"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

Unwinding in Sitia, Crete.

Unwinding in Sitia Crete.

Unwinding in Sitia, Crete.

September 2012.

As many of you have read in my last post, in the autumn of 2011 I flew to the Greek island of Crete for a ten day timeout. Lying around soaking up the sun and the sea had never been my default travel mode. But hey, sometimes one really needs to take a break from the world.

That stay, which took in the town of Georgioupolis, the village of Kournas and the city of Rethymno, had admittedly left me hungry for more. Thus I decided to come back to Crete, pretty much a year to the day, so that I could recharge my batteries again and see more of the island.

The city of Sitia in Crete.

Unwinding in Sitia, Crete.

This time I chose to stay in Sitia, a pretty port town located in the northeast of the island. Home to around ten thousand residents, Sitia has a long history that predates even the Bronze Age Minoan Civilisation of 3000-11000 BC. According to historians, Sitia was once home to the great Myson of Chenae, one of the Seven Sages of Greece. Revered as possibly the wisest of all the sages, his many quotes remain popular in Greece today.

“We should not investigate facts by the light of arguments, but arguments by the light of facts.”

Myson of Chenae one of the Seven Sages of Greece

Myson of Chenae. Being wise.

Later, in the 13th century, it was The Venetians who occupied Sitia. Their rule lasted for over 450 years. During that time the town became an important military post as part of their grip on the Eastern Mediterranean. They even built a large fortress overlooking the harbour. More on that later. 

Visit Sitia in Crete.

Unwinding in Sitia, Crete.

As much as I love my history, none of this stuff was at the forefront of my mind as I arrived on a typically sunny September morning. Rather, I was simply ready for another ten days of sun, sand and sea. On that front, Sitia delivered handsomely.

Sitia Beach Visit Greece.

Unwinding in Sitia, Crete.

In fact, I felt the pressures of working life in Amsterdam rapidly melt away as I cast my eyes across the gorgeous, horseshoe shaped Sitia Bay. Moreover, much like Georgioupolis the previous year, the town was largely free from crowds. One of the many benefits, I figured, of timing my visit for September when most of Europe’s kids had gone back to school following the summer holidays.

Sitia Beach Crete in the off season.

Sitia Beach.

Hence I had Sitia Beach mostly to myself. Indeed it was big enough that each day’s modest collection of sunbathers could easily spread out and keep themselves to themselves. My kinda beach.

On that first day it was so ridiculously quiet I half wondered if the parasols and beds might be free. Eventually though (silly me), a local man sauntered over to collect the day fee. He was also available, at just the raise of an arm, to bring menus and place food and drinks orders. All in all it was a pretty sweet deal. 

Unwinding in Sitia, Crete.

Sleeping on Sitia Beach in Crete.

A sitia snooze.

This time my book of choice was Stories I Only Tell My Friends by the American actor Rob Lowe. After every chapter, I’d take a nap, go for a swim or raise my arm for a lunchtime kebab or a fruity cocktail. Yes siree, Sitia was working out just fine.

Panoramic of the promenade in Sitia Crete

Unwinding in Sitia, Crete.

In the evenings, after a shower back at my hotel, I’d take a walk down Sitia Promenade. This pedestrianised stretch spans virtually the entire town and is packed with restaurant after restaurant after restaurant. I remember pondering how on earth they could all make a living. Then tried to picture what Sitia might look like in July and August, at the height of the tourist season. I guess they did ok. 

Unwinding in Sitia Crete during the off season

Unwinding in Sitia, Crete.

While eating, there were terrific views across Sitia Harbour with its glittering blue-green water and bobbing boats.

Boats in the harbour Sitia Crete.

Sitia Harbour.

Furthermore, it was fun watching the town’s locals at work and play. One afternoon I spied a local fisherman patiently awaiting a bite, some traditional Greek music drifting out of his mobile phone. Which, judging by the wistful look on his face, was taking him far away to some happy memory or daydream.

