A 45 minute drive from Creta Maris, a visit to the small town of Archanes makes a brilliant day trip. Nikos Kazantzakis, Greece’s foremost modern writer (who wrote Zorba the Greek), described as Crete’s “mysterious force enabling the soul to grow”, and one place that certainly enriches the soul is this pretty town saturated in history. With its maze of pretty narrow streets, interesting museums and good tavernas, Archanes is one of Crete’s loveliest rural towns. Divided into upper (Ano) and lower (Kato) Archanes it’s best to park your car below the upper town and walk up, to explore the tiny streets on foot.
For an outsider to begin to understand the local community, there’s no better place to start than the kafenion above the town square. Old men with wizened faces sit sharing stories, reading newspapers, boisterously playing backgammon and sipping their Greek coffees. The large high-ceilinged cafe, with its tall windows is from another age, and stepping inside is like entering a time machine.
The architecture of the town is one its great delights – a treasure trove of neoclassical design. First adopted in public buildings built in the early 19th century, well-heeled Archanians wishing to express their love for (and desire to unite) with Greece, built their residences in the neoclassical style, which revolutionized interior layouts and replaced old materials with new. It was also a design style that sought to revive the elegance of Ancient Greece.
There are delightful tavernas in the town, most dotted around the main square. Dimitris Mavrakis’s Kritamon taverna just off the square offers fine rustic Cretan cuisine using local ingredients at good prices. Bakaliko is a gourmet deli with great dishes made from largely organic local sources. It’s also good for breakfast. To Spitiko overlooking the square from its panoramic windows is a traditional favourite, though in summer you’ll want to be outdoors. Lastly, Agora within the old market area will offer a time travel with its fine mezedes accompanying a glass or raki or wine.
A trip to Archanes can easily be combined with a visit to Crete’s most famous historical attraction. Knossos is just 10km from here. Beat the crowds at Knossos by arriving before 10.00 am and allow a few hours to explore this iconic Bronze Age site, the centre of the legendary Minoan civilisation. A morning visit will give you ample time to lunch at Archanes.
Fancy a stiff mountain walk before lunch? Five kilometers west of the town, Mount Giouchtas (summit 811m), has spectacular views and a wealth of historic sites. On its north side are the remains of one of the most important Minoan peak sanctuaries, built around 2100 BC. According to mythology Zeus was buried here.
Museum of Nikos Kazantzakis
Writer, philosopher, politician and traveler, Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957), was born in Heraklion. In the nearby village of Myrtia, this small but amazing museum pays tribute to an icon of modern Greek literature. With its collection of his manuscripts, samples of his correspondence, personal effects and rare photographs, the museum has become a site of worldwide pilgrimage.