The cave of Milatos and the wild, undeveloped Agios Ioannis peninsula north of the section of the highway from Heraklion that runs from Malia to Aghios Nikolaos via Neapoli.
From Sisi in the west to Plaka in the east, there are some well-hidden localities to discover here.
The village of Milatos is a modest settlement with a number of taverns right by the sea. Touristically not overcrowded and not overly developed, it offers only a rough pebble beach and is somewhat isolated from the highway to Aghios Nikolaos.
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However, the place had an important past, because the ancient city of Milatos was mentioned by Homer, Pausanias and Strabo. In the Iliad of Homer it is mentioned as one of seven Cretan cities that sent troops to the Trojan War.
In mythology, which is probably close to the truth due to recent archaeological findings, Sarpedon from this Miltaos was defeated by his brother, King Minos, in the battle for the throne. He then sailed from here to Ionia in Asia Minor and founded the colony of Miletos, which became one of the largest and most prosperous cities there.
Ancient Milatos, however, was destroyed by its rival Lyttos in the third century BC. Today it lies to the east of the beach, but there is little to be seen of it. Milatos fell into oblivion and no longer existed in Roman times.
If you reach Milatos by car, you are almost in a dead end. Above the Milatos cave there are only dusty roads heading east into the Aghios Ioannis Peninsula, and you can’t reach Aghios Nikolaos or Elounda via them. There is only a halfway usable gravel road from here in a zigzag course directly to Neapoli.
At the north-east end of the bay of Milatos there is a small chapel called Agios Konstantions, behind which lies the magnificent Andreas Cave.
To the west, however, you can reach the picturesque village of Sisi described below.
Just a short distance west of Milatos (and east of Malia) is Sisi. The picturesque village lies at the western end of the triangular Aghios Ioannis Peninsula, but has more in common with the tourist centres of the Heraklion prefecture than with the rest of the Lasithi prefecture.
Especially during the day in the tourist season, the place can be crowded with day visitors from the area of Hersonisos and Malia. From the sandy beach of Potamos (formerly Tropical Beach) and the Palace of Malia, the village can also be easily reached on foot along the coast and excursion boats also moor in its small harbour.
The fantastically pretty little harbour is the main attraction of Sisi, around which numerous cafés, bars and restaurants bustle. Towards the east, in the direction of Milatos, there are a few more attractive beach bays. The best of these, however, has been taken over by the Kalimeria Kriti Hotel, but you can still reach it from the equally attractive Avalki beach by following a path around the rocks.
Hotels in and around Sisi and Milatos
The Milatos Cave
During the Greek Revolution, in February 1823, 2,500 women and children from the surrounding villages, along with 150 armed men, in order to avoid the army of Hashan Pasha who had his camp at Neapoli, came to the cave to be saved. He sent his son-in-law Mohamed Ali Hushein Bei with 5,000 soldiers to capture them alive.
The siege lasted for 22 days. The stink of the dead bodies was added to the artillery fire, the hunger and the thirst of the besieged. They could no longer bear it, and they decided their heroic sally.
Hushein forgot his vows. The Pasha gave orders to isolate the elderly, and they were led to a place where his cavalry trampled everybody to death. The babies were slashed and the younger women and children sold into slavery. The men were executed immediately or later at the Fortress of Spinalonga, the priests burned on pyres.
The babies were slaughtered and the mothers were sold as slaves. That was the end of the drama of the cave of Milatos.
In 1937 a small church, dedicated to Saint Thomas, was built in the cave, and it has also got a monument with some bones of the victims, which were found there.
Visit to Milatos Cave
The Milatos Cave is a series of caverns rather than a single cave and a pilgrimage site for Cretans. It seems to extend infinitely backwards, and with a suitable torch it is possible to reach what may be distant parts.
Some remains of victims of the massacre, found later, were laid out in a coffin-like sarcophagus next to the small chapel.
Tip: To visit the Milatos Cave outside of peak season, the entrainment of a torch is recommended, since the electric generator to produce electricity usually is not running during this period.
Pictures from the cave of Milatos
Directions to Milatos Cave
Link to map with directions:
Click here: Directions Milatos Cave.
Aghios Ioannis Peninsula
The wild and untapped Agios Ioannis peninsula. The triangular peninsula north of Neapoli and Aghios Nikolaos, east of Milatos and northwest from Elounda is surprisingly wild and not very crowded.
The triangular peninsula of Aghios Ioannis – north of Aghios Nikolaos and inland from Elounda – is surprisingly wild and not very crowded. Narrow streets are leading along secluded agricultural hamlets and small villages.
If one follows the national main road, one first reach the gorge of Sellinari, where the travelers traditionally stop and pray to Saint George for a safe passage. This impressive road, which has been built across many obstacles, leads past the administrative capital of Neapoli and then reaches Aghios Nikolaos, where spectacularly the Gulf of Mirabello in front will be visible.
From Neapoli directly to Elounda:
If one is not in a hurry, one can also use the small streets that lead over the Aghions Ioannis peninsula. They offer a great alternative to the usual routes to Elounda or to the Lasithi Plateau and are even shorter.
