General Information on Rethymno
The prefecture of Rethymno is one of the four prefectures of Crete, attracting thousands of visitors. It is the most mountainous region of the island, bordered to the west by the White Mountains and to the east by Mt. Psiloritis. It is considered the most picturesque region of Crete, boasting excellent natural features, including imposing canyons and gorges, lush vineyards and evergreen forests, sparkling rivers and lakes, long sandy beaches and high mountains with impressive caves and caverns.
Apart from its natural environment, Rethymno Prefecture offers a plethora of archaeological, historical and religious sights that illustrate the historical significance of Rethymno. Moreover, visitors may find an abundance of nightlife venues, in Rethymno Town, and popular seaside resorts, such as Plakia, and Agia Galini, all of which provide evening entertainment. In the charming villages of the prefecture there are taverns and restaurants where visitors can enjoy traditional dishes and accommodations for all tastes. Generally, the superb tourist infrastructure including accommodation, car rental agencies, tour agencies, shops and entertainment venues, makes the prefecture a wonderful vacation destination all year round.
History of Rethymno
According to Greek mythology, Crete was the land of King Minos. The legend says that the king refused to sacrifice a bull to the gods and Poseidon punished him by making his wife fall in love with a bull. From this union, the Minotaur was born and was placed in a labyrinth that king Minos built for him. Another legend says that to avenge the death of his son by the Athenians, King Minos made them send seven girls and boys to Crete every year, as a sacrifice to the Minotaur. During an expedition, the famous mythical hero Theseus, son of the King of Athens, sailed to Crete along with the young Athenians and, with the help of Ariadne, daughter of King Minos, killed the Minotaur and found his way out of the labyrinth.
The existence of human life during the Neolithic period (6000-2600 BC) has been proven by archaeological finds in the prefecture of Rethymno. However, a large number of archaeological finds dates back to the Minoan period. Crete is the place where the Minoan civilization, an important civilization (2600-1150 BC), started. Huge palace-states were built, such as the famous palaces of Knossos, Phaistos, Malia and Zakros. Minoans established a naval empire in the Mediterranean. This great civilization was destroyed, probably, by huge waves caused by the eruption of the Santorini volcano in 1450 BC and by the invasion of the Achaeans and the Dorians.
During the Geometric Period (710-270 BC) there is evidence of civilisation in the area of Eleftherna and surrounding areas. The Roman occupation started in 69 AD and lasted until 330 AD, followed by the Byzantine Era. There is little information referring to the area during the First Byzantine period (325-824 AD) and the period of Arab occupation (824-961 AD). Crete’s liberation by Nikiforos Fokas in 961, followed by its reintegration to the Byzantine Empire, signaled the beginning of the Second Byzantine period, which lasted until the arrival of the Venetians in 1204.
The period of the Venetian rule formally began in 1204, when Crete was passed over to Bonifatius of Montferrato, who later handed it over to the Venetians. They fortified the old Arab castles, built new ones, and founded new fortified cities. However, in 1206 Genoese pirate Enrico Pescatore invaded the island, and it was not until 1210 that the Venetians actually succeeded in regaining control of Crete again. The Cretans were in opposition to their conquerors, which resulted in a series of revolutions during the period between 1211 and 1367.
After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the position of the Venetians in the East gradually weakened. The attack of pirate Ulutz-Ali in 1571 devastated Rethymno. The Turks found the town deserted, plundered it and set it on fire. The Venetians fortified the city again and by the end of the 16th century, Rethymno achieved characteristics of the Renaissance according to Venetian examples. This stage included the construction of luxurious public and private mansions, while at the same time the city gained a central square as the city of Venice, a club house of the nobility, fountains, a large sundial, a central street, as well as smaller roads, which led to temples, monasteries and the houses of the inhabitants. During those years, art flourished such as painting and literature. The famous painter El Greco (Domenicos Theotokopoulos) started his career in this period, and other artists and scholars from Constantinople and other parts of the old Byzantine Empire came to Crete.
In 1645, the first Turkish troops landed at Chania and besieged the city. One year later, the troops of Hussein Pasha arrived at Rethymno. These walls had already been weakened because of the earlier raids led by the Turks, who had already established themselves in the area of Chania. The domination of the Turks over the inhabitants of Rethymno as well as over the rest of Crete brought many changes not only in the administrative, economic and population areas, but also in the intellectual and everyday life. The image of the town changed radically. The Ottomans established themselves in the Venetian mansions, which they decorated with their own architectural elements. At the same time, they started building mosques and minarets, which further stressed their presence. The period of the “Cretan Renaissance” with its flourishing literature and fine arts resulted belonged to the past. Christians were slaughtered and their properties plundered, which resulted in a series of uprisings and revolutions.
