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About Hidden Crete, UKDestinationsCretan Diet

The fourth largest island in the Mediterranean, Crete is 300km long, with uniquely contrasting landscapes – snow-covered mountains with dark, fathomless gorges, flat fertile plains, miles of golden tamarisk-fringed beaches with crystal clear water, a plethora of historical and archaeological sites.

  The warm, genuine friendliness of the local people continues to amaze and delight every visitor, which is why so many people choose Crete as their holiday destination year after year.

All this beauty set in lush vineyards and olive groves, thousands of species of wild flowers, whitewashed villages dotted along the beaches and mountains, make up the setting for a perfect holiday .


Being one of the most southerly parts of Europe, Crete enjoys over 300 days of sunshine each year! In the summer months, the heat is alleviated on the north coast by the breezes of the «Meltemi». The start of the break-up of the long, dry months usually begins at the end of October. January and February form the real winter, yet often have lovely bright, sunny, warm days.

CLIMATE April May June July August September Octob
C 19-24 25-29 27-35 34-37 35-39 28-32 22-26

Ladies and Gentlemen

Cretan ladies rarely sit doing nothing. Wandering through the villages, you will see them sitting outside their houses, when the daily chores have been done, doing some kind of needlework - but not on Sundays! Meanwhile, the men are to be found in the cafes, usually loudly discussing politics.

How To Find Hidden Eastern Crete

Should your point of arrival in Greece be Athens, you can reach Sitia by plane.(4 times per week Athens -Sitia)

If you fly direct to Heraklion, the capital of Crete, eastern Crete can be reached by taxi, by hiring a car, or by using the local bus service.


For those who explore the area will find that eastern Crete has remained the most unspoiled area of Crete, the extreme eastern coast being the most wild and beautiful on the island. There are 45 villages to discover in the area of Sitia, a region renowned for its hospitality.
the town was rebuilt amphitheatrically in the corner of the bay of Sitia in 1870, having been previously destroyed by earthquakes and pirates. The Venetian fort still stands high up in the town, offering a magnificent view over the bay. It is especially beautiful on summer evenings when the fort is used as an outdoor theatre, a venue for the many cultural events organized for the “Kornaria” festival
.Sitia is a lively town with approx. 11.000 inhabitants.

The district is famous for its considerable olive oil production and for the excellent quality of its olive oil and wines. There are numerous local festivals in traditional Cretan style held in villages throughout the summer, which are well-worth attending, as well as cultural events in the town.

Within easy reach of Sitia, there are many places to be visited, such as the Toplou Monastery, the fourth in size Minoan Palace of Kato Zakros, and other important archaeological sites at Palekastro, Itanos, Pressos and many more. There are two fine museums in Sitia, archaeological and folklore, with many fascinating exhibits.The town itself boasts its own beautiful beach, stretching the whole width of the bay and with many more secluded areas within easy reach by bus or car.

For the walker, the hills are covered with aromatic plants and hundreds of beautiful flowers, especially in the springtime


Palekastro is a lively, unpretentious village, its sources of income being agriculture and tourism and is situated 19km east of Sitia. Although the village is growing, it manages to retain its character and charm. The village square is the centre of activities and is lined with cafes and tavernas. Many a pleasant hour can be passed here, watching the world go by. During the summer months, weddings are often held in the village, with the huge wedding feast taking place in the square, to which everyone is invited. A chance to try your hand at Cretan danci

An enjoyable 20 minute walk through olive groves leads to a number of beautiful, quiet beaches, one of which being at Kouremenos bay, famous for windsurfing. Europe’s largest natural palm grove, bordering the beautiful beach of Vai, is just 8km from Palekastro and is well-worth a visit. Set in a rocky landscape 10km from Palekastro, is the magnificent 14th century Toplou Monastery, which is open to visitors and has a rich collection of icons and other treasures, which can be viewed in the museum.


Xerokambos is located in a relatively untouched region, 48km from Sitia, 10km from Zakros and 22km from Ziros. Mountains, olive groves and magnificent isolated beaches make up the breathtaking scenery. In the settlement, there is limited accommodation, with just a handful of tavernas, cafeneions and mini markets. Xerokambos boasts probably the finest beaches in the area and is ideal for those seeking peace, quiet and relaxation. Public transport stops in Zakros or Ziros, therefore anyone wanting to explore the area would need to hire a car. Note: In March, April and October tavernas are not necessarily open.

Makri Gialos

This small village, 38km south of Sitia, overlooking the Libyan Sea, was once a tiny fishing village, but is now becoming a popular resort due to the friendly local hospitality. The village is still unspoilt compared to the larger resorts on the north coast and is an ideal spot for those searching for quiet holidays, with visitors returning year after year. The name Makrigialos means "Long Beach", which indeed it is - the long sandy beach with its crystal clear, shallow waters, is perfect for children and non-swimmers, and further out for more experienced swimmers.

