Preveli Beach – Stunning and Rare with Lagoon and Palm Forest in Southern Crete

You will find Preveli beach at the exit of Kourtaliotiko Gorge, where the river Megalos Potamos runs into the Libyan Sea on the south coast of Crete.

kourtaliotiko river at Preveli beach, Rethymno region, southern Crete Greece

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Preveli beach is the most famous beach in Crete with its turquoise lagoon amidst a palm forest. During the 60’s and 70’s it was a favorite destination of the hippies. On the riverbanks of Megalos Potamos is a forest of Theophrastus palm trees giving a tropical ambience to the whole region.

Preveli lagoon, the “Palm Beach”

Preveli beach and lagoon, sometimes known locally as “Palm Beach”, is located below the monastery, at the mouth of the Kourtaliótiko gorge. Behind the beach is an extensive glade of palm trees. The beach is regularly served by tourist boats from the nearby resort of Plakias. On August 22, 2010, a large proportion of the palm grove was destroyed in a fire but already in 2011 it has naturally re-generated.

Where is Preveli beach?

map of Rethymno region in Crete Greece
Map of Rethymno region in Crete – Click to enlarge map

Preveli is to be found 35 km south of Rethymno, just 10 km east of the village Plakias. Preveli beach is also known as Phoenix or Lake Preveli and you will find it at the exit of the imposing Kourtaliotiko gorge. Hiking through the gorge it waits like a perfect surprise at the end of your hike. Megalos Potamos forms a small lake, about 500 metres long, before emptying its water into the Libyan Sea. If you walk along the river, upstream under the palm trees you will start ascending the canyon. You will discover the springs of Kourtaliotiko and the amazing waterfalls. You can also reach this point by swimming up the river.

People enjoying Preveli beach in Crete, Greece
People enjoying Preveli beach in Crete, Greece

Preveli – a beach with no tourist facilities

Panorama of Preveli beach at Libyan sea, river and palm forest, southern Crete , Greece
Panorama of Preveli beach at Libyan sea, river and palm forest, southern Crete , Greece

Preveli beach is sandy with pebbles and the water is rather cold as is the water in the lagoon because of the river bringing water from the mountains. In the eastern part of the beach, you will find the very characteristic rock in the shape of a heart. Being a protected area, the beach is non-organized without umbrellas and other tourist facilities.

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Plakias village and beach

Plakias is a village on the south coast of Crete, in Rethymno Prefecture, about 30 km south of the city of Rethymno. It is part of the municipality Foinikas. It is surrounded by mountains to the north and the Libyan Sea to the south. The name in Greek means “Flat”, because the town stands on an Alluvial fan of material that has come down the Kotsifou gorge directly from the north. This material has been formed along the edge of the sea into a long, fine golden sand beach, which shelves very gradually out into the bay, making it good and as safe as can be for swimming, so very suitable for family holidays.

Plakias has a 1300 metres long sandy beach and there are several other beaches within walking distance (Souda, Damnoni, Ammoudi and Skinaria). There are plenty of places to eat along the sea front, the biggest cluster of tavernas is at the west end.
Plakias is home to the Youth Hostel Plakias, famous among international backpackers as the ‘most southerly hostel’ in Europe, set in a garden in Olive groves behind the town. Also World famous are the cafe “Nufaro”, (known universally as “Joe’s bar”), and the very traditional taverna “Niko’s Souvlaki”, which is hidden up a side street. “World International Tourism Day” each September is celebrated with a big evening festival, with a free buffet meal and free traditional music+songs+dancing shows in the main square.

Plakias Bay, Rethymno, Crete
Plakias Bay, Rethymno

History of Foinikas

The recorded history of surrounding mountain villages like Myrthios and Sellia goes back into the 10th century, when the Byzantine Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas (961 AD) built roads and bridges in order to link those villages, and there are some fragments of wall remaining from a fortified area on a hill top just northeast of the present main town.

Monastery of Preveli

The historical Monastery of Preveli, southern Crete
Monastery of Preveli, southern Crete

To the east (8 km) of Plakias village is the historic Monastery of Preveli, which, due to its isolated position, played an important role in Cretan revolts against occupying forces such as against the Nazis in World War II. The Monastery of Preveli, comprises two main building complexes, the ruined Lower Monastery of St. John the Baptist, and the currently operational Upper (Rear) Monastery of St. John the Theologian.

Preveli beach, at the exit of Kourtaliotiko gorge in southern Crete Greece

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In the Battle of Crete in 1941, Agathangelos Lagouvardos helped supply British, Australian and New Zealand troops on the island, and provided shelter for them. A group of Australian soldiers protected by the monastery managed to secure their rescue by submarine from the island at Preveli Beach. After this was discovered, the Lower Monastery was destroyed by German forces.

Travel to Preveli historical monastery, Southern Crete, Greece
Preveli historical monastery, Southern Crete

Australian solidiers of WWII

The upper monastery contains numerous religious relics and icons, and many of its buildings, now heavily restored, are open to the public. There are also a number of monuments to the work of the monastery during the Second World War, many of them financed by rescued Australian former soldiers. The town of Prevelly in Western Australia was named after the monastery.

The village of Spili

Spili village, Lampi
Spili village, Lampi

Spili is a beautiful, traditional village impressively located at the foot of Mount Vorizi which hovers over the town, and some 30 km south of Rethymno town. Its cobbled streets, flowering shrubs and arches create the most picturesque Cretan village. Spili is known for its Venetian fountain with a long row of 19 stone lion’s heads splashing cool water into the trough below.
Spili’s location in the center of northern and southern Crete is most convenient for exploring this part of the island with its various routes, especially by hiking and cycling.
At 450 metres above sea level, it offers the most welcome cool evenings during the summer. In early spring, at the end of January, you’ll find a spectacular display of wild flowers; red poppies and mustard yellow flowers carpet the olive groves whereas on uncultivated ground wild anemones, tulips and delicate orchids bloom.

taste olives, oil, cheese, tapas, wine in greece

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The gorges of Kotsifos and Kourtaliotiko

There are two roads down into Plakias through the mountain range which lies to the north, both of which run through spectacular gorges – to the north of Plakias, the Kotsifos Gorge, and to the northeast, the Kourtaliotiko Gorge. A good coastal motor track runs west beyond Souda to Rodakino beach, Frango-kastello and Sfakia. There are plenty of hiking tracks, and experienced hikers will enjoy the high green country beyond the coastal mountain range north of town. You will find plenty of mountain biking routes as well. Several buses travel daily to/from Rethymnon bus station, some of them go via the Monastery of Preveli.