The travel corridor announced mid-October between the UK and Crete allowed for a brief family escape to a Crete without the crowds. It was perfect timing for Sea Sand and Sun ahead of what is shaping up to be a very looong winter. It also gave me a chance to experience this big island without the crowds. Here are some of my notes.
CRETE WITHOUT THE CROWDS
Crete has a lot to offer: pretty beaches of course – some hidden in bays with sand or pebbles, others very long and sandy – but it also has ancient Greek and Roman sites, dramatic landscapes of cliffs and mountains, hiking trails in deep gorges, sleepy villages up steep roads, a fascinating history melting pot of Byzantine, Arabs, Greeks, Romans, Venetians with mosques, churches, synagogues… And grilled octopus. Lots of grilled octopus (lunch, dinner, repeat).
Best hotels for sweet dreams
Crete has two airports – Heraklion’s the biggest, and Chania’s in the second largest city. Chania is to the West of the island and perhaps less congested as a city. It’s also renowned for its atmospheric harbour and historical center full of little cobble stone streets.
We spent a week at Metohi Kindelis near Chania, and couldn’t have hoped for better hospitality in these difficult times. The residence has been in the Kindelis family for over 100 years, yet it was built in the 16th century when the Venetians where in Crete. Today, it’s a large organic farm, one of the largest avocado producers on the island, and it provides 3 separate cottages each with its own private pool and access. It’s the Greek answer to the wonderful Italian concept of agro-tourism, executed with perfect attention to details by Danai, a very stylish, soft spoken, always smiling Cretan woman who grew up in Metohi Kindelis and speaks Spanish, English and French very fluently.
We stayed in Danae cottage which was just right for a family of five – if you don’t mind all the children sleeping on the sofas. They loved the daily visit of the resident cats, running barefoot in the grass and even enjoyed (not loved!) doing homework under the canopy by the pool.
We had long leisurely breakfast prepared with everything that Danai brought us daily, thick Greek yoghurt but also the most delicious honey, all sorts of cheese, and fruit salads made fresh with the produce of the farm. Metohi Kindelis is not the most obvious choice for families as it’s not a serviced hotel, it’s in a location that some will find a little off, and the steep staircases might not be for young children, but if you appreciate the simple beauty of authentic surroundings, then you’ll love it as much as we did. This is most definitely the Crete without the crowds.
Otherwise, Ammos is also a very nice hotel option, especially for families with young children. Beautifully decorated by a local Cretan man with exquisite taste and a passion for chairs (hence a renowned collection!), it’s colourful, by the water, easy going and gets booked a long time in advance.
For pure luxury, Domes Zeen Chania is a completely different proposition, with a gigantic and magnificent pool and bedrooms and suites with interiors that mix modernity with raw materials quite effortlessly. It’s now part of the Marriott Group of hotels which I was surprised to discover as it feels very independent and stylish.
I have many more addresses up my sleeve so get in touch and I can book one of those with some of my sweet benefits.
SEA SAND SUN
Everyone comes for the beach, so let’s start talking about that. What a surprise to swim in a relatively warm sea late October! The long chairs were still out on many beaches, but all to ourselves. Download the app Cretan Beaches for free if you want the full travel intel. Here’s a summary of our outings:
For a full day out:
Head to Falassarna, preferably to one of the small bays to the right of the main beach if you want to be secluded, or head to the heart of the long beach if you wish to rent surf boards, body boards etc. If you stay until late in the day, you can drive to the village of Sfinari 15minutes away and see the sunset from one of the fish tavernas on the beautiful, rocky beach. And if you make it on time for lunch, Captain Nicolas is your taverna! feet in the sand, grilled sardines on the table, it doesn’t get much Creter than that:)
A day at Elafonissi Beach – it’s one of the most famous on the island, for its pink sand, though its also very crowded in high season, so it’s best to head there late in the day for the sunset when everything turns pink. If the beach is too crowded, the sweet Danai advised us to drive 15 more minutes to the South, and go to Kedrodasos, a special landscape with juniper trees on the sand and shiny rocks to lie on and sunbathe.
If you like pebble beaches, Gialiskari in Paleochora and Ravdoucha close to Kolibri; also Agios Pavlos in Sfakia, an area with many beautiful pebble beaches – and the delicious restaurant that I mention below.
Beaches near Chania:
Marathi Beach is not far from the city of Chania, there are couple of tavernas on the beach and the waters are nice-the beach can be a little crowded but not on an October Monday. Then, near Marathi there are also Stavros and Kalathas both with tavernas.
All the beaches on the Akrotiri peninsula (near the airport) could be combined with a visit to the Monastery of Agia Triada and/or Gouverneto both Venetian monasteries where the monks produce their own olive oil, wine and soaps. A beautiful hike takes you down to Gouverneto Monastery, the scenic cave and continues till you reach the sea. You can easily combine this with the other beaches of the Akrotiri peninsula.
