phestosIraklion - Gortys - Phaestos - Aghia Triada - Kokkinos Pyrgos - Matala (67 kms)

This full-day excursion is another "must" visit, coupling a trinity of superb archaeological sites with some of the mosf compelling landscapes that Crete affords. The highlight is the majestic Palace of Phaestos, 64 kilometers from Iraklion, and the road conditions are good the whole way.
This was the "second city" of the Minoan civilization, and it's no less resplendent today than Knossos itself. But quite apart from its considerable archaeological importance, Phaestos offers still more. Sitting grandly astride a hilltop, above the lovely Messara plain which unfolds itself down to the sea, no city has a site which can rival it. A shift of focus, and you're facing the sacred mountain of Ida, Crete's highest peak, snowcapped throughout most of the year
Just a few kilometers away, tucked in a coop, pine
covered slope, lies the charming Royal Villa of Aghia Triada with its tranquil vantage point over the Libyan Sea.
But on the way to Phaestos, don't be in too much of a hurry, because the well-preserved Graeco-Roman city of Gortys should not be missed. Its temples and its fine Praetorium are set amidst olive groves, and the early Christian Basilica of St. Titos is one of the finest structures of its kind. Also of interest is the Roman Odeon, ringed with 6th century B.C. stones on which some of the earliest written laws in history are engraved.

matalaAfter such a heavy diet of ruins, you might feel inclined towards a swim, and if so, just follow the main asphalt road until it ends at the beach of Kokkinos Pyrgos. Or you can take the new paved road from Phaestos to the port of Matala, about 10 kilometers away. Matala's sheltered sandy cove has become a popular place of young travellers in summer, and the swimming is excellent. Take the time to see the extraordinary caves carved into the cliffs. They range from austere little burrows to some quite elaborate "apartments", and all were used as dwellings thousands of years ago.
You can get a good lunch either atthe Phaestos Tourist Pavillion or at the beaches of Kokkinos Pyrgos and Matala. On the way back to Iraklion, on reaching the village of Aghia Varvara, you might want to follow the asphalt road which branches to the left out of the village, leading you back the 29 kilometers to Iraklion. This route passes through the village of Prinias with its excavated ancient settlements, as well as the old villages of Assites and Aghios Myron. But best of all, it offers a continuous close hand view of the mountains on your left, while on your right, the endless sea of vineyards spreads out through Iraklion province.