Vai beach and palm forest: tropical aspect of the Cretan landscape and top destination
Updated: Jan 2, 2021
One of the bucket list destinations in #Crete, a unique place as a natural palm forest in Europe. The palm forest is consisted of the Cretan date palm (Phoenix theophrasti) species.
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Tourists begun to visit #Vai in the 1970s, becoming then a popular hippy and backpacker destination at the beginning of the 1980s. This kind of overtourism led to chaotic campground under the palm trees, full of garbage. Since the 1970s, Vai designated as an area for the conservation of Phoenix theophrasti as an enclosed and protected area. Thanks to this listing, the landscape and the unique forest recovered.
The Vai beach in particular, who is open to the visitors, is sandy with yellowish sand, rather exotic as the endemic palm forest is reaching almost the seashore. A few meters off-shore there is a small islet.
The geology of this area consists of phylites, and neogene and alluvial deposits. The vegetation outside the palm forest is mainly phrygana. The palm forest of Phoenix theophrasti at Vai, unique in Europe, is located in a small coastal valley at the NE edge of Crete; actually one of the driest parts of Greece. The Cretan date palm is a specie native to the eastern Mediterranean, and especially specific places in Crete. Trees can be grown up to 15 m tall, regularly in several slender stems, and bear similarities with the cultivated date tree (Phoenix dactylifera). It is worth mentioning that even on the islet offshore there is gowing a very rare plant.
Preservation of the natural environment
The palm tree forest is covering an area of 20 ha. The area of Vai has been listed as an area of natural beauty (1982), the forest had already been declared as an aesthetic forest (1973) and then as a Site of Community Importance (SCI) in 1996, a Special Area for Conservation (SAC) in 2011, as well as a site protected by the Barcelona Convention, and of course the area is officially included in the Natura 2000 network (GR4320006) in 2011.
There are many threats however that the palm forest faced in the past, or still faces, namely overtourism or not sustainable tourism, area and habitat degradation, overgrazing, poaching, competition and hybridism between other species. The palm forest is fenced and the entrance is not allowed to the public.
Man made environment
A Late Minoan villa has been researched by the archaeologists in the edge of the palm forest.
Destination management and facilities
Regarding the palm forest, responsible authority for the management of the palm forest, a public property, is the Directorate of Forests of Lassithi. The Hellenic Public Real Estate Corporation owns the coastal part of the palm forest up to the shoreline and has granted it for use to the Municipality of Sitia (MADES SA). This beach is organized with sunbeds and umbrellas, showers, water sports and a beach-bar / restaurant.
At the end of the road to Vai there is a parking lot. The area of the car park belongs to the ecclesiastical institution "Panagia i Akrotiriani" of the Holy Monastery of Toplou. The wider area belongs to the Monastery of Toplou too,as well as few private agricultural shares.
Be aware that in a few places there are slippery rocks in the beach.
Don't miss the opportunity to climb to the viewpoint on the headland just south of the beach and take some instagrammable photos from there, especially in the afternoon!
Moreover, you can park your car at Vai and follow from the path from the viewpoint to the nearby beach to the south (Psili Ammos [Ψιλή Άμμος], a nudist beach), within a 5-minute walk. There is no facility there, so you have to bring supplies and beach gear with you to that beach!
Pros Unique natural environment at the palm forest, scenic beach, good facilities, instagrammable place for taking photos, in overall a bucket list destination in Crete. Cons Vai is getting overcrowded in summer time. Moreover you have to spend money for parking, umbrellas and the beach-bar / restaurant in prices that are relatively high.
As a top destination, Vai should be included in everyone’s bucket list, and absolutely deserves a visit at least for one time. On the other hand there is no point to be a regular visitor there: the place is usually overcrowded, don’t add more visitors to the bearing capacity of the place; and you have to spend money there.
For your visit you have to take into account the extra cost for parking etc., but keep in mind that these money are supporting the management of this environmentally important area. If you want however to visit daily the area for swimming and recreation, better go to the nearby beach of Erimoupolis (Ancient Itanos) where access is for free.
Our rating 4.5/5
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