Verdant hills, sleepy little villages, wonderful beaches, olive groves, wild mountains, deep gorges and also a historic town, this western province on the island of Crete has everything it takes to be one of the best holiday destinations in Greece.
The historical town of Chania
Start with the capital Chania. Skip the modern part if this city on the northern coast of Crete and stick to the historical centre. Set within centuries-old fortifications and built amphitheatrically around its picturesque old harbour, its history dates back to the Minoan period. Throughout the centuries it has been under Roman, Arab, Byzantine, Venetian and Turkish rule. The old Venetian harbour is always full of life. The only lull is in that short interval between the ending of the last animated discussions on the terraces lining the waterfront, and the arrival of the first fishermen that come to take their brightly painted caiques out to the sea. The narrow, pedestrian backstreets are a tad quieter, but with little boutiques and art shops, cafés and small restaurants, they too are usually bustling with life. It is a place where you could easily spend two or three days wandering around the narrow alleyways and sitting by the sea. Your walks will take you past the old fortifications, Turkish hammams and minarets, churches and monasteries, and several museums worth a visit (the Archaeological Museum and the Naval Museum are particularly interesting).
The best beaches of Chania
Large parts of the coast west of the town are lined with beaches; most are good; several are downright amazing. On the northwest finger, take the 9km dirt road north, which will take you to Balos beach. White sand, shallow turquoise water, we’re talking lagoon. There is a very similar beach, Elafonisi, near the southwestern tip of Crete. Both beaches are must-sees, but keep in mind that in the summer they get very busy, especially Elafonisi where tourists arrive by the busload, literally. If you come in the high season, just spend a few hours early or late in the day, and if you’re there in-between, try and ignore most of what is happening around you.
The mountains and the countryside of Chania
The countryside of the province (and rest of Crete!) is very beautiful. In fact, the northern coast is a bit too developed and touristy to my taste, but what always amazes me that all you need to do is drive a few km inland, and you’re in a landscape dominated by hills and olive trees, with totally unspoiled, traditional villages scattered throughout. Further south, you’re in the mountains. The White Mountains in the southeastern part of Chania have peaks reaching over 2400 m. The whole area is a paradise for hikers. There are several amazing gorges you can traverse; the Samarias Gorge is famous. It is the longest and also one of the most beautiful gorges in Europe. The walk through it takes around six hours, starting at an altitude of 1050 m and ending by the sea. Don’t go unprepared; it is best to go with a guide who will also organise the transfers.
Small hotels and other special places to stay in Chania