Crete is the largest of the Greek Islands, and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean, with a population of about 624,000 people. Crete is renowned for its beautiful sandy shores, magnificent mountains, quiet fishing villages and friendly people.
The town of Makrigialos (official spelling: Makry-Gialos) is an outstanding example of the beauty that ensures a thriving tourist industry for the area and a welcome unmatched in Europe.
The former "Dimos" (Municipality) of Makrigialos stretched from the south coast resort of Agia Fotia in the west to the monastery of Moni Kapsa in the east, and from the southern Mediterean Sea to the 1200 metre high (4,000 ft) mountains of Orno Oros in the north. It lies in the south east corner of Crete, and is the southernmost tourist area in Europe.
The people of Makrigialos pride themselves not only on their Greek nationality, but more especially on their Cretan heritage,
a history that dates back 5,000 years. Their welcome is never less than enthusiastic for the people who come to soak up the culture and the climate. Makrigialos is literally translated as "longshore" and the long beach and several other sandy coves that are never overcrowded provide excellent conditions for children and swimmers of all abilities due to the soft, gently shelving main beach and clean water. The town has many tavernas, bars, restaurants and shops, but remains unspoiled.
It is an ideal places for those looking for a quiet relaxing stay, but with the facilities offered by larger resorts.
There are numerous outstanding beaches in the Makrigialos region. Whilst the most popular during the summer is the
Blue Flag Makrigialos main beach, which offers all facilities, including water sports. The sandiest beach in the area, the coastline is gently shelving, and the shallow waters are perfect for families with young children. You can also reach several other beaches within a short walking distance. Refreshments, sun beds, and umbrellas are available on several beaches. All beaches offer perfect swimming conditions, and water sports facilities.
To the east of Makrigialos there are two public beaches below the Sunwing (the second Blue Flag beach in the area) and Mikri Poli hotels. These beaches can be reached by walking down the right hand side of the hotel past the bungalows belonging to Sunwing. Refreshments, sun beds, and umbrellas are available on both beaches, either from a small cantina or by lunching at the hotel. These beaches offer perfect swimming conditions with very shallow waters and water sports facilities.
Further east takes you to Lagada and Diaskari beach, just opposite the Bay View development, the latter with sun beds and hammocks shaded by pergolas available, courtesy of the small and excellent traditional taverna located at the western end. Further still, by taking the road to Kalo Nero, you will reach Amathi beach and several other small coves and undiscovered beaches which are often deserted, although there are no facilities on these beaches.
To the west of Makrigialos the first beach is Kalamokania, where deeper waters offer better snorkelling opportunities, which has a couple of restaurants which also provide sun beds and umbrellas. It has sand, some pebbles, shrubs and small trees. Further on there are beaches along the coast by Koutsouras and Mavros Kolimbos, and a very attractive horseshoe shaped bay at Galini where sun beds, umbrellas, and refreshment facilities are available. Whether you are a water sports enthusiast, or just looking for a private beach for peace and solitude, there is a beach here to suit you.
There are many fine villages close by, all with their own particular merits. It is well worth hiring a car to explore them and sample some of the local foods, wines, olive oil, atmosphere, hospitality, and culture. Roads are well maintained and easy to navigate, and offer spectacular scenery to rival the views to be had from the villages themselves. The area has a long history dating back to prehistorical times, and the remains of Minoan, Cretan, Aegean, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian, and Ottoman settlements echo the tides of civilisation that have swept this land. The region of Makrigialos is an outstanding example of Cretan beauty and hospitality, with all the amenities of modern life, but retaining the traditional feel of Cretan village life, providing a very warm and friendly welcome to visitors that is unmatched elsewhere in Europe.
The beautiful traditional mountain village of Pefki, meaning Pine Trees, is only 7 kilometres from Makrigialos and has panoramic views down the valley towards the Southern Mediterranean Sea. Given the size of the village, and the number of inhabitants, Pefki has a tremendous amount to offer for the sightseer, and all are well signed. The small church of Stavromenos perches high on a hilltop looking down on Pefki. There is a folklore museum and old schoolroom, just above and behind the village to the north. Traces of neolithic habitation have been found at the Vreikos Caves, to the north east of the village. Then there is the 'launderette,' exactly as it used to be hundreds of years ago, where your position at the trough was denoted by your pecking order in the village hierarchy - the nearest to the water inlet got the cleanest water! The 90 year old pink peppercorn tree, imported many years ago from Egypt, can be found at the fantastic Piperia restaurant to which it belongs. Pefki is also the start of the stunning Pefki Gorge walk, through the hamlet of Aspros Potamos and on to Makrigialos, about a 2 to 3 hours walk.
