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Western Crete

Elafonissi, Crete

Monastery of Chrysoskalitissa, Crete

Falasarna beach, Crete

Way Out West Crete

Our main purpose in coming to Chania was to explore the western part of the island which we attempted to do in a day. We needed more time but still managed to visit some amazing places and see enough to be able to say that this is probably the best part of Crete to explore, especially if you love sandy beaches and are staying in Chania.

Hotel Ammos Beach, Chania, CreteHeading west from the city of Chania you have two choices which is really only one choice if you are a sensible person. The first choice is to drive along the coastal road through the suburbs which are actually all separate villages that have turned into one long line of beach homes, small hotels like the Hotel Ammos (photo), larger hotels, even larger hotels and resorts, peppered with bars, restaurants, cafes and shops which until the spring of 2009 did not even have sidewalks. If you are planning to swim at one of the many beaches along the way then this is the road to take. If you are planning on driving to Rodopou, Kissamos and Western Crete this is the road to avoid. Just follow the signs for the Ethniki Odos (National Road) or Kissamos and get on the highway which if you like to drive is a pleasure. If you are not a confident driver stay to the right. Most people stradle the lane and move more right when a car wants to pass you. It is actually not wise to stay completely in the right lane because you may round a bend and find a car parked in it while its owner is picking horta or answering nature's call. When driving in Crete it is best to remain alert and when driving on Sunday assume that everyone else has been drinking.

Lunch at Kali Kardia, Adrata, CretePlatanias and Gerani are two towns that have become very developed because of their excellent beaches and their proximnity to Chania and are the most popular resorts on the western part of Crete. Across is the island of Agios Theodori which was heavily fortified by the Venetians in 1574 to keep the Turks from being able to land their ships at Platanias. Later it became the headquarters of General Timoleon Vassos in 1897 during the war of Independance from the Turks. Now it is a breeding center for the kri-kri, the wild Cretan mountain goat. Near the beach resort of Maleme where much of the fighting took place during World War Two is the German Military Cemetary which contains some 4000 graves, most of whom were the parachutists who were shot from below during the  Battle of Crete. Inland is a vast area of agricultural villages, rivers, streams and hills. Just beyond the town of Kolimbari at the base of the rugged Rodopou Peninsula is the Monastery of Gonias, completed in 1634 and home to a collection of post Byzantine icons of interest to anyone with an interest in religious art, or any art for that matter. Further north in the village of Rodopos is a Venetian Villa. To continue north to the ruins of the Roman Sanctuary of  Dyktina in the bay of  Menies you may want to have a 4-wheel drive vehicle or a very understanding car rental company. But at the end of a rugged road the beach is worth it and is one of those places you can probably pitch a tent and nobody will bother you. An added attraction is the ancient Temple of Diana on the hill. For those not venturing so far north in the small village of Afrata is a wonderful little village taverna called Kali Kardia (Good Heart) run by Konstantinos Rethemiotakis where he and his wife cook and serve what will probably be the best traditional Cretan food you will find on the island.

Beach near Kissamos, CreteContinuing west on the National Road you will come to the Bay of Kissamos and a nearly endless beach, mostly undeveloped which ends at the town of Kissamos, also known as Kasteli where you can catch the ferry that goes several times a week to the islands of Antikithera and Kithera, then continues on to Githeon and Kalamata in the Peloponessos and all the way to Pireaus though finding the schedule for this boat can be like the Holy Grail of Greek ferry travel. The port is north of the town of Kissamos which boasts a Venetian Castle (thus the name Kasteli), Roman ruins including an aquaduct, graves, baths and mansions with mosaic floors. Though the town is mostly modern it is a perfect getaway for those who just want a beach where they can be left alone and a simple taverna or two on the sea. Of course in August like most beach towns in Greece it will send you to the nearest car rental agency for a jeep to explore the rugged Gramvoussas Peninsula in search of somewhere more private. There are really some amazing beaches in the area, some of the best in Crete if not all of Greece. The ruins of the ancient Roman town of Agnion and the Church of Agios Sostis where the road ends is directly across the peninsula from the bay of Balos with a beautiful beach, reachable by footpath and sea the color of the Carribean. Like Menies across the way if you pitch a tent chances are nobody is going to come out this far to bother you though you may want to make sure you have water and some food with you. The islands shielding the bay from the north winds are called Imeri Gramvoussa (Tame Gramoussa) which has a Venetian castle that is still in good condition, and Agria Gramoussa (Wild Gramoussa) both reachable only by excursion boat from Kissamos.

For those visiting Kissamos, Crete, the Bikakis Family Hotel in an inexpensive, family run hotel that features an impressive gallery of the owner's paintings and they also do nature tours of the area. Kissimos is the furthest town west and is very unspoiled by mass tourism.