However, the Ottomans left the island much later, in 1898, when Russian soldiers took up position in Crete. During the same year preparations commenced to render Crete an autonomous state with its own constitution and government. This period of autonomy had positive effects on all levels, mainly on the economic and intellectual life of the city. This creative development continued until 1913, when Crete was united with mainland Greece.
During World War II, the island was invaded by the Germans who bombed the town of Rethymno in May 1941. The intolerable living conditions as well as the oppression of the conquerors during the period from 1941 to 1944 created a strong resistance movement with activities in many places of the prefecture. Many of Crete’s residents were executed for their part in the initial resistance against the German invasion. Following the German occupation, a period of poverty and misery began, which lasted until 1960. After that the island, with the expansion of tourism, flourished again into what it is today.
Towns & Villages in Rethymno
The province of Rethymno: There are two sides to Rethymno offering two styles of visit: the beach hotel strip, including the coastal villages of Perivolia, Platanias, Adelianos Kambos, Pigianos Kambos, Sfakaki, Stavromenos and Skaleta; and the beautiful Town of Rethymno with the old part and its mixture of architecture and history, cultural influences and styles.
Rethymno is the capital and the administrative, commercial and communication centre of the prefecture of Rethymno, built 80km east of Heraklion and 60km west of Chania. The city combines nice features: historical charm and proximity to a long sandy beach. The city also combines an old-time aristocratic appearance with a modern aspect, a unique blend. Various elements boost the charm of this town such as the arched doorways and stone staircases, 16th century buildings, Byzantine, Hellenic and Roman remains, narrow stone-paved alleys, the small beautiful Venetian harbour and the municipal gardens. The town offers all necessary tourist facilities and accommodations of all categories, as well as lively bars and clubs, various restaurants and excellent taverns.
The province of Mylopotamos: This province is situated east of the town of Rethymno. The chief coastal resorts of this area are Bali and Panormo. Bali is set in beautiful surroundings, with several small coves, hills and narrow sandy beaches. However, the enormous tourist development of this area has marred the natural beauty and during summer months it can be very crowded. Panormo is a less-known resort, despite the fact that it has a nice sandy beach and easy access from Rethymno Town. Panormo is a small village built on top of an ancient settlement. Furthermore, the hilly interior of the province now starts attracting tourists, especially the villages of Margarites and Anogia. The first village is known for its fine pottery and tour buses stop here every morning. If you want to wander around this beautiful traditional settlement, come in the afternoon when it is quiet. Anogia is situated on the foothills of Mt. Psiloritis, at an altitude of 750m, and it is the largest mountain village of Crete. It is a picturesque and attractive settlement, considered one of the most authentic villages of Crete. Due to its isolation, the village has kept local customs, traditional costumes and an old dialect. The settlement is known for its long history of rebellion during World War II and for its musician families. From Anogia, you can reach Nida (22km), a small plateau at an altitude of 1400m, from where it is possible to walk to Timios Stavros, the highest summit of the island (2456m), in about 4 hours.
The province of Agios Vasileios: The province begins at Armeni in the north and ends on the south coast of the island where the best known resorts are situated. The capital of the province is the town of Spili. It is a beautiful settlement, situated at an altitude of 430m, 28km southeast of the capital. The town is surrounded by verdant vegetation and is full of trees, fountains, springs and chapels with wonderful murals.
Furthermore, the busiest tourist resort is Plakias. This settlement was a traditional fishing village but recently it has become a well known resort, mainly because of its sandy beach which extends over 1500m. Plakias, despite tourism growth, is still a beautiful village in an amazing location. Agia Galini is another picturesque town. The once sleepy little town perched on a hill overlooking the sea now consists of hotels, rooms for rent, restaurants, bars and shops. However, it has retained quite a bit of its past atmosphere. Narrow cobbled alleys cross the village and old houses are perched one over the other against a steep cliff, offering a magnificent view over the Libyan Sea. A nice pebble beach extends over a kilometre in from of the settlement. Agia Galini is situated on the southern coast of Crete, just next to the border separating the prefecture of Rethymno from the one of Heraklion.
The province of Amari: The Amari province is often regarded the headland of Crete and the repository of its culture. Its capital, Amari, is surrounded by tranquil villages. From the legend of Zeus to the horrific bloodbath at Moni Akradiou, Crete’s tormented history took shape under the shadow of looming Mt. Psiloritis. This region harbours around 40 traditional and verdant villages amid olive groves and almond and cherry trees.
