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AGIOS NIKOLAOS

The eastern utmost of Crete hides few of the most enchanting aspects of the island, either speaking about the leading hotel complexes of Elounda or about the fascinating “bottomless” lake of Agios Nikolaos or about the picturesque mountainous and coastal hamlets.

Agios Nikolaos, capital of Lasithi prefecture, lies along the west of Mirabello bay and constitutes the first tourist centre of Crete , ebullient and picturesque at the same time. The town of Agios Nikolaos was named after the charming Byzantine chapel built on the spot called "Nissi" during the 7th AD. The chapel has interesting old frescoes of 8th, 10th and 11th century.

Up to the '60s the city was living in quiescent rhythms. Thereafter, cinema and television directors discovered its beauty and thanks to Gil Dassen and other directors Agios Nikolaos became famous worldwide. At the same period, “ Minos Beach " -the first luxury hotel in Crete and Greece- was built. Agios Nikolaos acquired glamour and members of the international jet set chose Agios Nikolaos for their vacations. Year by year other luxury hotels were developed in the near Elounda village. However Agios Nikolaos, with its unique settings, maintained its exclusive flavour.

“Voulismeni”'s Lake is the most beautiful ornament of the city. According to the legend the goddesses Athina and Artemis were bathing in its waters. The lake is linked to the sea by a narrow canal, which adds to the beauty of the lake, while its natural surrounding red rocks between the trees turn it into a site of great attraction. The small lake theatre constitutes the space where art and cultural events take place.

Every summer the Municipality of Agios Nikolaos organizes cultural, music and dance events, theatrical performances, exhibitions, shows. Also, during the naval week artistic swimming, water skiing, wind-surfing contests are organized.

Agios Nikolaos also possesses the second finest Archaeological Museum in Crete, where splendid archaeological findings from all throughout the Prefecture of Lasithi are exhibited.

ELOUNDA

With roughly 2.200 inhabitants, Elounda is located at the north of the Prefecture at a distance of 7 km from Agios Nikolaos. The village is built at the southern coasts of Elounda's gulf, near the very little traces of the ancient Greco-roman city of Olous by which Elounda was renamed. The most important remains of the ancient Olous are buried in the sea. Elounda is the place where mythical forms of Minoan Crete have lived and renowned persons of our time have visited.

Elounda is consisted of 6 settlements. At the foothold of the massif are lying scattered 5 villages: Plaka, Pano and Kato Elounda, Mavrikiano and Skisma (the newer settlement and harbour of Elounda ). Most inhabitants are assembled in the settlement of Skisma and deal almost exclusively with the tourism.

The last years Elounda was developed rapidly as tourist centre, thanks to its dry and sweet climate and to its cosmopolitan atmosphere. It keeps steadfast the reputation of a leading Cretan summer resort by “capturing” the elite of the jet set visitors in its luxury hotels and by offering incomparable natural beauty and historical sight-seeing, like Spinalonga's fortress. The elongated peninsula of Spinalonga , is separated from the land with an isthmus (Isthmus of Poros) opened up in 1897 by the French. Today the peninsula is connected to the main coast by a bridge.

Opposite to the northern peak of the peninsula is the rocky island of Spinalonga (or else Kalydon). In this islet, on the ruins of an ancient citadel, the Venetians built, in 1579, an almighty fortress, ruins of which are saved today. It is one of the most considerable fortresses in Crete and it was supplied with a lot of munitions and cannons. When the Turks conquered Crete in 1669, the fortresses of Souda, of Grampousa and of Spinalonga were the ones in the island that did not fall in the enemy's hands. Throughout the 17th century the fortress remained in Venetian hands and was a refuge for Christians fleeing from the Turks. In 1715, however, a Turkish Pasha managed to conquer the castle; after a long siege the Venetians capitulated and a treaty was signed.

KRITSA

Kritsa is one of the most picturesque villages in Crete, built amphitheatrically on a rock hill . It is located 11 km at the south-western of Agios Nikolaos and it has approximately 2500 inhabitants. It provides a splendid view over the gulf of Mirabello and in the evenings, when it is lit up, it has the form of a scorpion.

In Kritsa people keep the old Cretan customs and the traditions. The village is considered one of the most important centres of the Cretan folk and weaving art and maintains -still inalterable- its old architectural physiognomy.

One km. before the village, in the site named "Logari" is the old Byzantine church of "Panagia Kera" , with unique in technique, subjects of illustration and importance Byzantine frescoes (14th and 15th century). It is a three aisle church, of which the central one is dedicated to the Dormition of Virgin Mary and the other two to Saint Anna and Saint Antonios.

Near the town, 4km to the north, are the ruins of the ancient Dorian city "Lato Etera" (meaning the "other" Lato), whose port was the "Lato pros Kamares" . "Lato Etera" must have been built during the archaic period (7th century B.C.) and it was famous as one of the most powerful towns in Crete , with two acropolises. It flourished between the 4th and 3rd century BC and was fenced with two adjacent citadels. Lato, at the prevailing opinion, was renamed after the goddess Lito (Lato for the Dorian), mother of Apollo and Artemis.

The city still preserves its main entrance. Archaeological excavations have brought to light shops, houses, a sanctuary, a temple and a theatre.

The view to the Mirabello bay and the Lasithian mountains from this spot is enchanting.

