Discovering the Best of Crete in Authentic Sitia

If you’re the adventurous type who’s looking for a more authentic experience of Crete, then Sitia is the place in Greece you should visit next.

I’m very happy to see that more and more people, and I mean younger generations, are looking to steer clear of the crowds, get in touch with nature, learn something new, and be part of the local ways. 

So that’s why I recommend visiting Sitia hands down. You could literally stay for weeks in Sitia  because first you won’t want to leave… ever! And secondly, it’s very affordable. This small coastal town on the Eastern side of Crete will grow on you and there are dozens of reasons why.

Warning: Sitia is for those of you who want to spend your days hiking, exploring, tasting or simply living the good life. That said, let’s get on with learning more about Sitia, Crete.

Is Sitia Worth Visiting

Discovering the Best of Crete in Authentic Sitia
Sitia port by night.

Absolutely! I had the chance to visit Sitia as part of an UNESCO Global Geopark activity, which I will talk about further down in this post. Why is Sitia worth visiting? Because this is one of the few remaining places on Crete and in Greece where mass tourism madness has not taken hold.

Discovering the Best of Crete in Authentic Sitia

It’s also one of the few places I’ve visited where the locals are taking action to protect the environment and safeguard traditions passed on to them by their parents and grandparents. And lastly, thanks to the Cretans’ extraordinary hospitality, I was reminded once again why I love Greece and Crete so much. Add to that the hiking, the supreme food, the unspoiled beaches, the welcoming villages and the special aura and you have everything you could ever want from a visit to Greece.

Again, word of advice: Sitia is for you if you like outdoor activities, like hiking, going off the beaten track, bird watching, and geology. If you’re a foodie, a writer seeking peace and quiet, an artist looking for inspiration, or simply someone who wants to live like a Cretan.

Celebrating Agios Yakinthos, Greece’s Saint Valentine, on Crete 

Sitia: Cretan Hospitality at its Best

Discovering the Best of Crete in Authentic Sitia

One thing I can definitely say about my visit to Sitia earlier this fall is that I made many new friends. The people of this small Cretan town are “simply the best” – to borrow from a favorite Tina Turner tune.

From shop owners and bakers to the girl in the souvenirs store, everyone offered to treat me to something. A raki, a sweet, a coffee, a jar of honey, some nuts. Here in Sitia the motto is “just ask”. I was so happy to see that Greek hospitality is alive and well in Sitia. To be honest, with Greece’s increasing popularity, some places are losing this magic touch. 

I think Sitia and its people are best described in this Cretan “mantinada” (15-syllable rhyming couplet):

“Lots of stone, little water, sand in some places, this is beautiful Sitia with its warmhearted people.”

Where is Sitia? 

Discovering the Best of Crete in Authentic Sitia

Sitia is a small seaside town in the Lassithi prefecture on the Eastern edge of Crete overlooking the Sea of Crete, also part of the Aegean Sea, and going as deep as 3,293 meters (10,000 ft). Sitia is home to some 10,000 people, and yes, it has its own airportSo getting there is easy. Either with a direct charter flight from several cities in Europe, or from Athens. The 4,380km European route E75 also starts in Sitia and ends in in Vardo, Norway! 

Go Off the Beaten Track in the Sitia Geopark

Discovering the Best of Crete in Authentic Sitia
View from above on the way to Kato Zakros, Crete.

Did you know Sitia is a geopark recognized by UNESCO? When I first heard about the Sitia Geopark, I thought it was a small protected area where certain activities were allowed. Well, I was very wrong. My four-day experience with the people of the Sitia Geopark – mostly volunteers – was enough, or should I say the beginning of getting to know the Sitia Geopark, which is essentially the whole of Sitia. 

The Sitia Geopark is one of several geoparks across the globe where efforts are being made to conserve the geological and cultural heritage of the area. Yes, this means that if you love geology and getting to know local cultures, this is the place for you. Think unique geological features and rock formations, fossils and geological phenomena, hidden caves, gorges, one of the biggest underground rivers in the Balkans, and stunning untouched landscapes, flora, and fauna. Think history and age-old traditions, local events and festivals that are still alive today.

Discovering the Best of Crete in Authentic Sitia

What makes the Sitia Geopark special? The dozens of volunteers: firefighters, chefs, cooks, cafe and restaurant owners, students who are there to offer help to visitors while trying to safeguard Sitia from the evils of uncontrolled tourism.

My visit to Sitia was all about discovering the waterways and why these were so important to the settlements there. We went on foot and off road along Sitia’s part of the E4, a 6,200-mile trail that starts in Andalusia and runs through Spain, France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece and Crete, and ends in Cyprus. We hiked through the mountains, visited small villages and sampled traditional dishes. And that’s exactly what you can do too.

► The Laws of Xenia: Greece’s Famous Hospitality

Discovering the Best of Crete in Authentic Sitia

In addition to Sitia, the other UNESCO Global Geopark on Crete is Mount Psiloritis while the Samaria Gorge / Lefka Ori and the Asterousia mountain range have been included on UNESCO’s Biosphere Reserves list.

