Well I have just returned from a wonderful, I mean a great week on the island of Crete in Greece. Crete is the largest of the Greek islands, and it would take many days to visit it thoroughly and enjoy it as it deserves. We only had a week. During the time we spent there we were able to get a good idea of the character and essence of the island. It has spectacular beaches, not to mention the delicious cuisine and the friendliness of the Cretans.
We had been several times in Greece, always making some cultural visit in the continent and then enjoying a few days in one of the cycladic islands (of which we are in love). This time we decided to try something different. Crete is something different. The fans and regulars of the cyclades should change when visiting this island, because although it is clear that it is totally Greek, it is another Greece.
We arrived in Heraklion airport at 8 o'clock in the evening after a three-hour stopover in Athens. This time we opted not to check in and we went with two small backpacks. Upon arrival we were waiting for an employee of the rental cars in Crete. I do not remember what it was, but it was small, simple, with four doors, air conditioning, and in good condition.
He explained how to get to the hotel. Despite his explanations and those of the owner of the hotel (which we had printed), being at night, in a new place, with poor signage and poor lighting, we got lost. In Crete (I think in Greece in general) the indications are approximate but not exact. In addition, sometimes a graffiti covers them, which makes them difficult to read.
Between ignorance, nerves and failures, it cost us to get to the hotel. But we arrived. We go for dinner, and enjoyed a Cretan salad. It is similar to the Greek but with a lighter cheese than feta and bread pieces like those of the Dakos. We also have peppers stuffed with cheese, mushrooms and also lamb baked with potatoes.
In dessert we have watermelon all washed down with the white wine of the house. We stayed for a while chatting with other hotel guests who shared a table with us before going to sleep. When the night fell, we went to the villa and after having a beer on the terrace of the house in the middle of the field with the starry sky and with the only noise of the cowbells of the goats and the leaves whipped by the wind, we went to sleep.
We got up and went to breakfast in an area of the villa under fig trees and with a super bucolic landscape with goats, carob trees and mountains. The truth is that it is very relaxing, and nothing better to start the day.
After a great breakfast, we headed to Heraklion. First we visited the archaeological museum because they had recommended not to go to the palace of Knossos in the morning. Apparently, every day cruises arrive at the island. Most cruise passengers take advantage of the few hours they have on the island to visit the palace, which in the mornings is always full.
In the archaeological museum we bought the ticket that allows entry to the archaeological museum and the palace of Knossos. If they are purchased separately it is more expensive, although I do not remember how much.
The museum is very interesting and recommendable. It exhibits finds that were in Crete from the Neolithic period to the Greco-Roman period. It is unique thanks to the amount of pieces that there are of the Minoan civilization. I was surprised because what is known above all is classical Greece, but at least I knew very little about Minoan civilization. I realize how important it was for the development of later civilizations.
Then we went for a quick tour of the mall. We ate something (quick too), and as it was still early we decided to visit the historical museum of Crete, which we had been recommended. My favorite was the area dedicated to the World War II, in which the Cretans actively participated.
And it was time to go to the palace of Knossos. It is outside Heraklion, about 15 minutes by car south of the city. It is easy to reach and well signposted. There is a very spacious free parking next to the palace.
It was 4 in the afternoon. We had been recommended that we go at 5 because then there are fewer people and the light at that time is very nice to take photographs. We arrived before. There were very few visitors (in fact from 5 o'clock more people began to arrive). In some areas we were completely alone.
We could enjoy the sound of cicadas singing under the trees, the peace of the place. We imagine how they should have been the different areas and rooms of the palace that is now in ruins. We take a guide because although we get an idea of what it must have been and there are areas that are rebuilt and are of great beauty. Although not as impressive as the Acropolis or Delphi, we loved it. For us it was one of the special moments of the trip.
After breakfast we collected our things and left for Chania. We had to go through Heraklion. So we took the opportunity to take pictures of the port. The city is not pretty. We found it quite chaotic, with many neglected buildings, and although the harbor area is not bad, we did not like it very much.
