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Gournes in Crete

Gournes is found 15km east of Heraklion on the beautiful northern coastline of Crete. It is situated between Kokkini Hani and Gouves, both which can be easily reached by foot along the beach. Gournes was a small sleepy village until the 1950s when accommodation was built to house the American air force and families who were posted at the Airbase there. The base was closed in 1993 and is now innovatively used as a town hall, school, gymnasium and exhibition centre. Gournes still maintains this quiet village feel although it has become a popular place for residents of Heraklion to have summer homes to relax in.

Travel to and around the Gournes area is very easy. Flights from the UK take approximately four hours to the nearby Heraklion International Airport. Taxis are cheap and readily available. Bus services are frequent and cheap and are great for touring round the area to see all the great antiquities and resorts. The buses stop conveniently right in the centre of Gournes. If you hire a car, which is very simple at the airport, travel to Gournes couldn't be easier as there is a new national road round the coast that makes for a pleasant, scenic and quick transfer. If you are travelling from the east it's easier to follow the old national road than to use the new road, which will just mean that you bypass Gournes and have to double back on yourself.

There are many beach areas in Gournes (some sandy, some shingles) with the lovely wide expanse of soft sand at the far western end of the promenade being a favourite. It's lifeguard protected and has brightly coloured parasols dotted around it. Along the beach front there are many safe swimming areas and many bars and restaurants offer 'beach service' direct to the beach for you to indulge in cooling drinks and delicious snacks whilst soaking up the sun. Across the clear blue waters of the bay you can gaze across to the little island of Dia. Trips can be arranged to visit this island nature reserve, where the indigenous Kri Kri goats graze and the crystal clear waters are perfect for snorkelling. There is a small fishing harbour to the east of Gournes then you enter the territory of the former Airbase, the beaches here are quieter, but give you easier access to some of the town's facilities.

Gournes does have a few other facilities, such as petrol stations, butchers and a supermarket which also sells souvenirs, but for banks, cash points and pharmacies you need to visit the neighbouring towns of Gouves and Kokkini Hani. With the capital Heraklion being so close it's ideal for day trips to explore its interesting markets and museums. Honey, herbs, raki and wine are popular local gifts to take home to remind you of your stay.

If you can drag yourself away from the sun drenched beach then you might fancy exploring some of the many archaeological sites in the area. The old chapel of Saint John Bezetis in the valley of Gournes is famous for the fine preserved frescoes and gives you a chance to witness some of the significance of religion in this island's history. Jeep safaris into the breathtaking mountains are a popular pastime and give you great panoramas of the area as well as thrilling rides up steep mountain passes. Gournes is perhaps best known for "Thalassokosmos" (Sea World) otherwise known as the Crete Aquarium. This is perhaps the best aquarium in Europe and certainly the largest in southern Europe. With over 1600m of exhibition space and 37 tanks, you can get up close and discover rare and beautiful sea creatures. It also has a successful seahorse breeding programme and is keen to promote conservation and ecological issues sensitively and positively. Definitely worth a visit.

Nightlife in Gournes is fairly quiet. There are a number of bars and restaurants and some of the hotels occasionally arrange discos or other entertainment. You are most likely to spend the evening relaxing over some of the delicious food. There are restaurants serving international food but the local tavernas provide an exquisite flavour of national food. Seafood in particular is delicious and meze (little dishes) such as pickles, olives, stuffed vine leaves and halloumi are a great way to try different dishes. Children are very welcome in the restaurants making this even more of a family friendly destination.

With its warm and friendly welcome, sunny beach and delicious cuisine, Gournes is the perfect base to explore the fascinating history of Crete whilst having a tranquil and picturesque place to relax.