With the obstacles that this year has brought, travel in 2020 has become decisively more difficult, thus taking on a new meaning and garnering new appreciation. For those looking to prolong the last of the summer sun as much as possible, being prepared to face quarantine upon return, Western Crete is an ideal location for a last-minute European summer beach break, with temperatures staying pleasant throughout September and into October. However, if quarantine isn’t an option, why not get inspired for a future trip.
Despite its size, Crete still feels like an island getaway with beaches galore, a dramatic mountainous landscape, clusters of traditional villages clinging along the sides of the soaring coastline, friendly locals and unforgettable sunsets. In terms of picking which part of Crete to stay in, as its size can be overwhelming, this guide hones in on the best bits.
Where To Stay
As Crete is a popular tourist destination, staying in one of Western Crete’s more traditional corners gives greater authenticity to your experience. Try one of the small Cretan villages such as the semi-mountainous, quaint village of Vamos, only 25km from the small picturesque city of Chania. This quintessential Greek style Villa, for example, is situated in an idyllic, rustic setting on the outskirts of Vamos, offering privacy and seclusion; an ideal option considering the current pandemic. Wake up to an iced coffee on one of the balconies overlooking the pool and panoramic views of the wild, rugged surroundings, whilst listening to the sound of the cricket’s symphony and the clang of bells as livestock are herded nearby.
Elafonisi Beach and Lagoon:
As if straight out of the pages of a glossy travel magazine, Elafonisi boasts glass like turquoise water which is fringed with corners of blush pink sand, caused by the accumulation of shells. Like a cotton candy sunrise, the aquamarine water and pastel pink shoreline weave around the powder soft sand of the main beach and the separated sand island.
Getting to Elafonisi requires a steep, mountainous drive overlooking a rocky valley which, in the evening, lights up in a vivid golden haze as the sun sets. On your drive back from Elafonisi, stop off at one of the local tavernas which look right over the mountain edge. Elafonisi is well equipped with facilities and features a beach bar, toilets, parking and local stalls selling handcrafted jewellery. Sunbeds and umbrellas are readily available to hire. Do be aware that Elafonisi can get very busy, however is still definitely worth a visit as, put in the words of a local, “it is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.”
Balos Beach and Lagoon:
Standing against soaring, rocky hills, Balos offers striking natural beauty within a remote and raw setting. The twenty to thirty-minute descent by foot down the cliff edge, and back up again, which is decisively more tiring, becomes so worth it when Balos comes into view. Lining soft, milky sand, the water at Balos is a mosaic of crystal-clear swirling azure hues. It offers shallow, warm water in the enclosed lagoon that is separated from the main sea by a sandbank lined with sunbeds and umbrellas. The sea at the main section of the beach gradually becomes deeper for those who want to snorkel or visit by boat. Due to its isolated setting, the facilities at Balos are limited so taking a picnic to enjoy is recommended. Definitely take shoes suitable for walking in and make a day out of visiting Balos as the walk back up to the carpark is unbearable in the heat of the day.
If you are unable to get to Balos by car, a guided boat trip offers an unforgettable way to enjoy this slice of paradise; often including a visit to the idyllic island of Gramvousa. More information on private and public tours can be found here.
Chania Old Town and Venetian Harbourfront:
Get lost down the maze of quirky and colourful narrow streets in the old town of Chania, which are clustered with cafes, pastry shops, bars and local craft shops. Explore the bustling fourteenth century Venetian Harbour, lined with local tavernas, and lighthouse which offers sweeping harbour views.
Like Balos, to get to this hidden cove, a precarious drive down a winding cliff edge and a further scramble down a rocky mountain is required. However, the view that meets you is remarkable. Sandwiched between white, jutting cliffs, a ribbon of luminescent blue water leads out into open sea. For an adrenalin kick, the surrounding cliffs at Seitan Limania are perfect for cliff jumping. The beach is shared with friendly mountain goats which can be found balanced impressively on the cliff edge or scouring the beach for any leftover food. A popular local spot, it is an idyllic location for swimming in a pristine and unspoilt setting. Due to its immersion within nature, there are no tourist facilities at Seitan Limania, therefore taking food and water is recommended, as well as a pair of shoes suitable for walking in.
Visit Lake Kournas to experience utter serenity. Backed by rolling mountains, the lake’s enchantment lies in its lustrous and transparent emerald green and turquoise water which glistens calmly in the sunlight. Relax on the small sandy beach, swim, or hire kayaks to explore the lake and spot the small terrapin turtles which populate it. Drive less than five minutes past the turning for the lake for a roadside viewpoint opportunity which offers panoramic views of the lake. There are plenty of local tavernas which look out over the lake as well as local souvenir shops offering beautiful handcrafted ceramics.
Crete is abundant with an impressive and diverse range of monasteries to explore. Crete’s monasteries played an important role in the struggle for liberation after the Ottoman conquest in the mid-seventeenth century Cretan War, acting as places of refuge and sites of revolutionary and military organisation. The majestic Monastery of Agia Triada, within the Akrotiri Peninsula just 15km from Chania, is one of the most well-known monasteries. Charming, smaller monasteries can be found within many of the smaller villages, however. For example, the Agios Georgios Monastery in the traditional village of Vamos features terracotta coloured buildings draped in ivy and nestled within a surreal, undisturbed mountainous setting, with sound of prayer echoing through the surrounding olive gardens.
Travelling Around Western Crete
Renting a car is definitely recommended due to Crete’s size. Western Crete alone requires a car to fully explore and appreciate the diversity of what it has to offer, allowing you to stumble across undocumented hidden gems alongside popular tourist attractions.
If getting a car isn’t an option, there are many organised and private tours that can be booked to popular destinations such as Balos and Elafonisi. More information on available tours and destinations can be found here.
Top Spots For Food And Drink
Waterfront tavernas along Chania’s Venetian Harbourfront:
Head to one of the many tavernas that line the harbourfront in Chania one evening for a quintessential Greek dinner with a spectacular sunset view. Dine at the friendly Apostolis Restaurant, for example, and enjoy the traditional style seafood, complementary Raki and homemade dessert.
Athivoles Taverna in Argyroupoli’s Springs:
Enjoy the earthly paradise and tranquillity of Athivoles Taverna which is set within the folds of the mountain and structured around a natural waterfall.
Gelato nel villagio:
Located in Kalyves village (21.5km from Chania), Gelato nel villagio makes fresh tropical smoothies which can be enjoyed on Kalyves beach while the sun sets.
You can’t visit Greece without trying the famous takeout souvlaki.
As the heat of British summertime feels like a distant memory, the appeal of endless Cretan summer days magnifies. With a laidback and timeless feel, Crete’s charm lies in the hidden corners of each cliff hugging village, its boundless sun kissed sandy beaches and breathtakingly vast, rugged scenery.
Words by Laura Laycock
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