Beaches in Rethymno
The prefecture of Rethymno is ideal for summer holidays since it boasts a large number of beautiful and clean beaches. Sandy beaches can be visited on the north coast, at the Cretan Sea as well as on the south coast of the island, at the Libyan Sea. Some of the most beautiful and known beaches are presented below but the best way to find the ideal beach for your taste is to explore the coast by yourself.
Rethymno Beach: It is a sandy beach of more than 20km long. It is organized and very crowded during summer. Weather flags inform swimmers of the safety of the beach; if the weather is windy it can be quite dangerous.
Episkopi Beach: This beach is situated west of Rethymno. It is also very large and sandy and only partly organized.
Panormo: The beach of this crowded tourist resort is situated 20km east of Rethymno. The beach is sandy, fully-organized and very loud.
Bali: This small coastal village is situated 34km east of Rethymno, on the northern coast of Crete. Small islets are scattered on the coast in front of the village where visitors can find crystal waters and peaceful atmosphere or fully-organized sandy inlets with clean waters.
Plakias: This beach is situated east of the tourist resort of the same name, 40km south of the capital. This resort boasts a superb sandy beach, and well-organized infrastructure including hotels, rooms, taverns and restaurants. The beach is organized and various water sports are available here.
Souda Plakias: This beach is situated west of the village of Plakias. It is sandy and organized with a few taverns and rooms available in the area.
Agia Galini: This popular tourist resort lies about 58km south of Rethymno and has a beautiful fully-organized long sandy beach. Apart from the main beach of Agia Galini the area offers a variety of small beautiful and clean beaches, which are situated in various inlets around the settlement.
Damnoni: Damnoni is located on the southern coast of the prefecture of Rethymno, a few kilometres west of the village of Plakias. The beach of the settlement is organized and sandy and is considered one of the best of Crete. For those who enjoy secluded and non-organized spots, the surrounding area is full of deserted bays and coves with soft sand and incredibly clean and pristine waters.
Ammoudi: This beach is situated near Damnoni village. It is an alternative choice, ideal for those seeking peace and quiet. It is small, sandy, not organized and fairly isolated.
Preveli Lagoon: The beach of Preveli is located 38km south of Rethymno and it is the most famous and one of the most idyllic beaches of the prefecture. To reach it, take the road to the historic Monastery of Preveli. Shortly before you arrive to the Monastery, a track on the left hand side leads downhill to a parking place. After approximately 15-minute walk, you will arrive at this amazing sandy beach which reminds of an exotic lagoon. It is an oasis of palm trees with nice waters and soft sand. The Kourtaliotis River ends at this wonderful beach, creating a delta. Apart from the palm trees, lush vegetation surrounds the beach and the river, creating a dreamy landscape. Because of its beauty, the beach gets crowded during high season.
Triopetra: The beach of Triopetra, which was named after the three distinctive rocks in the sea, is situated about 50km south of the capital. The beach is huge and sandy with no tourist facilities.
Agios Pavlos: This magnificent sandy beach is situated 58km south of Rethymno. Bathing in one of the isolated inlets, which are formed between the rocks, and the sand dunes is a great experience. In the village of the same name, which is situated right next to the beach, there are available rooms to rent and taverns.
Rodakino: The small village of Rodakino (Peach) is situated a few kilometres east of Plakias and is surrounded by various small beaches which are the ideal place for relaxation. They are all very isolated, with no tourist facilities.
Top Things to Do in Rethymno
1. The city of Rethymno: The capital city of the Rethymno Prefecture is a beautiful settlement which has kept its cosmopolitan atmosphere, a result of its many conquerors. Except for a walk around the city to admire the Arab, Venetian and Ottoman architectural elements of the old mansions and public buildings, the city has few interesting sites that are worth a visit, such as the Venetian harbour of the city and the Fortress of “Fortezza”.
The harbour of Rethymno has been rebuilt many times since 1300 in an attempt to enforce its safety and capacity, but because of the currents, the attempts were unsuccessful and the harbour has kept its picturesque and authentic aspect and character. However, the main attraction of the city is its Fortress. It was built from 1573 till 1580 by the Venetians, for the protection of the inhabitants by the Turkish threat. It is star-shaped with three gates and six bastions. In the middle, the church of St. Nicolas was turned into the Mosque of the Sultan Ibrahim Han, during the Ottoman rule. There were the Commander’s house, the Counsellor’s house, barracks, stables, storehouses, a cistern and houses which were later destroyed.