Overall, Greece has eight UNESCO-listed geoparks: Sitia and Psiloritis on Crete, Vikos – Aoos, Grevena – Kozani,  Kefalonia – Ithaca, Chelmos Vouraikos, Lavreortiki and Lesvos island.

Global geopark status is a way to ensure the protection of Sitia’s natural habitat, particularly from massive tourism infrastructure projects and wind farms. It also designates an area and its products. This means that you will find dozens of local products, partner enterprises such as travel agencies, restaurants, olive oil and other producers, visitable wineries, farms, retreats and accommodation facilities, and sweet shops certified with the Sitia UNESCO Global Geopark seal. I strongly recommend that you support them. Every little bit goes a long way.

What’s more, if you have kids, the Sitia Geopark is perfect as it offers exciting educational and awareness-raising activities.

 How to Live Long and Happy Like a Greek

Sitia and Love 

Discovering the Best of Crete in Authentic Sitia
Erotokritos and Aretousa: an epic Cretan tale of love.

One of Crete’s and Greece’s greatest poets: Vitsentzos Kornaros was born in Sitia in 1553 to a family of nobles. With such beauty around him, it’s no wonder he wrote one of the most compelling epic works of all time: the 10,000-line poem “Erotokritos” about undying devotion and love. Do read more about this Medieval Cretan masterpiece that has stood the test of time and can still be heard today in modern song.

Kato Zakros: Forgotten in Time

Discovering the Best of Crete in Authentic Sitia
Ancient remnants of the palace of Kato Zakros, Crete in the middle of nowhere.

As you approach Kato Zakros you can see what’s in store from above. A super-long sandy beach, a handful of white-washed homes and a few typical seaside tavernas. The feel is close to the Greece of the 1970s and 1980s, when life was slow and vacation was all about connecting with the locals. This is very much still the case here in Kato Zakros, where you should expect to wake up, enjoy your coffee and breakfast, head to the beach, swim and sunbathe, read a lot, think about dinner on the seafront. Absolutely no cares in the world and ideal for creators who need peace and quiet. 

Discovering the Best of Crete in Authentic Sitia
Full moon one autumn night in Kato Zakros, Crete.

There is however one surprise that awaits. Behind the beach you will find the remnants of Minoan palace built in 1900 BC. It is one of five Minoan palaces on Crete, the main one being the Palace of Knossos, near Heraklion. A must for anyone visiting Crete. This tour of Knossos and guide are highly rated. Inside the Zakros Palace archaeologists found clay tablets with Linear A inscriptions. Remember! Linear A is the language used by the ancient Minoans of Crete thousands of years ago that has not been deciphered yet.

The palace in Kato Zakros just adds to the mystery and the atmosphere. You’ll feel like you’re in a movie! Breathe in and remember, thousands of years ago people lived here in luxury.

► Kato Symi, Crete – A Traveler’s Gate to Heaven

Eating: The Sitia Experience

Discovering the Best of Crete in Authentic Sitia
The ultimate Cretan kerasma in Sitia.
Discovering the Best of Crete in Authentic Sitia

Where do I begin! Sitia’s reputation is all about its food and people. And I literally mean both. Wherever we stopped along the way, we were treated to raki, Cretan rusks, cheese, Crete’s tiny olives and cucumber – the true Greek meze… and many smiles.

During my visit to Sitia I had the chance to learn more about making “nerates” (flat cheese pies) eaten with Greek honey by the master: Diamanti (her name means “diamond”). Make sure to taste Diamanti’s divine “nerates” at her tiny shop “Kafe Café” on the port. Order a “nerati” and a Greek coffee and simply enjoy life’s small yet great moments. 

💡Tip | In July and August ask about where the panegyri of the day is held and make sure to go. While there, we “ran into” a panegyri in the making. Minutes later, the “organizers”, local townsfolk came to the square to woo us into sitting for a “kerasma” – again! This time it consisted of Cretan olives, “oftes patates” (roasted potatoes), moustalevria – a one-of-a-kind pudding made with fresh grape juice or “petimezi” (made from concentrated grape must or “moustos” and similar to molasses in texture only) during the grape harvest, “anevata” phyllo and cheese sweets, “xerotigana”, and “amygdalota” (almond paste sweets). And raki, of course! In if you plan to visit in November, ask about the “kazanema” – a big event at almost every Cretan home celebrating the distillation of the island’s favorite spirit: “raki” or “tsikoudia”.

What to Taste and Buy in Sitia 

Discovering the Best of Crete in Authentic Sitia

– Sitia is as famous for its meats as it is for its fish so make sure to order roasted meats. Raki Meze is the ultimate food lovers stop.

– Sweets! “Stafidota” (made with raisins and orange), “melomakarona” (a drier variety of the traditional Greek Christmas cookies), “xerotigana” (puff pastry with honey), “lychnarakia” (sweet myzithra cheese pastries), “anevata” and “patouda” – all this from the warm-hearted girls at Aretousa Sweets.

