I went to Lassithi with the original purpose of going to the Lassithi Plateau to view the windmills as I had seen old pictures where the plateau was filled with working windmills and it looked spectacular. On the way after travelling along a road from the north coast towards the plateau, having just emerged from a quaint village called Kera, I stumbled across a tourist spot which had some finely preserved windmills, a place to grab a coffee (they claim to serve the best cappuccino in Crete - and I think they are right!) there is also a charming museum dedcated to the evolution of man from the caves to the space age and it is easy to pass up but my advice is don't!
The museum was the creation I believe of Georgos Petrakis who is a generous and enthusiastic gentleman. First of all it is a great way for kids to see some of the more signifcant developments which took man from being a hunted animal himself to his first arrival in space - yes people forget it was Yuri Gagarin not Neil Armstrong!
You also get to see and touch the fabulous windmills, and if you ask nicely, Georgos will show you how they work and how to protect the sails when the winds get too strong by dismantling them. He even let me rotate the windmill so that the sails faced another direction. It sounds simple but it is great fun believe me.
I went off to see the plateau next and it was amazing, as much of a must see as Samaria Gorge in my opinion. Why? You still see some working windmills which helped the irrigation of the crops. You also see the state of disrepair of the windmills and for me it raised the question of why they had become of little use to the farmers. So I went back to Georgos for the answer. He told me that the arrival of electricity meant that the irrigation became more efficient throuch electric water pumps than the windmills. I challenged him and asked why couldn't there have been a mix between the two modes of power in order to save energy. He told me that the windmills continually needed to be resourced by people in order to ensure the sails were facing the right direction for the wind and also taken down when the winds got too strong to avoid catastrophic damage to the windmills. I came away thinking surely in this day and age mankind can come up with a solution for a windmill which has a built in system to recognise the best direction it needs to face, and withdraw its sails when the winds get too strong. Does anybody know of one?
Other reasons for visiting the plateau? It is truly remarkable how communities find themselves high above sea level building a life in the mountains. The communities there now are so friendly, offer themselves up to help with directions, history of Lassithi and offer you food and drink
The whole experience is thought provoking and I really hope that the restoration of the old Lassithi Plateau windmills becomes a reality. Surely a solution to this problem is a worldwide solution in many poorer areas. The more people that visit the more chance there is of that happening.
The ancient city of Lato was a Dorian city-state built in a defensible position overlooking Mirabello bay between two peaks,both of which became acropolises to the city.Although the city probably predates the arrival of the Dorians,the ruins date mainly from the Dorian period(5th and 4th centuries B.C.)The city was destroyed in 200 B.C,but its port located near Agios Nikolaos was in use during Roman rule.
There is some suggestion that the city was named after the after the goddess Leto.Lato also minted coins in antiquity,bearing the likeness of the goddess Eileithyia who appears to have been the one particularly worshipped at Lato.
Nearchus,admiral of Alexander the Great was born at Lato.
Entry is 2 euros,there is a small car park near entrance and a steep stairway to the site.
Plaka is a popular little seaside village some 16kms. north of Aghios Nikolaos and 5kms from Elounda.
Boat trips leave all three of these places (Plaka being the shortest crossing) to Spinalonga Island, a one time leper colony (1909 - 1957)where remains of the working village are very much in evidence.Spinalonga was one of the last active leper colonies in Europe.
Although I would have liked to have seen Spinalonga,we didn't bother as it was lunchtime and very hot and I really didn't want to be caught up with hoardes of tourists! We opted to have a leisurely drink at one of the tavernas, looking out over Spinalonga and very pleasant it was. I then had a swim from one of the pebbly beaches to cool down!!
There are a decent amount of tavernas, accommodation and more than one beach. There is also a car park which is always useful!!
I have to admit this is not our kind of thing but I did take some pictures so will give it some publicirt. If you visit the website link, it shows you what the place is all about.
There is a designated parking area offering the best views for photographs. Yes, it is certainly worth getting your camera out for. Here, there is also a large dog, made from natural stone. A bit of wishful thinking if it wasn't for the man made eye!
There are all sorts of statues and signs advertising pretty mundane things, probably the most interesting is the mile post with mielage to places all over the world.
The nicest aspect were the traditional stone windmills, refurbed with their white sails.
In all honesty, the place was just a little too much in the American Theme Park vein, something I have an immense dislike for so we purely stopped for the views and photograph opportunity. I am pretty sure many people who visit here love the place, especially children seeking a little light relief after that tortuous drive!!
