View of Toplou Monastery in the northeastern part of Crete, Greece near the famous palm beach of Vai.
cretan, toplou, religious residence, moni

© iStock

Moni Toplou

Top choice in Lasithi Province

In splendid isolation on a windswept plateau, 15th-century fortified Moni Toplou is one of the most historically significant monasteries in Crete. Its defences were tested by everyone from pirates to crusading knights to the Turks. The church brims with superb icons, although the main magnet is the intricate Lord Thou Art Great icon by celebrated Cretan artist Ioannis Kornaros. It depicts scenes from the Old and New Testaments, including Noah’s Ark, Jonah and the Whale, and Moses parting the Red Sea.

The name Toplou is derived from the Turkish word for cannon, which is what the monks used to defend themselves against pirates during Venetian times. The monastery was also repeatedly active in the cause of Cretan independence. Under the Turkish occupation a secret school operated on the premises, while during WWII resistance leaders ran an underground radio transmitter here. A small exhibit in the museum recalls this period with rifles, helmets and a field telephone. The adjacent main room displays engravings and icons.

Today the monastery is not only an attraction for fans of history, religion, art and architecture but also the largest landowner in the area and an active producer of award-winning wine and olive oil, which you can sample in a nearby tasting room (open 10.30am to 5pm Monday to Saturday).

Moni Toplou is about 15km east of Sitia. Buses can drop you at the junction of the Sitia–Palekastro road, from where you'll need to hitch or walk for 3.5km.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Lasithi Province attractions

1. Folk Museum of Palekastro


Tucked away in a backstreet and signposted from the main road, this compact and well-presented museum occupies a traditional Cretan manor house, with…

2. Kouremenos Beach

3.34 MILES

Kouremenos, about 7km south of Vaï and 3km northeast of Palekastro, is a long, grey sand-and-pebble beach with good shallow-water swimming, although it's…

3. Vaï

3.57 MILES

The beach at Vaï, 24km northeast of Sitia, is famous for its large grove of Phoenix theophrasti (Cretan date) palms. With calm, clear waters, it's one of…

4. Hiona Beach

3.87 MILES

Hiona Beach, 2.5km east of Palekastro, is a quiet sweep of of coarse sand and pebbles backed by clumps of tamarisk trees. It's overlooked by two excellent…

5. Ancient Itanos

3.91 MILES

About 3km north of Vaï, vestiges of the Graeco-Roman port of Itanos overlook a trio of beaches. Itanos was once an important settlement in eastern Crete…

6. Itanos Beaches

3.98 MILES

North of Vaï and reached on foot or by car, Itanos is a trio of small, pretty beaches watched over by the ruins of the ancient Graeco-Roman town of Itanos…

7. Petras Archaeological Site

5.97 MILES

About 2km southeast of Sitia on a low hill overlooking the sea is the site of an important Minoan settlement. You can see the remains of two houses from…

8. Sitia City Beach


Sitia's city beach has mostly greyish sand and is lapped by crystalline, kid-friendly waters. Since it extends a couple of kilometres south of the town…