Blue Water and Fresh Orange Juice at Every Turn in Western Crete


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Europe » Greece » Crete
August 31st 2016
Published: September 29th 2016
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Great beaches. Fresh orange juice everywhere. A big gorge in the middle. This is Crete. If you like to eat and don’t mind beautiful beaches and crystal clear turquoise water then this is a good place to visit. On my third visit to the island it was off to some familiar places and time to explore some new places. Even after three visits I have yet to make it to the central or eastern part of the island. Being based in Chania is just too good. Our itinerary was one night in Chania, then two nights in Loutro, and then back to Chania for 3 nights.

Sights

Our first destination was the Samaria Gorge. We took the second bus leaving from Chania in the morning (7:45am) along with a bus load full of other hikers. This was my second time hiking the Gorge and I noticed far more people on the trail. In fact, the whole hike was a bit crowded. The first section of the trail is tough on your legs as it is a steep downhill. Then the hike levels off as it goes through the Gorge and the landscape is beautiful. The hike is 16km with no place to get food, only water at a couple stops, so make sure to bring your own. The payoff at the end of the hike is the beach at Agia Roumeli where you can cool off in the water or grab a cold drink in the town.

At this point most people board the ferry boat, ride to Hora Sfakion, and then take a bus back to Chania or other town. As in my first trip we got off hallway in Loutro, a beautiful little village of white-washed buildings sitting on clear blue waters. There are no cars in Loutro, only restaurants, inns, and a few houses for locals. The prime attraction is the slow pace, sun, and ability to jump in and swim from anywhere on the small bay. This is really the idyllic Greece. We rented a kayak during the one full day that we were there and travelled over to Sweetwater Beach. Sweetwater is about a ½ hour paddle around the coast from Loutro and awaits with a nice beach and handy café sitting out in the water. In fact you can even approach it from the water and climb up to get the cold beverage of your choice. During my first visit to Loutro I hiked to both Sweetwater and Phoenix, a small village located just up and over the crest behind Loutro.

After a ferry ride to Hora Sfakion we took a scenic bus ride to Rethymno. The bus winds its way up from the coast into the mountains with some majestic views of the twisting road below. I had yet to visit Rethymno and we only had ½ a day available on this trip. It was listed as a top destination in the travel guides so we thought we would check it out. The views of the coast from the bus coming in were reminiscent of those in Hawaii with big surf. The old town is dominated by a fortress that we did not have time to tour. Rethymno is also known for its small harbor and stone lighthouse.

It was nice to wonder for a bit in the old town of Rethymno, however I was glad that we had chosen to stay in Chania. Basing yourself in Chania provides you with an even more impressive old town and stone lighthouse, with an extensive and lively restaurant scene, and a convenient location to get to the scenic west coast and best beaches in Crete. One of the best parts of visiting Chania is simply to opportunity to wonder around the alleyways of its old town. And then a walk out to the lighthouse is also nice, both at night and during the day.

One very nice day outing took us to Elafonissi Beach and a drive up the west coast. Elafonissi is an extensive set of beaches where you hang out with the crowds or find a more secluded place to swim. After scouting the area a bit we settled on the beach area just over the crest of the high point where there were less people and stunning shallow turquoise water that extended far off the beach. This beach is famous for its pink sand although you can mostly just see this at the water’s edge. The beauty and calmness of the water and high quality beach area certainly rates as one of the best swimming beaches that I have been too, not to mention one of the best for its stunning views.

One of the best parts of going to Elafonissi Beach is the opportunity to drive down through the island and then back up the west coast. It is pleasant to travel through the small villages on the way and then enjoy the coastal views on the way back up to Chania. I would highly recommend timing your travel back up the coast near sunset. We were very fortunate to get the recommendation to stop in Sfinari for dinner. There we drove down to the beach and went to Thalami, one of two restaurants sitting at the edge of the beach with stunning views of the sunset. We dined on whitefish while watching the sun go down over the cliffs and water.

On another day we visited Falassarna Beach also on the West Coast. The views driving down on to Falassarna are impressive. This is another nice beach but with waters that are a bit more rough. I really wanted to get to Balos Beach but I had to save it for next time, and give me a reason to return.

On our last day before returning our rental car we stopped for a few hours in Marathi Beach. I would recommend this as a great stop before existing Crete as it is near the airport and offers nice swimming along with a number of beach-side restaurants. The beach areas here aren’t as stunning as Elafonissi or Falassarna but the water is still and crystal clear.

Accommodation

We stayed at Hotel Idramon next to the main church in the heart of Chania for the first night. It is not a place that I would particularly recommend. Our stay in Loutro was great and very affordable at the Scirocco Rooms. Scirocco is family run and offers simple clean rooms with amazing views over the water. And while not having a full-fledged restaurant below like many of the hotels their breakfast sandwiches and mixed fruit and orange juice is quite good. For our last three nights in Chania we stayed at the Splanzia Boutique Hotel. I had a great experience staying there during a conference a few years back and decided to return to see Niko and Ioannis, the owners of the joint. There they have nicely refurnished rooms with nice lighting and amazing breakfasts. Also the hotel is in a great location in the Splanzia neighborhood near many good restaurants and in a great location to explore Chania.

Food

The food should be a primary reason to visit Crete. There are very few places that I have visited that can rival Crete for eating. First, there is fresh orange juice at every turn on the island and it is very affordable. We drank ourselves silly on orange juice. Also, honey is very big in Crete and is offered in the villages, markets, and along the roads. Mesogiako in the Splanzia neighborhood of Chania was definitely a favorite. After visiting there on multiple occasions during my last visit it was the first place we headed to for dinner. The alleyway that houses Mesogiako is filled with other restaurants and goes from being a ghost town during the day to a lively and crowded spot by 9-10pm at night. I would recommend their pork tenderloin dinner and also the amazing grilled halloumi cheese. In Chania we also very much enjoyed Chrisostomos Restaurant that served up very good lamb. Both of these places were also very affordable. The other restaurant that stands out was Thalami in Sfinari where we dined on the beach at sunset. Even after a second visit to Loutro I am unable to recommend a really good restaurant after trying about 4-5 different ones. The food isn’t bad but not up to the standards of Chania. Finally, for ice cream a must stop in Rethymno is Angeli Gelato that serves up many good flavors. In Chania, the best ice cream we tried ironically was out of a freezer in a bakery in Splanzia. I don’t know the English translation of the name but it was offered up in a number of flavors and was made with goat milk. I believed we tried at least 3 flavors, all of which were very good.


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