CRETE-We want to go back!
We all LOVED Crete and agreed that we could definitely come back here again. It is a much larger island than Mykonos. We immediately picked up our rental car and drove the 2 hours to Chania (pronounced Hania). Our host met us around 10:00 pm and we were all ready for bed after our day of travels.
The next morning we took advantage of our great location in the town to walk around the quaint town of Chania. We were only 10 minutes away to a wonderful breakfast overlooking the water. Olivia tried Greek coffee and said it tasted like dirt. Back to safe cappuccino’s…… After breakfast, we walked to the port area and the lighthouse, then into the town. There were hundreds of small restaurants that not only surrounded the water but were on every street, alley, and corner. So many of them were decorated so cute and the menus looked awesome. It would be fun to just come here and try as many restaurants as possible! We did a little shopping and then grabbed a take-away gyro, which was excellent and only cost 2.50 Euros. The prices are much better in Crete than Mykonos! We had a lovely day walking around the town, but that evening we realized that rain was forecasted for the next 4-5 days! Note to self- always check the weather right before you land so you can make the most of each day.
The next day was sunny enough for us to drive to Elafonissi Beach. It was about 1 ½ hour drive and was worth it. The roads are not too bad as we took the road that cuts through the mountain area and not the “scenic” route. This beach is known for pink sand, but there isn’t a ton of it left. However, it was easy to find the pink sand if you looked for it.
The best part of this beach was that it was giant and had water on 2 sides. It was the most gorgeous blue waters and on one side the water was only ankle to shin deep for 75-100 yards. The colors of the water were breathtaking. We planned on spending the day there so we splurged on an umbrella and 4 chairs. This cost us about 12 Euros. There was a snack bar there, but we packed our lunch for the day.
We had read some trip advisor reviews from the previous week with people complaining about how crowded this beach was. Don’t believe them. This has to be one of the largest beaches I have ever visited so there was room for all. Do not miss this beach when on Crete!
The next day was supposed to be the last day of sunshine and we wanted to try a close beach and then possibly a snorkeling/ boat ride in the afternoon. We drove over to Stavros Beach. There was an old Venetian Limestone Quarry located on the point that was fun to climb on. We were surprised at how empty it was and later we learned it was because we were on the smaller beach that was 800 m from the main beach. Off the beach there was one small place to enter without rocks and the sand was soft. There was a small café and beach chairs and umbrellas to rent. We were blessed with sunshine and took advantage of it for a couple of hours.
We ate our lunch and then headed back to the marina area to hopefully grab a boat before the rain. The boat captains are all friendly and willing to cut a deal to get you on their boat. Our initial plan was to take the three-hour tour to snorkel by the sunken German plane. Unfortunately with the impending storm, they were only offering one-hour boat rides to a nearby small island.
We jumped on for 25.00 Euros for our whole family (the original price was much higher). We had a fifteen-minute ride over to the island. You were then given 30 minutes to swim over to the beach, snorkel, or just swim in the water and then you had a 15 minute ride back. If you don’t have your swimsuit on, then you just sit on the boat. Our boat guide threw some bread in to make the fish come up next to the girls while they floated and close to Michael while he snorkeled. Snorkeling rating from Michael for this was a 1 out of 5. The girls enjoyed floating on the inner tubes though. After swimming, everyone was offered a beautiful platter of fresh fruits and of course Raki (basically a Greek shot of alcohol). It was a “cute” ride for 5.00 Euros per person, but I wouldn’t want to pay more than that.
Today was Michael’s 50th birthday and we were determined to take him out to a nice restaurant to celebrate. All the restaurants near the water hawk their food trying to reel you into their restaurant. Earlier that day, we had stopped to talk to one of the restaurant guys. He learned our names and asked us to come back at dinner. When it was time for dinner, after much disagreement, we finally opted for the restaurant right on the water of the guy who had learned our names. When we arrived he came up and remembered everyone’s names- quite impressive. This was one of those days when things just didn’t go as smoothly as you would want and the night broke down into unhappy, hungry people who just wanted dinner to be over with so we could get home. Traveling with your family can be great, but 24/7 with anyone can get old.
In the end, we celebrated Michael’s birthday with a dessert and a candle. Best looking 50 year old that I know!