Local fisherman Sitia Crete.

Unwinding in Sitia, Crete.

On another late afternoon I saw some kids fishing. They were a boisterous pair, noisily bickering over the best way to go about their business. As entertaining as it was, I never did stick around long enough to find out how they got on.

Sitia Harbour.

Local boys fishing at the harbour in Sitia Crete

Unwinding in Sitia, Crete.

One restless afternoon on the beach, I decided to stretch my legs and get my blood pumping. What started as an aimless stroll soon turned into a lengthy exploration of Sitia’s endearing old town.

Exploring the old town Sitia Crete.

The Old Town.

With its picture perfect cobblestone lanes, black street lamps, stone arches and flaky doorways, this is the beating heart of authentic Sitia. Working my way up an ascending street, I spotted an elderly lady hanging up washing from a balcony. A short while later, there was a topless man reading a newspaper on the tiniest strip of grass outside his front door.

Steep cobbled lane in Sitia Crete.

Unwinding in Sitia, Crete.

Some of the buildings date back to the 1870s, when The Turks replaced The Venetians and rebuilt much of the town. They called it Avniye, after Hüseyin Avni Pasha, the Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire. However, the Greeks simply kept on calling it Sitia and the name did not survive independence.

Exploring in Sitia Crete.

Unwinding in Sitia, Crete.

Up in the hills, I made my way towards Kazarma Fortress. Or at least what is left of the once grand Venetian fort. They built it as a guard barracks, the town’s main point of defence. It certainly saw some action over the centuries, with a near relentless wave of attacks. First, it survived the onslaughts of pirates and various attempted invasions. 

Kazarma Fortress.

Kazarma Fortress in Crete.

Unwinding in Sitia, Crete.

Next, in 1508, a huge earthquake devastated much of the old joint. Then, not long after it had been built back up, came the most fierce human attack of all. This is when the Ottoman Admiral Hayreddin Barbarossa destroyed much of the fortress in his vicious invasion of 1538.

Hayreddin Barbarossa Ottoman Navy Admiral

Barbarossa: Loved destroying fortresses.

Somehow though, Kazarma Fortress continued to survive. Until finally, and somewhat ironically, it was The Venetians themselves who finished the place off. They basically smashed the fort up and stripped its valuables so that it would be of little use to the advancing Turks.

Kazarma Fortress in Sitia Crete.

Unwinding in Sitia, Crete.

Today you can pay a small entry fee and stroll around what’s left of the north and east sections of the original enclosure. The highlight, for me at least, was climbing the tower, now roofless. 

View from the tower at Kazarma Fortress

Unwinding in Sitia, Crete.

It was something else up there. Just me and a near total silence accompanied by a faint sea breeze. Definitely my favourite view across Sitia Bay.

Exploring Kazarma Fortress Sitia Crete

Kazarma Fortress.

A short walk from the fortress meanwhile, I came upon the most delightful cemetery. If you know what I mean. It was a small, walled enclosure with a dinky Orthodox chapel, the gravestones jammed in like sardines in a crushed tin box.

Unwinding in Sitia, Crete.

Hilltop cemetery Sitia Crete.

Sitia Cemetery.

My day exploring Sitia’s old town had worn me out. And so it was back to the beach for a few days, until I finished my book. Then, feeling daring, I opted to take a day trip to… another beach. Just to mix things up.

Actually, I’d read that Vai Beach is Crete’s most  spectacular stretch of sand. Situated on the island’s eastern tip, it lies just a thirty minute drive from Sitia. In addition to its spotless sands and clear water, Vai Beach sits on the edge of Europe’s largest palm forest! No wonder local authorities charge an entrance fee.

Vai Beach on Crete.

Unwinding in Sitia, Crete.