The Fortress dominates the city and makes Rethymno very picturesque. Its pedestrian streets below are lined with charming old buildings. Venetian influence is everywhere, while minarets and domed mosques remind of the Turkish conquerors long gone. Numerous souvenir shops, trendy fashion or imaginative jewellery can be found below the Fortress. While in town, don’t forget to visit the Mosques. Four fine mosques have been preserved: the Megali Porta Mosque (Great Door), the Beli Pasha Mosque and the Kara Mousa Pasha Mosque that was initially the Venetian monastery of Agia Varvara and houses today the Ephoreia of Byzantine Antiquities. The last one is the Nerantzes Mosque that used to be a Roman Catholic Church dedicated to Santa Maria and now houses a conservatory. This is the only mosque of Rethymno that is open to the public.
2. The Preveli Monastery: Preveli Monastery is a famous, well maintained monastery located above the Libyan Sea, on the southern coast of Rethymno Prefecture, over the Kourtaliotis River. Like most Cretan monasteries it played a significant role in the rebellion against the Turks. In World War II, after the Battle of Crete, it sheltered many Allied soldiers who were being evacuated to Egypt. In retaliation, the monastery was plundered by the Germans. Today, the monastery is surrounded by rich vegetation. It is a staurpegian monastery founded probably in the 16th century. The Catholicon is a two-aisle church dedicated to St. John the Theologian and the Annunciation of the Virgin. It was built in 1836 but has been repaired many times since. Inside the monastery, there are cells, the old abbot quarters that were transformed to a guest-house, the new abbot quarters of 1900 as well as a library. A little museum with various ecclesiastical relics and items is open to the public. The view from the monastery is breathtaking and really worth seeing.
3. Gorges: Many gorges and caves can found all around Rethymno Prefecture. From those, Preveli Gorge, Patsos Gorge and Prassano Gorge are the most impressive ones. The first one (Preveli Gorge) lies south of Rethymno Town, close to the Preveli Monastery. The gorge stops at the mouth of Kourtaliotis River which forms an idyllic spot. Another impressive gorge is the Patsos gorge, located near the picturesque mountainous village of Patsos, southeast of the capital. The walk through the gorge takes about 3 hours. Interesting vegetation embellishes the gorge and, in its walls, one can see numerous caves with stalactites and stalagmites. The last one is the Prassano Gorge. This is a miniature of the famous Samaria gorge in the prefecture of Chania.
4. The Arkadi Monastery (Moni Arkadiou): This is the most famous and significant Monastery in the prefecture of Rethymno and the entire Crete. It's famous due to a historical event in 1866. The Turks sent thousands of soldiers to the island. When they were told about the venue of the oppressors, hundreds of men, children and women found refuge in the monastery. However, this didn’t stop the Ottomans from attacking the monastery. In order to avoid being killed by the conquerors and surrendering to them, the Cretans set fire to a store of gunpowder and the whole building exploded killing Cretans and Turks. Since then, the Arkadi Monastery has become a symbol of defiance and patriotism. The monastery was extremely wealthy and there was a centre of copying Greek manuscripts and a workshop of church embroideries. Today, this monastery, situated 23km from the town of Rethymno, houses a museum and receives many visitors throughout the year.
5. Preveli Beach & Anogia village: Don’t neglect to visit Preveli Beach, one of the most beautiful places of Crete and the Anogia Village with its traditional architecture and music history.
How to Reach Rethymno
Air: Rethymno has no airport. However, due to its location, it is served by both main airports of Crete, Chania and Heraklion.
Ferry: Ferries sail to Rethymno or Chania from Piraeus daily. The ferries are overnight sailings and the journey lasts about 10 hours.
Getting Around in Rethymno
Bus: There are numerous services to both Chania (1 hour) and Heraklion (1 ½ hours). There is a bus in each direction every half-hour in summer, every hour in winter. In summer there are also four buses daily to Plakias (1 hour), four to Agia Galini (1½ hours), three to Moni Akradiou (30 min), one to Omalos (2 hours) and two to Preveli. The morning bus to Plakias continues to Hora Sfakion (2 hours).
Weather in Rethymno
The climate of Crete is the mildest of Greece. It is a temperate Mediterranean climate with hot and dry summers moderated by northern winds, and mild, rainy winters in the plains. In the mountains of Crete, winters are quite harsh and it snows during the period from January to the end of February. Autumn is the mildest season in Crete because the temperatures are often higher than in spring and lower than in summertime.
Because the island is very mountainous, weather changes can be sudden and the mountains, as a barrier, create different weather conditions in northern and southern Crete.
Top 10 Destinations in Rethymno
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Map of Rethymno