ruins of a Greek-Roman Villa.
Koufonissi: A small island in the south with the remains of a Greek-Roman city.
Lato: About 15km west of Aghios Nicholaos, this is the site of a 7th c. BC of a powerful early Archaic Greek city state with evidence of habitation over a number of periods. It was built stradling two hills and it was fortified by two acropolises. The houses, shops, workshops, even temples were built on terraces.
Driros: About 15km NW of Aghios Nicholaos this is the site of a 7-8th c. BC archaic Greek city. Also built with two acropolises and an Agora area between them. A Geometric period temple, the Delphinion, was found here, dedicated to Apollo. A large cistern was added much later, probably during the early 2nd c. BC to serve the city.
Ermoupoli: The site of another Greek-Roman city.
Ierapetra: A pretty town on the south coast with many attractions, 36km SE of Aghios Nicholaos. It is the capital of the area and the center of most activities. There is a very interesting archaeological museum with Greco-Roman exhibits. Nearby, at Itanos, one can see the ruins of a large Greco-Roman city. On the western outskirts of the town, on the sea, lie the ruins of a 13thc. Venetian fort which was rebuilt completely by Francesco Morosini when he was Governor of Crete (c. 1625). Just 9 miles off Ierapetra, one can visit the island of Hrisi with beautiful beaches and cedar tree forests. It can be reached by caiques.
Spinalonga: A small rock island at the entrance to Elunda Bay, 12km drom Aghioa Nicholaos. The island is the site of a ruined fortified Venetian castle (1526) guarding the harbour and was also used as a prison and a leper colony.
Sitia: A small town some 70km east of Iraklio. There are beautiful beaches nearby and an archaeological museum with Minoan exhibits from Sitia, Zakros, Petra and Paleokastro. West of the town lie the ruins of a Byzantine fortress. East of Sitia, one can visit the Monastery of Toplou or Panayia Akrotiriani dating from the 15th century. There is an inscription from the 2nd c. AD and a famous early 18th c. icon by Ioannis Kornaros.
Kritsa: Just before this village, about 9km from Aghios Nicholaos, one can visit the church of Our Lady of kera, containing amazing frescoes from the 14th and 15th centuries which are considered to be among the best in Crete.
The Lassithi Plateau: This is traversed along the road from Iraklion to Aghios Nicholaos at an altitude of about 900m. It is extremely beautiful with thousands of windmills that are used for watering the many gardens and plots in the area but also because of the fantastic views and woods along the way.
Vai: Last but not least, at the very north eastern corner of Crete one can find the spectacular Palm forest (Finikodasos) of Vai set along a beautiful bay. This is the largest palm forest in the whole of Europe and it is an absolute must for visitors both for the unusual setting as well as the fantastic beach and clear water. The area is protected but there are many good tavernas along the shore near the beach. It can be reached by bus from Aghios Nicholaos.