Kritsá is a traditional mountain village with old houses and narrow streets, about 11 km from Agios Nikólaos, built amphitheatrically on a rock hill (Kastellos) at an altitude of 375 m. The 2000 inhabitants keep the old Cretan traditions and the town is famous for the hand-woven textiles and embroidery.
Kritsá is a thriving agricultural community closely linked with the Katharo Plateau, which produces abundant fruit, vegetables and animal grazing areas. The plateau is some 16km up from Kritsá along a winding road with many bends. To get to Kritsá you can take different roads. We took the one leading through Priná, took a small detour to visit Agios Ioannis Theologos in Lakkoi, which also served as a secret meeting point for the rebel Captains, during the revolution in Eastern Crete.
The church is a single-nave barrel-vaulted church with 14th century frescoes on all the walls. There’s an inscription on the west wall dating the church: ‘This holy and sacred church of St. John the Evangelist and divine Apostle, was (erected or restored) through labour and expenses of the noblest lord Ioannis Klontzias and his wife Maria and their children, in the year 7856 since the creation of the world (1348 A.D.)’.
The road after Priná towards Kroústas is very beautiful and goes through a pine forest with wonderful views down to the sea. At one point the road is very narrow and only one car can pass at a time. Of course we met an oncoming car halfway, and had to park the car against the wall so they could pass.
Then we passed through the village of Kroústas, where you find a panoramic viewpoint of the bay of Mirabello and Agios Nikólaos. The village itself, at 520m above sea level, is famous for myzithropites (cheese pies) and the many almond trees around. From there it is only a short drive to Kritsá.
Just after Kritsá, on the road to Agios Nikólaos is the famous byzantine church Panagia Kera. This triple-nave Byzantine church is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, to Saint Anthony and Saint Anna. The church has Crete’s best preserved Byzantine frescoes dating back to the 14th century. It is a bit of a tourist-trap, and you have to pay to get inside, but worth a visit is you like fresco’s.
From Kritsá you can drive down to Agios Nikólaos and then back through the mountains from Istron, passing Priná again and ending in Ierapetra. Another possibility is to drive back through Kalamafka and Anatoli, a really beautiful road with lots to see. There is also an amazing road to get to Kritsá (or back from it) leading from Males to the Katharo plateau, 16km up from Kritsá, but for this road you need a 4WD.
The cypress wood of Kritsá
Also worth mentioning is the cypress wood of Kritsá, it is one of the last forests on the island. It’s about half an hour from the road that goes to Katharo, about 10kms west of Kritsá. Besides cypresses oak, maple, holly, wild olive and holm oak trees grow there. Together with two similar small forests of cypresses in western Crete, this is all that remains of what once was the hallmark tree of Crete. Beautiful area for hiking!
How to get there:
Kritsá is close to Agios Nikolaos and is well signed. Coming from Ierapetra or the Southcoast in general, take the backroad instead of the main road. It is a really beautiful road with lots to see along the way. Drive through Anatoli, Kalamafka, Prina or Makrilia, Mesileri and the Prina. From Prina take the road to Kroustas and then Kritsá.