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Kato Zakros, located on the far eastern shore of Crete in the Lasithi region, can seem to be a long way from anything. It is an hour from Sitia, over 90 minutes from Irapetra, and over two hours from Agios Nikolaos, all major cities in east Crete. When we stepped into one of the four or five tavernas bunched together along the beach, the proprietor happily said, “Welcome to the end of the world!”
It certainly felt that way to us! My wife Oksana and I had come all the way from Chania in the west of the island, making the trip in one fell swoop. Taking into account a few wrong turns as well as a few pit stops, it took us nearly seven hours. Google maps had said it would be a four hour, 45 minute trip. Google maps obviously does not take Crete and its way of life into account.
Now, if you think I’m complaining, you don’t know a thing about me. The journey is the point, every moment of it, especially on Crete, where the views from seaside, valley, and mountain roads have you catching your breath constantly. Still, we were thrilled to pull into our accommodations at Stella’s Traditional Apartments and Studios. I don’t usually write about hotels here, although I’ve loved every place I’ve ever stayed in on Crete – you invariably leave having created a genuine friendship with the owner, even if you only stay one night. But Stella’s was so fabulous I must give her a shout-out. Buried in the thick of nature about a kilometer from the beach, we were constantly serenaded by a wild orchestra of crickets, whose deafening kritchety-krachety sounds washed over us like the waves of the Libyan Sea in a winter storm. It was astonishing to sit in the dead silence of the predawn morning, and then, the moment the sun popped up from behind the horizon, the cricket concerto started up as if someone had waved a baton.
Kato Zakros means Lower Zakros, and indeed, it is located down the road at the beach a few kilometers from the village of Zakros up in the hills. Kato Zakros is a blessed little patch of land. A fertile, green valley with a lazy little river running through it, it is nestled in the embrace of quite high, desert-like mountains running around it on three sides. Your eye does not know where to stop, do you just keep staring out at the electric blue sea, or do you follow the contours of the crags and cliffs and caves in the rugged mountains? Being swimming nuts, we came here to swim. But many come here to hike the relatively comfortable four-hour trail back into the Zakros Gorge. I did not do the hike, so my characterization of it as “comfortable” is based on what I have heard others say. The swimming, like everywhere in the Libyan Sea, and on Crete in general, is unsurpassed. It’s useful to have your little rubber sea slippers, because most of the seabed is rock and old coral. But, for this reason the water is as crystal clear as it comes. Located in a deep, U-shaped bay or cove, the waters here are quite calm – at least they were during our stay.
One of the great draws of Kato Zakros is the archaeological site of an old Minoan palace and city. I will devote a full blog to that at a later date.
Kato Zakros got under my skin in a way that the finest of Crete’s tiny seaside villages do. I’ll say it again – if you’re looking for bling, if you’re looking for the hip and the chic, if what you crave is five stars, head for the Riviera or Hawaii. But if you want the magic of thousands of stars sparkling and swirling over you all night long in their natural nakedness, if you want to experience the magic of slipping into a world that takes you back 50, 100, or even 3,000 years (the Minoan palace), Kato Zakros does that effortlessly. It is a place where you walk with your feet firmly on the earth, perched somewhere between history and prehistory. The second hand, the minute hand and even the hour hand on the clock move much more slowly here. The wind that blows through your hair is ancient and gentle. The people have a timeless warmth and sense of goodwill that make you wonder if you have stepped through a curtain in time. People sit in tavernas, talking up a blue storm, sipping their coffee and cold water (waiters everywhere on Crete bring you unlimited numbers of bottles of cold water), laughing and falling silent to stare out at the sea. Virtually all the ingredients of your meal were probably still in their natural state that morning – every cucumber, every slice of onion, every juicy, sweet chunk of tomato still carries with it the aromas of the earth from which it sprang. Your lamb chops are prepared in a fiery oven that is no different from those that the Minoans used thousands of years ago.
When a near-full moon rises over the waters, as it did on our last night in Kato Zakros, the people in the tavernas and on the darkening beach greet it with a surprised and grateful round of applause.
All text and photos copyright ©2020 by John Freedman. If you wish to use, reprint or repost in any way, do the courtesy of asking for permission. You just might receive it.

The view of Kato Zakros as you come down the mountain from Zakros.
Mountains looking to the south.
The public space at the Zakros Minoan palace ruins.
Dawn – the crickets are in full swing.
Sunup over the Libyan Sea as seen from Stella’s Traditional Apartments and Studios.
The north side of the cove at Kato Zakros.
The four or five tavernas at Kato Zakros as seen from the sea.
One of the imposing caves looming over the village.
The south side of the cove at Kato Zakros.
“Taverna row.”
This traditional stone oven is kept hot all day long.
The magical, electric blue of Crete.
A near full-moon traverses the skies over Kato Zakros in August of 2020.