With a Venetian aroma, beautiful beaches, picturesque villages, breathtaking natural wealth, and a city that delights the eyes, Rethymno is a very exciting destination, where the old fights with the new and the authentic with the touristy.
Overview of Rethymno
Rethymno, a city fortunate enough not to be destroyed by earthquakes like other Cretan cities, and thus to save almost intact most of the medieval palaces of the Venetian and Cretan lords. A city that struggles to keep intact its authentic character despite the leveling of tourism that Crete is experiencing. A city that, although it offers the «services» that everyone expects from a summer destination, manages and keeps its many small and magical secrets for a select few. With a little willpower, you too can discover them, spending the most beautiful summer moments of your life.
The city of Rethymno stretches in the center of the northern beach of Crete behind the castle and the homonymous hill of Fortezza. It is located on the site of the ancient city of Rithymna and is divided into the Old and the New city, while next to it stretches the waterfront of Venizelos, the ruga maistra of the Venetians. In an open curve and with a large width, with rows of trees, palm trees, and various entertainment centers and cafes, it is the place that gathers the most tourist traffic. In the center of the city, the minarets of the Neradze, the Porta Guora, and the Mastaba Mosque are preserved almost intact, signs of the long Turkish occupation.
Brief History of Rethymno
Rethymno begins to acquire the character of a city during the period of the Venetian rule, during which the Venetians, as rulers of the sea, needed a port at this point for the galleys sailing from Chandaka (today’s Heraklion) to Chania. Therefore, they built Mantraki. In the eastern part of the Cape of Fortezza, establishing there the administrative part of the region. By the end of the 16th century, Rethymno was already a city with a population of 5,500 inhabitants.
Four centuries later, during which it experienced economic and intellectual prosperity. But also many disasters, the city fell into the hands of the Turks in 1646. It would remain until the liberation of the island in 1898. In Rethymno, distinguished men of letters such as the Hatzidakis brothers George and Ioannis, and Pantelis Prevelakis, while some of the golden pages of the Battle of Crete were written here. It’s a «living» postcard, with strong smells of Cretan cuisine and melodies from the Cretan Lyra.
Most Impressive Sights of Rethymno
The undisputed jewel of Rethymno for centuries, the fortress of Fortezza keeps the interest of visitors undiminished. The main buildings included in the interior of the fortress are the artillery depot, where they kept cannons and armaments. The residence of the Councilors was where one of the two Venetian Councilors of the city resided. The Rector’s residence was a luxurious and majestic building in the central square of the fortress, where the rector resided. To the west of the central square of Fortezza, the building complex of the Rector’s residence was built. Part of which is preserved to this day.
The building was founded in 1575 and its construction was completed in 1582. It was inaugurated during his stay by the rector Anzolo Barocci, who continued to make alterations until 1584. He considered it particularly high and exposed on the hill of Agios Athanasios, to the west of the city. Its imposingness and luxury in the documents of the time. We know that it had 49 doors, 81 windows, two staircases, and balconies.
Whether you like crowds or not, a walk from the city’s Venetian harbor will do. You must visit this area, with dozens of cafes and people of all ages. Enjoy your coffee in one of the dozens of trendy shops. Have lunch in one of the fish taverns with tables on the waterfront. A little further, in Plastira Square, the heart of the evening entertainment beats. Here, young people have fun until morning under the sounds of dance, but also mainstream music.
While walking through the picturesque city, you can also take a look at the Turkish buildings, such as the Neratzes mosque, the largest in the city, the Kara Musa Pasha Mosque where the Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities is based, and the Turkish school.
The Archaeological Museum of Rethymno (Terma Chimaras, Fortezza.) and the Historical Folklore Museum (M. Vrnardo 28-30). Two unique opportunities to get to know the history of Rethymno in all periods. The achievements and the lifestyle of its inhabitants.
Churches and Monasteries
Many churches and monasteries were built in the prefecture of Rethymno both during the early Christian and Byzantine periods. The Byzantine churches are around 300 and the monasteries at around 30. We singled out Agios Eutychios in Chromonastiri, which is 12 km from Rethymno, in the place of Perdiki Metohi, the Early Christian Basilica of Panormos, which is located at a distance of 30 km east of Rethymno, and the Virgin Mary on the Throne, which was built over an early Christian Basilica of the 6th AD. century, part of its mosaic floors has been uncovered.
The natural beauties of Rethymno are probably the best «sight» you could visit. The wild mountain landscape alternates with fertile plains and imposing rocky coasts with endless sandy beaches. At the mouth of the Great River, where the famous Kourtaliotiko gorge ends with its imposing slopes reaching 600 meters, the famous lake of Prevelis or Finikas beach is formed. To get there, just follow the road to Preveli Monastery. Shortly before reaching the monastery turn left onto a dirt road, and follow it to the end where you park. Then you walk to the sandy beach that looks like a tropical landscape! Also, at a distance of 27 km from Rethymno, following the old national road of Rethymno – Chania, we reach Argyroupoli.
The village is built on the site of ancient Lappa and it is worth visiting the rich springs at the site of Agia Dynami where inside the cave there is also the church of the same name. Finally, you can also visit the beautiful lake of Kournas, a unique natural lake, created by the blocking of underground water, which descends from the volume of the White Mountains. In the place of this lake, according to the legend, there was a village, which sank and became the lake. Legend says that the daughter sits on a rock in the middle of the lake combing her blonde hair.
Where to Swim
Avoid the busy and overcrowded beach of Rethymno and dive into the beautiful beaches outside the city walls. The best are in the south. 38 km from Rethymnon, just before Preveli Monastery, following a dirt road and then walking for about 15 minutes. You will reach the sandy beach with palm trees, right at the mouth of the Kourtaliotis River.
Also to the south is the stunning sandy beach of Agios Pavlos with its dunes. To get there, just follow the road to Agia Galini, and at the 46th kilometer, at the height of Krya Vrysi village, turn right and continue towards the sea.
On the beach of Plakias you will find rich infrastructure and water sports for every taste, while the sandy beach of Triopetra is suitable for those who want to avoid the crowds.
Finally, dive into the spotless beaches of Agia Galini, but also in Ammoudi, where you will probably find several nudists since it is particularly deserted and without infrastructure.
Where to Eat and Drink
In the village of Kournas where the lake is located, ask about Agapinakis tavern. Great meat and local delicacies await you there.
Also, at Goulediana, on the road to Pili near the village of Kares, be sure to eat at Taverna Goules. Small and unknown to many people, it serves delicious Cretan dishes.
In the city of Rethymno, at Avli, at Vassilis fish tavern, at Othona for traditional as well as modern flavors and organic wine, at Kyra Maria’s student hangout near the “tsipouradika” shops in the old town, at Samaria and Melina for traditional Cretan cuisine.