Σητεία is a thriving modern town in the east of Crete, sitting on Sitia Bay on the north coast 70 km from Agios Nikolaos, with a charm of its own and lots to see.
On our visit, we thought this town had a wonderful feel, as it is spic and span and spotless, with a brand new harbour for small craft and the large ferries that call in from the Dodecanese. In Lasithi prefecture or nomos, the prosperous local olive co-operative means the region does not rely solely on tourism. Hence it really retains its sense of self. There is a small airport.
Sitia is lovely to visit, and makes a good base from which to explore eastern Crete.
Looking over the wide bay and fishing harbour, the colours of the water are spectacular providing light at every angle into the steep town. There is a town beach to the east of the promenade of sand and pebbles. Seafood is good here, try the atherina fried fish with loads of lemon.
Sitia has had many incarnations and a turbulent history. Dating back to 3000 BC, active in Minoan times, it survived earthquake, pirate attack and invasion by the Turks only to fall into disuse. It was rebuilt in 1870.
Some colourful stories from history; it was attacked by the famous pirate Barbarossa in 1538, and it is the birthplace of Vitsentzos Kournaros author of the epic Cretan poem Erotokritos. This proud artistic tradition has given the name to a cultural festival Kournareia held each summer with concerts, theatre, speakers and fine art displays.
Looking about the town, you will find the ruins of Kazarma fortress on top of the hill. The name Kazarma derives from ‘Casa di Arma’ from the Venetian occupation. Now it is a ruin after an earthquake in 1508 and an attack from pirate Barbarossa in 1538.
Walking around the large harbour, along to the marina and further to the beach you will stroll along a wide promenade with lovely lanterns, lush palms, park benches and mosaics. All along the water’s edge are tavernas, restaurants and cafés. There is a hubbub in the air, the town’s young and old are out enjoying themselves.
One of our favourites is The Balcony café for its vibe and local cuisine.
Visit the Archaeological Museum on Piskokefalou St and the local Folklore Museum at 28 Kapetan Sifinos St. Both hold keys to unravel the twisted history across the threads of time.
The best thing to do would be to step in and try some of the local wines. The Union of Sitia was founded in 1933 and most of the farming families of the region are members.
The exquisite olive oil from the sun drenched skies and various local wines are now well known. The are the local label red, white, the Kritikos label red white and rose, a wine produced by the local monastery of Topolou, and the essential Cretan drink tsikoudia, with the label Varvaki. Don’t miss the tasting room at 74 Misonos St.
Or inland by 17 km is the Economou Winery where tastings are available, on the Ziros Plateau. Phone first to make sure you have an appointment...
There are many lovely hotels, domatia, rooms and apartments to rent for your holiday. Choose between a place in the town by the bay or slightly around the bay on the beach, with a 5-10 minute stroll along the promenade to town. We stayed at the budget Pension Arhontiko, which has a handy location one street up the hill from the harbour and wonderful hospitality. The nice girl called Alex was very helpful. We chose this location because we arrived late after the long ferry ride from Rhodes, it was very handy to the port.
Around the bay, just 30 metres from the beach with lovely gardens are the Nereides Apartments (above) the name means 'nymphs'- with a great cafe by the water, and an excellent reputation.
Next time we visit Sitia we will stay in this gorgeous stone windmill which has been completely fitted out as a home away from home, with full kitchen and lounge facilities, sleeping for 4, a private courtyard and garden just 5 km west of town...
On the 24th of June every year is the festival of Klidonas, where
woman in Minoan style dress carry 'silencing water' in an ancient
ritual. The parade is accompanied by local musician on violin and
mantinades are spoken. Late in the evening the festivities take off into
a big 'glendi' or party with music and dancing till dawn. This festival
takes place all over Lasithi.
Caves, beaches, history, it is all at your feet here in Lasithi. From here it is easy to visit the leafy green Richti Gorge, or Erimoupolis Beach, the Beach of Vai with its unique palm forest, and the village of Palekastro. We enjoyed the relaxed feel of Palekastro, we hitched a ride to Vai Beach and the locals couldn't have been friendlier.
In the beautiful south coast region, just 35 km from town, is the village of Ano Zakros where starts the Zakros Gorge (below).
The gorge is a comfortable 8 km walk in some of the most beautiful scenery in Kriti, and takes the walker to the beach at Kato Zakros, and the ancient Zakros Palace of the Minoans, where was found the stunning rock crystal vase (left).
Beautiful images below of Sitia town below.