The beach is lined with a good variety of tavernas to suit all tastes, the fishing port being the most picturesque part of the village. From the port, there is a boat that leaves each morning for the beautiful island of Koufonisi, returning late afternoon. Makrigialos has a very good variety of shops, tavernas and watersport facilities and attracts visitors of all ages.

Kato Zakros

Kato Zakros is a most impressive small fishing village, hidden away in the south-east corner of Crete, behind a beautiful tamarisk-fringed beach. There are several excellent fish tavernas on the beach, ideal for relaxing, long lunches or for romantic evening meals! Kato Zakros is also home to one of the most important archaeological sites in Crete, the fourth in size Minoan Palace and has a wonderful atmosphere of peace and tranquility.

Although the palace attracts many visitors during the day, by evening due to a very limited supply of accommodation, Kato Zakros is quiet again and as such is ideal for the visitor who wants to get away from it all. Anyone staying in Kato Zakros will want to walk down the “Valley of the Dead”, approximately a 2-hour walk, which leads down from Pano Zakros to the sea at Kato Zakros.


Villages in the Sitia Area

Ziros village

Ziros is a lively village, set at an altitude of 590 m. Its pre-hellenic name bears testimony to its long history, along with the antiquities found in the area from different historical periods. Minoan remains have been located in five sites. The lovely Byzantine frescoes in the churches of Aghia Paraskevi, Aghia Eirini, Aghios Georgios and -most importantly- in Aghios Nikolaos, date back to the 14th - 15th century. In the church of Aghia Paraskevi the bones of the brave fighters from Skalia are to be found. South of Ziros is the small village of Aghia Triada (or Tso), with a beautiful view of the Libyan Sea. At "Stalos" (a little old village) a Minoan settlement was excavated and at "Leivari" there is the cave of Aligaras, which was inhabited during the Minoan period. After Ziros there is the village of Apidia, divided into small districts with a beautiful view of the Libyan sea, with excellent architectural elements from the Byzantine, Venetian and  Turkish period.


The village is located after Handras and before Etia. It is surrounded by gardens and fields, with picturesque watermills (still in use!). At the valley of Armenoi there is the church of Aghia Sofia, which used to belong to the notable monastery that flourished in older times, bearing the same name. The cave of the "Aghio Pneuma" (Holy Spirit) is also located in the area.


A deserted medieval settlement, one of the most notable of the period, 1 km north of the village of Handras. One of the most important monuments of the settlement is the church of Aghios Georgios and the ruined Venetian tower. Voila is the birth place of the Greek national poet, D. Solomos. There are also two wonderful fountains with spring water.


A small deserted settlement, west of the village of Armenoi. It was founded during the Byzantine period, but flourished during the Venetian period when it was the feudal property of the family Dei Mezzo, who built the famous three-story villa. Today only the ground floor remains. The villa Dei Mezzo is considered the greatest private habitation of rural Crete and one of the most important buildings of its kind in south Europe.


Located on a plateau, Katelionas was one of the most populated villages of Sitia during the Venetian period. Most of the houses are deserted today, including a well-built Venetian house, constructed during the first years of the 1820-1826 war.

Papagiannades village

The settlement is first recorded in the 1834 Egyptian census Papa - Jannadho. At the hill of Ai Lias (Aghios Elias), 440 meters high, there was a shrine and at the site of Monastirakia, the remains of a Minoan settlement were found. The name of the settlement is probably related to the surname of its first settlers. There is also a 14th century church of Panagia Eleousa with well-preserved frescoes.

Sykia village

It is located 16,7 km away from Sitia, on the road from Papagiannades to Lithines and was recorded in 1577 as part of the Sitia province by Fr. Barozzi. In 1954, Nikolaos Platon excavated 17 tombs in the area between Sykia and Adramulon, dating back to the pre-Geometric, Geometric and Hellenistic periods. A large number of vessels, jewelry, iron weapons, stone stamps and other important findings were discovered in the area. During the 1897 revolution, the Turkish residents of the village were trapped in the local mosque and were burned alive by the rebels.

Handras village

It is a central village on the fertile plateau of Handras. Old noble habitations and an interesting fountain are preserved in the village. Handras is consmade up of the communities of Voila, Aghios Panteleimonas and Panteli, where the old frescoed church of "Metamorfosi tou Sotiros" is located. The cave "Panagia Gounta" is also located in the area

Analipsi -Makry Gialos

A modern coastal settlement and a popular tourist destination, with Minoan and Roman antiquities in the region. North of the settlement, in a small valley with olive groves, there is the small renovated settlement of Aspros Potamos.

East of Makry Gialos, an asphalt road parallel to the coastline leads to the small settlement of Goudouras with its sandy beach. During the summer season, a small boat organizes excursions from Makry Gialos to the small picturesque island of Koufonisi.