Stand Up Paddle and cycle boats are available to rent for a few hours of fun as the sea is very calm in those bays.
Another beach idea near Chania is in the opposite direction, towards Falassarna to the beach of Ravdoucha. It is a small beach with pebbles – not sand – and a taverna above.
- Evgonia: It’s a delicious taverna conveniently located near Metohi Kindelis.
- Thalassino Ageri: for evening outdoor dinner of mostly fish dishes in a beautiful setting.
- Pyrofani: in Souda just outside Chania, for delicious fish almost feet in the sand.
- Kouzina EPe: an institution for easy fast and yummy food open from 12-6pm in the heart of Chania
- Pan e Vin: a delicious Italian restaurant to catch up on pizza and pasta but it hasn’t reopen since lockdown so do check first.
- Soulis: for a delicious dinner in the harbor, in a modern and stylish setting, easy with the children.
- Yannoulis ice cream made of traditional recipes with goat milk, you’ll find them in several spots.
- Kalitsounia: it’s a Cretan cheese herb pie to take away, a sort of empanadas, yummy.
- Bakery: there are many bakeries to recommend but the one of the Drandaki sisters seem to rate high consistently
- A must visit, out of the way, is Chez Kostas in the little sleepy village of Maza. This was possibly one of our favourite meal, a real homecoming treat on the terrace, super low key, as if invited to the house of a local family. The wife in the kitchen, the daughters helping Kostas for the service. And seating right in front of an incredible gem: a 700 years old church of Ayios Nikolaos. Stunning inside.
- In Sfakia on the Lybian sea: Livikon Taverna for the most delicious lunch by the sea with a huge covered terrace. Africa is 300km away but somehow I could feel it, see it far away in the horizon. Loved visiting this side of the island after our long hike in
Useful glossary from my foodie Cretan friend Xanthie over at Taste Gurus
Souvlaki (or pita gyros) – Some say the best souvlaki are the dirtiest in which case the star would be Oasis on Voloudakidon str 4, but some prefer a place with more options called “S’ anamena Karvouna” open until late (6am)
Kronos pastry shop – The best loukoumades, if you don’t mind the sugar coma that will follow. They are little pieces of fried dough tossed in syrup and topped with cinnamon. They are crispy/crunchy on the outside, the syrup pools on the inside, so they explode with syrupy goodness in your mouth.
Bougatsa Iordanis – This place is an institution. Bougatsa is something you can only get in Chania. It is flaky filo filled with fresh myzithra cheese. It comes hot out of the oven when you order it. They cut it into bite size pieces and put it on an aluminum plate and ask you if you want it sweet or salty. If salty, they give it to you plain; if sweet they sprinkle sugar. Open at 6am for early birds, close at 2pm.
WORTH GETTING IN THE CAR FOR:
The ancient site of Aptera
Ancient Aptera is one of the most important city states of Crete during ancient times. It dominates the bay of Souda – and it just happens that the mother of Danai is an archeologist and was a key member of the team that uncovered Aptera over the years. The site is very interesting as it has been an active city from the 8th century BC up to the 4th AD in the Roman Times. Many centuries later a Venetian Monastery was built in the area. Then during the early Ottoman Occupation of the island a fortress overlooking the Souda bay was built in the outskirts of the Ancient city.
Hiking the Imbros gorge
It’s a deep and stunning gorge in the South of the island. Our little Lior who is 8 did it fine, with some complaints towards the end – it’s a total of 3 to 4hours (c. 7km) and a great alternative to the much trickier Samaria Gorge which requires a full day of hiking. You can hike it it on your own, preferably north to south as it;’s easier that way, though we really enjoyed the company of our guide Natalia who taught us a lot about the flora around us and they fascinating history of the island.
The Botanical Gardens would be a very pleasant visit on a hot day. We didn’t get to go. Also, Winery Dourakis produces a few delicious organic wines served in some of the best restaurants in town. We didn’t visit the winery but certainly tasted the wines.
A morning with ceramicist Manousos Chalkiadakis
Book ahead to visit the studio of Manousos Chalkiadakis . He is one of the most important Greek ceramicists and a visit provides for a very immersive excursion to his beautiful house and atelier in the traditional village of Paidochori. Manousos is very talented, soft spoken and gives ceramics classes to children and adults under the vine in his garden. You’re surrounded by cats and the most beautiful views all the way to the sea. His work has been exhibited in many galleries in Greece and abroad and it is really quite unique. If you get to see the inside of his house, it’s like stepping into a World of Interiors feature. Hmm…makes me think I might pitch it!
Kalo Mina as they say in Greece, which means Happy month. Because we’re already the First of December and this means we are one month closer to 2021 when we all hope and wish and long for better (travel among other) NEWS!