Along the way we found several beaches of golden sand, some very large, and even though it was summer they were quite empty. We stop in one to take pictures and continue until we reach Rethymno, which is an hour and a half from Heraklion. There we took a walk around the port and the small streets with small shops and we stayed to eat. The port is cute and it was nice to walk through the streets, but we did not have time to see more.
We continued the journey and stopped at a small village that a friend had recommended in Georgioupolis. It is a beautiful fishing village, with a small port and beach. There were enough people, and it shows that it is touristy. There is also a hermitage on an island that can be accessed by a path. We walked for a while and returned to the car to continue with our route.
We arrived at Chania at sunset. At first we were scared a bit because the entrance area looks like Heraklion 2, with buildings without grace, and a lot of traffic. As Rethymnon had not excited us either, we thought that in Crete we would not find any place that would make us fall in love.
Luckily we were very wrong, because we changed our mind as soon as we arrived at the Venetian port, after having left things at the hotel. The port of Chania is beautiful, elegant, majestic even, with buildings that are old residences restored full of charm. In some we can see the Ottoman influence and is very lively in summer with its cafes and restaurants. We see a long spike ending in a Venetian lighthouse.
We stayed for dinner in the same port, in a restaurant recommended by a travel guide and we liked it very much. We ate Cretan salad, an exquisite octopus, swordfish, beer, water and wine from the house. We were given desserts and raki as in the other restaurants where we were. Here were grapes, also candied grapes with honey and some typical Cretan pastries.
The first thing we did in the morning was to go around the central market, which is in front of the hotel. It is small, and although there are some interesting stalls, it is very touristic because there are also many souvenir shops. For our taste it is dispensable.
Then we took the car and went on a trip to the Akrotiri peninsula, which is very close to Chania. The idea was to visit the Agia Triada monastery, which we had been recommended. It is a very beautiful and well-kept monastery, with earthy tones, with cypresses and orange trees at the entrance. It was built in the seventeenth century, is of Byzantine style and has three domes, the church and two chapels.
There we saw several monks who in theory cannot be photographed. I could not resist taking a photo when one came from far. It is highly recommended and as religious buildings is silent and relaxing. We were there in the morning, but it seems that the afternoon lights give it a reddish tone that makes it especially photogenic.
A little further, about 2 kilometers, is in Gouverneto monastery. We also went but could not see inside because it was under construction. The landscape of the area is beautiful with the golden hue of the olive groves, and the green of the vineyards. The colorful bushes that appear along the way contrast with the gray of the stones. We thought we would find an arid and monotonous landscape on the island and we were surprised by how varied and colorful it is.
It was almost noon when we decided to go for a swim. We realized that we had left our towels at the hotel, and we ended up buying some mats. First we tried Marathi beach but it was quite crowded, so we went to Loutraki, where there were less people.
The water of the Aegean is a wonder even on a simple beach with gray sand like Loutraki is clean, with a beautiful blue and a perfect temperature. We were hungry and we had seen restaurants in Marathi looking good. So we went back (the two beaches are very close) and we ate tzatziki, chips (the day before we had seen some Greeks eating them and we imitated them. We also have fresh sardines and squid, beer, Coca-Cola and water. They gave us fruit and raki for dessert.
We returned to the hotel, showered, and took a walk around the port. Then we walked through the streets behind the harbor, which are full of small restaurants, some very nice. We chose one at random, where we had dinner with dolmades, pork stew, ice cream, wine, beer and water. Another great and complete day comes to an end in the beautiful Crete.
In principle, our idea was to visit the area of Lefka Ori, which apparently has beautiful landscapes and towns, and on the map it does not seem very far. But when we asked at the reception of the hotel to know where we could go, we were advised against it because of how long it takes to arrive (and then we have to go back).
I have already commented that the roads are not very well connected in Crete. 50 kilometers can become 150 if you drive by road. And Lefka Ori, who had seemed so close to us, is a good three hours from Chania. Having to forget our idea, we asked if there were traditional villages in the area to go for a walk.