A settlement on the east side of the valley of mount Thriptis, north of the top Afentis Stavromenos. The settlement is used seasonally by the residents of nearby villages for agricultural activities, mainly vineyards. The region is known for its wild beauty and the west view of mount Dikti.


It is located south of the village Roukaka.The settlement was first recorded in a 1368 document of the Duke archive of Handakas (Heraklion). Its name is pre-Hellenic and refers to the battle between the Lapithes and the centaurs, which was peacefully resolved (Odyssey o 295). According to mythology, Lapithes was a tribe of the same origin as the centaurs, described by ancient Greek poets as great and brave warriors and were distinguished from the centaurs as they had a human form.


The settlement was founded during the 2nd Byzantine period by the the family of Litinon. The tower was constructed during the Venetian period and was later destroyed during the 1897 revolution. In the important 15th century churches of Aghios Athanasios and Panagia there are marvellous icons and "tamata" (oblations).


A tourist area with beautiful beaches and crystal clear sea. The exit of the gorge Orinos is also located in the region.

Kapsa Monastery

Kapsa monastery, dedicated to Aghios Ioannis Prodromos, is located at the east exit of the Perivolakia gorge and is built on a steep rocky hill. It was probably founded in the 15th century, was later destroyed during the Turkish occupation and renovated in 1861. The view of the Libyan sea from the monastery is amazing.

Orino village

A beautiful mountainous village in a landscape with pine trees, rocks and a wonderful gorge. There is a mountain shelter for hikers and nature-lovers. There are also old churches in the area, including the church of Aghios Dimitrios with beautiful frescoes.

Pefkoi village

The caves Apaloustres and Vreiko are located in the region. Archeological findings indicate that the cave of Vreiko was inhabited during the Neolithic period. The exit of the gorge of Pefkoi is also located in the same area, which became accessible to visitors when paths, stone-made fountains and shelters were constructed in the framework of the LEADER programme.

Stavrohori village

It is located above the tourist settlement of Koutsouras. There are old watermills and spring waters in the area. The "path of the pirates" crosses the deserted settlement of Tsikalaria and it is a beautiful route for walking. There is also an interesting old church of Panagia at the site of "Lughia". The old settlement of Lapithos is also located in the area, with a beautiful traditional fountain.

Nutrition and Health

The close links of Crete with Europe are widely recognized, since Crete is the place where the continent received its name. In Greek mythology, lust-loving Zeus, in the guise of a white, winged bull carried off on his back the beautiful princess of Phoenicia, Europa, daughter of king Agenor, to the island of Crete where he fathered the progenitors of a magnificent civilization known as the Minoans.

One of the basic elements of this civilization has been nutrition, production methods and eating. The Cretans have developed their ancient nutritional habits with everything that the Cretan land so generously provides: olive oil, wheat, wine, honey,pulses, vegetables, mountain greens and aromatic plants, low fat cheese, meat and fish and of course, fruit, all forming the base of Cretan cuisine, which according to research over the last few years has proved to be healthy and of great nutritional value. You can taste this cuisine in the traditional tavernas and local restaurants

This civilization, forged on such values as hospitality, honesty, and dignity can, without exaggeration, be considered as a culture of health. For thousands of years now, the dietary habits of the inhabitants constitute an on-going, informal biological experiment, the results of which highlight the soundness of the Cretan diet, as it was formally recorded in the "Seven Countries Study" by Dr. Ancel Keys. The consumption of olive oil, wine, pulses, fruit, vegetables, honey and herb tea offers a unique privilege to Cretans. It endows them with a long, healthy life, with the lowest mortality rates in the world, in terms of heart diseases and cancer. Crete is proud of the fact that today, 5000 years after the rise of the Minoan civilization, it is in a position to offer humanity an excellent dietary prototype which, as scientific research has confirmed,greatly improves the quality and expectancy of life

Olive Oil

Olive oil form a major part of the daily Cretan diet, the average annual consumption being over 35 litres per person, the highest in the world! Most families in Crete own some olive trees, not only to meet their daily needs, but also providing a second income. Sitian olive oil has won international acclaim, receiving many awards for its excellent quality and superior taste. Most visitors will unfortunately not experience olive picking, as this takes place during the winter months, the whole family helping out.

Modern medicine confirms that Virgin Olive Oil is beneficial for one's health and its consumption is recommended for many instances such as:

-Prevention of heart disease
-Lowering of blood sugar levels and blood pressure
-Prevention of certain types of cancer
-Prevention of prostate cancer
-Skin care (it regenerates skin cells, softens tissue and has anti-ageing properties)


Along the long and narrow body of the province of Sitia stretching from west to east, a high mountain range lays as a protective shield against the strong hot south winds blowing from the Libyan Sea.

