Kritsa, the traditional village of Kritsa
Kritsa is located 11 km inland from the large town of Agios Nikolaos in the East of Crete. Kritsa is a traditional village with old houses and narrow streets on the Lassithi (Dikti) mountains.
As you approach you can see Kritsa nestling in a bowl at the foot of the Dikti Mountains, under a red overhang of rock known as Kastellos.
From many vantage points throughout the village there are far reaching views across the olive groves that produce delicious award-winning oil, down to the coast and up to the rounded Thripti Mountains that spectacularly fill the eastern view.
- History of Kritsa through the eyes of Kritsotopoula, the local heroine who lived 2 centuries ago
How to get to the village of Kritsa
You can get to Kritsa by bus from the main bus station at Agios Nikolaos; these are reliable, inexpensive, air-conditioned, and the journey takes about 15 minutes.
Many visitors arrive via a coach as part of an organised tour and there is a daily trip by land train (happy train) from the Port at Agios Nikolaos.
Car drivers can find it easily using one main road from Agios Nikolaos. The two Petrol Stations on the road up to Kritsa take turns to close on a Sunday.
As you get nearer to the village there are many smallholdings between the trees; keep an eye out for slow moving bushes at the edge of the road, as you get closer you will realise it is one of the diminishing number of donkeys labouring under its load.
You may also see one of the local "Kritsa Chariots" (photo -->), these vehicles are variations of a plough with a wooden trailer; usually complete with the driver’s wife and dog.
Shortly after entering the village one-way system, you will see signs for a car park; this is the best place to leave your car. A favourite pastime for many locals is watching tourists in their hire cars get into difficulties in tight spaces going uphill amongst pedestrians, pick up trucks or buses; they then shout helpful but usually conflicting advice!
From the car park, you can see just how big the village is and the way it clings to the cliff face. If you can make the time, wander in some of narrow and stepped streets, built for nothing wider or noisier than a donkey. You will see homes of successive generations of Kritsa folk many with an array of carefully tended plants outside whilst others, no longer inhabited, gently decay.
If you intend to visit our famous church, Panagia Kera to see the wonderful frescos painted in Byzantine times, you need to know that it the church isbefore you reach Kritsa: after passing the village of Mardati, look out for a restaurant called Paradise, (about 1k before Kritsa) the parking area on the right hand side of the road is for the church.
Another place to visit on the way to or from Kritsa is the well-preserved ancient Dorian City of Lato; it is a hidden hill top gem just 3k away. Lato is one of the most fully preserved cities in Greece and is apparently the best example of the Classical-Hellenistic period in Crete.
Both Panagia Kera and Lato are open daily 8.00 a.m. to 3.00 p.m. except Monday.
Kritsa hotels, restaurants, shops and services
Kritsa is a thriving agricultural community closely linked with the Katharo Plateau, which produces abundant fruit, vegetables and animal grazing areas; this is way up above the village and many men spend most of the summer there. Kritsa also meets the needs of tourists by day but falls into relative peace in the evenings.
There are two good bed / breakfast places in Kritsa: Argiro Rent Rooms and The Olive Press (containing the village’s old stone olive press), as well as houses and flats to rent.
There is a Bank with an ATM, post office, pharmacist, doctor, hairdresser, three small general stores, two bakeries, butcher and a public toilet (although you may prefer to use the facilities in one of the wide variety of tavernas).
We have many shops selling tablecloths, local produce, souvenirs, and even an award-winning sculptor specialising in bronze and marble but more about him later.
What to see and do in Kritsa
Remember, Kritsa is on a hill and many of the paths are uneven so appropriate footwear will help you enjoy your visit. Forget the usual advice about carrying bottled water; just bring an empty bottle and fill it at any of the taps around the village to enjoy clear mountain spring water. We call this water Kritsa Champagne and think it contributes to the longevity of our residents!
Women of Kritsa were famous for their weaving, lace making and embroidery skills and it is still possible to buy hand made items. In light of the many hours work in handmade pieces you might think these items are expensive; most people these days are content with more commercially produced items that are also available.
Easter is a very special time in Kritsa.
On Good Friday, the three largest churches have flower-covered biers, and after the service, they parade around the village with all processions meeting in the main street.
On Saturday at midnight, the services to celebrate the resurrection lead to bonfires, the burning of the Judas effigy and many fire works.
On Sunday afternoon, when you think everything is over, the ground literally shakes due to dynamite blasts in the hills!
Then, since everyone is now wide awake, a party starts at the church of Afentis Christos and goes on until nearly dawn with plenty to eat and drink, dancing and fireworks.
Read more about Greek Orhodox Easter
If you are staying in Kritsa during the summer, look out for posters advertising festivals in the schoolyard, and have an evening to remember.
Some years a couple agree to marry in August and allow their wedding to become a very public event; if you are lucky enough to be part of a traditional Cretan wedding make sure you leave the whole day and evening free; these are not hasty events!
In years when there is no public traditional wedding in Kritsa, the local housewives host a very popular event:
There are tableau’s showing village crafts, including spinning, weaving, cheese making, woodcraft, a cobbler, and a barber.
The main focus of attention are the small fires set on the school steps, each tended by women cooking delicious dishes such as snail pilaf, vegetables, goat stew and of course, chips.
You can have samples of this food later in the evening but with over 300 people at the event, the main food comes from BBQ’s and stoves hidden at the back of the school. Energetic dancing to live music then goes on into the small hours.
Another event, still at the school is the celebration of the local style of cheese pie (tiropita); served with honey as dessert after a very tasty meal of barbequed meat, delicious Cretan style roast potatoes, and salad.
Visit the tourist information office at Agios Nikolaos for a full list of all the cultural events around the whole area.
With only an hour or so in the village, it will be harder to absorb what makes Kritsa so special, but do try to find time to take a peak beyond the main street.
The houses are stepped up the hillside and it is often difficult to work out where one house ends and another starts; when you go uphill, you can lookdown across rooftops.
Amongst the tangled cables and TV aerials, you can see a wide range of industry ranging from women washing clothing in old stone sinks, nuts, beans, or tomatoes drying in the sun or produce stacked in crates ready for transport to market.
You might like to take one of our recommended walking routes if you have the time:
- Walk in Kritsa, a circular one-hour walk through back streets to explore the beauty of this mountain village in Crete
- Walk from Kritsa to the church of Panagia Kera (Virgin Mary), a one-hour circular walk on tracks through olive groves that will allow you to admire the Byzantine frescoes in the Panagia Kera church
- Walk from Kritsa across the mouth of Kritsa Gorge and then along rugged ancient paths to the wonderful archaeological site of Lato
- Walk from Kritsa into the Kritsa Gorge and hike up to the village of Tapes to enjoy amazing scenery and a wide variety of plants and birds all under the gaze of ever watchful goats.
* Article and photos by Yvonne Payne