Take a step back in time to the fascinating, mythical world of ancient Greece with a 2018/2019 holiday in Rethymnon. Nestled along the hilly northern coastline of the island of Crete, this beautiful seaside city entices all who visit with its historic charm. Unmistakable Venetian architecture rises above the atmospheric backstreets and sun-drenched waterfront, old world tavernas peering out over the quaint little harbour of colourful fishing boats and the ancient sea wall. It’s an ideal spot to relax after a day of exploring with a cold drink and plate of mezze.
Holidays in Rethymnon are synonymous with its vibrant atmosphere, the sound of mopeds buzzing around, the chatter of locals as they catch up over coffee on cobbled streets, or the lively harbour scene of boats coming and going. Golden sandy beaches stretch out either side of the city, making it easy to escape the hustle and bustle and find your feet stepping out into invigorating Mediterranean waters. And let’s not forget Rethymnon’s buzzing food and drink scene, which coupled with an eclectic choice of nightlife, should mean there’s something for everyone after dark.
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Like with many cities in this part of the world, a Rethymnon holiday combines the holy trinity of food, drink and heritage to great effect. It may be Crete’s third largest city, but it’s relatively easy to make your way around it on foot. A natural starting point would be the old town. You could spend hours getting lost amongst its narrow cobbled streets and stunning Renaissance buildings, pausing among all manner of local art and craft shops to pick up a souvenir. There are plenty of places to stop and eat, be it in the sun or shade.
Next on the list is a trip up the hill to the Venetian fortress, which offers stunning views of the town and sea below. Seek out the orthodox chapel that’s nestled amongst ancient pine trees and make time to wander around the old mosque, getting a taste of several helpings of local heritage along the way. And then there’s Rethymnon’s harbour, with its old castle and sea-wall at its perimeter. Head out west and you’ll find remnants of an old waterfront fort, Moorish architecture and plenty of great little bars in which to take a well-earned breather.
Cretan cuisine is a wonderful thing. Unlike some Mediterranean food, it offers up something for meat, fish and vegetable lovers alike. You could be tucking into smoked lamb and grilled vegetables with honey whilst chatting to the owners of a buzzing backstreet taverna lit by candles, or enjoying a lunch of feta parcels, stuffed vine leaves and a glass of raki down by the harbour. Names such as Pigadi, Tou Zisi and Avli (reservation advised) should be on your list of places to try out. The last of these has also spawned a produce shop where you can buy an array of Greek wine and various cooking ingredients, perfect if you’ve gone for the self-catering option. There’s plenty of international options here too, particularly in the centre of town, meaning even the most selective of tastes are catered for. Down on the beaches, you’ll find the usual assortment of cafes serving up everything from local cuisine to toasted sandwiches, burgers and chips.
Aside from its fabulous long stretch of sandy beach, Rethymnon offers up plenty of fun things to do for families. Adventurous kids in particular will love exploring the nooks and crannies of the old Venetian fortress remains. At the 16th century Venetian loggia you can pick up puzzles and picture books that are ideal beach time activities, keeping the fun and games local. There’s an open market on Thursdays with fascinating sights and sounds of the city culture. You can hire bikes down by the harbour and go for a family ride along the coast, stopping along the way for a swim or a spot of lunch in the shade. The incredible Arkadi monastery is sure to be a hit with the kids too, with a design that has to be seen to be believed.
Whilst a holiday in Rethymnon is focused largely on relaxing strolls, swimming and sunbathing, there’s plenty of adventures to be had on the north Cretan coast. Much of the action is centred on water-based activities including snorkelling, water-skiing, surfing and parasailing. Companies such as Lottie Watersports and Ikarus Watersports are on hand to offer lessons and equipment hire. The city is backed by some pretty stunning hills, making the area a popular one for hikers and climbers. Take a walk along wild flower-lined hill paths and up nature trails to the top of the peaks. The E4 trail and area around Mili Gorge and Amari Valley offer the most beautiful trekking opportunities. And for something a little more rough and ready, hop aboard a quad bike and ride up into the hills. Particularly recommended is the sunset tour. Search for Voyager Quad Adventure and off you go!
A 12km stretch of golden sandy beach emerges from under this old stone city, making it easy to combine an urban adventure with relaxing days by the sea on your Rethymnon holiday. Sweeping views of the ancient harbour can be enjoyed from most spots. The scene of lively little beach cafes, parasols and sun-loungers is typically Mediterranean and the waters here are kept under close lifeguard supervision. Swimming is encouraged, as is all manner of water-sports including jet-skiing and paragliding, making it a great place for family days out. Things get a little quieter out west past Missiria and Platanes, with Episkopi Beach in particular being one for escaping from the crowds. Head to Gerani Beach for snorkelling and its little hidden rocky cove. Turtles are regular visitors to the beaches of Rethymnon over the summer months, so keep an eye out for these fascinating visitors.
Several nightclubs can be found on Melissinou and also Arkadiou Street, near to the museum shop. The waterfront setting makes a great place to let your hair down on your Rethymnon holidays. As is the Mediterranean way, dinner is usually enjoyed at around 10pm, meaning that the party atmosphere associated with food and drink is in full swing. The region’s infamous spirit, ouzo, flows freely, as does raki, the Greek version of Absinthe. Cretan wines are celebrated too, meaning that you could quite happily spend a night in the harbour sampling nothing but local produce. There’s even a wine festival in July, celebrating all things Rethymnon. A little further afield, the big city of Heraklion should be on your radar for an even bigger night out. Things here are a little more modern and upbeat, so if you want a break from the history of Rethymnon, this is the place to come.
The very essence of Rethymnon holidays is romance. A little like Venice but without the canals, as well as a more reasonable price, the city’s network of cobbled streets and intimate architecture lend themselves perfectly to couples’ holidays. Common is the sight of lovers exchanging conversion over a coffee in shaded squares, strolling hand in hand along the harbour or enjoying a candlelit supper in one of Rethymnon’s many brick-walled tavernas. The old Venetian fortifications, Orthodox churches, mosques, Renaissance architecture, arched stone passageways and narrow backstreets create a unique atmosphere. A romantic walk in the Old Venetian harbour, ending at the ancient seafront fortress with its views out to sea, is not to be missed. The 16th century architecture here inspires many a wedding, so Rethymnon could be the place for you in which to tie the knot in traditional Mediterranean style.
Inspired by the culture and heritage of ancient Greece, Catholicism and the Venetians, many different cultural events take place throughout the year in the villages surrounding Rethymnon and the city itself. The Renaissance Festival that takes place from late August into early September in various venues is one for your diary, as medieval plays and performances come to life across the old town. The Rethymnon carnival in February and March celebrates the transition into Lent with music, dancing and processions, not to mention plenty of Cretan food and drink. Contemporary culture is celebrated through Greek art at the Municipal Gallery, with paintings showcasing local artists since the 1950s on display. Owing to the city’s membership of the National Cultural Urban Network, the gallery hosts several art workshops meaning that you can get really ‘hands on’ with the local artistic goings on in Rethymnon.
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