The third largest town in Crete, Rethymno is one of the best preserved medieval cities in Greece, with architectural influences of the Venetian rule, Ottoman period and the years of the Egyptian domination. It is the only city in Crete which is built on a cape, and more specifically, “on the boundary between calmness and fierceness,” as it is eloquently described by local writer Pantelis Prevelakis. Unlike Heraklion or Chania, Rethymno never had a large port that would have made it a centre of trade, however, the small harbour lined with colourful Venetian and Ottoman buildings, with cafeterias and restaurants overlooking the sea, is a charming place, attracting an eclectic mix of locals and tourists.
The most famous landmark in Rethymno, the Egyptian Lighthouse sits in the middle of the Venetian harbour. The different names of the lighthouse and harbour may seem confusing, but the Egyptian Lighthouse was built during the 1830s during the time when the Ottoman Empire controlled the island and gave it to the Egyptians.
We start our tour with a visit to the Venetian citadel, the Fortezza. When it was built (1573-1580), on the hill once occupied by ancient Rithymna, it was the largest fortress on Crete. High up on the battlements, you will feel the salty breeze from the Sea of Crete; we will walk along the old defensive trenches, between the towers, bastions and gates, among the solitary palm trees. Here, too, is the Erofyli open-air theatre, which hosts the celebrated Renaissance Festival every summer.
Our walk continues through the Old town, a colourful labyrinth of Venetian mansions, exquisite courtyards, historic churches, minaret mosques and elaborate fountains. We pass by the Rimondi fountain, built by Venetians and which still serves fresh water from its three lion heads, the Venetian Loggia, a beautiful and prominent building in the middle of town, housing a market for art reproductions, the Guora Gate which is part of the former Venetian City Walls, and was once one of the main entryways into the city.
We will see the Neratze Mosque, with its three domes and 27m-tall minaret and the Church of St. Francis, that today houses the Archaeological Museum of Rethymno, before heading to the workshop of Hatziparashos, (probably) the last baker who keeps alive the tradition of making filo sheets and kataifi pastry by hand. Here we have the chance to taste some baklava and other Greek desserts made by his wife, than we return on the shopping streets for an hour of leisurely walk and souvenirs hunting. Lunch will be served in one of the traditional taverns of the Old Town, with a choice of traditional dishes, vegetarian and meat based.
Trip duration: 6 hours