Crete is a country onto its own, its diverse landscape, spectacular scenery, delicious cuisine and authentic hospitality, make it one of the most attractive destinations in Greece. Although Chania, Rethymnon and Heraklion are the most popular regions of Crete, the lesser known Lasithi in Eastern Crete — deserves a lot of praise. Its less traveled roads, wild and rugged landscape, impressive historical monuments and postcard worthy beaches — make it even more alluring to those who wish to explore this off-the-beaten path destination. We spent four days zigzagging across its mountainous roads, reaching the very end in Kato Zakros, where we could truly spend more days, enjoying the remote surroundings and soothing energy.
Anyone who is planning a trip to Crete, you must consider to at least allocate one week to your Crete itinerary, but of course if time allows it opt for 14 days, you will not regret it. I am a huge fan of Crete, where I lived for two months for three summers in a row. I have been to Crete several time. In 2019 I spent about 30 days in total on Crete.
The Lasithi region was the last part of our 14 day trip with my travel blogger friends, where we spent time between Rethymnon and Chania. We then drove from Chania to Sitia (approximately 4 hours journey). Here’s how we discovered the Lasithi region in 5 days.
How we spent 5 days in Lassithi, Eastern Crete
Lesser Known Lasithi: Day 1 — Sitia
Situated east of Agios Nikolaos (approximately 67km) this small coastal town was enhanced during the Venetian times, later destroyed during the Ottoman occupation and rebuilt again. Today the region is known for its stunning sandy beaches and gorgeous countryside which is dotted with astonishing gorges and natural wonders. Some of the highlights of Sitia are mentioned below.
Hike the Richtis Gorge
Just 15 km west of Sitia, on the road from Agios Nikolaos to Sitia in the village of Exo Mouliana which is home to the jungle-like Richtis Gorge that ends at a remote beach.
The hike through the gorge takes you through stunning scenery, crossing the river shaded by numerous tamarisk trees, passing by old watermills. The highlight of the gorge is the beautiful 20 meter waterfall with a small pond where you can enjoy a refreshing swim.
The distance is around 5 kilometres and it can take about 3 hours to complete, there are some stones which need climbing, just make sure not to rush and wear comfortable, stable shoes. You can go back via a narrow mountainous road. We had left one car at the bottom (end of the hike next to the beach) so that we could drive back up.
If you are afraid of heights, I do not recommend driving that road unless you are with a local or someone who feels comfortable driving.
Where to stay in Sitia
During our trip we stayed at the Sitia Beach City Resort & Spa, located right next to the town’s sandy beach and is the only five star property in the area. The resort is surrounded by lush gardens overlooking the sea and is at close proximity to the town’s harbor where you will find a plethora of taverns and cafes. The hotel is an all-year round destination and a wonderful starting point for many of your excursions in the area.
The hotel’s guestrooms overlook the gardens while others offer splendid sea and pool views. You can choose from Double Room accommodation, or Suites with two separate rooms. The Family Bungalows are an ideal choice for families travelling with kids. In room facilities include beach towels, complimentary WiFi and tea & coffee making facilities.
Hotel facilities include a main restaurant which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. An all-inclusive option is available too.
There is an indoor and outdoor bar area where you can enjoy a delightful cocktail and drinks menu. For those who wish to relax and unwind, the Aegeo Spa offers an extensive menu with various body and facial treatments.
Lively food scene of Sitia
This charming coastal town is famed for its excellent food and raki, of course. There are several rakadika, which serves a fantastic menu which perfectly pairs with the island’s star drink.
In the evening we enjoyed a fantastic meal with our hosts at Meraki, where we savoured local specialties like xygalo (a creamy cheese), selection of salads and meat dishes.
Lesser Known Lasithi: Day 2 — Ano Zakros
After our hearty breakfast at the Sitia Beach City Resort & Spa, we continued our road trip for approximately 38 km south of Sitia, to a small town of Ano Zakros (Upper Zakros) which lies at the easternmost tip of Crete.
Women’s Cooperative of Ano Zakros
Here in the heart of this Cretan town, right at the square we were greeted by the lovely women of the cooperative who were busy making the traditional Cretan wedding sweets called Tsirotigana.
They treated us to their staple desserts and delicious cheese pies and raki, of course. Even if it was only around noon, there is a general rule when it comes to raki here in Crete — to never refuse, no matter what time of day it is. After enjoying their wonderful stories, and warm Cretan hospitality we were back on the road to our next destination — Kato Zakros.
Kato Zakros — the Easternmost point of Crete
As we reached Kato Zakros we made our way straight to Terra Minoika Villas, a beautiful complex of stone villas crowning the entrance to the village. Here we were greeted by the lovely host Stella and her husband Elias who have built these wonderful villas right in the heart of one of the most important Minoan settlements.
