Crete’s fourth largest city and Europe’s southernmost, a visit to Ierapetra is a must for any adventure in Lasithi province. The town’s name means ‘sacred stone’ and the city’s growth was turbocharged in the 1960s by the creation of its modern agricultural industry which is based on the greenhouses. Today nearly 20 square km of white roofed greenhouses around the town make it one of the most productive areas for fruit and vegetables in Crete.
A visitor can’t help but be drawn to Ierapetra’s simple pleasures, particularly its seafront where the excursion boats cast off for Chryssi Island. Along the promenade local youngsters chat at cafe tables scarily close to the water’s edge, sipping capuccino freddos and texting. This is a friendly, easy-going town where a stroll along the seafront and its retail centre brings unexpected pleasures. Head to the Archaeological Museum at Adrianou 2 (a former Ottoman school) for a dip into the ancient history of the area. Kales Fortress on the waterfront built in Venetian times has great views. The old quarter nearby (Kato Mera as the locals call it features a Turkish fountain and mosque.
With a handful of good cafes and restaurants, Ierapetra makes a great stop for lunch or dinner. Notable eateries include the classic Beterano Cafe and Bakery, the deli-style Ariston Cafe, I Kalitexnes and the traditional taverna Gorgona. The Casablanca Cafe has great coffee and snacks, served in a gorgeously restored 1908 residence with its retro detailing and a serene leafy courtyard.
Head to Taverna Napoleon on the seafront for traditional Greek and Cretan favourites. The popular taverna took its name from Ierapetra’s most famous visitor. According to legend the French emperor arrived here one summer’s night in 1798, on his way to Egypt. He’s believed to have stayed incognito with a family near the harbour and reportedly left a note saying “If you want to know who your stranger was, know that I am Napoleon Bonaparte”. The house, in the suburb of Kato Mera, is owned by the Ierapetra municipality and open to the public.
Ierapetra is an easy 50 minute drive from Agios Nikolaos. The 69km journey from Hersonissos will take around 1 hour 15 minutes.