Once you have dropped down to the plain, you can take a circular route around the perimeter, taking in a few of the old villages and the lovely rural scenes.
The roads are narrow and there are lots of deviations, not necessarily sign posted. We managed to get lost and ended up going round in circles but eventually found our way back onto the route out and into the mountains for the homeward journey.
There are numerous caves to visit, the birth pace of Zeus the Dikteon cave,being the most famous and well sign posted but as we had visited here years ago, we didn't bother. There is also a fairly new (and horrible looking) eco park museum type thingy where a few coaches had shed their occupants. We managed to avoid stopping here.We simply enjoyed the spectacular setting and the fantastic mountains.
The Lasithi Plateau is a magnificent plain some 850 metres above sea level stretching 11 kms east to west and 6kms. north to south. It is surrounded by the Dikti mountains and is a huge agricultural area where amazigly,fruit trees and vegetable crops abound. In older times, over 10,000 metal windmills with white cotton sails were used for irrigation. Stone windmills were built to grind the cereals grown.Nowadays, most of the stone windmills are either gone or in ruins and although many of the metal ones have fallen into disrepair, some are slowly being rejuvinated.
It is well worth the effort to visit this area, if only for the drive! There are various routes to the Lasithi, the two main roads are from the National Highway, the first, from just before Hersonissos and the second, more easterly route, from Neapoli.We chose a lesser route from just west of Malia, which then joins in to the first route mentioned.
The roads twist and climb continually for some twenty kilometres, offering spectacular views (whenever you can stop!)back down to the coast and up to the high peaks. We even looked down to a small, blue lake and another, larger one that was completely drained.
Be aware that coaches travel the main routes here and even though most of this route is wide enough, you may well meet one on a hairpin bend. Caution is required at all times!!
We stopped here briefly for a drink one day and liked what we saw. A clean, bright village on the coast with a decent beach and enough places to eat and stay at. The tavernas were on the waterfront, to the left of the shingly looking beach.
Everywhere there were tubs of flowers and brightly painted taverna furniture.
This is another place I have ear-marked as a possibility for a holiday. Not exactly off the beaten track as it seems it has always been popular with independent travellers and now a few English holiday companies have arrived here. Nothing stays the same.
Returned in June 2011 and still liked what we saw. Somehow reminded me of a smaller Matala with plenty of old hippies in evidence.
We strolled through the streets onto the waterfront, which is lined with pleasant looking tavernas and cafes and decided to have a bite to eat. I can't remember the name of it but we were served by a girl from Lithunia. We opted for a plate of squid between us, €7, half a kilo of rose at €4, a coke, €1.5 and bread, which was enough for our small lunchtime appetite.
There didn't appear to be many people about, despite it being June and very hot. I suspect this could have something to do with the English holiday company Kosmar, who had accommodation here, getting the chop.
In the back streets are a selection of tourist shops selling the usual.
Themajority of the beach is to one side of the village with the odd establishment behind, offering sunbeds.Steps lead down from the tavernas onto the shingly beach.
Driving around the Lassiti Plateau will bring you smack up against history, in this case the remains of many Venetian designed and built windmills. Most are in various states of disrepair, apparently not enough money or interest to repair them. Some are very impressive in their ragged way, but all are opportunity for a photo shoot.
The drive up onto the Lassiti Plateau was one of the most enjoyable in Crete, the small villages, still utilizing the water drawing windmills, the roadside shrines to remember a loved one, or the small chapel on top of a hill....all along some winding roads with perfect weather, some gusting winds bringing in white clouds to shade us, made for a beautiful excursion.
On the way towards Agios Nikolaos from Iraklion, not long after the 2nd tunnel you will see a sign for ‘Traditional mill’ there is a parking area and The windmills are about 200m further on.
There is a small parking area and a small local art and craft shop in one of the windmills. It’s a nice little place to stop and take some pictures.
It is the most significant group of windmills preserved on Crete. and they occupy the northern entrance to the Lasithi plateau, they are certainly the landmark of the whole area.
24 windmills have been preserved out of the 26 original ones 7 of them extend to the south of the road that enters the plateau while the rest are built to the north of it.
All the mills belong to the one-sided type of windmill, that grinds in a standard position, always on the same wind direction.