Enjoying a prime location and spectacular views, Zakros is the seat to the Sitia Geopark (included in the UNESCO Geoparks since 2015) and is also located on the European E4 trail.
The villas of Terra Minoika, built in harmony with the surrounding environment open up to sweeping views of the site of the Minoan Palace which was initially discovered in 1900 and fully uncovered by archaeologist Platonas in 1961. Excavations took place here over the course of somewhat 35 years and as we sat enjoying a freshly brewed coffee, Stella showed us photos in the magazine of her father and other villagers who took part in this exciting discovery.
Zakros was an important trading point and is included in the four administrative centres of the Minoans, one of Europe’s most advanced civilizations.
It is also the location of the Gorge of the Dead, as the Minoans had no cemetery they used the caves in the cliffs as resting places for their dead. Tombs with important archaeological findings have been found here at this dramatic gorge.
In the afternoon we joined Stella, who is a passionate hiker on a guided tour of the gorge. Amber, Chrysoula and Stella hiked all the way up as I waited for them, while they explored the caves.
Where to stay in Kato Zakros
Terra Minoika Villas
We found Terra Minoika Villas as the perfect place to enjoy an ultimate retreat away from the crowds, and we would have absolutely loved to stay here longer.
The peaceful environment, the calming energy and everything about this place was just perfect. Our ground floor accommodation featured a bedroom with a double bed and a second bedroom with two single beds. There is also a fully equipped kitchen and a beautiful outdoor seating area with a hammock.
We found our paradise here in Kato Zakros. Breakfast items are carefully stocked in the outdoor kitchen, where you can grab fresh milk and eggs from the fridge and fix your own breakfast in the comfort of your apartment.
Stella’s Traditional Apartments and Studios
Perched on top of the amphitheatrically built valley of Kato Zakros these traditional stone houses overlook the sea and the expansive olive tree groves.
On the grounds of the property guests can enjoy the shade of high rising trees, from pine trees to carob trees as well as fig trees — the variety is astonishing.
Many Cretan herbs ornate the expansive gardens and their smell compliments the sweet Cretan air.
Where to eat in Kato Zakros
Kato Zakros is a small coastal town with a few taverns which are located right on the beachside. During lunch time we headed to cafe bar Amnesia where we enjoyed a traditional lunch and tried dishes like the Greek salad, pies, ladera (vegetables cooked with olive oil) and a selection of grilled meats.
For dinner we joined Stella at Nostos Cafe Restaurant which also overlooks the sea.
Here we had a delightful selection of Cretan specialties and Mediterranean flavors, such as grilled mushrooms, aubergine salad, Moussaka and fantastic lamb chops flavoured with aromatic Cretan herbs and freshly squeezed lemon.
We ended our meal with the sweet dough dessert called loukoumades which are dipped in honey and sprinkled with cinnamon for extra flavor.
Lesser Known Lasithi: Day 3 — Xerokambos, Ierapetra and Chrissi Island
In the morning as I woke up to the spectacular sunrise at Terra Minoika which was an absolute treat and after packing our car, we said goodbye to our lovely hosts and continued our journey to Xerokambos beach.
This almost remote and barren landscape beach is located approximately 6.6 km from Kato Zakros and is known for its golden sands, turquoise waters and natural clay – ideal for lovers of natural spa. Amber was brave to get into the refreshing water (it was still May) and she broke off a piece of this white clay from the cliff covering her body and then left it to dry in the sun. She did say that her skin felt remarkably soft afterwards.
We didn’t have much time to spend in this part of the island as we had to make it to Ierapetra where a speed boat was waiting to take us to Chrissi island, located approximately 20 minutes (8 nautical miles) from the port of Ierapetra. This paradise island is known for its spectacular silky sand and a rare variety of Lebanon cedar trees, unique of its kind in Europe. There are a few canteens serving cold drinks, operating only during the summer season when tourist boats commute to this part of the island. While Chrysoula and Amber enjoyed a refreshing swim, Todd and I enjoyed a few refreshments at the bar.
After spending a couple of hours soaking up some Cretan sunshine, we got back in our boat and headed towards Ierapetra. We sat here for late lunch at Napoleon’s a taverna which date’s back to the 1960s. We did enjoy a fantastic Moussaka and Todd had his meat.
Later in the evening we checked in at the Miramare resort in Agios Nikolaos where we spend two days discovering the wonders of this coastal town. We visited the Venetian Fortress and former leper colony, Spinalonga island, toured the coast on a speed boat, enjoyed 2 hours of horseback riding through the Cretan landscape and so much more. Read my complete Agios Nikolaos Guide here.
Watch our adventure in this video by my friend Todd Hata
*Travel Bloggers Greece were invited to experience the Lasithi region by Incredible Crete. All opinions expressed are always my own.