Áyios Nikólaos. On the north coast of eastern Crete, 65 kilometers east of Heraklion, Áyios Nikólaos (Agios Nikolaos) lies on the slopes above Mirabello Bay, close to Elounda, where you’ll find Crete’s most popular luxury resort hotels. Beautiful beaches surround the town, but the region’s most impressive beach has to be Palm Beach, on the isolated east coast. Behind Áyios Nikólaos, the rural villages of the Lasithi Plateau add another facet to Eastern Crete’s fascination.
Áyios Nikólaos centers on Lake Voulismeni, a small, circular lake ringed by steep rocky cliffs to one side and open-air cafés and seafood restaurants to the other and filled with painted wooden fishing boats and ducks.
It’s especially lovely at night, with flickering candles and neon lights casting reflections across the water. According to local legend, the goddess Athena used to bathe here, and the lake was long believed to be bottomless (though has now proven to be 64 meters deep). In fact, it was originally a freshwater lake, which was only connected to the sea when a channel was dug in 1870. A low bridge crosses the channel, meaning that only small boats can enter the lake.
Away from the coast, land that is not too rocky and mountainous is mainly given over to agriculture. One of the most fertile areas on Crete is the Lasithi plateau, a plain rising some 840 meters above sea level directly behind Áyios Nikólaos. Dotted with rural villages, orchards, and fields growing potatoes and cereals, it is also known for its white-sailed windmills, used to pump underground water for irrigation. Most tourists also visit a nearby attraction, the Diktean Cave, filled with stalagmites and stalactites and supposedly the birthplace of the king of gods, Zeus.