Authentic Crete | Monza Car Rental Blog

Cretan lyra: the unique musical instrument that survives from the Medieval Times

If you spend your vacation in Rethymno, you will have the opportunity to visit the Museum of Cretan Lyra, which is located in the town. If you rent a car in Crete, you can go to the mountainous villages of Anogeia, which is situated in a close distance to Rethymno. Anogeia is a traditional village with a strong authentic Cretan character. During the visit in this settlement, you can see people wearing traditional costumes and speaking the Cretan dialect as well as enjoy the great musical tradition with the Cretan instrument lyra. Of course, you can hear the sound of this unique instrument all around Crete, as many taverns offer free performances with Cretan musicians to enjoy it while eating.

The Cretan lyra is the surviving form of the Byzantine lyra, which was used during the Medieval Times in Greece. The lyra is held vertically on the player’s lap, in the same way as a small viol. There are three major types of Cretan lyra. The lyraki is the smallest model and it is identical to the Byzantine lyra. Vrontolyra has a very strong sound and accompanies songs, while the common lyra is the most popular type of this instrument and is combined with violins.

The Byzantine lyra was introduced in 961 A.D., when Crete was reconquered from Arabs by the Byzantine Empire. The lyra was gradually introduced into the island’s culture as a popular element of the Byzantine music and tradition. Until today, the Cretan lyra is an important part of Crete’s tradition and has created a music style you have never heard before.

The lyra spread widely via the Byzantine trade routes that linked Europe, Asia and Africa. In the 11th and 12th centuries, European writers used the terms fiddle and lyra interchangeably when they referred to bowed instruments. In addition to Crete, descendants of the Byzantine lyra have continued to be played in many regions until the present day, such as the Calabrian lyra in Italy, the Gadulka in Bulgaria and the Pontian lyra in Turkey.

Like all types of Greek folk music, the Cretan music is closely related to dance. If you watch a performance with Cretan lyra, it is likely you see also Cretan people dance with their traditional costumes. The best-known Cretan dances that accompany the lyra are syrtos, pentozali and sousta.

Other performances include Cretan music with lyra that accompanies songs with weird and fascinating lyrics. These songs are called mantinades, which have rhyming couplets in subjects, such as love and war. These couplets have their origins in Medieval Cretan poetry and are usually sang in idiomatic Cretan Greek.

The best activities you can do in Crete

Crete has not only top touristic amenities, but also spectacular nature with great variety, which allows you to do various activities during your summer vacation. Hiking and climbing on gorges and mountains or doing water sports and scuba diving on the exotic beaches are only some of the best activities on the island. If you rent a car in Crete, you can do all of these amazing things by exploring everything that this interesting island has to offer to you!

Hiking

Hiking is a very good way to see the island, its nature and its authentic side. Crete is a mountainous island, and the personality of the locals was greatly affected by these mountains. In the west region of Crete, are located the White Mountains (Lefka Ori) with the famous peak Psiloritis. On the eastern side, is located Mt. Dikti. In addition to mountain routes, you can also hike on coastal paths and gorges. Samaria Gorge and Rouvas Gorge are the best-known of them, while Ha Gorge is very demanding and requires climbing skills. There are also in Crete many caves, such as Ideon Andron, which is considered to be the birthplace of Zeus.

Water sports

As Crete is a highly-developed Greek island with great touristic facilities, most beaches are organised and have water-sports facilities. You can sail a boat, do water ski, canoeing, windsurf, kitesurf or trampoline. There are also many schools for such water sports, if you want to start a new activity during your vacation. Golden Beach near Chania, Gouves, Ammoudara and Stalis Beach near Heraklion, Elounda Beach and Makrigialos in Lassithi are some of the best beaches to visit if you are fan of water sports.

Snorkelling

Crete is ideal for snorkelling because visibility in the sea is excellent, while the water is warm even during fall and spring. There is also great variety of fishes, sea plants and other species and the seabed is rocky and breathtaking. Plus, snorkelling in Crete is safe as there are no currents and dangerous sea life. The best beaches for snorkelling are those away from the crowds with rocky seabed. We recommend you to avoid sandy beaches with many tourists. Many boat-tours are also organised in Crete. Dia and Chrissi are two islets that are considered perfect for snorkelling and attract many divers.

Climbing

Climbing in the Ha Gorge, in a close distance to Ierapetra in Lassithi, is an experience you will never forget. With its vertical, higher than 300 m rocks and its 10 m width, Ha Gorge is certainly one of the most impressive sights in the area around Agios Nikolaos and attracts many climbers from all over the world. Every day are organised tours that start from Ierapetra, Agios Nikolaos and Heraklion with climbing teachers and experienced climbers that can help you live your dream with safety.

