If you wish to explore a little further then the fashionable Elounda is only 10km away. Sitting in a magnificent position overlooking the picturesque Gulf of Mirabello Elounda has over the years gained the reputation as an exclusive resort with luxury facilities on hand in a refined atmosphere not readily found in many other resorts. It has become a favourite holiday destination for world famous celebrities and artists as well as political leaders and is home to some of Crete's finest hotels, Royal Marmin Bay Boutique and Art Hotel being no exception.
The heart of Elounda remains a fishing village with a pretty little harbour. Magnificent views are to be had of the Gulf of Mirabello and the stone built windmills that reach as far as the Alykes (salt-pans). Most of the luxury accommodation is scattered around the village outskirts and surrounding hillsides. It takes its name from ancient Olous which was built a kilometre away and was the place chosen by the legendary figures of Minoan Crete but today is favoured by historical figures of our times. Olous flourished during the first Byzantine period and ranked among the most important one-hundred cities of ancient Crete.
Low in the hills not too far away from Agios Nicolaos is the charismatic traditional village of Kritsa. Its greatest claim to fame is the wealth of weavings, embroidery, lace and leatherwear on display in its streets. Plan to visit either in the early morning or late afternoon to get the best from your trip and avoid the crowds. Its inhabitants are the descendants of the ancient city ‘Lato Etera’ whose ruins can be discovered 3km northwest of the village. Kritsa has several Byzantine churches with wonderful frescoes from the 14th and 15th century. The most remarkable is the famous ‘Panagia Kera’ built in the 13th` and 14th centuries. The church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and to Saints Anthony and Anna, and is adorned with expressive murals depicting the two Saints, as well as 14 scenes portraying the secret life of the Virgin Mary after Christ's crucifixion and resurrection. The village can get quite busy as many coach tours stop here but at quiet moments it is a perfect coffee stop.
The Lassithi plateau is a very scenic area up in the mountains. It is the supposed birthplace of Zeus (though this is also claimed elsewhere) and is it is still promoted as the `Plain of the Windmills' though none of the white sailed windmills are actually still in use. The drive up to Lassithi is stunning and early morning and late afternoon are good times to visit. The plateau is 850mt above sea level and is oval in shape, measuring 11km east to west and 6km north to south. It is surrounded by mountains. There are 16 villages in total, though many are small. Worth a visit whilst you are there is the Folklore Museum, Venizelos Museum, and also the Dikti cave.
All in all, a wonderful area with sand, sea and sun, cultural aspects and magnificent scenery.
Agios Nikolaos has a population of approximately 9500 inhabitants and is probably one of the most attractive towns in Crete. It is also the capital of the eastern Lassithi province and a drive of about one hour from the capital of the island, Heraklion. It has a history dating back to ancient times and enjoys a prime location on the Gulf of Mirabello and was originally the port for ancient Lato, some 10kms inland. Today it is a lively resort bustling with tourism in the summer months. The town is set around the supposedly bottomless Voulismeni Lake. You may pay a little over the odds at the lakeside bars and cafe's but they make an ideal spot to sit and watch the world go by, particularly in the evening. Agios Nikolaos has traditional coffee shops, chic cafes, and many tavernas and restaurants with a menu of Greek and Cretan specialties. There are many shops to choose from selling everything ranging from traditional Cretan art, Minoan copies, copies from the popular Art Museum, woven handicrafts, jewelry, fashion, and much more.
Note also the Folklore Museum which houses colourful textiles and costumes, farming and fishing equipment and household goods.
From the west side of the harbour you can take boats to all points in and around the bay, including Spinalonga.A short walk away through the town will take you to the marina which is a fairly new development.
Agios Nikolaos is a working town as well as a popular summer resort. There is a small town beach and a long promenade extends to the west. Shopping is varied and you are bound to find some interesting souvenirs to take home and remind you of your wonderful stay.
The small and famous island of Spinalonga is a short distance from Elounda and in ancient times it used to guard the port of Olous. A boat ride from Agios Nikolaos (shorter from Elounda) brings you to perhaps the eeriest place in Crete. The Venetians built this fortress in 1579 and it remained a formidable stronghold even after the Turkish invasion. It only changed hands in 1715 by treaty. However, in 1903 it was declared a leper colony and remained the last in Europe before final closing its doors 1957. Boats go there daily from Elounda and Agios Nikolaos. If you want a shorter boat trip you can take a fishing boat across from the little harbour in Plaka, also a good stop for lunch. Spinalonga has been mentioned in several novels and was fore fronted again recently in the book ‘The Island’ by award winning writer Victoria Hislop.