Vai Palm Forest
The Palm Forest of Vai is one of the most popular sights on the island of Crete and one of the must-see spots in the whole Mediterranean area. That's because it is the largest of its kind in Europe featuring a colony of around 5.000 endemic palm trees, in an area of about 60 acres. Smaller colonies of this endemic trees known as Phoenix Theophrastus, exist in other parts of Crete and the Canary Islands. Its name derives from the word "vagia" meaning "palm tree" or "rims of palm tree" in Greek. According to a local legend, the forest grew from cores from dates thrown on the ground by Arab pirates. The truth is though, that these palm trees are an endemic species that have been growing in Crete since ancient times.
The palm forest is located in a small coastal valley, on the eastern tip of Crete next to the sea and close to Palekastro and Sitia. The forest became famous in the early 1970s when a British advert featured Vai as the place where one could experience “the taste of paradise”, if one were to bite into a coconut sweet, covered in chocolate. First rose to prominence in the 1970’s as a hippie enclave after they were turfed out of Matala. By the early 80's, the entire place was overrun by campers, leading to widespread damage and turning it into one large trash dump. Fortunately, in the 1980s Vai was designated a protected area for the conservation of Phoenix Theophrasti. Today the forest is fenced, but it can be visited when the beach is open, however camping on the beach is forbidden.
The palm forest belongs to the Toplou Monastery and is one of the largest attractions of the Mediterranean island of Crete. At the exit of the forest to the sea, there is an exotic sandy beach with fine sand. The beach is well organized and is one of the hotspots of Crete mainly because its exotic feeling with the palms almost reaching the seashore.