The Southern coast of Crete has a sleepy and not altogether European feeling, typified in Ierapetra, the largest town in southern Crete and reputedly the sunniest in Europe. Now the main income is from the fruit and vegetables grown in the ubiquitous plastic greenhouses but for the centuries between Minoan and Roman times it was an important trading port. The surprisingly few visitors stroll along the revamped waterfront, mingle with the locals in maze of streets in the centre of town and hunt for the scant remains of its former glory.
West of Ierapetra is undoubtedly the area least touched by tourism on the whole island. The small coastal village of Myrtos, thought to be the oldest settlement on Crete, attracts a few summer visitors but beyond this coastal villages such as Psari Forada and Keratocambos and mountain villages such as Anatoli have so far remained almost completely devoid of the effects of tourism.
Along the coastline to the east of Ierapetra a handful of villages have been welcoming visitors of all nationalities for the past few years but even here tourism is still low key and extremely laid back. One such village is Ferma where the uncrowded expanses of beach and relaxed atmosphere, make it perfect for a lazy seaside holiday or as a base for exploring.
Some kilometres further east lies Makriyialos which, thanks to the 'long beach' which it takes it name from, has grown from the sleepy fishing port it once was into a small, friendly resort. The magic of Makriyialos lies hidden behind an unpromising row of buildings in the one main street. You need only take a few steps onto the beach and the seemingly horizonless Libyan Sea is your only vista or walk just 100 metres in the direction of the mountains and you will be in entirely agricultural territory. It is the ideal choice for those who wish to swim, walk or explore by day but crave a little more variety in the evenings.
The area has a wealth of lesser known archaeological sites and monasteries as well as countless walks, (try the seven-kilometre walk from Pefki at sunrise, rounded off by breakfast on the beach in Makriyialos). Exploring eastwards mountain villages still practice ancient skills as diverse as bell-making and fortune-telling - using coffee-grounds rather than entrails!
The town of Sitia, famous for its wine, now even available in our supermarkets, is a further 30 minute drive to the north-east. Here you can visit the recently restored castle, dine simply on the wide waterfront watching the ferries and fishing boats, the locals absorbed in backgammon and the famous resident pelican.
A little further afield is Kato Zakros, with possibly the most evocatively set of the Minoan sites, where you can walk the 'Valley of the Dead' - a short gorge lined with Minoan rock tombs, or just swim and feast on locally - caught fish in one of its simple tavernas.