Thus protected on the north side, overlooking the Cretan Sea, Sitia's vineyards (part of the most traditional vineyards of Europe) begin from a height of 600 m. above sea level and stretch downhill towards the sea.

In an ancient co-existence with this natural environment, the local varieties of grapes endow the territory with a priceless richness of bio-diversity. The mild winter, combined with the long, hot, dry summer, the long periods of sunlight during the year and the cool breeze of the Cretan sea, ensure ideal conditions for the germination cycle of the vine. Thus it's not strange that Sitia holds a 4000 year old tradition in winery and vine cultivation.Confirmation of this comes from the Minoan Palace of Kato Zakros where the oldest cultivated vineyard was found.

Indeed,wine production in the Sitia region has met great commercial success. The most notable periods were the Roman era when Sitia wine was transported to Rome and other Mediterranean destinations in well-sealed amphoras and during the Venetian presence in Crete (12th-16th century), when Cretan wine reached the zenith of its fame. Even today wine plays an important role as part of the Cretan diet, proven to be beneficial to health and longevity. Recent findings detected a great number of components in the local wine,which act as anti-oxidants in the human body.

The favorable soil and climatic conditions and the systematic cultivation of the area since the ancient times, produce excellent varieties of grapes from which the renowned Sitia wines originate. The most common varieties are those of Liatiko, Muscat, Myrodato, Dafnato, Asyrtiko, Roman, Mantilari, Kotsifali, Vilana, Plito, Athiri, Thapsathiri and many more from which local producers create Sitia's wines, catering for all tastes.

Visitors in late August and September will witness the grape harvest and will more than likely be offered an armful! Many people still make wine in the traditional way by treading the grapes. The must left over is used to distil the local drink Raki. During October, the "Kazanemata", (raki-making sessions) are held you may see them at the roadside. Visitors are always welcome and given a sample. It is quite an exceptional experience!


Traditional Cretan Food


Intestines of pork stuffed with rice, small pieces of liver and onion.


Fish soup, made from a variety of pieces of fish, cooked with onion and potatoes.


Dakos (baked and hardened bread), with  olive oil, finely chopped tomatoes, oregano and feta if desired!


The famous 'cheese pies', made from dough and filled with mizithra (local traditional cheese).

Artichokes with broad beans

Broad beans cooked in olive oil and water, with fresh artichokes, garlic, fennel leaves and salt.

Octopus in Vinegar

Cooked octopus,  served with olive oil and vinegar (or wine).

Chochli (snails) boumbouristi

Fried snails, with olive oil, tomatoes and vinegar.

Dolmades with vine leaves

Vine leaves, stuffed with rice, potatoes, onion, pepper, cumin.

Traditional Cretan Sweets


These are to be found at all weddings and christenings! They are made from a mixture of flour, olive oil and lemon juice, which is made into dough, rolled out thinly and fried. They are then dipped into honey and covered in sesame seeds.


Delicious small pastries, stuffed with raisins.


Small sweet pastry parcels, stuffed with mizythra (local soft cheese), sugar, honey, cinnamon, vanilla.These are to be found in every household at Easter!!

Rural Life

Farmers make up a large part of the population in the area, growing olives, grapes, fruit and vegetables (some in greenhouses) and many keep goats, sheep and bees,while in Sitia and in the villages along the coast,you will find fishermen. You are sure to come across older members of the community, who still prefer to use traditional methods in their farming and use donkeys to get around!

Of course you will see modern farmers as well, with farm machinery, processing and packaging facilities which allow for the mass production and the standardization of rural products, demanded by the export market. In Sitia district the traditional and the modern ways co-exist harmoniously,not only in farming but in all aspects of life. A fine example of this is on the Chandras plateau, where old windmills are used to draw water for watering, while the modern wind generators produce electricity out of wind power. You can also see clusters of these generators, the so called wind parks, near the villages Achladia, Xerolimni and Palekastro. Due to these pioneer wind parks that have caught European attention, Crete is the first island in the world to have mild renewable energy sources. The rural landscape of Sitia district is marked by the predominance of the olive trees.

Plains, hills, valleys and mountainsides are all so similar, yet so different and are always covered with this blessed tree whilst every now and then we see vineyards, gardens and fruit-bearing trees, all adding to the appealing picture of the Sitian landscape.

Within the last few years in the district of Sitia around the area of the TOPLOU Monastery and elsewhere, the organic farming of olive trees and vines has been developed in an innovative way by individuals or groups of young farmers, supported by the LEADER programms so that olive oils, wines, olives, olive paste, soap and vinegar of high quality have been produced and packed and can be found in local shops.

The olive tree and the vine not only give their blessed fruits but are firmly associated with the history, culture, traditions, art and the way of life in Sitia, the Mediterranean and in Europe.

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