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RETHYMNO County - the unspoilt Crete

RETHYMNO Prefecture (County): the unspoilt Crete

General Info & Geography

Rethymno is one of the four prefectures in Crete situated between the regions of Chania and Heraklion. It is washed by the Cretan Sea in the north and the Libyan Sea in the south. Rethymno occupies an area of 1.491 sq km, with a population of 83.567 inhabitants,  32.468 of which live in Rethymno City. Rethymno City is the capital of the prefecture; the central part of the city is built on the cape and stretches along the beautiful long beach. A mountain range rises over the town, especially in the south, of which the highest peak is Mount Vrysina (858m).

The geography of Rethymno has vivid characteristics. The terrain of the prefecture is mainly mountainous and with interesting characteristics that very much resemble the other regions of Crete. Dramatic gorges, plenty of caves, beautiful green valleys and small rivers, next to monuments that depict the long history of the region. A small part of the prefecture is flat, especially in the northern region. Rethymno has a restricted number of rivers, the most important being Geropotamos which extends from Mylopotamos to the sea and Megalos Potamos which flows into the lake of Preveli.

Beautiful mountains dominate the entire region of Rethymno including Mount Ida in the east. The mountain range of Kedros (1777m) rises southwest of Psiloritis and border the lovely valley of Amari. Rethymno is home to plenty of traditional villages and settlements rising on the hills and the lush green valleys.

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History & Culture

The long history of Rethymno is traced back to the Neolithic years where a plethora of archaeological findings including coins, signs, and writings of ancient historians witness the inhabitance of fishermen in Gerani Cave. During the Minoan period, Rethymno and the rest of Cretan cities flourished greatly on an economical and cultural level. From the 12th to the 11th century BC, the Minoan civilization developed rapidly in trade and culture. Many towns were constructed that period in Crete. The most important Minoan town in Rethymno was Ancient Eleftherna. However, the catastrophic erection of Santorini volcano marked the end of this prosperous period. The following years, the beautiful cities of Crete including Rethymno are conquered by the Dorians, Romans, Arabs (824 to 961 AC), Byzantines (325 to 824 AC and again 961 to 1210 AC), Venetians (1210 to 1645 ACC), Turks (1645 to 1897 AC), and Germans and the Cretans are unable to maintain their independence.

In 1204, a new period started for Crete and particularly Rethymno. With the abolition of the Byzantine Empire, the island was sold to the Venetians. However, due to their many conquests in Peloponissos and Aegean, Venetians neglected their new accession gave access to the other conquers of Crete. The presence of the legendary pirate Barbarossa in the Rethymno City in 1538 was quite important for Rethymno. His attack led to the construction of extensive fortifications for the protection of Rethymno City.

The flourishing period of Rethymno begun in the early 16th century highlighting the history of the City, a unique blend of Cretan and Venetian culture. The city was almost entirely rebuilt by the Venetians and new villages were organized in the countryside. This led to the Cretan Renaissance, a gold period of arts and letters that is apparent only in Crete and the Ionian islands. Rethymno flourishes rapidly with the arrival of new scientists and intellectuals. Many literary societies and a public library were established. Unfortunately, this cultural era ends in 1669 when Turks conquered Crete leading to the decline of Rethymno. The locals of Rethymno continued their fight against the Turks which led to many casualties. Finally, in 1897 Crete gained its independence and in 1913 it was united with the newly-established Greek state.

Today, Rethymno is one of the best-preserved towns in Crete that maintains its aristocratic character, with a plethora of elegant buildings from the 16th century, arched passages, narrow alleys, and Byzantine monuments. Still, the most important Venetian work is the Fortezza above the town. On the other hand, the countryside of the prefecture, and especially the mountainous areas, are fairly unspoiled and have maintained many of the local traditions.

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With crystal-clear waters, golden sands, and stunning scenery, Rethymno’s coastline offers something for everyone. From secluded coves to bustling beaches with plenty of facilities, visitors are spoilt for choice. Let’s explore some of the region’s best beaches.

On the north shore with its sandy, organized beaches you can find some of the biggest and most luxurious hotels of the island.

