The Birthplace of European Civilisation
Lasithi occupies the far-eastern part of Crete and it is divided into eight municipalities. It has a variable and contrasting landscaped, home to endless, sandy beaches and fertile plains, embraced by three seas, the Cretan Sea in the north, the Libyan Sea in the South and the Carpathian Sea in the west. Its mild, purely Mediterranean climate is without abrupt fluctuations and pleasant year round.
From Athens there are regular flights to the airport of Sitia, situated 69 km east of Agios Nikolaos, while regular boat itineraries sail from Piraeus to the ports of Agios Nikolaos and Sitia. Frequent bus schedules and local taxis meet the flights at the airports. Public transportation connects all the villages and sites within the prefecture.
Excavations at Diktaion Andron cave, at Trapeza cave, at Karfi and Plati, indicate that the area has been inhabited ever since the Neolithic Period. Later in the years, it was part of the ancient city of Littos which thrived. During the Cretan fight for liberty from Venetian Rule and Turkish Occupation, the Lasithi plateau provided refuge to the persecuted fighters, a fact that forced the Venetians, in 1263, to forbid all establishment and cultivation in the area.
Sightseeing And Monuments
The prefecture is steeped in ruins of ancient cities, settlements and buildings. There are quite a few spots worth visiting in Lasithi, like the Archaeological sites of Gournia and Zakros, the Diktaion Andron on Kikti mountain, the 15th century Toplou Monastery and the islet of Spinaloga with its famous Venetian castle. The cosmopolitan air of the island blows strong in Elounda, while other – no less beautiful – cities, towns and villages, like Ierapetra, Aghios Nikolaos (capital of the Prefecture), Sitia, Neapoli and Makrigialos, complete the diverse picture of this corner of Crete. Unique to all of Greece, and a “must see” is the forest of Vai, an area filled with palm trees. The plateau of Lasithi is one of the most beautiful areas in Crete. It is a green, fertile valley (817 m. altitude), covering an extension of 25,000 sq. km. full of cultivation of potatoes, garden and fruit products and almond – trees. The scenery’s beauty is completed with the 10,000 windmills, which are scattered here for the area’s watering.
Lasithi has a rich spiritual tradition, perpetuated from generation to generation. An ancient tradition, the tradition of popular “festivities” or family gatherings adds a particular vivid colour in the local way of living, although inevitably affected by modern lifestyle. Cretan dances of unparalleled grace, vivacity and gallantry, rouse people of all ages during social gatherings or festivities. People in Lasithi love to celebrate. Religious and cultural festivities are held throughout the year, some of them with ancient origins, others steeped in history and tradition. Easter is the most important religious festival, celebrated with processions and religious services. During the summer many local festivals with traditional atmosphere are celebrated in picturesque villages, a perfect scene to observe the rural reality of the prefecture and an ideal chance to taste dishes of the local gastronomy.
People And Lifestyle
Population totals approximately 70,000 and the principal occupations are farming and stock-breeding. Known for the generosity of their spirit, the locals like visitors, they are pleasant, graceful and hospitable. As their glorious and turbulent history indicates, they are driven by a powerful desire for freedom and independence, which is reflected in every expression of daily life. Their intense character combined with a strong sense of family loyalty, often leads them to actions that may be viewed as extreme by outsiders, manifested in generations-long “vendettas” between families. Customs and traditions are kept alive. Many still wear the traditional costumes, sing traditional Cretan songs and dance local dances. In the domain of arts, especially in the domain of woodcarving, many craftsmen have become famous especially in church ornamentation, most of them well preserved until now, unique for their inspiration and fine technique. Lasithi has always shown a remarkable production of home handicraft, resulting in fine works of art with exquisite decorations.
Being the most eastern part of Crete and at the same time the southernmost part of Europe, Lasithi presents a particular interest, featuring local indigenous species of plants (not to be found in other parts of the island), as well as plants that can only be met in Asia or in Africa. Luxuriant vegetation is present at all times in the plains and on the mountain slopes, even during the summer. Selakano with its pine forest, Katharo with its cypress forest, Selena with its “Azilakos”, the palm-tree forest of Vai and the plateau of Lasithi are really unique. Tens of gorges, plateaus and more than 1300 caverns embrace the indigenous beauties of the fauna and flora of eastern Crete. While most of the 2000 indigenous plant species of Crete are found in Lasithi.
Sports And Leisure
At the organised beaches of Lasithi Prefecture, in Agios Nikolaos, Elounda and Sitia, one can rent all the necessary equipment for water-sports, wind-surfing, pedal boats and canoes. For the fans of basketball, volleyball, football and tennis, there are courts and fields in the luxurious hotels and the big cities. The National Pool in Agios Nikolaos organises swimming tournaments. The areas of Spinalonga, Chrissi and Palaeokastro are ideal for fishermen, while the mountainous parts of the prefecture are ideal for those who prefer mountaineering.
Nightlife And Entertainment
It’s never too late or too early in Lasithi. There are many bars and night clubs in Agios Nikolaos , Ierapetra and Sitia, playing a variety of music and keeping holidayers dancing until dawn. There is a wide variety of lively places, from open-air terraces, where one can dine or have a drink, to cinemas, discotheques, pubs, etc. Nightlife for everyone, excitement, enjoyment and pure entertainment.
Gastronomy And Shopping
A superb specimen of a healthy Mediterranean diet based on the “blessed” olive oil, the local cuisine is accompanied by a selection of wines famed since classical times. In the coffee shops visitors are served “custom-made” coffee or successive rounds of “raki”, a local spirit. At the tavernas visitors will enjoy “dakos” local bread, myzethropita (cheese pie), chochlious bourbouristous (fried escargot) and sweet smelling wines. The market of Agios Nikolaos has a wide variety of local products such as cheese, wine, raki and tsipouro. At the beautiful village of Agia Fotia, the locals produce fresh honey of excellent quality. At the local shops, one can purchase beautiful embroideries, woven-fabrics and ceramics. At Kritsas, the local women make lovely, detailed embroideries. At Agios Nikolaos, one should buy wood-curved and woven objects, as well as jewellery. Crete’s rich tradition in hand-woven fabrics, embroideries, wood-carvings and jewellery-shopping is a real temptation to the visitor. Exambles, old and new, can be found in the marketplace of the cities and also in the villages, where visitors may have a chance to see these age-old craft being practiced.
The prefecture of Lasithi has been one of the leaders in Cretan tourism industry for over 30 years, boasting an important tourist infrastructure, including unique conference and incentive facilities. Aghios Nicholaos and nearby Elounda have developed into top-caliber tourist resorts with many large hotel complexes.
Useful Telephone Numbers
Port Authority of Agios Nikolaos: +30 28410 22312
Port Authority of Ierapetra: +30 28420 22294
Port Authority of Sitia: +30 28430 22310
Agios Nikolaos Bus Services: +30 28410 22234
Ierapetra Buses Services: +30 28420 28237
Sitia Buses Services: +30 28430 22272
Agios Nikolaos Police: +30 28410 22251
Ierapetra Police: +30 28420 90160, 28420 90176
Sitia Police: +30 28430 22259
Agios Nikolaos Tourist Police: +30 28410 26900
Agios Nikolaos Health Care Centre: +30 28410 25221
Ierapetra Health Care Centre: +30 2842 90222
Sitia Hospital: +30 28433 40100