Travel Report: Sitia, Crete.
September 2012. The port town of Sitia is definitely my favourite spot in Crete! After the languid fishing village of Georgioupolis, the gorgeous emerald waters of Lake Kournas and the fortress city of Rethymno, it was time to hit the Greek island’s northeast for some time in a new Cretan outpost. Home to just under a thousand residents, the community of Sitia sits snugly in and around a giant hill, easily the prettiest town of my Crete adventures.
September 2012. Let’s face it, if you’re coming to Crete chances are the focus of your trip will very much be on the sand and the sea. In this respect, Sitia solidly delivers! While actually quite modest in size, the horseshoe shaped Sitia Beach was deliciously peaceful throughout our stay, no doubt helped by the fact that we’d timed our visit for after the school holidays. Clever, clever.
September 2012. Every morning, as we settled down at a choice spot under the umbrellas, there were barely a dozen or so people on Sitia Beach and of course we all spread out to give ourselves as much privacy as possible. Eventually a local dude will appear and ask for a modest fee for the umbrella and deckchairs. When you get hungry, he’ll also bring you a menu and go fetch your drinks and food. At no point is it necessary to get up and exert yourself! This time my Crete book of choice was the excellent Stories I Only Tell My Friends by the American actor Rob Lowe.
September 2012. After a couple of days on Sitia Beach we finally decided to take a walk, which felt very daring. Wherever you’re going, you’ll almost certainly be taking Sitia Promenade, which runs along virtually the entire town. Rest assured there’s a place to stop for a drink and a bite every few metres.
September 2012. It won’t take long for you to reach Sitia Harbour, where I discovered dozens of swanky yachts and bobbing sailboats.
September 2012. At first glance Sitia Harbour looked so deserted it was as if the scene before me had been constructed of lego. And then I spotted just one person, a local man perched at the water’s edge with a fishing rod resting between his hands. Looking up briefly, he gave me a cheerful nod before fixing his eyes back on the task at hand.
September 2012. From Sitia Harbour it’s possible to take a number of steep, cobbled roads up the hillside into Sitia’s beguiling old town.
September 2012. The whitewashed houses and their Cretan inhabitants are just marvellous! Look out for little old ladies hanging up their washing and grandpas snoozing in the garden with their newspapers resting on their chests. For me, this was the real magic of Sitia!
September 2012. Sitia’s big sight is the 13th century Kazarma Fortress, nestled on the hillside in a complex among the residential streets. Built by The Venetians and once part of a much larger castle complex that housed the entire town, today’s fortress is really well preserved. Especially when you glance through a tumultuous history that saw it survive multiple earthquakes and a vicious Turkish invasion!
September 2012. It took us three attempts to actually enter Kazarma Fortress, due to unpredictable opening hours. But finally we were able to go through the main gate, pay the negligible entrance fee and make our way up the short staircase to the main viewing platform.
September 2012. The view over the bay from Kazarma Fortress is really lush, an absolute must during your time in Sitia. I remember how perfectly silent it was up there, just a faint sea breeze on my face and the magnificent force of the afternoon sunshine, which meant we couldn’t stay up on the viewing platform as long as we’d wanted. In the end, we had to scurry back down the staircase and literally hide under the tree for a bit just to escape the sun.
September 2012. While you’re up on the hill in Sitia’s old town, don’t miss this gorgeous little Orthodox Chapel and cemetery. There’s very little info about the place online, though it’s clearly a cherished spot for the local community. Admire the impeccably kept graves, trimmed trees, manicured bushes and fresh flowers, while there are more breathtaking views across the bay.
September 2012. Another highlight of my trip to Sitia was the food! There are an abundance of Greek restaurants all over town and for the most part the dishes are of high quality. A special mention has to go to The Balcony Restaurant, a cosy place hidden away from the promenade in a traditional Sitian house.
September 2012. The Balcony Restaurant deals with predominantly fusion mediterranean cuisine and everything is freshly prepared and beautifully presented. Do know that this is probably one of the most expensive restaurants in Sitia (but not too bad in the grand scheme of things, this is still Greece), so we pencilled in dinner here as the main culinary treat of our week-long stay. The above shot is of The Balcony’s delicious filo pastry parcels stuffed with beef, cheese and tomatoes. They were amazing!
September 2012. If you book in advance you might be able to sit at The Balcony’s…. balcony! There’s only one and it’s a really atmospheric spot to settle, drink wine and watch the foot traffic below.
September 2012. Towards the end of our stay in Sitia, we decided a little change of scenery was in order. So we jumped on a public bus and took the thirty-minute ride out to Vai Beach. Many people declare this to be Crete’s most beautiful beach, so we made sure not to miss it.
September 2012. Vai Beach’s biggest selling point is that it is home to the largest natural palm forest in Europe! On arrival we discovered that you need to buy a ticket to enter the beach. But the whole payment system seemed very suspect to say the least and after some careful observation I could see that the ticket vendors were clearly making up the so-called price system as they went along! Greeks were charged less than westerners and loud, McDonald’s-bag-clutching chavs were charged more than anyone else.
September 2012. Vai Beach can get pretty busy, to the point where busloads of tourists pull up from all over the island. The beach is served by a massive restaurant built into the side of the rock face, while you can also take a short walking trail up to the top of the rock. These are the resulting views across the bay. Not too shabby!
Interested in staying in Sitia for your trip to Crete? Check out the options through booking.com.
Like this? Have a look at my other reports from around Crete.
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