The group of windmills has been declared a work of art since 1986. The mills belong to individuals and some of them have been restored while others still remain half-ruined.
Kato Zakros: a wonderful place in eastern Crete, in the prefecture of Lassithi.
In the bay of Kato Zakros there is the ancient Minoan palace, the actual 4th palace of the Minoan civilization .
The beach is huge, with excellent water, and because of the archaeological site the tourism is extremely mild, and the place looks as if it has changed over the centuries.
Kato zakros bay is offered for quiet vacation, and there are traditional cretan taverns that you can enjoy the unique flavors of traditional Cretan cuisine.
Accessible is the gorge linking Zakros to Kato Zakros, known as the "Gorge of Dead", because there were ancient Minoan tombs.
Amazing is the Cave of Pelekita 5 km from Kato Zakros.
From Zakros, Kato Zakros you can visit and other amazing places in eastern Crete, as Xerokampos, Itanos, Palekastro, Palm groves at Vai, Moni Toplou.
All beaches in the area are wonderful , and the hospitality of the people is unique
Useful information to access Kato Zakros can be found here (by ship or plane and car): http://www.zakros-crete.com/content/view/37/61/lang,english/
and exact location on the map here: http://www.zakros-crete.com/content/view/27/62/lang, english/
The route that takes you inland over the big hill behind Elounda past little country villages and olive groves is lovely! and well worth doing as a circuit from Neapoli to Ayios Nikolaos and up the coast to Elounda and even Plaka and Spinalonga and then back over this route into the countryside.
There were donkeys and goats and windmills and little old Cretan ladies in black and cute houses covered in roses and multi coloured lush fields - the works!
Even if youve only got a scooter like some young holidayers I saw were getting around on.
I took the route on up from the market town of Neapoli set in a high valley inland, which apparently is very nontouristy, even the hotel owner told me that tourists rarely stay in Neapoli! (but its such a great hotel with great owners and a nice central spot for a few things in the area to stay - well worth at least one or two nights!) which soon begins a spectacular climb into the mountains.
Its about 20 minutes past Neapoli that you emerge high above with views to the Gulf of Mirabello and Ayios Nikolaos.
The Lasithi Plateau is very popular as a day tour - buses run around the plateau direct from Iraklion and from Ayios Nikolaos via Neapoli - but as usual I recommend taking the opportunity to drive yourself and be able to determine where you want to go and where and when you want to stop! Many come up here to not only see the many windmills but also to see the Dhiktean cave at Psykhro, which is actually the most visited village on the plateau, which is the legendary birthplace of Zeus (which didnt particularly interest me in the time that I didnt have much of!)
As I took the road back that heads down off the plateau towards Iraklion I got to see both access routes of which are both offer spectacular views.
This drive was beautiful! My Rough Guide to Greece recommended it but the agent who was helping me get my island hopping tickets while in her shop at Piraeus/Athens reckoned I wouldnt have time and that a visit to Ayios Nikolaos was better.
I felt I really wanted to fit in and just do it! The description of this being a green and fertile high mountain plateau with picturesque agricultural villages and unique white cloth windmills enticed me!
And though it was a rush and I was coming back down from the 'plateau' and looking for a place to stay in the dark it was worth it! The bonus mustve been that being as later in the day as I was that as apparently there are many bus tours that drive up here daily to see the windmills by the time I was driving up there there was hardly anyone to be seen!
The Rough Guide says that with very few still working windmills left that many visitors who come to see the 'thousands' of white-clothed windmills will be disappointed - though some do still operate for limited periods. There are numerous that are used as marketing features for roadside tavernas and shops and so.
But the drive alone is worthwhile, and the plain is a great example of rural Crete at work, with every inch devoted to the cultivation of potatoes, various fruits, and a host of other crops.
A great place to stay a night or two and ramble about!
The Ancient city of Lato is approx 3km from the small town of Kritsá. It was built in a defensible position between two heights both of which became acropolis to the city. The city was destroyed cir 200 BC, but it’s port (Lato Etera or Lato pros Kamara), located near Agios Nikόlaos was still in use during Roman rule. There is some suggestion that the city was named after the goddess Leto (of which Lato is the usual Doric form) and may be mentioned in Linear B tablets as RA-TO. Lato also minted coins in antiquity, bearing the likeness of the goddess Eileithyia who appears to have been the one particularly worshipped at Lato.
Closes at 15:00, Last entry at 14:30, €2 Entrance