Falasarna beach, CretePolirinia, an ampitheatre-like village south of Kissamos was a power from the 6th Century BC through the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and Venetian periods due to its dramatic natural fortifications. Remnants of its walls from all these historical periods still exist as does a reservior built by the Emperor Hadrian during Roman times. But most people will skip this and head north of Kissamos and then south through the village of Platanos to the incredible white sandy beach at Falasarna (photo), one of the best in Greece, on the edge of a huge agricultural coastal plain filled with green houses, a small settlement with a few tavernas, small hotels and rooms to rent and the remains of Polirinia's ancient port. Better than the sandy area check out the rocks with your mask and snorkle and explore the channels between them. Because agriculture is more important in western Crete than tourism, the area has not been fished out yet since most Greek fishermen don't like to travel too far from home and you are likely to see fish in sizes you won't see in the more populated areas. The best time to come here is when it is warm enough to swim but not hot enough so that everyone is swimming. If you visit in July and August you will have a completely different impression than if you come in April, May, June, September or October, though this can be said for any beach in Greece. Can you swim in April here? I did. For about as long as it took Andrea to take a photo and then I was ready to be put on life support.

Sfinari Beach in western CreteThe coastal road south from Fallasarna is not for the fainthearted or the easily distracted. Though it is fine in terms of quality it hugs the side of the mountain with drops of several hundred feet or more where the only way you will stop before hitting the sea is if there is something big enough in the way to stop you. But since you are now prepared you should not have any trouble gathering the courage to do it. If you follow the road south like we did you will come to the village of Sfinari where there is a road that leads down to its beach where there are tavernas and once again a beach where the color of the sea is so beautiful you want to drink it, or breathe it or more sensibly, immerse yourself in it. We chose to eat at a small taverna in the upper village, only because I had forgotten to look at my cell phone where Nikos from the Hotel Ammos had sent me an SMS telling me to eat at the taverna on the beach at Sfinari. But we had a nice meal anyway and though it was on the main road the only people who drove by were the Horafia-filaki, the agricultural police who came in to interogate the woman making our omelet which so rattled her that she forgot to bring us our wine, probably a good thing in the end because we still had a long way to drive. As you continue south the road winds along the mountains through villages, some nearly deserted, past more roads leading down to beaches and eventually to the village of Chrysoskalitissa (Golden Steps) named for the Monastery of Chrysoskalitissa where one of its many steps is made of gold and only the purest of souls can see it.

Elafonissi, CreteContinuing south you come to the beach of Elafonissi, again one of the most beautiful in Greece with a small island that you can walk to. The white sand and shallow sea reflecting the blue sky gives the water that Carribean-South Pacific look that tourists crave, though in my case by the time I arrived it was close to 6pm and clouds had been gathering from the west. Still I forced myself into the sea knowing that its coldness would revive me for the rest of the trip, if it did not kill me. But here it was more shallow and a lot warmer. I wouldn't say warm but not so cold that I couldn't swim around for about twenty minutes until Andrea showed up again with the camera so once again I had proof that you could swim in Crete. Elafonissi, which means deer island, is an especially beautiful place and well worth the drive from Chania. There are signs posted at the entrance to the beach which show you the different kinds of rare plants in the area, some of them rare, maybe only existing here in this unique little ecosystem.

Milia has a great vegeterean restaurant and delicious tsikoudiaOn the way back to Chania instead of returning the way you came follow the signs to Chania and the village of Kefali. Then go towards Elos but cut north for Limni, Rogdia and look for signs for Milia when you get to Vlatos. Its a small road and the signs to Milia are not ordinary road signs but sort of handmade. Thats because its not an official town or village. It was an abandoned village that was bought up and restored and turned into a self-sufficient ecotouristic mountain retreat. The road to it is long, narrow and most of it just dirt and there will be moments when you will curse me for suggesting it but once you arrive it is an interesting place, high in the mountains in a lush wooded area with a mountail stream running through it. The 'enterprise' (I don't know what else to call it, has small houses and rooms for rent and a very good restaurant serving natural foods. They also sell a lot of the things they grow and jar, mostly fruit perserves, honey, their own wine, olive oil and if you are lucky raki-tsikoudia. Its not the kind of place I would stay since I would go stir-crazy and it looks so much like the North Carolina mountains that it does not seem 'special' to me, plus you can't play music. But for those who have the peace of mind to be able to stay somewhere high in the moutains where the entertainment is long walks or reading a book on your roof, it really is a retreat, almost zen. You may even want to just come here seperately rather then on the way back from the beach. They use solar power for the lights and in the cold weather they burn wood which seems plentiful. Its an interesting place so check it out and maybe Tassos will offer you a glass of their excellent tsikoudia. But if you are like me you will want to be back in Chania before dark for a drink and dinner so don't accept more than one glass unless you plan on spending the night.

You can do this itinerary from Chania with Lefteris the Taxi Driver if you don't want to rent a car.

You can click on any of the photos on this page to see them full size.

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