Byline: Cathy Hawker
WEDNESDAY is market day in Agios Nikolaos.
Stalls of plump tomatoes and seductive olives fill the town's central square asresidents meet up in the cafes lining the lagoon and port. Despite thetourist-laden coaches clogging its narrow streets, Agios has kept its authenticCretan spirit.
Agios is the capital of the Lassithi region in north-east Crete, 50 minutes'drive from the main airport at Heraklion. Upmarket tourism on this Greek islandbegan here 40 years ago in the nearby resorts of Elounda and Plaka but morerecently tourists and housebuyers have headed 126 miles west to the Venetianharbour of Chania and its longer sandy beaches.
"The British associate Crete with mass tourism but most large hotels are in thenorth-west," says John Batty of Aegean Blue.
"The beaches in the east are smaller, which has held back development there,but once you travel east from Heraklion past the unattractive party towns ofMalia and Hersonissos, you find space and true Cretan culture." Easyjet beganflights from Gatwick to Heraklion in April and with planned infrastructureimprovements, including an upgraded national road from Heraklion to Agios, thisagricultural region of eastern Crete is stepping out of the shadows of thericher and more popular west.
An estimated 500 British people live in Agios, and plenty more use the250-berth marina as a stopover as they sail around the Mediterranean. Agios isin Crete's largest bay, Mirabello Bay, named by the Venetians in the 13thcentury and still beautiful today. There are 25 Blue Flag beaches nearbythe largest concentration in Greece, according to George Hourdakis, touristadviser to the town's mayor. "The beauty of this area, both inland and coastal,is that it is not densely built-up," says Hourdakis.
"Historically, building controls were stricter in the east, for militaryreasons. Even today, planners encourage developers to build beautiful stonebuildings." ' The whole of Crete is east has
Istron Estates is a gated development of 25 three- and five-bedroom villas 10miles south of Agios on a clifftop overlooking the sea. Built in thetraditional style of the Cyclades islandswhitewashed walls and flat roofsusing local stone and with large pools and terraces, these are attractivehouses with spectacular views and direct access to the sea down steep stonesteps.
But the price tag is startling. The three-bedroom houses cost [pounds sterling]635,960 and thefive-bedroom, 2,600sq ft houses are priced at [pounds sterling]1.27 million.
With the average British buyer in Crete spending [pounds sterling]159,000 to [pounds sterling]198,700, arepeople prepared to pay these prices? John Batty says he has sold five of theseproperties to buyers from Ukraine, Switzerland and the UK and that the scarcityof suitable development land and quality of the build at Istron Estates justifythe cost. …