At Neapoli leave the highway and follow the signs to the ‘Amazonas Park’, but then turn down right to the archaeological site of Driros (but do not turn right at the next, shortly following diversion, instead follow to the left) towards Kastelli.
Alternatively one could go directly through Neapoli to the next small village Nikithianos, where one turn left and drives through an underpass of the highway across serpentine to Kastelli. From there continue to Elounda, which is signed.
Although there is not much to see next to the magnificent landscape – except for wonderful views of the Gulf of Mirabello and welcoming tavernas and coffees in the larger villages.
Coming from the west of Malia one start at Milatos with a long and steep ascent to peninsular of Aghios Ioannis.
From Elounda the steep, narrow road winds over Pano Elounda and Pines (picture right) towards Fourni and Kastelli and meets the highway at Neapoli.
Plaka, about 3 miles (5 km) north of Elounda, lies directly opposite the Fortress of Spinalonga and was once the main supply point on the mainland for the leprosy colony.
Boats still carry the short trip today, but they are now transporting tourists.
The previously more or less dilapidated place has become quite chique since the establishment of the not yet to be overlooked luxury hotel. Many new houses and villas have been built, mostly inhabited by foreign owners.
Plaka is still an attractive, quiet place with a few excellent and well-known tavernas in front of the crystal clear sea.
The beach, however, consists of large, little comfortable pebbles and also a strong east wind can blow through the mouth of the bay between the mainland and the Spinalonga peninsula.
Beyond Plaka begins the other, wild and untapped world of the Aghios Ioannis peninsula. The road winds along the coast to Vrouhas.
Here and in the surroundings there are still many of the old, traditional stone windmills, which are mostly decayed.
Its successors are located in the large, new wind farm in the north-east of the peninsula, from where one have a wonderful view over the sea and the Gulf of Mirabello.
To the wind park one drives shortly before Vrouhas on a mostly better dirt road to the right (the wind park is signposted) and one can drive until the north-eastern tip of the Aghios Ioannis peninsula to a small, white chapel near the cliffs above the sea.
There are also some kind of dirt road from Plaka (turn right behind the pebbles beach), which winds up along the coast to the wind farm. This route is also suitable for hikes or tours with mountain bike or quad bikes.
Pictures from the northeast tip of the peninsula:
On the route from Vrouhas to Skinais, a narrow road leads steeply down the coast, where some isolated beaches with pebbles, small pensions and seasonal tavernas are located on a rugged, rocky coastal section.
About a 3/4 mile to the west as the crow flies, a steep, paved dirt road leads to the chapel of Moni Agios Andrea, just above the sea, where there is also another stretch of beach.
Just a few hundred yards as the crow flies from here is the Fino Animal Rescue shelter (close to the small village of Finokalia), which is one of the largest in the Aghios Nikolaos area and is run by two German expatriates.
In the loneliness on the secluded Aghios Ioannis peninsula, the two are happy about every visit, donations of food or money and voluntary work at the shelter. Probably you could found your favorite dog from Crete for adoption there!
Further inland and just behind Skinias, a well-paved road leads to the lonely monastery of Moni Aretiou, which is surrounded by cypresses and cedars and looks like a fortress from the 16th century.
Recently restored, it often appears as completely deserted, but some monks have stayed behind and the gate and church Agia Triadha are usually open.
From there, an asphalted road, which winds at first over barren mountain peaks, leads to next but one village of Dories, where the church of Agios Konstantinos houses an icon of the Panayia (Virgin) from the 14th century, the oldest known on Crete.
The church is located near the village center on a small path from the main road (marked by a small monument in the form of a church). The creme-brown-painted house next door belongs to the Papas, which are available to open the church to visitors.
In the direction to Neapoli, one pass the Amazon Park – an animal park (entrance fee: 10 Euros per person, group reductions) as well as the old Doric ruins mountain city of Driros.
The owner of the Amazon Park is reported by volunteers who have helped there to be a friendly person who is fully dedicated to the park. The Amazon Park is very clean and the enclosures are of a very high standard. All the animals and birds there look good and healthy and are not stressed. With birds in particular, if they are not kept well, you quickly see obvious signs such as baldness and loss of feathers in other circumstances.
Road maps of Crete, which in the best case are not always reliable, do not appear to be particularly helpful on the peninsula. The most obvious, however, is that there is no road which runs completely along the coast from the west to the east, or at least some sort of dirt road, but which is nevertheless recorded on some maps.
It is best to follow the signs and paved roads and one will finally reach the destination.
It is also advisable not to exaggerate with remote explorations, since the police are rarely seen in this area, and local gamekeepers have already reported that parked vehicles of hunters from the city were perforated with shotguns after their return from the hunt trip. Additional, the one or other illegal cannabis field is supposed to be hidden here.
Video from the Aghios Ioannis Peninsula
Duration: 1:56 min with views of Spinalonga and Elounda Bay, wind farm and coast and wilderness.
Pictures of the coast and the hinterland:
Directions to the beach on the north coast
Link to map with directions:
Click here: Directions Aghios Ioannis Peninsula.