From Kritsa there is an interesting and spectacular climb to the plateau of Katharo . It is possible to go by car or on foot following an old path (3 1/2 hours walk).

KALO CHORIO

Kalo Chorio has 4 settlements and 1125 inhabitants. The two settlements of Istron and Forti welcome thousands of visitors every year. The agriculture was the main occupation of the people but the last years they work on tourism, arts and letters. Its clean organised beaches are rewarded with the Blue Flag and the surrounding mountain banks, full with lush vegetation, pines, bushes, olive and carob trees offer an interesting walk in the nature.

VROYHAS

Built on the rocky mountains, t he village of Vrouhas is a quiet and very traditional village perched above the infamous island of Spinalonga . Just 10 minutes from the fishing resort of Elounda and half an hour from the sophisticated town of Aghios Nikolaos .

It is totally untouched by commercialism and the village life stand as it was 50 years ago, placable and wise. The village is renowned for its ancient windmills, which are just a couple of minutes walk from it. Previously used to grind corn, although some have fallen in to disrepair, some are virtually intact and now they stand testament to the quality of the stonemason's work over two hundred years after they were built, with no cement.

SKINIAS

Skinias is in the north-western end of the Municipality and includes the settlements of Agios Georgios, Valto and Xontro-volakous. The pebble beaches of Vlihadia and of Agios Antonios- "The Sponge Diver'" -are recommended for swimming and fishing.

LOYMAS

On the sweeping plain of Louma are the settlements of Pano and Kato Seles, which place names relate to the morphology of the ground and mean the nape of the hillside.

The view towards the Cretan Gulf is magnificent from whichever side you look and the stone built windmills around the village enrich the beauty of the area.

LENIKA or HELLINIKA

This settlement is located on the western side of the Gulf of Mirabello , on the highest point of the road that joins Aghios Nikolaos and Elounda. The border which runs between them is the same one that ran between Lato and Elounda thousands of years ago. In the twin temple that existed in the region 2500 years before - ruins of which are still saved today - the inhabitants of two cities worshipped Mars and Venus.

LIMNES

The village of Limnes - one of the most ancient villages of the region- is located at the edge of the plain of Mirabello, under “Maha Hill”. Its name probably originated from the geographical phenomena of the many lakes which form after rainfall, resulting in a fertile and productive agricultural area. The village is surrounded by a lot of settlements that sometimes bustled with life, many of which have been abandoned in recent times. Limnes has been classified as "traditional village".

ZENIA

At an altitude of 750 metres and 10 km westwards of Aghios Nikolaos, beyond the cultivated valley of Drasi is the small village of Zenia. Not far from the village, r emains of an ancient city as well as the cave of "Atzigganospilios" -one of the most important in the prefecture of Lasithi- constitute a centre of attraction for the area.

EXO & MESA POTAMI

The most mountainous village of the region is Potami and is composed of a number of settlements all named after their first inhabitants.

These settlements are built on the ravines and on the slopes of Selena, the local historical mountain which probably owes its name to “Selini” or “ Selina” or “Moon”, the Dorian Selana. Hundreds of large and smaller springs of crystal-clear fresh water irrigate the plains where vegetables, apple-trees, walnut-trees and vineyards are cultivated.

KATHARO

For those who love not only mountains and luxuriant vegetation, but also stark rock, a visit to the Plateau of Katharo should not be missed. Located sixteen kilometres west of Kritsa, at a height of 1.150 meters, the plateau of 60,000 stremma (Greek measure) stretches out and here cereals, vegetables, vineyards and fruit-trees are cultivated.

Flocks of thousands of local sheep and goats generate dairy products of the highest quality. Katharo presents also particular scientific interest because of the paleontological discoveries of dwarf hippopotamus and elephant fossils.

TAPES

The settlement of Tapes is lying at the west of the Lakonia Plain -few kilometres from Laconia- and at an altitude of 500m. It is one of the oldest villages and has been continuously inhabited since Minoan times, as can be observed from the ruins of the Minoan settlement in the Kasteras area. It is one of the few villages of the region that still maintains the traditional characteristics of a Cretan village.

KROUSTAS

A characteristic traditional Cretan village located thirteen kilometres south of Aghios Nikolaos at an altitude of 540m. It has been inhabited over many thousands of years.

Remains of habitation from the oldest periods are found in places like Lenika, Panagia, Lakkous and Fortetsa.

MESA LAKONIA

This is a cluster of five settlements comprising the nearest village to Aghios Nikolaos. They are Flamouriana, Kakokamotes, Schisma, Hamilo and Margeli, and are small settlements built at short distances from each other, in a wooded olive plain.

EXO LAKONIA

Except the settlement of Panagia which is the first one of Exo Lakonia, the other settlements of this cluster have family names.

Most of them are from Byzantine or Henetikan eras, but there are some indications that the area was inhabited in older times as can be seen from the ruins of the Minoan settlement in Fioretzides village. Particularly important Byzantine monument is the temple of Michael Archangel .

PRINA

Located at the southern end of the municipality of Aghios Nikolaos , this village can be reached by crossing through beautiful pinewood groves and climbing to a height of 345m. These pine trees were reported in the Venetian census of the 16th century.

However, village life here must have extended farther back in time as indicated by the ruins of the oldest settlement in the region of Leniko


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