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Gulf of Mirabello in Crete

Crete is the largest of the Greek islands and lies south of mainland Greece in the Mediterranean Sea. Consequently it enjoys a wonderful climate with most days being sunny from morning till night. The island is officially separated into four prefectures: Rethymno, Heraklion, Chania and Lassithi each with their own distinctive towns and villages.

Crete was relatively undiscovered by tourism until the 1970s when visitors started to arrive lured by the timeless appeal of the island. Since then the Greek authorities have been quick to recognise the importance of tourism and have allowed many of the towns to develop as tourist resorts whilst at the same time maintaining the traditions and landscapes that Crete has always enjoyed. The island was invaded by the Germans during the war and the British helped the Cretan people who have not forgotten this fact.

There is everything here for the tourist from beautiful towns and villages to the mountainous landscape of the island's interior. The coastline, which stretches for over 1,000 kilometres, has stunning beaches as well as rocky coves and ancient harbours. Cretan food is excellent and good value for money. Nightlife is exciting and evening temperatures rarely fall below 20 degrees centigrade.

The Gulf of Mirabello (also known as Mirabella) lies to the north east of Crete. The capital of the region is Agios Nikolaos which overlooks the bay. The waters here provide excellent sailing conditions and the city hosted the World Sailing Championships in 2006. The ancient port now has a cosmopolitan atmosphere and provides everything for the modern tourist with up to date hotels and restaurants. However, a short walk away from the harbour front leads you to winding alleyways, tavernas and pretty villas.

Lato, an ancient hill fort, also provides panoramic views of the Gulf of Mirabello and was formerly used as a lookout for the many invaders who used to attack the island. The ancient Minoans used to live in this area and Gournia is a town that has been excavated and preserved.

Crete has become a popular tourist destination in recent years and car hire is easily available from the airport or can be booked online before a holiday. Car hire is a great way to see the island and there are many excellent hire companies at the airports and major towns. The interior of the island is mountainous with many winding roads and spectacular views. There are stunning wildflower displays which spread across the hillsides and provide wonderful scents. Herbs, too, grow in profusion and you will notice olives growing everywhere on the island. In fact olives play a major part in the cuisine of Crete. However, if you decide not to drive, you will find excellent bus services throughout the island.

Another town that overlooks the bay is Elounda which has spectacular views across towards Spinalonga Island. This island was used as a leper colony until a cure for the disease was discovered in 1957. Eventually Spinalonga was abandoned leaving only a priest who departed in 1962. The name actually means "long thorn" which is intended to depict the shape of the island. It is now a tourist destination and boats leave Elounda and Agios Nikolaos regularly. Today Spinalonga is inhabited once again although visitors are unable to stay on the island. Most choose to take a daily tour and try to imagine how life must have been for the sick people there in times past.

On arrival at Elounda visitors are immediately struck by the panoramic view of the Bay of Mirabello. The Porto Elounda De Luxe Resort with its impressive golf course dominates the foreground. The resort was designed in keeping with local architectural traditions and comprises a hotel, restaurants and bars as well as a shopping arcade set in a village square. The whole area has many villas for hire and the Greek authorities have been quick to recognise modern needs. Some villas even have saunas, pools, Turkish baths and gyms.

A ferry trip from Piraeus, the port of Athens, takes you to Crete. Cabins are available on board the ships and good food is served. Taking roughly six to nine hours, the ships dock in the early morning. It is almost certain that if you decide to travel by this route the sun will be shining, the sea sparkling and the island buzzing with life. If you wish to fly you will find many UK airports offering direct flights to Chania or Heraklion or you could fly to Athens, do some sightseeing and then take a further flight on to Crete.