72hrs in Agios Nikolaos
What we love most about Crete is its diversity, from big touristy resort areas to remote villages where you can experience a true Greek dreamscape. Agios Nikolaos is the perfect balance of the two, as we found the town to be sleepy and leisurely vibrant at the same time, with an arty element to the street art culture and art attack at the luxury sea front Minos Beach Art Hotel. We indulged the surreal serenity that we had the privilege to experience, making it one of our best summer breaks yet.
Walking through the narrow streets in the town centre, we spotted churches scattered within the many streets, including the small church, Agios Nikolaos, which lends its name to the town. Agios Nikolaos touches three parts of the sea, the port and lake, Kitroplatio beach and the Marina. The touristy area of Lake Voulismeni is a folklore inspiring body of water which connects to the sea by a narrow inlet. It is serenaded with surrounded cafes, taverns and restaurants; frequently visited by both locals and visitors alike. For a better view of the lake, be sure to walk the steps going up the cliff and take in the sights.
2 minutes from the lake (walking distance), housed on the ground floor of the Port Authority building, you can find one of the oldest buildings in town, which is home to the Folklore Museum of Agios Nikolaos. Expect to find an array of traditional Cretan handicrafts, unique to the region such as textiles, woven goods and embroidery of intricate detail and imaginative designs. Books, manuscripts, old paintings and even cooking supplies can be found here. We greatly admired the multi-coloured woven rugs and traditional Cretan costumes, which has been donated to the Folklore Museum in recognition of the valuable role it plays in the preservation and display of the rich traditional heritage of everyday life in Crete.
A place where you can experience the genuine Cretan culture is at the Cretan Olive Oil Farm. We booked from their website (enjoy up to 40% discounts by reserving online) the day before our reservation and we had a brilliant experience. We scheduled in a farm visit and cooking class, which we made dolmades (made with fresh organic grape vine leaves) with a side of tzatziki. In between our 30-minute cooking experience, we had a few shots of raki (Crete's national spirit) with the cook herself! Raki is an alcoholic beverage, a fragrant, grape-based pomace brandy, it goes well with selective appetisers. If you book a guidance tour, Nick will be your host, who speaks English, French and other European languages.
Other things to do are the Archaeological Museum, a small, easy to navigate museum, exhibiting finds from the whole of Eastern Crete, like the early Minoan cemetery of Mochlos, the Zakros palace, Lato and Elounda. You can book ferry tickets at Nostos Tours, up the road that leads to the harbour in street Roussou Koundourou nº 30. You can visit Elounda and Spinalonga island, and even book a long trip to the island of Santorini!
Beaches are plentiful, as the more popular and central Kitroplatia is the shingle and sandy one. Ammos is another sandy public beach by the marina, and more entertaining are the Ammoudi and Havania beaches (on the way to Elounda). In the area you can find Almiros and Ammoudara, which both are sandy and have organised facilities which is ideal for visitors. If you need to go out further and see something different, locals recommend Plaka pebble beach and Kalor Horio.
Our favourite dining experience was Piato (ΠΙΑΤΟ) - Homemade Creative Cuisine. We repeated our experience several times, as you get incredible views of the sea, authentic Cretan food and a good selection of local wine. Locals flock this restaurant, and if you ask anybody in town which place to go to eat, most will point to Piato! We tried their hummus, tzatziki, fried courgettes, dolmades, zucchini flower wraps, octopus, shrimps and some of their local wine.
Our last night in Agios Nikolaos, we had fresh seafood at Pelagos, a relaxing garden which is shaded by extensive trees and leaves. The restaurant stands alone in a neoclassical building with a boat in the entrance. We tried sea breams, a Greek salad and a plateful of Cretan appetisers. Whilst having dinner, you may have some friendly cats napping by your side. Another great restaurant in the area is Barko on Kitroplatio beach, which has more variety than the standard tavernas and has authentic food and genial service.
Whether you are looking for some downtime or long nights, Agios Nikolaos is a must for any holiday maker looking for something more than just fun in the sun.