The truth is that the villages we visited did not seem like anything out of the world. Instead the landscape surprised us again and we enjoyed some lovely moments. We headed first towards the east, after passing in front of the Akrotiri peninsula, and stopped at Kalives, a town on the beach. The sea was choppy and we had to get away from the shore to avoid getting wet when we photographed it.
Then we went to Vamos, where we stopped to have a drink in a bar that we thought was typical and pleasant. We ordered two glasses of white wine and they gave us a plate with olives, cheese, sweet ham and tomatoes. We were there for a while chatting with the owner of the bar, surrounded by locals and enjoying a while lost in a village in the middle of Crete where the only tourists were us.
After taking a walk through the village we went to Vrises and along the road (about 2 kilometers from Vamos) we stopped at a church, small but charming, that had once had an oil factory. We visited the interior of the church, the neglected garden and the ruins of what had been the factory.
Then we went back to Chania, to Armeni, where we took a little walk and stopped to eat on the terrace of the tavern. We have a Cretan salad that we could not finish, and that was the smaller size, and a delicious moussaka made by the innkeeper's mother. We also have beer pastries and ice cream, and the raki, they gave to us.
We returned to the hotel, and after resting for a while we took another good walk through the port of Chania until nightfall. Then went to dinner at a very special restaurant that had recommended a friend and we had booked. It is a couple of kilometers from Chania and we took a taxi because we did not know if we would go back and forth.
When you arrive we see a small house with a door. We enter and it turns out that the restaurant is outdoors. I have seen that there are also tables inside, but at least that night everyone was out on a private beach and all the tables are in the same arena. Ours was by the sea and it is wonderful to have dinner there with the sea and quiet atmosphere. We love the lights of the port of Chania in the background, and the quality of the food.
First we ordered taramosalata and fresh prawns, and second they showed us the fish they had of the day. We ordered one called cod, a mix between hake and sea bass. They cooked it on the grill and it was exquisite. The Cretan white wine was delicious. It is the most expensive restaurant we went to on the island, but it was unforgettable. I do not have pictures of the evening.
We are glad we asked for a taxi to go and return because although Thalassino Ageri is very close to Chania, it is a bit messy to arrive and park there. Also because after that dinner it was wonderful to enjoy the way back without stress and remembering how good we had been.
The day dawned cloudy and windy and the temperature had dropped. After breakfast we went to the port to take some pictures. I wanted to see it in the morning because until then we had always walked there at dusk or at night. I wanted to have another perspective of that wonderful corner of Crete.
To our surprise, although there were a lot fewer people, we saw a lot of entertainment, especially for the vans and carts that passed with supplies for hotels, restaurants and cafes. We took pictures of the beautiful Venetian buildings threatened by the clouds and with the sea moved at their feet, and also of the lighthouse. The light was very beautiful and it helped to make the photos look better.
When we finished, we took the car to do one of the excursions that most appealed to us on the trip. We go to the Elafonisos beach, of which we had read wonders (even some years it has entered the ranking of the most beautiful beaches in the world). It is about two hours from Chania, so it was going to be a full day excursion.
There are two ways to get there: along the coast or along the main road. We wanted to go for this one because it was more comfortable and faster, but once again the signs confused us and we ended up on the coastal road. The towns and their beaches followed each other without ceasing, one after the other.
We could see that they are tourist destinations because of the people and the amount of souvenir shops that you found. When I saw the type of buildings and how everything was structured there, I remembered the towns of the Costa Brava.
There came a time when we finally found a detour to the National road and took it. After a while the signs began to appear indicating the direction to reach Elafonissi and from there there was no stop. Every time a roundabout or a detour appeared, and it was signposted how to get to the beach.
The road was long, with small roads of only two lanes, one for each direction, but we did not do anything tiring because the landscapes were beautiful (once more). We saw goats, went through mountains, hermitages, villages, and we were stopping whenever we could to take pictures.
We were so happy that it took us a while to realize that we were running out of gas. As we had passed through many gas stations we thought there would be others in the rest of the way and we opted to go a little further. But when we were close to the beach we saw that we had not passed any time and decided to ask.