Why you should visit Crete in the off-season

Crete is famous all over the world as a fantastic summer destination thanks to its amazing beaches and the warm weather. However, have you ever thought about visiting Crete September through April? The sunny weather among other great pros will convince you to visit Crete during it’s low season. Read here all the best reasons to do so and be prepared for a wonderful journey in autumn, winter or spring!

Sunny but safe weather

Crete is one of the southernmost islands in Greece, overlooking the Libyan Sea and Africa. Did you know that Crete has sunny weather with temperatures over 25 degrees from March to November? The warm weather is something you can expect for many months all year long and not only during summer, while rain is rare even during wintertime. If you come from a northern country and you can’t stand hot temperatures, visiting Crete in the fall and spring, when temperatures are not over 35 degrees (or should we say 40 that gets in the summer), is a wise thing to do for comfortable holidays. Thus, you can explore the beautiful towns and villages of Crete as well as the historical sites, such as Knossos and Phaistos, without the danger of a heat- or sunstroke. Moreover, the sea in autumn is warm enough –even warmer than in the summer- to swim and enjoy the crystal waters, while sunbathing is not as dangerous as in June, July and August.

Low prices

During the off-season and especially in October, November, March and April, it is very likely to find great deals to rent a car and stay in a hotel, while ferry and air tickets are also cheaper. You can expect up to 70% off! Furthermore, tickets to museums and ancient sites are significantly lower than in the summer.

Relaxation and hospitality

People in Crete are renowned for their hospitality. However, during the high-season in the touristic destinations, it is unlikely to get familiar with the Cretan hospitality. The local people are very busy due to the crowds of tourists, and you won’t find the opportunity to talk to them and understand their culture and way of thinking. During the low-season, people are relaxed and willing to show you their way of life. You can discuss with them, meet new people and make new friends.

Last-minute holidays

If you want to visit Crete in July or August, you have to plan your holidays many months before your arrival. Crete is fully booked during the high-season, and thus it is really difficult to find available hotels or ferry tickets. In the fall, winter and spring, you can find many last-minute deals or plan your vacation easily just a few weeks or even days before your departure. Thus, you will have the greatest flexibility you can find without anxiety. Besides, spontaneity is the best asset we need in our vacation!

Around Rethymno by car: what to see

Rethymnon is a very interesting area of Crete, and we highly recommend you rent a car in order to explore all of its beauties. Traditional villages, virgin beaches, lush greenery, exotic sceneries and historical sites are only some of the things you can see around Rethymnon. Take your car, drive through amazing places and discover a whole new world, which is waiting for you during your vacation in Crete. If you have to see only 6 things around Rethymno, don’t miss the following points of interest.

Rethymno

The Old Town of Rethymno achieves something unique: it combines Ottoman elements with Venetian architecture, neoclassical houses and medieval churches. Its multicultural character impresses every visitor. The Venetian fortress of the town is called Fortezza and gives the town a romantic character. Elegant mansions, traditional local shops and restaurants with Cretan cuisine welcome you in this beautiful city, which is one of the best spots in Crete.

Preveli

Preveli is one of the most wonderful and exotic beaches of the island, located 40 km from Rethymno. A river flows into the sea, passes from a palm forest and forms a lake near the beach, totally unforgettable scenery! Although Preveli is one of the most beautiful beaches in Greece, it has remained untouched by mass tourism.

Anogeia

Anogeia is a traditional mountainous village with a strong authentic Cretan character. During the visit in this settlement, you can see people wearing traditional costumes and speaking the Cretan dialect. The village has a great musical tradition with the Cretan instrument “lyra” and is also a major handicraft and cottage industry centre. Don’t miss buying local products as souvenirs from there!

Monastery of Arkadi

The Monastery of Arkadi is the symbol of the Cretan revolution against the Ottoman Empire during the 19th century. In 1866, when the Turkish soldiers violated the monastery after many days of siege, the besiegers put on fire a room with gunpowder in order to kill the Turkish soldiers. This monastery shows the bravery of the Cretan people, who chose death over slavery.

Ideon Cave

Ideon Cave is located near Anogeia. According to the mythology, this was the place, where Zeus was raised by a goat, hidden from his father, Cronus. Until the Roman times, this cave was considered as sacred and archaeological excavations unearthed many votive offerings. The route to the cave is imposing, with high mountains and wild rock formations. Inside the cave, you can see stalagmites and stalactites as well as snow even during summer!

Ancient Eleftherna

Ancient Eleftherna was built where the current village of Eleftherna is located today. It was one of the most prominent ancient city-states in Greece with a fortified hill that protected it from the enemies. The city reached its peak during the 7th century B.C., being one of the few ancient cities, which flourished in the Minoan as well as the classical times.

