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With some of the world’s most stunning beaches, inimitable cuisine and a wealth of thrilling things to do, Crete’s one of the most popular summer destinations on the planet – but its allure is not exhausted on the sea-sun-and fun combo.
Steeped in history and legends, this ancient land boasts a rich oral tradition; with fact and fiction often colliding to produce a collection of much-narrated tales from the occult. From heroic ghosts to ethereal nymphs and ferocious fairies, these stories continue to capture the imagination of modern-day visitors who like to explore beyond the surface. If you’re one of them here’s a list of the must-visit mystical places of Crete.
80 km southeast of Chania town (60 km from the Adeste Chania Luxury Villas), in a small plain under the shadow of the White Mountains, Frangokastello is a very well-preserved Venetian castle which is famous for… its ghosts:
Drosoulites (dew men in Greek) appear at dawn every May — and according to local lore, they are the shadows of the warriors who died in a ferocious battle during the war of independence. Built in the 14th century as a garrison to keep the rebellious Sfakians under control, the castle was originally named after the neighbouring church of St Nikitas, but subsequently dubbed Frangokastello which translates to the “Castle of the Franks”.
This was the site of a celebrated battle site in 1828, when hundreds of Sfakiots and Epirotes led by Hatzimichalis Dalianis (nowadays a popular street in Chania!) occupied the castle, but were then besieged and massacred by the Turks – who, however, also suffered considerable losses. According to legend, on the battle’s anniversary, you can see a group of human-like shadows dressed in black and armed with weapons, walking or riding towards the old fort. They are visible from a distance of 1 km, and their appearance is well documented over the years – in 1890 a transient Turkish army mistook them for rebels and fled away, and in WW2, a German patrol allegedly opened fire on the shadows.
Cretans say the ghosts are there to claim back their freedom – but these supernatural visions have been accounted for as a meteorological phenomenon which is caused by weather conditions at that time of the year.
Regardless of its origin, the sight is eerily beautiful – and all the more reason to visit Frangokastello bay. The main beach is extensive, sheltered and gently shelving, with sands and shallow turquoise waters, ideal for children. If it is too busy you can try Vatalos on its west, and Orthi Ammos on the East. The former is long and pebbly and ideal for snorkelling and the latter features impressive sand dunes.
4 km from the seaside town of Georgioupolis (30 km from the Adeste Chania Luxury Villas), Lake Kournas is the only natural freshwater lake on Crete. Surrounded by high mountains and olive groves, it boasts a spectacular setting and rich flora and fauna. Moorhens and ducks, eels, snakes, rare species of turtles, herons and cormorants – all are residents of this friendly ecosystem. The lake also hosts some rare aquatic plants and trees which account for its awe-inspiring dark-coloured waters and bottomless pit effect.
The whole scenery is especially magical, giving rise to a wealth of local legends that have spread through the years.
The most popular one claims that in the place of the lake, there once stood a village, where a beautiful girl lived with her father. One day, on his way back home, he saw his daughter combing her luscious, long hair and became bewitched by her beauty. Paternal love was instantly turned to erotic attention. He started chasing her with the intent of seducing her. The girl then, terrified, shouted “Lake come and I will be the ghost of the lake”. The spirits heard her and granted her wish. The ground shook and sank with a terrible noise, leaving a lake where the valley had been, with the unfortunate maiden taking refuge in its dark waters.
The locals claim that even nowadays the nymph rises from the depths of the lake to sit under the moonlight and brush her hair. They also say that she is the protector of the animals and the ducks of the lake.
Another version of the myth contends that God got angry with the sinners residing in the area and sunk the earth to drown them. Nobody survived, bar the local priest’s daughter – the said nymph who still sits on a rock in the middle of the lake combing her hair.
Whether you believe in fairy tales or not, a visit to Kournas will fascinate you. In late summer the water level drops to reveal a thick layer of white sand which forms temporary beaches. Take a swim or rent a pedalo to explore the lake. On your way back, you can take a detour to the homonymous Kournas village: at an altitude of 200 meters on the foot of the White Mountains, it is blissfully untouched by mass tourism, allowing you to get a glimpse of authentic Crete.
20 km south of Heraklion (143 km from the Adeste Chania Luxury Villas), deep in the forest amid the luscious Astraki gorge, you’ll find the home of the Cretan fairies – Neraides, in Greek.
Legend has it that, one night, a young lyre player, heard their song and, with his curiosity piqued, went into the cave. He saw them dancing bathed in light and dressed in transparent veils. Fascinated, he picked up his lyre and started playing. The fairies followed suit, but when dawn came they disappeared. The man had fallen in love with one of them, however. So on the same night, he came back to the cave; and following the advice of a wise old woman, grabbed his fairy by the hair. She resisted with rage and began transforming into a dog, fire, snake and camel – but he continued to hold her tight. She was eventually once again turned into a beautiful woman, whom he took to his house and impregnated with a son. Alas, the fairy never spoke. The lyra player sought the help of the old woman, who told him to take their baby from his wife’s hands and pretend to throw it in the oven. So he did it, but the fairy snatched the child from his hands and disappeared. She returned to her sisters, but they never forgave her betrayal. She then sought refuge in a nearby fountain called Loutra. She held the child in her arms and cried – these tears fell into the water and blurred it, which is why the waters of Neraidospilios appear cloudy at times.
Surrounded by magical nature with the only soundtrack being the chirping of the birds and the running of the water, you’re in for an experience that’ll render you speechless – if only for a moment. Soak up the serenity and calm and maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll too catch a glimpse of the fairies’ ecstatic dance.
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