We stopped at a restaurant, and nervous, and there we were told that there was no gas station until the beach. It was better to go back to Elos. We got very nervous because we had passed through that town 20 minutes before and we did not know if we would have enough gas to get there, but there was no other way but to try it.
We passed all the way to Elos (which was uphill and full of curves) in absolute silence, and thinking that we would have to walk a few kilometers because we were afraid that we would not arrive with the car. Finally we did arrive! We fill the deposit and turn it down, now calm and happy.
We enter the area of the beach. We go down a very dusty road. We passed a kind of hotel and arrived at the parking lot. My first impression was of horror because that was huge. There were several areas to leave the car (parking is free), paths to access the beach and posters with instructions, explanations and prohibitions.
I thought it would be like a theme park and we would find hordes of bathers on the other side of the bushes that separated the parking lot from the beach. Luckily it was not like that, although it is not a hidden and idyllic little beach that few people know. Despite everything we loved it.
At the entrance there was an area with hammocks and umbrellas. There are also toilets, booths to change and a couple of stalls where you can buy food and drink. They are no tables and chairs, only a bar with food, a fridge with drinks and some guys attending the public. We bought a ham and cheese sandwich, a spinach pie, a beer and a Coca-Cola.
The place is huge and, apart from what I just explained, the rest is a beach of fine sand and crystal clear water. The beach consists of a succession of smaller beaches that I did not get to see at all, although I took a walk to see and photograph some of them. In the center and next to the parking lot, as I have already mentioned, there is the food area, and hammocks.
To the right as well as to the left there is a lot of pink or golden sand, gray stone and sea of different shades of turquoise. The sea is like a pool, transparent, still and of a slightly cool temperature at the beginning. After a short time we appreciate because it gives more clean feeling. It is ideal to go with children because you have to walk a good distance to cover you and you can even access walking to an island.
We spent a few hours flying by and then we returned along the same roads with goats and, this time, we took the main road without any mistakes. We arrived at the hotel. We took a shower, and walk through the port and dined in a restaurant that seemed very normal. I do not remember the name or what we ordered, and I do not have the card either. I do not know if it was not special or because at that point we were more than accustomed to the great Cretan food and we were not surprised.
It was our last day in Crete, and although we originally planned to take a trip, we were a little tired. Also, the next day we were going to get up early to go home with everything that involves flights, airports and the car. Therefore we decided to take the day of relaxation and dedicate it to shopping and little else.
The truth is that I thought that at that point walking for the umpteenth time for Chania would be somewhat boring, but we expected a surprise. We went down to the port through the same area of alleyways with small shops and restaurants, with the idea of buying the gifts we would bring to the family.
We arrived at the port, and had a coffee while we see the sea. Then we decided to walk through the area that was on the other side of the port and that we had not yet seen and that was our surprise. We had walked through that area of the port (going down to the left) but not through the narrow streets that were in the interior. We discovered new and more beautiful shops than we had seen before, and also new restaurants.
We liked it so much that we bought everything there. We stayed to eat at a restaurant recommended a couple of Canadians (we met at the hotel in Heraklion) and we found by chance. We get a fusion between Cretan and Arabic food. We ate some zucchini very different from those we had tasted until then, and also moussaka. We drank water, beer and wine.
We rested for a while, went out to take another walk and have a drink, and then we returned to organize the suitcases. We had a light dinner at the hotel and went to bed early because the alarm clock would ring at 4.30.
The return was quick because we only made an hour's stop in Athens, and since we were very sleepy, we slept a good part of the trip. At 12.00 we entered the house.
In conclusion, I will simply say that I do not know what Greece has, but this wonderful country always surprises me and makes me fall in love. At the same time when I am there I feel at home. There are other places that I have loved, of course, and I wish I could travel to all corners of the world. As far as Greece is concerned, although I have already visited it five times, I always want to go back and I hope I can do it a few more times.
It has been a pleasure to write this Crete travel blog. I started doing it because I saw that there were not too many blogs about Crete. I thought I could help a little by offering my point of view about what I had lived on the island.