CRETE

HERAKLION County - beaches and products north to south

General info about Heraklion County, Grete

Heraklion County or Prefecture (or Regional Unit) is one of the four regional units of Crete, with capital the City of Heraklion. The regional unit of Heraklion borders on the regional units of Rethymno to the west and Lasithi to the east. The northern coast of Heraklion prefecture adjoins the Aegean Sea, the part called Cretan Sea, where long sandy beaches unfold.  The south coast is washed by the Libyan Sea and offers a variety of coves, cliffs and beaches.

With a total of 305.000 residents, the county lies in the central-eastern part of Crete and covers an area of 2.641km2. It is divided into eight municipalities: Archanes-Asterousia, Phaistos, Gortyna, Heraklion City, Hersonissos, Malevizi, Minoa Pediada and Viannos. Today Heraklion prefecture is still strategically positioned, thus making it the main economically developed area of Crete. Nikos Kazantzakis/Heraklion International Airport is the second busiest airport in Greece located 5km outside the capital.

The fascinating capital city of Crete, Heraklion, is situated here with a population of 173.450 inhabitants. It is a vibrant working metropolis with a variety of attractive features. The Old Town provides interesting walks within the city and is surrounded by the formidable medieval walls which are known to be one of the longest city walls in Europe. The elegantly arcaded building of the Loggia (Venetian meeting place) has been restored to its former glory and houses the Town Hall.

Except for the mountains which receive mild to cool winters unlike northern Greece, the warm to hot Mediterranean climate dominates the area. Farmlands are situated in the central and the northern parts, at the coast and in numerous valleys. The mountains dominate the rest of the county, notably the south and the west. The main mountains are parts of Ida or Idi Mountains to the west and Asterousia in the south. The regional unit includes the island of Dia to the north.

Within its boundaries are a number of significant Neolithic and Minoan archaiological settlements, most notably the ancient palace complexes of Knossos and Phaistos. While both archaeological sites evince Neolithic habitation, it is the rich finds of Minoan civilisation, which flourished approximately 2000 to 1600 BC, that command the greatest scholarly attention. Important ancient cities are: Knossos, Phaistos, Gortyna, Tylissos, Malia, Lyttos, Amnisos, Kaloi Limenes and Heraklion (the city).

As far a sightseeing, this rich and diverse areas has much to offer:

  • beaches, include Amoudara, Agia Pelagia, Malia, Hersonissos, Stalida, Fodele, Analipsi, Gouves, Kaloi Limenes, Messara Gulf  (Matala and Tymbaki)
  • scenery villages, like Archanes, Hersonissos, Harakas, Zaros, Malia, Viannos, Mires
  • walking routes and other activities in unspoilt nature, especially in the mountain area

History & Culture

The ancient history of Heraklion county is strongly associated with the Minoan Palace of Knossos, the center of Minoan civilization. This period reached its peak from the 16th to the 14th century BC and excavations have revealed a wealth society that based its economy on agriculture and trade. The Minoans had developed an important navigation system, had built ships and had made beautiful pots to restore their trading goods, usually olive oil, cereals, and wine. This was a peaceful society as archaeologists believe since no fortifications protected the towns. The space-planning of the era is impressive and so are the frescoes that have been discovered in the palace of Knossos. This civilization was destroyed in about 1,500 BC when the volcanic eruption of Santorini raised tsunami waves in the Aegean and covered these towns in volcanic ashes.

The centuries that followed were not very prosperous for Crete. Only in the Roman times, there was some development, when Ancient Gortyna was established in southern Heraklion. Then, Crete became part of the Byzantine Empire but it was frequently raided by pirates and enemies. During the 9th century, the Arabs occupied Crete. The following century, the Byzantines took over the island and remained there until the 13th century. In the 14th century, the city of Heraklion was surrendered to the Venetians, who ruled Crete for four centuries. This was the most prosperous period for Heraklion with a great development in arts, trade, architecture, and literature. Many intellectuals and artists found refuge there after the fall of Constantinoupolis in 1453. The Cretans fought against the Turks for many times the centuries that followed and in 1898 the island gained its autonomy. It was finally united with the rest of Greece in 1913. Again, due to its strategic position, Heraklion was attacked by the German forces in 1941. The war caused many destructions and the city was largely damaged.

Notable people from Heraklion County include : a) a world-famous painter, sculptor and architect El Greco (medieval Castilian nickname meaning “the Greek”, by which Domênikos Theotokópoulos, is best known) – born 1541 in Fodele, Heraklion and died on April 7, 1614, in Toledo, Spain and
b) Nikos Kazantzakis, born in the village Varvaro (renamed to Myrtia in 1965) – the municipal unit in which Myrtia is located, was named after him, so was the area’s international airport.

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Local Products & Gastronomy

As we mentioned the Cetan Diet and Cetan Cuisine in the section about Crete, they all apply here as well and there is little to say specificlly for Heraklion, except maybe the wines. The area of Heraklion is famous for its wine, which, instead of raki, perfectly accompanies the incredible stews such as the snails, the artichokes with beans, the wine rooster, etc. Two out three wineries in Crete are in this area. You will discover it by following the local wine roads in the visited wineries. One of the regions known for its wines is Archanes; there the rosaki grapes ripe and the famous Archano wine is made.

In terms of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), the PDO EVOOs in Heraklion are: Viannos, Peza, Archanes and Messara (in the south)

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More info about Heraklion, Hersonissos and other part of the County can be found in numerous sources:

  • Official Page of
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A number of independent guides and agencies give you a full range of options on what to see and what to do in Heraklion:

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Accomodation / Hotels

Hundrends of hotels, Villas and Rooms to Rent are available in Heraklion, providing all types and levels of hospitality. We can provide a range of suggestions, but here we would like to introduce just a few:

  • in the city of Heraklion :
  • north coast : Creta Maris and Candia Maris,
  • south:

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