Road trip in Heraklion: the best places to visit

Crete is a large island with numerous places to visit during your vacation. It is impossible to see all the points of interest in all of Crete, unless you have a month for your holidays. Thus, it is important to organise your journey according to the prefectures of Crete. One of them is the prefecture of Heraklion. If you have a week, you can easily and conveniently see some of the worthwhile things in Heraklion by renting a car. A road trip on the island of Crete is an unforgettable experience. You drive through traditional villages, beautiful seaside settlements as well as mountainous areas with verdant nature. Of course, we must warn you: the beaches and the beautiful destinations around Heraklion are so many that one article is not enough to describe them. We gathered here for you a list of the top places to explore by car, but there is always something more to discover!

Heraklion

Heraklion is the largest city of Crete, a modern town with many things to do. The vivid nightlife, the impressive Old Fortress and the traditional taverns to taste the famous Cretan cuisine are must. Also, don’t miss the Archaeological Museum with significant exhibits of the Minoan Times, which have been found in archaeological sites around Crete, such as the Phaistos Disc.

Knossos

Knossos is one of the most important historical sites in Greece. In Knossos, you will explore the magnificent Palace of Knossos, one of the most brilliant sites of Minoan Times. The excursion to Knossos is a perfect opportunity to learn the history of Crete from the beginning and discover the traces of the Neolithic settlement that dates back to 5,000 B.C.

Phaistos

In Phaistos, the second cultural and commercial centre during the Minoan Times, there are also ruins of a Minoan Palace, such as the central courtyard and the royal apartments. Phaistos is also the location, where in 1903 was uncovered the famous Phaistos Disc, a clay tablet with letters of the Linear A, the Minoan writing system, which has not been deciphered yet.

Matala

Heraklion has innumerable gorgeous beaches, but if you have to visit only one, go to Matala. Matala was a hippie place due to the caves above the beach, where the hippies found the perfect accommodation. Today, it is a long, sandy, organised beach with exotic touches and a friendly village behind the beach with all the touristic facilities you may need.

Agia Pelagia

Agia Pelagia is a small seaside settlement, 10 km from the city of Heraklion. In front of the settlement, you can swim and sunbathe on the exotic beach with the thick sand and the emerald waters.

Libyan Sea

The southern side of Crete overlooks the Libyan Sea, where you can find truly exotic beaches, like being in Africa. A perfect example is the beach of Lentas, which is a remote beach, near a friendly fishing village. Because it is uncrowded, Lentas is a nudism-friendly beach, where you will find the ultimate connection with nature.

The Hidden Gems of Heraklion

hidden-gems-heraklion

Heraklion is the largest city of Crete, and the wider region around it, the most touristic place on the island. The historical sites of Knossos and Phaistos, the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion in combination with the party beaches of Malia and Matala and the stunning bays that overlook the Aegean and Libyan Sea, attract thousands of tourists every year. Aside from the sightseeing, Heraklion is a city with a wide variety of things away from the mass tourism. Hidden gems that will take your breath away and give you the feeling that you have just explored virgin paradises. These are the best things to do in the area off-the-beaten-path:

Kartero Gorge

An excursion you should not miss is Kartero Gorge and Fourni Forest right beside the archaeological site of the ancient Minoan cemetery.  A lovely stone amphitheatre is located there, in a setting with lash greenery and calm surrounding environment. If you love hiking and being in contact with nature away from the crowds this is the place to be!

 

archanes-village

Archanes Village

To go to the Archanes Village, you’ll drive through a wonderful route that leads to a spring, where according to the legend, sprites once quenched their thirst. Archanes is a beautiful village, only a 20-minute walk from a gorgeous forest. Don’t miss visiting the main church of the village, where you can admire impressive Byzantine icons.

 

Zaros Village

Another beautiful village that you can visit and explore the nature as well as the Cretan traditions around the city of Heraklion, is Zaros. A majestic lake near the village creates the ideal setting for nature lovers. Above the lake, there is a beautiful hiking path as well as benches and tables where you can have a picnic while enjoying the breath-taking view.

 

kommos-beach

Walking Trails in Southern Heraklion

Don’t miss out on the routes in southern Heraklion, which have an exotic and captivating character overlooking the Libyan Sea and Africa. The beaches of Agiofarago and Kommos have a majestic landscape, but we recommend you to rent a 4×4 car to get there conveniently. The route to Ai-Yiannis in the Asterousia Mountains is exquisite. Make a stop to the lovely mountainous village of Kapetaniana, where you can eat high-quality meat dishes and converse with the hospitable locals, who are part of Crete’s authentic side. Remember not to refuse their treat and especially tsikoudia! From Ai-Yannis, you can follow the path to Koudouma Monastery, which is a gorgeous and easy trail inside the verdant nature.
Open-air Market in Heraklion Town
Inside the old town of Heraklion, have a walk in the famous open-air market, where dozens of peddlers offer their merchandise, such as fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices and street food. It is a great opportunity to explore local tastes in a walking tour with many oriental elements.