– omaties – a traditional Christmas meze that dates back to anceint times (only for meat eaters)

– cheese! The creamy “xygalo”, graviera, and myzithra (sweet and savory)  

– local honey and herbs. If you don’t want to carry in your bags you can also order organic honey from Sitia here

Visiting Sitia: All You Need to Know

Discovering the Best of Crete in Authentic Sitia

✓ When to visit Sitia: all year round with the best months for photos and milder weather in May, June, September and October.

 How do I get to Sitia: You can get to Sitia by plane directly from various cities in Europe or from Athens. Book the best and cheapest flights here.

If you have time on your hands you can also take the overnight ferry from Piraeus and arrive in Heraklion Port early in the morning. You will need to rent a car from the airport and drive to Sitia. For ease and comfort you can also arrange a private transfer.

✓ Where to stay in Sitia: super clean Sitia Beach City Resort and Spa  right on the beach, the Palazzo di Sitia Luxury Suites with stunning views and Porto Kaza in the city with a perfect location and for the best place to stay on a budget Dimitra Apartments, a family-owned rooms-to-let situation where you are made to feel right at home thanks to the true Cretan hospitality of its owner, Kyria Dimitra.

► Visiting Greece? The Top Things to Know

 What to see and do in Sitia:

Discovering the Best of Crete in Authentic Sitia
This is how Kyria Dimitra welcomed us in the morning.

– the Sitia Geopark info office on the port and learn more about the geological points of interest and which trails to take based on level of difficulty. You will also see a ‘bit’ of the “deinotherium of Crete”, the largest prehistoric animal to have lived in the Balkan area 8 million years ago. The remains of the 4-meter-high and 8-meter-long mammal, a relative of the elephant, were found almost intact. The actual finds are in the Natural History Museum of Crete in Heraklion, which you should visit given the opportunity.

– the Venetian-era Kazarma Fortress in town

– Make sure to take the road off the main highway to Kato Zakros from Sitia through the villages of Zou, Sitanos, Karydi, and Zakros and do also visit Handras, Ziros, Dafni, Monastiraki, Armenioi, Etia, and the Gorge of the Dead if you hike.

Discovering the Best of Crete in Authentic Sitia
Vai beach off Sitia, Crete in the winter.

– the Monastery of Toplou and the palm-forested beach of Vai – a magical place I have been visiting for the past 30 years.

– Visit Ano (Upper) and Kato (lower) Zakros and the palace (see above)

– the tiny Sitia Folklore Museum for a glimpse of Sitia life in the past. Open 10am to 1.30 daily.

– if you like running, why visit in September for the Sitia Geopark Trail – which includes the 32km mountain running race, 6km and 1km runs plus hikes. 

Useful Tools to Plan the Best Trip to Greece

Plan your trip start to finish with these trusted partners I use when I travel in Greece and abroad.

  • 🏩 Expedia is my favorite when I want to find the best hotels and affordable accommodation.
  •  I always look for cheapest flights  🛫 from Kayak
  • For vacation home 🏠 rentals is love VRBO
  • I use Tripadvisor all the time for restaurant 🍔 and hotel 🏩 ratings and for things to do.
  • ⛴ Most of you visiting Greece will be visiting the islands. Ferryscanner is the easiest way to book your ferry tickets online? 
  • 🚘 Discover Greece in comfort with a car. DiscoverCars is a great place to compare prices and find the best deal that suits your needs. Plus they offer info on local and international companies
  • 💵 In these unstable times and especially during holidays and summer, it’s important to know your rights and to get help or compensation for flight delays & cancellations.  The people at AirHelp are experts
  • 📞 Don’t pay exorbitant prices for your phone. Instead, stay connected using a local SIM card at affordable prices with Airalo
  • 🏛 Go deeper into Greek culture with exciting sightseeing tours & activities with Viator
  • 🏕 Want to find the perfect campground in Greece? Campsaround is the ultimate go-to source and my personal favorite
  • 🛎 For those of you traveling on a budget or alone why not find a cheap hostel and connect 🍻with travelers like yourself visiting Greece. HostelWorld finds both!
  • 🛵 Greece is the perfect place to explore on bike, moped or motorbike, especially if you’re on a budget. Rent your bikes from BikesBooking – they know their stuff.

*The Greek Vibe may receive commissions on purchases made through affiliates and partner links. Clicking affiliate or partner links comes at no additional cost to you but goes a long way in supporting our work.

♫ I end today’s post with what else? A stirring performance by a younger-generation Cretan superstar, Yiannis Haroulis, live here with the audience in “Erotokritos” by Sitia’s Vincentzos Kornaros written in the 17th century and still moving us today.

Be well, travel!

Discovering the Best of Crete in Authentic Sitia

Join our Newsletter - Subscribe Now!

Enjoyed the Read? Share!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.