Approximately 6 kilometres out of Makrigialos, Agios Stephanos stands on a small plateau 420 metres above sea level. The beautiful church of Agios Stephanos, which has been recently renovated, is well worth a visit. There are a few small tavernas, and the narrow winding streets make it an interesting place to stroll around and while away an afternoon. The views from the village are particularly beautiful, with Thripti, eastern Crete's highest mountain (1450m) to the west and the southern Mediterranean Sea to the south. Above Agios Stephanos, overlooking the village, are the ruins of a Venetian castle believed to have been built in the 13th-14th century AD.
There are many paths and untreated roads to wander and explore. These range from a stroll around the nearby orchards and allotments of the local inhabitants, to long hikes for the more adventurous, through the imposing valley to the west of Agios Stephanos which eventually brings you down to Kalomokania beach.
Aspros Potamos, meaning white river due to the lime which is washed down into the river bed with the winter rains, is a small hamlet approximately 1 kilometres from the main Makrigialos road, at the base of the lovely Pefki Gorge. The cottages found here were originally owned and used as overnight accommodation by the inhabitants (and their animals) of the mountain village of Pefki when they came down to the coast to pick their olives. Almost all the cottages have been carefully and beautifully renovated, yet they still retain all the wonderful old characteristics found in Cretan rural cottages.
An old still-thriving, village built in a natural bowl above the main road from Makrigialos to Sitia. Kato Pervolakia is split into two distinct areas - one part of the village straddles a river and is inhabited, whilst the older, now deserted part sits on an outcrop of rock overlooking the steep ravine as the river falls down to the sea. Kato Pervolakia is accessible on mostly unpaved roads, and 4-wheel drives are advisable, but not necessary, so care is recommended. Kato Pervolakia is also the start of the magnificent Pervolakia Gorge, only a few minutes from the Bay View development. This is a walk that takes you down through stunning scenery with imposing cliffs.
It is also a source of many of the aromatic herbs to be found in this area, especially towards the lower end of the gorge. Care is recommended on this walk as a lot of the pathways are loose rock and scree, and liable to erosion from time to time.
Approximately 2 kilometres out of Bay View, perches the impressive monastery of Moni Kapsa, also known as the monastery of John the Baptist. With stunning views overlooking the sea and Koufonisi Island, the monastery, believed to have been founded in the 15th century, still attracts many devotees, particularly for the feast of John the Baptist on 29th August. Moni Kapsa was rumoured in one recent book to be the first stop for Lord Lucan in his flight from justice. Then a remote monastery accessible only by the hardiest of travellers in the early 1970s, it was said to be the resting place for three weeks for Lord Lucan. The lower end of the Pervolakia gorge reaches the coast at Moni Kapsa, and is easily accessible from the road. The top of the gorge is approximately 5 kilometres and 450m above sea level starting at the village of Kato Pervolakia.
Stavrohori, which means village of the cross, has a beautiful village square and many fine examples of typical Cretan architecture. The narrow streets and fountains provide a fine backdrop, with views that extend all the way to the sea. The secluded streets and the colourful architecture provide a contrast for a village that is both traditional and modern. The village square also regularly plays host to many music and religious events that are well worth the effort of making the drive up to this mountainside village. On the central village square are some excellent tavernas.
A thrilling drive up into the mountains (the name itself means mountainous), with breathtaking scenery, about 14 kilometres from Makrigialos. Orino has an attractive village square surrounded by beautifully tended gardens. The village can be reached from Agios Stephanos through the forest of Pefkoseli if you have a 4-wheel drive, otherwise you should take the tarmac road signposted from the main road towards Ierapetra. Orino is also the start of the path to Mount Thripti where, on the 14th September every year at the church of Afendis Stavromeno on top of this 1450ft mountain, is a panagia (a festival of the saint of that particular church). The route is unpaved, consisting of loose gravel with some very steep drops from the side of the road, and it is recommended that it is only attempted in a 4-wheel drive vehicle. There are a number of small friendly taverns providing refreshment in the village of Orino, and due to its height above sea level (over 2000ft), it is noticeably cooler, especially during the hotter months of July and August. The village is mentioned in the Venetian census of 1583, and the Church of Agios Dimitrios in Orino dates to the 12th century AD.