Friday was wine tasting at Manousakis Winery. It was not too far from Chania at all and this was a great thing to do since it was raining today. For 22.00 Euro, we had the light lunch, toured their wine making facility, and had five tastes plus 2 glasses of wine. Emma and Sydney were only 12 Euros because they did not do the wine tasting. The traditional food was fantastic and it was the best Apaki (Cretan smoked pork) that I have had in all of Greece. You do have to book your tour ahead of time if you want to eat there. Before we drove home, we stopped off at a nearby farm and looked at the Ancient Olive Tree. It is over 2000 years old and is still producing olives!
Today it was forecasted to rain, so we decided to visit the Agia Sophia Cave of Topolia and the Topolia Gorge that we had seen on our way to Elafonissi Beach. There were 250 steps to get up to the high cave and we were surprised at how large the cave was. There were huge stalagmites and stalactites to see as well as a small church inside. The view of the gorge that we were about to hike was quite impressive. We were not charged anything to go in.
After the cave, we drove to find the Topolia Gorge. The sign for the road to go down was quite hidden and very steep. It might be best to park on the street in town and then walk down. The gorge hike was not too hard, very peaceful, and there were not too many people. We saw many goats on the hills. Michael was starting to not feel well so he and Emma did about an hour of the hike and then turned back. Olivia, Sydney and I ended up going another ½ hour into the gorge. The trail was nicely laid out and the scenery was pleasant. Michael again did a superb job going down and finding a place to park, but getting off of this super steep hill onto a 120 degree blind curve in a manual car caused all of us to sweat a lot! This is not for the faint of heart.
Today we left rainy Chania to drive over an hour to Balos Beach. It was worth every minute of the drive, even the rough gravel dirt road that had scary cliff drop offs on the side. We parked in the dirt lot at the top and then you have a twenty-minute hike down the side of the hill. About 10-12 minutes into the hike, you are surprised by the most stunning view of Balos Beach. Of course, we stopped to take pictures before finishing the hike. There were mule taxis for hire if you wanted them to take you down or back up. Once down on the beach we were hit with massive winds. We camped out behind a small sand dune to cut the wind down and then it was tolerable. Truly this is one of the most beautiful beaches in Crete. A must see if you come here!
Our last full day in Crete, we decide to take on one of the most recommended things to do here, the 16 km hike through Samaria Gorge ending at Agia Roumeli Beach. This is the longest gorge in Europe! Michael is not feeling well at all, but he decided to push through anyway. Instead of taking the public bus from Chania, we read reviews that informed us we can actually drive there. It saved us a decent amount of money and the timing is about the same. We left our apartment around 7:45 and arrive at 8:45 in the parking lot right in front of several tour busses. We grabbed our 5 Euro tickets into this National park (ticket booth is before the parking lot). I highly recommend a jacket for the first 30 minutes of the hike as it was so cold at the top. We began our descent into this striking gorge around 9:15. Sydney did this completely downhill hike in about 4 1/2 hours. Olivia was not too far behind her and the rest of us finished in about 5 hours. There was a good amount of shade on the hike, so it was not too hot. There were only a few flat path-like sections going down. There are mainly rocks and boulders so I recommend thick-soled tennis shoes or something even better like hiking boots.
My tennis shoes were pretty thin and I could definitely feel the rocks through them. I saw a few people slip and fall including Emma. Michael will probably lose a toenail from this hike. It is all downhill, but fairly strenuous and long. You are rewarded with a black sand beach and the refreshing Libyan Sea to jump into at the end of this hike.
After resting on the beach for a while, we grabbed an early dinner overlooking the water before catching our 5 pm ferry to the town of Sougia. Once at Sougia, we caught a forty-five minute van ride back to the beginning of the gorge at Omalos. Then we had our hour drive back to the apartment. This was a twelve hour day no matter how you go, but a day that we accomplished hiking the longest gorge in Europe!
We drove to the town of Rythymno the next day and explored the Venetian harbor and looked up at the mighty Fortress (built in 1573) on the hill. We also had one of the best meals in Crete at To Pigadi. Everyone loved this restaurant- highly recommend!
Crete was sooooo awesome. The whole family loved it and we only explored one corner. We would all love to come back again!
After exploring the shops in Rythymno, we headed back to Herkalion where we will be catching a late flight to Athens. Acropolis, here we come!