I started an amazing trip in Crete covering the North part of the island. I bought my flight tickets in and out. Anything else was on the paper. Planning a trip in Crete is not as as easy as I thought. This is a big island, much bigger than I have foreseen.
In the northern side of the island I have used mostly the public bus transportation system. A wide network run by KTEL, that I found reliable and quick, beside quite economic.
I spent the first week satisfying my cultural needs, and a visit to Knossos was on top of my list. I was also surprised by the beauty of the main cities and towns in the island (you can read more here on where to stay in Crete), beside the remoteness of the monasteries, of which the Paliani one was most probably my favorite.
I spent an afternoon there, visiting the site and talking with the local people. My broken Greek did kick in and it was much appreciated by the locals. English is widely spoken in the island (once under the British Empire) but I guess we all love to communicate with our own language
It was time to move on and visit the southern part of the island (see map at the bottom of the post with all of the trip details)
Indeed! The south coast is magical. One of the main reason is the limited number of options you have to access it. Well, let’s say there is only one, by ferry.
But before starting the ferry trip I took the opportunity to visit two places in the south coast that I had in my bucket list, for which access was actually better from Chania. These are Elafonisi Beach and Samaria Gorge.
These two destinations are very popular and there are plenty of agencies in Chania that organise daily trips. I usually love to take my time, it’s not rare that I like more the trip than the actual destination. I decided to rent a scooter for one day and ride to Elafonisi Beach.
The roads are really amazing, through wide canyons and refreshing gorges. I drove through tunnels that were looking like excavated and carved by hand (and most probably they are). Taking my time through the olive trees fields and the old bridges that were built through the medieval era.
Eventually I arrived to Elafonisi Beach. It was already hot by the time I was there and I was really looking forward to a swim. As soon as I drove down the hill I saw a beautiful landscape with a big contrast between the blue and azure colours of the sea and the orange and green of the land around this bay. I was really open mouth riding my scooter through the last bends that took me to the beach, till……
……well, till I arrived to the parking space. It was crowded to say the least. Parking a scooter is never a problem however finding a beach umbrella was. Spending hours under the sun was not my priority. I did not want to finish the day as a lobster.
It was early July and the beach was full. I can’t imagine what can be in August, peak season. I had my swim, I eventually found some shadow under a tree however that sense of remoteness I experienced in most of the island was definitely not there.
I always wonder if it’s better to stay in a beautiful renowned beach but crowded or in a less fantastic beach, however beautiful, but without literally that elbow to elbow feeling. I am most probably for the second option.
It is said by many people that the Samaria is the longest gorge in Europe. Although it is not quite true (there is a longer one called Gorges du Verdon in the south of France) it is indeed a long one, with 13 km of National Park and another 3km to the village of Agia Roumeli where you can take the ferry (or go back by foot 🙂 )
It is a full day of walking, a memorable day as the gorge is really unique.
I would probably suggest to stay in Chania and do it from there, although you will end your walk on the south coast.
There are essentially two options:
I decided to go for the organised tour. I am not usually in organised tours, however the idea to take with me the backpack of 15kg through the gorge was definitely not an option! I also had another problem. I did not have proper trekking shoes but I though it was not a major issue (a clear mistake!!)
Browse through the agencies in the streets, from the bust station to the main new square (just few hundreds meters). Select the cheapest one. There is only one tour operator and many brokers at the end. It’s quite economic; the difference between the agencies is in the 10-20% range, up to 5 euros or more. I bought my from the agency in front of the bus station, just because she was very chatty :).
Mistake #1 of my Crete trip. Lack of proper trekking shoes. I am quite fit and I do not usually have problems in trekking, riding or any sort of aerobic sport. This time my feet screamed at me. You start the gorge at an altitude of 1230m and, well, you finish at sea level obviously. A long descend in a rocky path where you need sturdy soles, which was not my case.
I suffered for the last 5km and for the next two days. Never again underestimate proper shoes for trekking! It did not help that I was not the only one with the same problem LOL
We began the trip in 2 buses. Once on the Omalos plateau I decided to leave everybody going and seat for around 5 minutes at the start of the descend. I was almost alone at the end. What a great day. I took my time for the photos. I visited the inhabited villages on route, where I met other people. I arrived to the highlight of the day, the very narrow passage called The Gate where the two sides of the gorge almost kiss each other.
I was said that the Samaria Gorge may be crowded and probably it is if you rush with the other 100 people that all leave at the same time. I was almost on my own. There is no way you can get lost, there is only one way down, very very easy.
If The Gate was the major highlight of the trekking, Agia Roumeli beach was definitely the best reward I could think of. The clear water of the Libyan see was so refreshing. I think I spent half an hour in the sea to take down the hot temperature of my body.
Once the ferry arrived the village almost emptied and we all went back to Chania. Spending a night there would have been gorgeous but the idea to take with me an additional 15kg without proper shoes was just horrendous.
With two weeks in Crete, planning a trip through the south coast by ferry should be in anybody’s bucket list. The villages of the south coast are accessible only via ferries or water taxi. Remote communities based on fishing, during the winter, and tourism, during the summer.
You take the ferry from Palaiochora, the town where you can arrive from Chania by KTEL bus. I decided to hop through the coastal villages till Hora Sfakion, where I could catch another bus and go back to Heraklion for my flight.
The first stop is Sougia, than comes Agia Roumeli (once again), Loutro and finally Hora Sfakion.
My favorite one is definitely Loutro. Quite remote however still few taverns and pensions to sleep and eat. I could stay at the local beach to read my book or adventure through the coast to other remote beaches. Glika Nera (sweet water) was my favorite one. The beach was made of small stones and fresh water was coming from underneath, very refreshing.
Hora Sfakion is also another smallish remote town. KTEL buses are available here to Heraklion. Again plenty of beach options (as the featured image, on top of the post).
Mistake #2 of my Crete trip. I decided to book a day trip by ferry to Gavdos Island, the southern most European island. This is a hippy heaven and I could not miss it. I was said by the ticket seller that the trip is just few hours. Maybe, but delays are always there and I ended up spending much more time on the ferry than on the island itself. Not worthy.
The few hours I spent in Gavdos were interesting but it deserves at least a week.
Again another remote beach, again another well know beach in the bucket list of many people.
Why you should come here?
After my experience in Elafonisi I though I should not visit again another world-known beach. However as everything I promise to myself, I decided to give it a go.
I was in Rethimno and I rented a scooter and decided to leave very early in the morning. It’s only 30km but very windy road. When I arrived there I was not alone however it was not crowded. You can access from two sides, I decided to go from the top (see map below for more details). There is actually an organised parking.
I walked down and there was a spectacle in front of my eyes. A small gorge full of palms, all under the Preveli monastery. It’s almost like a nature made botanical garden with the own micro environment.
Most of the people arrive here in the early afternoon, so I had plenty of time to enjoy it by myself.
Most definitely it is not enough! I think I was able to see only a small part of the island and there is much more to discover. I will be back.
In saying that two weeks give for sure a good view of Crete and a great time to enjoy the places and the spectacular food!!
Look at the map below to help you in your planning and remember to have a look to the guide for the North Coast of Creete :D.