Welcome to the birthplace of Minoan civilization: Heraklion, Crete’s capital and beating heart, has gone through several reincarnations since the Bronze Age. Today the uniquely diverse capital beauti-fully balances its contemporary culture and hip nightlife with its rich Minoan, Venetian and Ottoman past.

Hop on a car to the Minoan Palace of Knossos (5km outside Heraklion) to marvel at the colorful frescoes dating back to 1450 BC. Back in the city, learn more about Minoan culture at the Archaeo-logical Museum, before taking a stroll at the Old Town to enter another great historical era: the Ve-netian period, with the formidable Koules fortress at the harbor as its crown jewel.

Walk across the fortified walls to take in sites such as the Venetian Loggia and the stunning church of St Titus, before allowing the city’s sirens to lure you into a shopping spree in Daidalou street and some bar hopping around the Lions Square.

There’s no shortage of great beaches near Heraklion (Kateros and Florida in the south being highly recommended) but for a truly transformative experience, take the 67km trip to Matala. The beach’s natural caves have famously been home to the hippy crowd and the free-spirited legends of the ‘60s, like Janice Joplin.