– Rethymno beach: The beach of Rethymno is located in the east of the city and extends to a length of 12 km, ending in the area of ​​Scaleta. It is a beautiful beach with crystal clear water and golden sand, awarded with 12 Blue Flags.
– Bali Beach: This is one of the most popular beaches in Rethymno and is known for its golden sands and calm waters. The beach is surrounded by small coves and rocky cliffs, which provide a sheltered environment for swimming and sunbathing.
– Spilies Beach: This secluded beach is located on the western side of Rethymno and is known for its rocky cliffs and crystal-clear waters. The beach is accessible only by boat or by a steep footpath, which adds to its secluded and peaceful atmosphere. There are no facilities on the beach. If you keep on going to the east, you will find Geropotamos beach named after the river that empties into the sea and Panormo beach, by the picturesque fishermen’s village of Panormo.
– Geropotamos Beach: Located around 20 km east of Rethymno, Geropotamos Beach is a long sandy beach with crystal-clear waters, surrounded by impressive rocky formations. The beach is perfect for swimming and sunbathing, but it’s also a great spot for snorkeling and scuba diving.
– Kamari beach: The beach of Kamari is a small rocky beach ideal for snorkeling, located about 7km west of Rethymnon, near the village Gerani, at the exit of Vederi Gorge. It is equipped with a SEATRAC wheelchair system for people with special needs that can easily be moved in and out of the water.
– Amoudi Beach: This small beach is located on the eastern side of Rethymno and is known for its crystal-clear waters and peaceful surroundings. The beach is surrounded by cliffs and rock formations

Romantic beaches in southern Crete, at the Lybian sea, include:

Preveli Beach: This stunning beach is located in the south of Rethymno and is known for its picturesque scenery and clear blue waters. The beach is surrounded by palm trees and lush vegetation and is a great place to relax and soak up the sun. There’s also a nearby river that runs into the sea, which is a popular spot for swimming and kayaking.
– Plakias beach: It lies in Plakias, a popular tourist resort, located 36km south of Rethymno city, at the exit of a fertile valley south of the range Kouroupa. Next to it empties the river Kotsifos. One of the major growth drivers of the region is the long beachfront, known as Gialia. The main beach starts near the town and extends to the east for 1.3km, up to Cape Mouri.
– Skinaria Beach (or Shinaria): located 33km south of Rethymno, 3km south of the village Lefkogia, in the east part of the wider Plakias area. Skinaria is a small beach with soft gray-beige sand and fine pebbles, with crystal blue deep water. The seabed is rocky, but on the north part of the beach, it is sandy. Life thrives in the area, both inside and outside of the sea. On the beach, there are small ponds with fresh water that comes from springs that carry water from the mountain of Kouroupa. Furthermore, water clarity is really impressive, usually exceeding 40m in the horizontal direction. Indeed, it is no coincidence that most scuba diving centers in Crete have Skinaria as their program.
– Triopetra beach: is a lovely secluded beach on the southern side of Rethymnon. Due to its long distance from most tourist places of Rethymnon, it doesn’t get crowded


Read more in our main sources:, . A detailed presentation of all beaches of Rethymno with their place on the map is available at the


Many picturesque, authentic and unspoiled villages can be found in the prefecture of Rethymno as well as a few calm and pleasant tourist resorts located near wonderful beaches. Anogia, Spili, Agia Galini and Plakias are among the most traditional villages of Rethymno Crete.

– Anogeia, is a lovely village built on the slopes of a mountainside. Its men fought for in all the important battles of Crete and Anogia is considered among the most authentic villages on the island
– Agia Galini is a small fishing village on the southern side of Rethymnon Crete. Over the last years, it has developed into a tourist resort but things are kept calm and relaxing.
– Plakias is a lovely fishing village on the southern side of Rethymnon Crete. The surrounding area has lush natural beauty and calm beaches.
– Argiroupolis is a small mountainous village, surrounded by pure nature. Its inhabitants deal mostly with farming and cattle breeding.
– Spili is a beautiful village built on the slopes of a green mountainside. Authentic and traditional, Spili gives a nice view of daily life in Crete.
– A lovely village close to Rethymnon Town, Atsipopoulo mainly distinguishes for its architecture. Houses were built so close to each other so as to form a fortification wall in the Venetian times.
– Agios Vasilios is a tiny village located in the inland of Crete. It is surrounded by lush greenery and two of the most famous gorges in Rethymnon.

Read more at: Greeka


The mountains of the Rethymno prefecture are exceptionally rich in caves, there being some 850 in all. Many of these caves are of particular interest archaeologically, historically, folkloric or even just of natural beauty. The most famous caves of the prefecture are those of Gerani, Simonelli, west of the town of Rethymno, Aghios Antonios near the village of Patsos in the district of Amari, Melidoni, as well as the cave of Ideon Andron, Moungri Sison, Sfendoni near the village of Zoniana and others.