There is no doubting Vai’s incredible beauty and those who take care of the park keep it spotlessly clean. As an experience though, I much preferred my local beach back in Sitia. Here, there were just too many people and too much noise. Nevertheless, it was well worth seeing, no regrets. 

Visit Vai Beach on Crete.

Vai Beach.

My favourite part of the day is when I took a walk up the short, steep trail that provides wonderful views over the beach and bay. From up there it seemed so peaceful, the huddled collection of parasols by the forest like a carefully constructed LEGO arrangement.

Vai Beach.

Vai Beach near Sitia on Crete.

Deep shades of glorious blue.

On my final night in Sitia I paid a visit to what many declare is the town’s best restaurant. It’s called The Balcony, a cosy, characterful eatery set in a traditional Sitian house a few streets back from the promenade. 

The Balcony Restaurant Unwinding in Sitia

Unwinding in Sitia, Crete.

I arrived just after opening time to find it perfectly empty. It was just lovely inside, the stone walls decorated by framed photographs and canvases of Sitia and the surrounding region.

Inside the Balcony Restaurant in Sitia Crete

Unwinding in Sitia, Crete.

And yet there really was only one place to settle: The Balcony’s… balcony! Usually, the hostess assured me, you need to reserve the balcony table. But it seems I was in luck, with the next reservation not due for another hour. So I ordered a beer, perused the menu and watched the foot traffic come and go down on the street below.

Balcony Restaurant Sitia.

The Balcony Restaurant.

The Balcony specialises in fusion mediterranean cuisine. Everything comes freshly prepared and beautifully presented. After much deliberation, I went for the delicious filo pastry parcels stuffed with beef, cheese and tomatoes. They were amazing! As were the chocolate brownies drowned in vanilla ice cream and chopped nuts. I couldn’t think of a better way to toast my stay in this fantastic Cretan town. Cheers!

Dinner at The Balcony Restaurant Sitia

Unwinding in Sitia, Crete.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

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  • Little Miss Traveller

    I’ve not heard of Sitia before but it looks an idyllic spot to relax awhile and the restaurant food looks inviting too.

    September 25, 2022 - 12:17 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for stopping by Marion, Sitia is a great base while exploring Crete.

      September 25, 2022 - 12:32 pm Reply
  • Coral Waight

    Sounds perfect to me. Now I want to go.

    September 25, 2022 - 12:18 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Cheers Coral, I appreciate you taking the time to read and leave a message. Hope you get to visit one day.

      September 25, 2022 - 12:33 pm Reply
  • Anna

    Greece looks so glorious. Yet to go but will do in the future for sure. Coming up though on tuesday….. cambodia! Wooo hoo! Im just a bit excited if you cant tell! Lol.

    September 25, 2022 - 12:21 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Anna, how exciting that your Cambodia trip is finally upon you. I still have my ‘Where to Eat and Drink in Siem Reap’ series to put out after this current batch, but I guess it’s going to come out just a touch too late for you. Wishing you a smooth flight and an amazing trip!

      September 25, 2022 - 12:30 pm Reply
      • Anna

        Thanks Leighton! All good for food and drinks… happy to just wing it and try my luck at any place that looks good! Cheers and see you on the other side!

        September 25, 2022 - 1:16 pm
  • kagould17

    There is something comforting about basing yourself in one town or location and exploring it at your leisure. That has become more the norm for us. No more ticking boxes for all we’ve seen and done. Just embracing the local area, culture and food. We typically travel in off season to avoid the hordes. After all, we are retired and no longer have to wait for school to be over. Your posts are making me think about going back to visit Greece again. Cheers Leighton. Allan

    September 25, 2022 - 4:57 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Allan, I’m glad Sitia appeals. I could really do with a few days (oh hell let’s make it a week) there during these busy times for us. Actually, we are based by the sea here in Batumi, but the beaches are rocky and quite unappealing. Hope you make it back to Greece one day, I also hope to see a bit more of the country.

