Agios Nikolaos – Sitia – Zakros
This route, through the eastern end of the prefecture of Lasithi, initially follows the eastern coastline of the Bay of Mirabello to the south and east.
On a rise near the village of Istro is yet another settlement used as a place of refuge by Cretans during the Dorian invasion, Vrokastro. The actual site is reached on foot, but the view over the gulf is reward in itself.
The Faneromenis Monastery is a fortified monastery with a long and distinguished history. Its church, in the form of a cave, was probably a place of worship from very early on.
Further to the southeast is the archaeological site of Gournia.
Gournia lies at the northern end of the peninsula of Ierapetra, at the narrowest point between the northern and southern coast of Crete, south-east of Agios Nikolaos on a small hill above an inlet in the Mirabello Bay, which was ideally situated for maritime trade.
On the hill of Vronta, near the village of Kavoussi, excavations have brought to light the ruins of a settlement dating from 1200-875 BC, as well as a Late Geometric cemetery. A quiet beach can be found at Tholos.
Along the road to Sitia, there are a number of picturesque villages such as Lastros and Sfaka, both with beautiful old churches.
Mochlos is a pretty seaside fishing village with good tavernas and rooms for rent, as well as an important archaeological site.
On the islet right across from the village is an extensive site, including a cemetery, that has provided a number of valuable finds, and a settlement that flourished during various periods in Minoan Crete.
At that time, the sea level was lower and the islet was joined to the coast. Near the village are Roman stone fish tanks, now under water.
Another important archaeological site near Mochlos is another small island, Psira, which has a natural harbor around which an important settlement developed, apparently inhabited until the Late Minoan period.
At the peak of its prosperity, it had comfortable homes equipped with imported pottery (some wonderful pieces are exhibited at the Agios Nikolaos museum), as well as a shrine with beautiful frescoes.
Tourloti is the largest village in the region, famous for its juicy loquats. In nearby Myrsini, built on the site of a Late Minoan settlement, an important Minoan domed tomb has been found. After passing through the picturesque Mesa and Exo Mouliana, travelers come to Hamezi.
Here, Stephanos Xanthoudidis discovered a rural dwelling of the Pre-Palatial period, whose circular structure was its particular feature.
After visiting Sitia, visitors should definitely continue to the Toplou Monastery which is one of Crete’s larges, most historic monasteries. Details of its foundation remain unknown but the monastery’s oldest frescoes, in the Catholic section, have been dated to the 14th century.
Located 8 km north-east of the Toplou Monastery is the well-known palm beach of Vai and its impressive palm-tree forest. The remains of ancient Itanos are located close to Vai in an area nowadays known as Erimoupoli. Ancient Itanos was an important city-state – Crete’s easternmost.
On of eastern Crete’s most significant archaeological sites has been discovered at neighboring Paleokastro, in the Roussolakos region.
The site was a city during antiquity. Its name remains unknown. The region was first inhabited mid-way through the third millennium BC. An important city existed here during the Pre-Palatial period, eastern Crete’s biggest city during the Post-Palatial period. Regional development here can be attributed to its advantageous geographical location, its rich land and protected port, which facilitated trade with the East and its great civilizations.
The area's palace, or palatial complex, presumed to have existed here, has not been found. The most significant discovery at Paleokastro is the well-known Paleokastro Kouros, a Minoan chryse-lephantine statuette nowadays on display at the Sitia Museum.
One of Crete’s richest and most important peak sanctuaries existed in nearby Petsofas, to the south.
Excavations here have brought to light numerous offerings made by Christians to miracle-producing icons. The rich and particularly popular sanctuary of Diktaios Zeus prompted numerous battles between Cretan cities. It initially belonged to Praisos before Itanos took control and it was the main reason for the conflict between Itanos and Ierapytna.
Heading further south, the traveler comes to ancient Zakros.
The road passed through picturesque villages such as Adravasti and Ano Zakros, the region’s main town.