Ano Hersonissos or Old Hersonissos

Ano Hersonissos, location

Ano Hersonissos is 26 kilometres east of Heraklion and about 2 kilometres south of coastal Hersonissos. Ano Hersonissos is a small village which retains its traditional character and must be distinguished from coastal Hersonissos, which is flooded with tourists every summer.

map showing the location of Ano Hersonissos in Crete
Map showing the coastal Hersonissos (port) and the three villages of Ano Hersonissos, Piskopiano and Koutouloufari

Ano Hersonissos is also known as “Palia” (Old) Hersonissos, as opposed to “Nea” (New) Hersonissos, the famous tourist resort. These names, however, give the wrong impression because they are derived from the modern history of Crete and clash with the historical evidence from antiquity.

Ano Hersonissos, history

According to historians, coastal Hersonissos or Cheronissos was a settlement that first arose in Minoan times. It flourished in the Roman and Byzantine periods, but in the 5th century AD pirate raids and major earthquakes led the inhabitants to seek refuge in the interior of the island. The new settlement was built two kilometres south of the coast, on the slopes of Mt Harakas. From here the inhabitants could watch the sea and spot pirate ships long before they reached the Cretan coast. This gave them enough time to hide in safe refuges which the pirates would find hard to locate.

The newer village, Ano Hersonissos, flourished until about 1950, when tourism came to Greece and Crete. The beautiful beaches of Hersonissos and its location near Heraklion airport and harbour attracted investors, and the first hotels began to spring up. Coastal Hersonissos quickly became one of the most popular tourist resorts in Crete and Greece. Coastal Hersonissos, officially known as Limenas Hersonissou (Hersonissos Harbour), the Cheronissos of antiquity, rose from the ashes and became “new” Hersonissos as opposed to “old” Hersonissos, the village in the hills.

Coastal Hersonissos and Ano Hersonissos are typical examples of how different social and economic conditions can lead to prosperity or decay. There is a joke about the local land, which says that, before the 1950s tourist boom, the best land was in the hills, far from the sea. The fields near the sea were not as fertile due to the salt.

So the inhabitants of Ano Hersonissos, who owned all the local land both on the coast and in the hills, gave the best fields to their sons and the barren seaside land to their sons-in-law as a dowry. But the tourist development of the coastal area changed things unexpectedly: The poor plots of land next to the sea were suddenly worth far more than the fertile fields in the hills, and the sons-in-law found themselves far better off than the sons.

The Picturesque Ano Hersonissos

Ano Hersonissos panoramic view
Ano Hersonissos or Old Hersonissos lies on the slope of Mount Charakas, high above coastal Hersonissos or Limani Hersonissou (Hersonissos Harbour).

Although it is so close to coastal Hersonissos, Ano Hersonissos is a vastly different place, without the dozens of bars, shops, hotels and intense nightlife of its neighbour. Ano Hersonissos is small, picturesque and quiet. Although affected by tourism, it retains most of its traditional architecture and the pace of life is slower than that of the modern cities on the north coast of Crete. You can wander through the narrow alleys and admire the stone houses with their courtyards full of flowers, the old wells and the outdoor wood-burning ovens.

There are two churches in the village, one in the main square and one at the end of the village. Both are typical examples of Byzantine art and are worth a visit.
The best spot in Ano Hersonissos is definitely the round village square, surrounded by little tavernas and with a fountain in the middle. In daytime the square is almost empty, but on summer evenings it is full of life. Locals and tourists fill the tavernas to try tasty Cretan dishes, drink the local wine and have fun with their friends. In recent years the tavern owners have organised a Cretan evening once a week, usually on Mondays, with live music and traditional dances. But things change every year, so ask if they’re still on.

Local beaches

The nearest beaches are about two kilometres away. Read more at: Beaches in Hersonissos.

There are also pretty beaches in neighbouring Stalis, Malia and Gouves.

Practical information

In Ano Hersonissos and the neighbouring villages of Piskopiano and Koutouloufari there are lots of apartments for rent, some with their own swimming pool and other amenities. You will also find lots of restaurants in the three villages, along with a few cafes with a lovely view of Hersonissos Bay, and some bars.

Ano Hersonissos is a small village offering only basic facilities. For anything else you’ll have to walk down to coastal Hersonissos. It’s two kilometres away and the road is downhill, so you’ll be there in about 20 minutes. If you don’t fancy the idea of coming back on foot, you can easily get a taxi from Hersonissos, costing about €5 (2008). Otherwise you can rent a motorbike or a car to visit the local beaches or the nearby towns and villages. Unfortunately there’s no bus between Ano and coastal Hersonissos.

In the main square there is a kiosk selling cigarettes, Greek and foreign newspapers and magazines, and lots of other knickknacks. It’s usually open from early in the morning to late in the evening. In the square there is also a mini-market, with a few greengrocers’ shops and cheap supermarkets a bit further on. If you can’t find what you’re looking for here, coastal Hersonissos is full of supermarkets large and small. You can also go there if you need a doctor, a chemist’s, a bank or a cashpoint.

Ano Hersonissos in winter

Have you ever wondered what life is like in a tourist resort in winter, when all the tourists have left and only the locals remain? In many areas that make their living from tourism alone, winter is a dead season and the places look like ghost towns. This is what happens in the neighbouring villages of Piskopiano and Koutouloufari, where almost nothing stays open.

Ano Hersonissos, however, is not totally dependent on tourism, and in winter life continues, albeit more quietly and simply. The kiosk, the mini-market and the greengrocers’ stay open all year round. A few tavernas also stay open in the winter for locals and customers from Heraklion and other towns.
In November, once the last tourists have left, the locals enjoy their days of rest with coffee, raki and backgammon in the café. In late November, after the autumn rains, the olives begin to ripen and the fields are full of families gathering the crop for the year’s oil. This continues until January, on days when it’s neither raining, nor too windy.

At Christmas the square is decorated and the manger is set up near the church. After New Year and Epiphany, the people employed in tourism gradually start preparing for the approaching season with renovations and repairs to their businesses, so that everything will be ready for the tourists who will start arriving from mid-April onwards.

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