      September 25, 2022 - 5:07 pm Reply
  • Memo

    This certainly puts the sun in sun-drenched. The picture of you stretched out napping with a book looked like a sunburn waiting to happen. And Vai beach was teeming with tourists. Had to have been a dozen. Don’t blame you for seeking something quieter. Your research really seemed to have paid off. Thanks for the food pic. I’ve been starving for one.

    September 25, 2022 - 5:23 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Memo, luckily I don’t get burn much. You are going to be a happy bunny when, at the end of this batch of articles, I return to Siem Reap for a new focus. It’s going to be as much food and drink photos as you could possibly handle.

      September 25, 2022 - 6:22 pm Reply
  • thomasstigwikman

    I love Crete. There’s so much to see as well as beaches and good food. My father in-laws dad was from Crete. Great photos!

    September 25, 2022 - 6:43 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Thomas, thanks for your comment and for following and liking my posts recently. Whereabouts did your father-in-law’s dad come from in Crete?

      September 25, 2022 - 8:14 pm Reply
  • WanderingCanadians

    Your pictures are absolutely stunning. It’s always nice being able to return to a place, especially when it’s somewhere as gorgeous as Crete! Spending time by the sea sounds so peaceful. And isn’t it great to travel in the shoulder season!?

    September 25, 2022 - 6:45 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Yeah, travelling at this times is what it’s all about. Here in Georgia now the crowds are disappearing but the weather is still fine. Give it a few more weeks and the tourists will be gone altogether.

      September 25, 2022 - 8:17 pm Reply
  • Mike and Kellye Hefner

    I don’t think I’ve ever gone on a vacation to just relax. Your post may be the catalyst I need to do just that. Sitia looks wonderful, and I love that there is a beach to relax on as well as history to learn and fabulous food! What is it about cemeteries that draws us to them? We find them delightful too.

    September 25, 2022 - 7:19 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Kellye, I’m so glad you are a member of the CAC (Cemetery Appreciation Club). Maybe it’s in part due to my appreciation of The Smiths growing up and their song Cemetery Gates. Hope you find the time and space for a truly relaxing break soon. Where would one go in your neck of the woods to truly unwind?

      September 25, 2022 - 8:57 pm Reply
      • Mike and Kellye Hefner

        My first choice would be to take the travel trailer to the mountains in Colorado and park by lake or stream for a few days. Hopefully there would be a few old cemeteries nearby!

        September 26, 2022 - 1:46 am
  • salsaworldtraveler

    I very much enjoyed reading this post, Leighton. For me, however, it doesn’t get any better than the photo of you zonked out on the beach chair. That says it all.😉😀

    September 25, 2022 - 10:41 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks John, I was perhaps too quick to put that one in now that I see that my mouth is actually hanging open. Which, I guess, is proof that it was a really great snooze.

      September 25, 2022 - 11:01 pm Reply
  • ThingsHelenLoves

    It all looks lovely, I wonder how the old place is getting on these days? Would you ever retrace your steps do you think? Love the bit about the Greeks sticking to the name Sitia. I guess they’d seen enough conflict and invasions to just think… whatever. We’ll stick to our name, thanks!

    September 25, 2022 - 10:53 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Right? one has to admire their stubbornness in this case. I wouldn’t retrace my steps within Crete no. But would perhaps be tempted by another stay on the island sometime in the future. Appreciate you dropping in, Helen.

      September 25, 2022 - 11:03 pm Reply
  • Lyssy In The City

    Looks like an incredible place for some r & r! I think being near the water and a good book is the solution for everything 🙂

    September 26, 2022 - 3:13 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Amen to that Lyssy, thanks for checking out Sitia.

      September 26, 2022 - 9:23 am Reply
  • Monkey's Tale

    What a gorgeous little seaside town, Sitia looks like just what you needed 🙂 Maggie

    September 26, 2022 - 4:37 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for visiting, Maggie!

