Rethymno is Crete’s third city in importance and it’s one of the best day trips you can organize during your stay in the capital of the island, Heraklion. There are several things you can do on a day in the area, such as visiting the magnificent old town, with the old mosques, unique Cretan Renaissance architecture and magnificent Fortezza, Rethymno’s famous landmark. Best is to book a hotel’s concierge day trip (7hrs approximately) Let’s see what are the best things you can do on a day-trip to Rethymno.
Start your day in the Old Town
Twenty minutes after leaving from Heraklion, my concierge chauffeur dropped me off at ‘Bourouni’ on the way into Rethymno, where I practically fell out of the car to capture the magnificent view over the Heraklion coast and the far off Dia Island.
When I arrived in Rethymno it was time to seek out the best coffee. History and traditional Cretan culture are practically set in stone and put on display in this beautifully preserved old town. I had three hours to blissfully wander through the enchanting sights, taking in the Venetian Harbor, Rimondi Fountain, and the astounding Neratzes mosque. I was in awe at all the transcendent architecture that was present in almost every single building on every single street. Venetian fortifications blend harmonically with orthodox and catholic churches, mosques, grand mansions of Venetian architecture, arches and cobblestone streets and they all create a magical atmosphere which had me in my element. A walk along the many alleys is the best way to discover all these aristocratic houses dating back to the sixteenth century, the times when the Venetians ruled over the island. Among the most important Venetian buildings, it’s worth paying a visit to Rethymno’s 9-meter tall Lighthouse.
Sit at one of Rethymno’s seaside cafés and enjoy the view and the atmosphere of the pretty seaside promenade.
An important historical site in Rethymno is Rimondi Fountain, which you can access from the sea walking up to Platanos Square. The Venetian fountain dates to the 1626 and it still bears the characteristic Lions of Saint Mark as well as some inscriptions in Latin. The coat of arms of the Rimondi Family is still engraved in the fountain. During your stop here, do not forget to drink a few sips of water… they say it’s a must if you want to return to Crete.
Not far from the Venetian harbor, it’s possible to reach the Fortezza, the wonderful Rethymno’s fortress built to defend the city against the pirate incursions and the Turkish threat. Unfortunately, the city (and the whole island) finally fell to the Ottoman empire, which ruled on Crete since the end of the 1600s until 1898.
Testimony of the Turkish domination is exceptionally visible in Rethymno’s City architectures. Several Venetian mansions were remodeled according to the Turkish style and still portray beautiful wooden facades and typical harem balconies.
The Turkish imprint is also evident in the different mosques and minarets still standing in the old town. The most impressive of them belonging to Neratzes mosque, is now a music school thanks to the magnificent acoustics of the domed building.
Visit Arkadi Monastery
At 14:30 I was sad to leave the peaceful cafe patio to meet back with my driver, but looking forward to the next leg of wonder. We would be heading to the historic Arkadi Monastery (30 min drive). Built on a fertile plateau above a resplendent natural scene of olive groves, vineyards, pine, cypress and oak trees, northwest of Psiloritis mountain. Arkadi is one of the most historic monasteries in Crete and has quite the bloodstained past. It is the place of the tragic battle of 1866, which opened the way for the liberation of the island from Turkish rule in 1898. In 1866, during the Cretan Revolt, 943 Greek, especially women and small kids, found refuge from the Turkish in the monastery. The battle against the Ottomans lasted for several days, and when realizing they were unable to save themselves, they blew up barrels of gunpowder, choosing to sacrifice themselves rather than surrender.
UNESCO has designated Arkadi as a European Freedom Monument. Nowadays all is peaceful, battle axes are long gone, but I felt I could still sense a faint air of turbulence as a wandered the boxed in confined spaces of the regimented monastery walls.
It’s Katholikon (main church) dates back to the sixteenth century and its remarkable history made the monastery a landmark of Crete.
Explore Unique Mountain Areas
If you wish to see a little more of the area, visit one of the most known villages of Milopotamos, and probably the most traditional one! It is called Anogeia.
A visit to Anogeia is a great excuse to try Crete’s creative and tasteful gastronomic offer with dishes including grilled lamb and goat as well as fresh vegetables and salads. I propose Delina restaurant located right next to an artificial lake, and then for best Greek desert and greek coffee in Perahori (the main square of Anogia).
Anogeia is also known for its fabric production. Women of the region weave and create fantastic carpets and tablecloths that you can take home as a souvenir. The village is also home to several musicians and dancers, and festivals in the area are not rare.
For those into nature and hiking, exploring the gorge of Patsos can be a great opportunity to learn more about Crete’s local fauna and flora. Patsos can be considered a fairly easy gorge if compared to the more imposing Samaria in the region of Chania.
Plan Your Stay
Those looking to explore both the East and the West of the island should choose a central position to establish as a base during their stay. Heraklion capital of the city is the perfect spot to easily reach places such as Rethymnon or Lassithi’s region capital, Agios Nikolaos.
Staying in Heraklion during your Crete holidays is a winning move that will make it easy to reach some of the best local beaches, but also to some of the island’s most characteristic villages.
Book a local hotel in the city center according to your travel style. Heraklion offers endless choices of accommodations whether you want to indulge in local gastronomy, admire the best views in town or even be more aware of the environment during your stay.
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Wishing you all the best!