Canyons & Gorges

Gorges of extraordinary beauty traverse the mountains and mountain ranges of the prefecture: The ravine of Kourtaliotis, which is 3 km long, ends at the famous Lagoon of Preveli; the ravine of Kotsifou, which starts at the village of Kannevos and ends near the village of Sellia; the gorge of Patsos, in the Amari district; the gorge of Prasses, which ends at the village of Platanias at the north coast east of the town of Rethymno; the gorge of Arkadi  and a number of smaller ones.
Read more in the old Perfecture’s Tourist Guide 

Psiloritis – UNESCO Global Geopark

Psiloritis mountain is home to the highest peak of the island (2456 m), where Zeus was raised in a cave. Psiloritis Natural Park, an UNESCO Global Geopark, is worth visiting all year round. Enjoy the untouched pristine beauty of nature and mountain villages at Mylopotamos like Anogeia or challenge yourself by skiing at “Pierra Creta”, a ski mountaineering race hailed as the southernmost skiing event in Europe.
Read more on the official website of Psiloritis Natural Park – UNESCO Global Geopark

Local Gastronomy highlights

Culinary explorations 

Besides the information about the Cretan Diet which is alive all around Crete, there are some interesting things to do specifically in Rethymno area.

Visit a raki distillery
Raki (or tsikoudia as it’s known locally) is a way of life in Crete. It’s used to greet guests, toast each other’s good health, accompany a meze meal and generally socialise throughout the year. And the annual process of turning grape pomace into crystal-clear, 35-40% proof distilled alcohol is a time for celebration. Rakokazana (the word for both the distillery and the distillation ‘parties’ held in November) are a feature of villages around Rethymno. And visiting a distillery is part of many organised Rethymno food tours to learn about the production process.

Olive oil tasting
You can’t get more Cretan than olive oil. Green gold (as it’s known) is the core ingredient of the Mediterranean diet (rich in monounsaturated fats, vitamins and antioxidants) and Cretan cuisine generally and its origins in Rethymno can be traced back to Minoan times in around 3.000 BC. Olive oil will be a part of just about every meal on your holidays in Rethymno but to truly understand the product you have to visit an olive oil press; part of an organised tour or individually, you’ll be guided around the facilities, learning the difference between an animal-powered press, diesel-powered machinery and the modern centrifuge used today.

The landscape and climate of Rethymno are well suited to making wine, with mountains and valleys and a combination of warm summers and cooling sea breezes. There are a handful of wineries that you can visit, each with its own personality and where you can sample wines from the different grape varieties of the region. Vidiano is the most prominent grape in Rethymno, but there’s also Asyrtiko, Vilana and Thrapsathiri amongst whites and Liatiko, Kotsifali, Achladi, Agiorgitiko and others amongst reds (as well as well-known European varieties). Wineries in Rethymno offering vineyard tours and wine-tasting are numerous, including some of the wine roads of Wines of Crete (Klados and Zoumperakis Distilleries in Route No 9); they all offer wine tasting with local delicacies.

Enjoy a cooking class

Your ultimate foodie experience in Rethymno is a cooking class. There’s no better way to learn how to recreate some of Crete’s favourite dishes than from a local. Dakos salad (chopped tomatoes, crumbled feta or myzithra cheese, oregano, olive oil and paximadi rusks), marathopita (thin, pancake-like pies filled with fennel), boureki (a warming bake of layered potatoes and courgettes, with myzithra and mint) and other dishes could become part of your kitchen repertoire. There are cookery classes in Rethymno town and in villages around the region (check our Gastro-tourism section for proposals).
There are even cookery classes that take place up in a mountain “Mitato, a traditional Cretan shepherd’s shelter, where cheese is produced, maingly graviera and its variations, sweet and sour mizithra and other dairy products (read more about the interesting history of Mitato)

Do not miss to check the Cretan Gastronomy Center which operates in Argyroupoli, from April 2014. Founded by the Region of Crete, the Cretan Gastronomy Center is housed in a three-floor building of neoclassical architecture built in 1933 called “Archontiko Manousaki”.

The Center is run by the Agronutritional Cooperation of the Region of Crete. Its aim is to connect the primary sector to tourism and to promote Cretan Gastronomy through educational and evidence-based programs for children and adults. In Cretan Gastronomy Center also you can find:

  • Exhibition and display of certified products with the brand «Crete»
  • Tasting of local products
  • Revival of traditional recipes through cooking shows and other handicraft arts
  • Info point – Information about the Cretan Diet, traditional recipes and the culinary culture of Crete
  • Library and free access to audiovisual material

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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 Rethymno:

Accomodation / Hotels

Hundrends of hotels, Villas and Rooms to Rent are available in Rethymno County, providing all types and levels of hospitality.

For some choices of hotels, please check the Members’ list of the Hoteliers’ Association of Rethymno, our official patner in the area, participating in our Project Local and Branded“, promoting the innovative certification mark