      September 26, 2022 - 9:23 am Reply
  • Rebecca

    You were smart to have returned to Crete during shoulder season, so that you weren’t inundated with other tourists on the island. Haha, you looked really peaceful snoozing on the beach– with beautiful weather and not a care in the world, I can see how content you must’ve been! The Balcony looks so fancy inside, but it’s truly apropos to dine instead outdoors on its balcony, and to get views of town life from above…glad you had another wonderful round in Crete!

    September 26, 2022 - 4:38 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Rebecca for following this pair of Greek reports. Sladja and I keep talking about doing some months in Greece one of these years, let’s see if we get round to it at some point.

      September 26, 2022 - 9:28 am Reply
  • Travels Through My Lens

    Looks like the perfect location to rest and recharge from life’s hectic pace. Stunning photos, and the food looks amazing!

    September 26, 2022 - 10:52 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Cheers Tricia, thanks for following my brief adventures in Greece.

      September 26, 2022 - 9:48 pm Reply

    Stayed just a single night here last year before we caught the morning ferry and left Crete, so it was our last night on the island. There’s obviously more there than we were able to do!

    September 26, 2022 - 5:09 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ah, another crossover. I think Sitia has the advantage of being a big town but retaining that sleepy vibe. I certainly have no regrets going back to the island.

      September 26, 2022 - 5:20 pm Reply
  • grandmisadventures

    I may just leave your pictures up on my computer all day so I can daydream I’m there on this Monday morning instead of at my desk. What a lovely place to unwind!

    September 26, 2022 - 6:05 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hope your Monday wasn’t too bad, Meg. I guess the weather is starting to turn a little in Tennessee? Thanks for joining me on these mini Greek adventures.

      September 26, 2022 - 6:57 pm Reply
  • Travel with a Pen

    It looks stunning! Vacations where you actually vacation are the best!

    September 27, 2022 - 9:50 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey, thanks for dropping by! I think this is the first time your comment has come directly through and not into my junk. Which is great 🙂 Yes, I think we can all be a bit snooty a times as consider ourselves “travellers” not vacationers. But there is a time and a place for everything and sometimes those vacations/holidays are just what’s needed.

      September 27, 2022 - 9:53 am Reply
  • Bama

    Over time we usually figure out that one thing we enjoy the most when we’re exploring the world. However, every now and then it’s always nice to do something different. Like you, I’m usually not a beach person. But I remember having really great times at some secluded beaches in eastern Indonesia and beyond. As for Greece, it’s one of those countries I really wish to be able to see in person one day. Great story down the memory lane, Leighton!

    September 27, 2022 - 5:53 pm Reply
  • NortheastAllie

    This seems like the perfect place to relax and take in some ocean views!

    September 28, 2022 - 2:47 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for exploring Crete with me Allie!

      September 28, 2022 - 8:53 am Reply
  • 100 Country Trek

    This makes me want to visit Crete. and add this to my list countries. Very interesting.

    September 28, 2022 - 5:04 am Reply
    • Leighton

      I’m sure you would love exploring this island Anita. Thanks for reading.

      September 28, 2022 - 8:51 am Reply
  • wetanddustyroads

    An empty beach (while the sun is shining) … priceless! The same could possibly said of those cobblestone streets … it reminds me a bit of Malta. Great photos (and delicious looking food) … being laidback is sometimes required!

    September 28, 2022 - 4:24 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I can definitely see what you mean about Malta. Haven’t actually been there but have researched it a fair bit and can feel a lot of comparisons. Cheers Corna!

      September 28, 2022 - 4:28 pm Reply
  • Lookoom

    Interesting to see Crete like this, available for the curious visitor. You have made good use of it. Crete is one of the places I haven’t been yet and would like to go.

    October 22, 2022 - 3:58 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for taking a look. It is a very sedate island with understated sights, but I enjoyed my time there a lot.

      October 22, 2022 - 8:38 am Reply

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