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Region F - Crete, the Cyclades, Rhodes and Kos

Crete, the Cyclades, Rhodes and Kos

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Delightful, attractive and famous, these Greek islands with their great natural beauty, archaeological treasures, and historic monuments offer exceptional possibilities for just about any kind of holiday. Many of them have highly developed resort districts, but all of them, large and small, have tranquil picturesque corners, wonderful beaches and their own unique personality.

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From Chania to the Libyan Sea

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We'll imagine that you're disembarking at Souda, one of the best natural harbours in the Mediterranean it has always been of strategic importance, as the Venetian fortresses at its entrance indicate. From Souda, you could go either east towards Rethymnon or west towards Chania, just a short distance away. We'll take the latter route and try getting to know Western Crete. We leave Akrotiri on our right, which you should visit when you get the chance. It's so close to Chania and yet it has traditional villages, noteworthy monasteries and the grave of Venizelos.

A lovely town, Chania is full of bustle and vitality. While the modern side is lively and entertaining, what is really captivating about it is the vestiges of its fascinating past: the waterfront and the old neibourhoods behind it, winding alleyways and an Italianate façade. Venice has left her mark here, once again - in the buildings, bastions, and the church of San Francesco, now the archaeological museum. Added to this picture are the many reminders of the Turkish occupation and the picturesque covered market.

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From Rethymnon to Agia Galini

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There are really two Rethymnouns, one modern and one saturated in the atmosphere of the past, of the days when the Venetians and later the Turks held sway. A stroll through the protected old district will lead you through narrow winding alleyways to the Fortezza, the Venetian castle, or the Loggia, one of the finest Venetian buildings in Crete, now the home  of the Archaeological Museum. You'll also see minarets, a hamam and a Turkish cemetery, among the 600 or so charming Venetian houses around the port, not to mention 17th century churches and fountains.

Further to the east all along the sea from Misiria to Adele and beyond, is contemporary Rethymnon, which  has been developed as a very attractive resort area over the past decade. Heading south, you'll encounter yet again some splendid scenery. A bit after Koxare the Kourtaliodiko Gorge begins. The Kourtaliotis river has created an area of extraodinarity beautiful beaches on the south coast. To the west, not far away, stands Preveli monastery, whose monks have traditionally resisted oppression whether in the Turkish occupation or during World War II.

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The Cyclades

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Where does one start in attempting to explore the Cyclades? Scattered in the heart of the Aegean, the Cyclades offer any kind of holiday you might dream up from contemporary, swinging resort life to quests for clues to the distant past or more recent traditional life styles. Antiquities, medieval monuments, monasteries and churches, quaint ports and charming hamlets fashioned in the distinctive architecture of the region, plus the unmatched scenery and a plethora of fantastic beaches - all warmed by the Aegean sun - can be found on virtually every one of these islands. Each island has its own special cherm, but if for some reason it doesn't appeal to you , then nothing could be easier than hopping on to the next one.

These islands are served by three mainland ports. While most of the boats leave from Piraeus, Rafina is gradually assuming more importance for the more northerly islands, while ferries to Tzia (Kea) are based at Lavrion.

Kea, the closest of the Cyclades, doesn't figure in any tour operator's brochures, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have lovely beaches, arresting scenery and sufficient amenities to make your stay more agreeable. There are taverns, cafes and other entertainments in Korissia (Livadi), the port, and the Hora, typically perched well away from the sea.

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From Rhodes and Kos to Chios

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Now we're sailing towards the Dodecanese, another chain of lovely islands in the southeasters Aegean. Our first stop is Astypalaia, off by itself in the middle of the open sea. This is where to come if you really «want to get away from it all». With its Venetian castle perched above its glistening Hora, Astypalaia seems more Cycladic in style than most of the rest of the Dodecanese.

Rhodes, on the other hand, is where to go if you want to be where the action is. One of the other hand, is where to go if you want to be where the action is. One of the popular tourist spots in the country, Rhodes is equipped with the best in hotels, all sorts of entertainment and recreation possibilities, plenty of beaches and a pretty interior. But what makes it really special is its relics from the past. The modern town of Rhodes with its imposing hotels and even grander municipal buildings surrounds the medieval city, where you can wander fascinated for hours. Enclosed within its massive Crusader - built walls, you'll find the palace of the Grand Masters, the Street of the Knights the Archaeological Museum, the bazaar, Turkish mosques, a Jewish quarter, charming tavernas and of course endless souvenir shops. Outside the walls, the gardens and Mandraki port contribute additional colour.

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