Malia is Crete’s tourism central, a veritable Ft. Lauderdale of beach activity, excellent hotels, and incalculable activities for all ages. Situated on the Cretan Sea about 35km east of Heraklion, the town’s name means “flat area,” which is appropriate since the former fishing village sits on one of Crete’s most fertile plains. Visitors can experience a bounty of genuine Cretan customs and history outside of Malia, in villages with traditions old as time itself. Here are a few of the surprising village gems you’ll find when you vacation in Malia.
Old Town Malia
Separate and inland from the beaches, the Old Town Malia is a traditional Cretan village that’s perfect for strolling along and taking in a few retro hours. Most people who visit will compare the experience to Minos’s labyrinth since the alleys and narrow streets of the village wind around endlessly. Charming churches and small squares that seem to appear out of nowhere are worth the travail.
If you love architecture and old houses, courtyards full of flowers, and children at play in the street, this village is a “must visit” for you. Highlight landmarks include the central church of Agios Nektarios and the church of Agios Ioannis, both from the Venetian era. Other churches worths seeing are those of Agios Dimitrios, Panagia Galatiani, and Agios Georgios.
A tiny village located on the right bank of the river of Aposelemis, Potamies enjoys a natural wonderland of olive groves, citrus trees, oleanders, cypresses, quince trees, mulberry, and plane trees.
The traditional village is famous for the tiny chapel of Saint George built back in the 15th century, or the Venetian Era. The chapel boasts well-preserved frescoes that look as fresh as yesterday. Located on the west bank of the river Aposelemis, the chapel’s western side is made of natural rock, and the surrounds are reminiscent of Eden itself.
Last but not least, enjoy authentic Cretan cuisine and hospitality in one of the village’s many tavernas and cafes.
One of the four main settlements in this part of Crete, Mochos sits in the mountains overlooking the beaches of Malia. The village is best known for the breathtaking views of mountains and sea, and for its fabulous village square. There you will find traditional tavernas, cafes, and little shops to pass the time.
Mochos is a dreamy Greek-scape of traditional houses, narrow alleys, and smiling Cretans. The appeared on the map before the 16th century, and visitors get a special treat when visiting the Archangel Michael, Virgin Mary, Saint George, and Saint Panteleimon churches of the little town. Yes, tiny Mochlos has four churches from the time of the Byzantine Empire.
On 14 or 15 August, the Virgin Mary festival is the village’s biggest yearly event, with a program of traditional Cretan music, dancing, good local wine, and delicious traditional food.
Farther along the road to Lassithi Plateau from Mochos, Krasi sits at the end of a wild gorge that winds its way up the plateau.
The route to the village is awe-inspiring, and once you get to the village square, more amazement awaits. Krasi is famous for the gigantic plane tree in the central square, where ten people holding hands cannot hug its trunk. Known as the Monumental Plane Tree, the landmark is said to be over 3,500 years old.
Lining the square, you’ll also find quaint cafes, tavernas, and shops along the narrow streets leading out from the park in the center. The legendary Cretan writer Nikos Kazantzakis spent many summers in this square near the wonderfully refreshing water springs that flow out into the park/square area.
Not far from Malia to the east sits a peaceful traditional seaside village blessed with a spectacular natural harbor. Sissi is a true hidden Gem of Crete if you are looking for calm waters, a chill atmosphere, and mouthwatering seafood. Half a dozen marvelous fish taverns line the harbor, and the local artisans have a dozen or more local shops for you to investigate.
Malia’s beach is not ideal, but the view at sunset is spellbinding. There’s also a recently excavated Minoan palace on a hill overlooking two area beaches. It doesn’t have a visitor center, but the experience is more authentic as archaeologists work in the summer, and some lucky visitors may get a special tour.