Prefecture of Rethymno
Crete’s smallest prefecture located between White Mountains and Mountain Psilorítis (also called “Ídi”), is synonymous with gorgeous mountainscapes, marvellous beaches, Cretan lyre melodies, tsikoudiá spirit served with “oftó”, legendary caves, historic monasteries and monuments, traditional mountain villages and luxurious holiday resorts. Feel the essence of Mythical Crete in this mountainous, remote and self-sufficient region of the island of Crete.
The city of Réthymno is one of the best preserved medieval towns in Greece: Venetian fortification works mingle harmonically with orthodox and catholic churches, mosques, grand mansions of Venetian architecture, arches and cobblestone streets they all create a wondrous atmosphere.
Réthymno’s outstanding natural wealth is reflected on Mt. Psiloritis, which dominates the eastern part of the region, the most mountainous part on the island. The variation of the landscape will impress the nature enthusiasts: flourishing valleys succeed harsh mountainscapes and rocky shores follow long sandy beaches. Steep gorges, leafy valleys, small rivers cutting through the mountains, wild life refuges and forty canyons complete the picture. Unique wonders of nature will take your breath away:
- Lagoon of Préveli: At the point where river Meyálos Potamós (“Big River”) flows into the sea and “Kourtaliotis” gorge ends lie the famous Préveli Lagoon and “Palm beach” (“Fínikas”), a sandy cove with a small date-palm grove. To get there you have to follow the road to the Monastery of Préveli. Shortly before the monastery a track on your left leads down to a parking place. From this point onwards walk down to the sandy beach, where a remarkable, almost tropical landscape awaits you. The river flowing into the sea combined with the rich vegetation creates a magnificent sight. Don’t miss it!
- The Nída Plateau is located 79km far from Réthymno, on Mount Psilorítis. Here, major attractions are “mitáta”, vaulted stone huts where the shepherds live. The Plateau provides also skiing facilities during wintertime.
- Argyroúpoli: 27km far from Réthymno you will find Argyroúpoli, a village built on the remnants of the ancient city of Láppas. Numerous springs, the cave and the chapel bearing the same name are all well worth a visit.
- Gorges of extraordinary beauty traverse the mountains of the region: the ravine of Kourtaliótis, 3km long, ends at the famous Lagoon of Préveli; the ravine of Kotsifoú starts from the village of Kánevos and ends near the village of Sellía; the gorge of Patsós, in the Amári district; the gorge of Prassés, which ends at the village of Plataniás at the north coast east of the town of Réthymno; finally, the gorge of Arkádi and a number of smaller ones.
- The mountains of the region are exceptionally rich in caves. The most famous caves are those of Geráni, Simonélli west of the town of Réthymno, Áyios Antónios in the district of Amári, Melidóni, Moúgri Sissón and Sfendóni near the village of Zonianá. The cave of Idéon Ándron, in which Zeus was raised according to mythology, represented an important place of worship in both the Minoan and the Roman periods.
Important archaeological finds indicate that the area have flourished from the Stone Age up until the Roman and Early Christian periods. Minoan and Geometric sites, cemeteries, Roman cities and Hellenistic relics have been discovered, most important of which are considered to be Eléftherna, an ancient settlement inhabited until the 8th century, as well as Arménon cemetery with more than 350 underground tombs. Ecclesiastic monuments like stone chapels on Mt Psiloritis, historical monasteries and early Christian Basilicas enrich your visit on the island. A monastery of great historic importance is the 15th century Arkádi Monastery overlooking the imposing gorge and Préveli. Set off on a journey back to time through your visit to traditional settlements like Ádele, Anóyia, Rústika, Garázo and Chromonastíri and feel their original Cretan atmosphere.
Here you can taste delicious local culinary delights, like goat cooked with tomatoes, hilopítes (home made pasta) and snails with vegetables –always accompanied with a shot of local tsikoudiá!
Visit Réthymno in the summer and bask on its sun soaked beaches. Magnificent sandy beaches await the beachgoers on the north coast (at the Cretan Sea) as well as on the south coast of the island (at the Libyan Sea).
City of Rethymno
Rethymno is located in the north end of the prefecture, built by the sea and is a city with many faces. Rethymno or Rithymna as it was once called has been inhabited since the Later Minoan III period. Nowadays, it keeps the elements inherited by its history (from antiquity up to now), preserving at the same time the characteristics of a modern city. You can reach Rethymno by boat from Piraeus or by plane from Athens to Chania and then drive 60 km to Rethymno.
Bus services are daily and often to all Cretan areas while the north road network is convenient for a relaxing journey. Rethymno combines the conveniences of a large city with the beauty of an old town. Both elements will mesmerize you.
Venetian Lotzia, a beautiful building of 6th century which now houses the Public Library, is located in the old town at the end of Paleologos Street. Lotzia building was the gathering place of noblemen feudal lords where they could discuss issues concerning economy, commerce, politics, etc. At the same building they could play lucky games while its arcades were used by representatives for announcing state decrees. The building was later influenced by the Turks who turned it to mosque, covering the arches and leaving just one door open. In the west side they annexed a minaret.
If you walk along Vernardos Street up to its end, south of Petichaki square, you will end up in Nerantze mosque. The building operated initially as Venetian church, dedicated to Santa Maria and later (1657) it was turned to a mosque by the Turks. During this transformation the Turks annexed a roof with three domes and the highest minaret in Rethymno.
It is worth to go up Paleokastro hill and walk in Fortetzza. Fortetzza is the fort of a zone of fortified works established during the Venetian occupation. Their construction lasted seven years (1573-1580 A.D.). The exterior aspect of the walls is low but wide with such an inclination that could protect its interior from enemy bullets.
The fort’s central entrance is in the east side through which you will enter a dark arcade and proceed to the interior of the castle but when you pass it you will see the sunlight again. The first building you will see is the warehouse of the artillery which nowadays operates as an exhibition hall.
A bit further is Aghios Ilias rampart and the small, amphitheatrical and semi-circular theater Erofili, which is now used for cultural events of cinquecento character during the summer period. Sultan Ibrahim temple dominates there, while opposite the mosque you will see the ruins of Retouri mansion (Venetian prefect).
Further down and on your right you will meet Aghia Ekaterini church built in the end of 19th century. If you follow the pathway you will see the semi-underground warehouses of the northern wall and a bit further you will meet the Counsels’ mansion, the architecture of which reminds us palaces of cinquecento type. Approximately fifty meters down you will see the gunpowder warehouse which is a small stone building with pyramidal roof.
In the eastern end of the castle you will see a small Russian church (Agii Theodori) which proves the existence of Russian troops in the period of 1897-1909. The tour of the castle ends on the east side of the wall.