The Rethymnon region, central and in a narrow section of this amazing island, is full of a huge variety of natural, historic, and cultural treasures within an easy reach of one another. Crete is an astonishing piece of topography — mountain ranges and high fertile plains, lush green gorges, and arid landscapes of dramatic rock formations. All this plus several famous caves, a coastline of hidden coves, pebble beaches, and endless stretches of pure soft sand.
Exploring the Riches of the Rethymnon Region
Crete’s identity derives from the mountains as much as it does from the sea, maybe even more. Goats love the rocky slopes, and the fragrance of the wild herbs they graze on perfumes the breezes.
Go to Psiloreitis National Park to experience the majesty. Along the way, you’ll see Mitata- the stone huts of shepherds that have been here for no one knows how long- and are still in use. Close your eyes and listen for the sound of many bells in the distance- the goats wear them as they wander and it’s one of the loveliest sounds of Crete.
Famous Mountain Villages
Psiloreitis- also called Mt. Ida, has fabulous villages. Spili is – technically- the most refreshing- cold mountain water gushes with great force from the mouths of lions carved in stone- well over a dozen of them. It even sounds refreshing.
Close by is one of Crete’s most famous mountain villages. The people of Anogeia are famous for the character- they showed such courageous resistance in WWII that the village was destroyed but for a few structures- the wonderful 14th century church of Agios Ioannis.
The war by no means destroyed Anogeia’s spirit; it is also a bold and lively place- some of Crete’s most famous musicians come from here – Nikos Xylouris- popularly known as Psarantonis- plays the lyre like no one else. Cretan music stirs the soul- don’t miss a chance to attend a traditional Panagyri- a village celebration in honor of a patron saint- to hear some.
Also on Mt. Psiloreitis is one of several famous caves. Ideon Cave is perhaps the most famous of all though- this is where Rhea hid her infant son Zeus, so he would not be devoured by his father Kronos. This was a sacred site in the ancient world, rich in archaeological findings. Other caves you might want to explore are the fabulous 14-chambered Sfendoni Cave, full of dramatic stalactites and stalagmites, by the village Zoniana. Here, even Minoan artifacts have been found. The Melidoni Cave is famous for another legend- this was the home of Talos — the ancient bronze protector of Crete (imagine a giant Robot who would cross the island by foot).
Now it’s time to return to daylight, and one of the lushest pieces of land the island has to offer. Gorgeous Amari is a valley between Mt. Psiloreitis and Mt. Kedros. Every good thing grows here abundantly- cherries, figs, apricots and, of course, olives. Several villages, all of them beautiful, are tucked throughout the green landscape: Thronos, Klisidi, Monasitaki, and others, as well as Amari itself. Meronas is thought perhaps the very loveliest of all, with the 14th C Church of the Holy Mother of God (Panagia) with its wonderful murals.
For more green landscape, travel to the Forest of Pardi, near the village of Kouroutes. Along a dirt road is the Titus Monastery — from here, you can see the Libyan Sea off of Crete’s south coast.
Discover the South Coast of Rethymnon Region
The South coast itself is full of charms! The terrain is rugged and dry and full of drama, rocks soaking in the sun’s heat. This makes the refreshing swim all the more welcome — the waters off of Crete’s south coast are deep and cold in contrast to the gentler temperatures of the northern beaches- Aghios Pavlos Beach with its multicolored rock formations, Alatsogremos Beach, and Pachia Ammos (“thick sand”) with its dunes. Preveli Beach is very popular, with a brook lined with palms feeding into it.
The notable Monasteries of Rethymnon region
The Preveli Monastery for which it is named is an excellent site for architecture, religious pilgrimage, and history: the monks fought boldly against the Ottomans, and in WWII distinguished themselves again, supporting the resistance by sheltering allied troops and providing supplies.
Another brave monastery and also probably one of the most photographed, combining elements of the Renaissance and Baroque architecture, is the 16th C Arkadi Monastery, site of a famous uprising against the Ottomans in 1866.
Learn about the Cretan way of life
After all this inspiring landscape, history, and culture, you may find yourself wanting to know more about the Cretans of today. There is no better place to do this than Agreco Farm, an estate devoted to organic farming and the preservation of old farming practices — visitors can participate in traditional activities like grape crushing, bread baking, flour milling, making cheese, baking bread, and the pressing of olive oil- traditional, but also timeless practices that are the heart of the Cretan way of life.
Have you explored the Rethymnon region? What did you like best. For more on Rethymnon you can also read our previous post the Charms of Rethymnon Town.