Kritsa is one of the oldest and most picturesque villages in Crete, built amphitheatrically on a rock hill, named Kastellos, surrounded by olive groves, at an altitude of 375 m. It is part of the municipality of Agios Nikolaos. During the Middle Ages, it was thought to be the largest village in Crete. Kritsa has been destroyed many times during the last centuries because it participated in all of Crete’s revolutions. It is located 10 km from Agios Nikolaos and has about 2200 inhabitants who live in different neighborhoods named Palemilos, Koukistres, Christos and Pergiolikia.
Kritsa has a long history with evidence of occupation as early as the second millennium BC. Near the village, 3 km to the north, are the ruins of the ancient Greek city Lato which was noted as one of the most powerful Dorian towns in Crete, with two acropoleis. The oldest setllement in the Kritsa area, on the steep rocky hill south of the village named Kastellos, dates back to the 12–13th century BC (Late Minoan IIIC). Lato is thought to may have been founded when Kastellos was abandoned. Before the entrance of the village is the old Byzantine church of Panagia Kera with unique, in technique and importance, Byzantine frescoes (13th and 14th century).
When Kritsa is lit up in the evening it has the form of a scorpion. Old Cretan customs and traditions are kept alive here, and Kritsa is considered one of the most important centers of weaving art. The narrow streets are visited by tourists. From Kritsa there is an interesting and spectacular climb to the plateau of Katharo, which provides a panoramic view of Mirabello Bay, Agios Nikolaos and Kalo Horio.
Kritsa Gorge is a narrow gorge located on the route to Tapes or to Lato not far from the village of Kritsa. The gorge of Kritsa starts a little north of the village and ends after 13 km at the village of Tapes.
The entrance of the canyon near Kritsa is impressive, as the mountain is torn in two, shaping the narrow passage of Havgas.
The path is not difficult to take apart from a few narrow (about 1.5 m) places where the visitors should climb over some big rocks. Passing the gorge should be avoided on or right after rainy days since small ponds could block the passage.
A little after the entrance the gorge becomes even more impressive, with very narrow passages and tall walls on both sides. It is a true gift of nature, which is worth a visit especially during spring, when flowers bloom and there is still a little water running through the canyon.
After a while, the canyon widens and the rocks begin to lower, until a beautiful valley, full of olive groves, is formed. From there, the path follows the riverbed for about an hour and a half, and reaches the picturesque village of Tapes.
Further hiking info and photos…
Lato was an ancient city of Crete, the ruins of which are located about 3 km from Kritsa. The Dorian city-state was built in a defensible position overlooking Mirabello Bay between two peaks, both of which became acropoleis to the city. Although the city probably predates the arrival of the Dorians, the ruins date mainly from the Dorian period (fifth and fourth centuries BC). The name Lato is taken after the Dorian pronunciation of the goddess Leto, who probably was worshiped here. However, the patron of the city was the goddess of childbirth, Eileithyia, who is depicted on the coins of Lato.
The town of Lato (the one near Kritsa) was in antiquity “Lato i Etera” (the other Lato), whereas the later settlement underneath modern Agios Nikolaos (a few ruins are visible close to the main OTE offices) was called “Lato pros Kamara” (Lato near the bridge). The older Lato up in the mountains wasn’t destroyed but left by people moving to the harbour town some time during the Hellenistic period…
The existence of two “Latos” has led to the confusion, repeated by Stephanus of Byzantium quoting Xenion, a Cretan historian, that Kamara and Lato were one and the same. Modern scholarship distinguishes the two.
You and ancient Lato
To get to the area of ancient Lato you have two choices, either hiking or driving.
It is easy when driving: just follow the signs from Kritsa to the archaeological site of Lato, park there and follow your GPS.
For hikers it’s more interesting: Before setting off, go to Ancient Lato at EveryTrail and download the trail to your GPS.
Then drive to Kritsa and follow the signs towards the archaeological site of Lato. Before getting there turn left towards the village of Margeli. When you reach the starting point of the trail, park your car, put on your hiking shoes and follow the track. You’ll find yourself walking along a beautiful old paved trail ending at the archaeological site of Lato just about an hour later.
You’ll have the opportunity to enjoy the Cretan nature and civilisation simultanously.
Kalo Chorio (“good village”) is a village with a population of around 900, it is to be found in the midst of a verdant hilly landscape, where olive groves and abundant and colourful mediterranean shrubs and plants thrive all the way down to the sea. Over the past years, with tourism growth, part of the village has grown up nearer the beach. The new village of Istro sits on the site of the ancient town of Istrona, remains of which are still being uncovered to date. This is the reason why the land closest to the sea has a conservation order and no new building may be built there, this again leaves the beaches uncrowded and unspoilt. The delightful beaches of Istro Bay are regularly awarded a Blue flag for cleanliness. Kalo Chorio offers a village atmosphere, which allows visitors to enjoy Crete as it once was.
Kalo Chorio has three main beaches all within 1 km of the village. With clean and crystal clear waters, from golden sand, silver sand to a quiet and long pebble beach, all of which have modern facilities including cafés, sunbed rentals and toilets/showers. You will as well find at least another 10 blue flag awarded beaches within 10 km from Kalo Chorio, all accessible by cheap and regular bus services from the numerous bus stops in Kalo Chorio. It is also possible to explore and discover private sheltered coves along the coastline of Kalo Chorio.