We went to Crete to celebrate my 30's birthday. And what better way to celebrate than with your loved one, friends, beach and sun? There is so much to see in Crete that I feel that this is not a very fair assessment of this gorgeous island. We went to centre and west part of Crete so apologies for the lover of the East part.
Where to go:
We arrived in Heraklion and rented a car. Here is the itinerary: Heraklion, Matala Beach, Chania and then back to Heraklion. We stayed one night in Heraklion and all the others in Chania. Wouldn't have done differently apart from going to Matala. Too far and not worth it in my opinion. You will see. Abraham says it is important to mention that we (he) rented the car with Argus Car hire. It is a bit dodgy but it is way cheaper and works just as well as the main stream ones.
Heraklion: it is a port town with the venetian pier and pedestrian roads. Quite nice but not the place to spend too long. We stayed at Lato Boutique Hotel which was really good. They have a restaurant on the roof top called The Herbs Garden that is open to non-residents and really good! Nice view and amazing food. (sorry for being repetitive about the great food in this post. There is no way around: Greek cusine is fabulous). We took a regular bus just off our hotel to go to the most famous ruins of Crete: Knossos. Very big but not particularly impressive. Can't put a finger on it but read on and you will find the really worthwhile going. By all means, go to Knossos. It is very close to the town and famous.
Gordies: I literally cannot remember the name of these ruins on the way to Matala. We kept on calling the Gordies and it is stuck. There is a small part of ruins that is conserved and another “wild” part that you need to endure the wild grass to get to. On the conserved part you will see a auditorium and a tree which you take a leaf of and it tells you the number of children you will have. So if you are falling short of a fortune teller in the middle of Crete, here is your place.
Faustos: this is the real name of these ruins also on the way to Matala – kind od south of Heraklion. Beautiful. The cooler ones we saw in Crete in my opinion. I can't put my finger on the reason but it is just very nice and impressive. Great panoramic view from entrance.
Matala: The drive to Matala from Heraklion is quite curvaceous but nothing compared to the way from Matala to Chania. The place is a hippie sanctuary. Literally. The hippies of all generations went there and lived in the caves on the walls. The caves are amazing looking and the water is crystal clear besides being extremely cold. Other than that it is an average beach I would say.
Chania: and finally we get to Chania where we would stay for the rest of our stay (6 nights). We stayed in a family ran serviced apartment called Lefka Apartments. It is quite cheap and very convenient because apartments have a full kitchen and living room to really spread out. There is no luxury at all and the toilet is quite bad but then if you have been to Greece before you will know that well designed bathroom are not their forte. Who would have thought eh? Fathers of engineering. Anyway, if you don't care about showing holding the shower and wetting the whole bathroom then you will be fine. The staff of the place absolutely make up for it. They are incredibly nice, friendly and helpful. After one day we were feeling at home.
Chania itself is a lovely little port town. Also with a venetian port and lots of tiny little streets that you get lost in. Restaurants and shops take over the scenery. I would highly recommend 2 restaurants there: Ella and Portes. In Ella you will eat inside an old soap factory with no roof. Make sure you order the Ella special casserole type of thing. Incredible. Portes is ran by a greek/portugues couple and here you can sit on the street under the trees. Lovely set up and gorgeous simple food.
With the camp in Chania, we did day trips here and there.
Balos: this beach is right at the very top of the most eastern peninsula of Crete. It is quite a drive through clay roads to get there and another hour going down the hill. As you start the way down to the beach you are surprised by an unbelievable view. This beach is divided by the open sea part and a natural swimming pool if you like. There is structure down there to rent sun beds and umbrellas but take your drinks and food. Be aware that around 1pm there is boat full of tourist arriving so it is worth arriving before them to get a good spot. As I write this I feel a bit daft because there is no bad spot really. You can spend all day long enjoying the view and snorkelling if you have the gear. Try not to think about the hike up the hill you came down because it is quite tough. If you have knee, back, foot problems go somewhere else.
Elafonisi: we didn't go to this beach because the road is extremely curvaceous and after the drive from Matala, I just wanted some peace. Fernando likes Elafonisi the best of all. It is a total natural swimming pool. Next time I will go there and not to Matala.
Samaria Gorge: not my ideal of holidays. It requires waking up at 5.30 in the morning to get a bus that takes you through more curvaceous roads. It is supposed to be beautiful to do the 15km walk that takes you to the beach where a huge slow boat awaits to take you back to the bus. We went to Afrata instead.
Afrata: this is a tiny little beach frequented by the local ladies that come for a morning swim in the crystal waters. It is a 20m beach with one cafe that serves cheese & ham toast. Fabulous. Not in most guides but worth the search for a relaxing day followed by a nice greek salad overlooking the sea in one of the little restaurants on the way.
Returnability: absolutely certainly. Amazing places, super friendly people and of course fantastic food.
Recommendability: Any day.