As Greece’s largest island, Crete offers visitors tremendous variety. In Chania and the surrounding region, you’ll find culture, history, a world famous gorge, and extraordinary beaches.
Exploring The Town of Chania
Chania town quickly becomes a favorite with everyone who visits.
Venetian and Ottoman occupations have each shaped the city and left behind monuments that give the city its extraordinary character. The rustic vernacular architecture in the enchanting alleys of the old town and the neoclassical elegance of the grander neighborhoods contribute to the town’s charms.
Venetian boatyards and seafront fortifications mark a deep harbor. An Egyptian lighthouse and the jetty shelter a deep harbor. Colorful traditional “trata” – fishing boats – line the docks of the marina to the east. The western part of the harbor is one of Greece’s most photographed promenades.
The 17th century Mosque of the Janissaries gives an exotic mood to the promenade. The multi-domed monument serves an an exhibition space, as do some of the former Venetian boatyards. Just in from the harbor are mazes of narrow cobblestone passages. Fragrant jasmine and bright bougainvillea climb crumbling facades of golden stone. The houses of the old town are awash in shades of ochre, dusty rose, azure, and terracotta. Ruins of old houses open to the stars are now romantic restaurants and cafes. It’s easy to get lost in old town Chania, and you won’t mind at all.
For a taste of local life, go to the square of Splangia, in the eastern section of the old town. Here is the 14th century Venetian church Agios Nikolaos- with a minaret that remains from the Ottoman era, when the church was a mosque. A great plane tree shades the cafes that fill the square, busy until late in the night.
Further to the east brings you to the old aristocratic neighborhood Halepa. The streets are lines with neoclassical homes, many crumbling with genteel, overgrown gardens. when Chania was the capital of Crete, Halepa was the international neighborhood, home to consulates and mansions. After visiting the Evangelistria – The Annunciation of the Virgin and Chania’s largest church, you can head towards the sea. This was once the grittier industrial side of Chania. It’s filled with the ruins of picturesque ruins of old tanneries. Waves lap at the shore as good fish tavernas set out tables along the crumbling docks.
The Kypo – Garden of Chania
The “Kypo”, or garden, is the central park of Chania. This is a fine place for an evening stroll. Enjoy an aperitif on the porch of the belle epoque mansion in the garden, then stay for a film at the outdoor municipal cinema in the warmer months.
Crete has its own distinctive cuisine, with many unique delicacies. The Central Marketplace – a traditional covered market in the form of a cross with four arms – is a great place to get acquainted with excellent Cretan products like fresh goat cheeses, snails, thick honey from thyme, and exquisite tiny olives bathed in lemon or bitter orange.
As you explore the Chania region, in addition to the wealth of the sea you’ll, there is top quality meat and dairy. As you explore Crete, you’ll find many local tavernas serving in fine meats, like grilled goat, fragrant with the wild herbs it has grazed on.
Exploring the Region of Chania
Stalos, just outside of Chania town to the west, makes the perfect starting point for exploring the region around Chania. We stayed at the hospitable and comfortable Top Hotel, with a pool, great view of the sea, and immaculate rooms at excellent prices. It was easy to get on and off the road from here.
The Chania region has such a diverse terrain and so much natural beauty that getting from one place to the next is half of the pleasure. This is a region made for exploring by car. We were very happy with both the condition of the cars from Rental Center Crete, and the excellent service- they had our cars waiting for us at the dock when we arrived by ferry just before sunrise.
Chania has some of the most famous beaches in Greece, some with international reputations. They are all well worth a drive – and sometimes hike – to reach. And Crete is full of exciting scenic drives – here are five fabulous routes to try.
This gorgeous natura 2000 preserve has a beach onto the open sea as well as a dreamy turquoise lagoon enclosed by an island. The island itself is wonderful. You can reach it by wading through shallow turquoise waters, or sometimes by walking across a narrow sandbar. The high and shimmering white sand dunes of the island are covered with rare plant species and lovely flowers. It’s also a protected natural habitat- nesting area for the caretta caretta sea turtle, and home to indigenous lizards.
This is a windy corner of the island, perfect for windsurfing and other water sports. The protected bay with crystal clear shallow waters is wonderful for families. There are plenty of sun loungers and umbrellas and cantinas, for a full-service beach experience. But we wandered to the farther edge of the island and were completely alone in nature.
Elafonissi is in the southwest corner of Crete, about an hour and a half from Stalos. It’s a gorgeous drive, starting along the coast then crossing through the lush and mountainous interior.
When you look at a map of Crete, you’ll see two peninsulas at the northwestern edge. The end of the tip of the western peninsula is a famous, fabulous beach. Many years ago, the only way to get here was to drive along a rough road to the end, then hike over the ridge and down to the beach on the other side.
Now, you can reach this beach by boat from Kissamos or Gramvousa. But don’t- if you are able to hike, it’s the most fun to reach the this remote and glorious beach the old-fashioned way. For one thing, the views from the top are amazing. In order to enjoy it before the crowds arrived by boat, we left Stalos early in the moring. Our only companions on the hike down were some grazing goats, and a couple of fishermen one we arrived. The swimming is excellent, in waters of impossibly pure shades of turquoise.
The hike is about 2 kilometers. Although far down, it is not steep or very challenging. It’s quick to get down, and takes a little over a half an hour to get back up at a leisurely pace. Bring some water, although sometimes you may find a cantina, you can never be too certain.
Excursions in Chania
Samarian Gorge, Chania
This is one of the world’s epic hikes. Although at 17 km it’s plenty challenging, you need no special skills or experience to make it down. You just need a stuedy pair of shoes and a little stamina. The path starts out at Xyloskalo, and descends 1,200 km to Agia Roumeli on the south coast of Crete. From there, a boat will return you to Sfakia where a bus can return you t Chania
The hike is entirely downhill, and starts out quite steep. The path takes you through glorious mountain scenery, and winds up in a narrow and dramatic gorge. You’ll lve cooling off in the refreshing waters of the Lybian sea afterwards.
This is a life experience- unforgettable. Don’t plan anything to taxing for the next day and savor the memory as you rest up.
Loutro is an extraordinary place – it’s one of the secret corners of Greece that travelers seek, but find too rarely.
This is a peaceful, private slice of heaven, because you can only reach this seaside village by boat or on foot. There are no cars, and there’s no loud music. Supplies come off the boat in wheelbarrows. Fishermen show off their catch at restaurants at the water’s edge. The charming houses are all white with blue shutters. The beach is at the end of coastline in this tiny protected bay. Loutro is one of the most peaceful places in Crete.
To get to Loutro, we drove from Stalos to Chora Sfakion, on the southern coast of Crete. this gorgeous drive of almost three hours takes you through some of Crete’s mst fabulous mountain scenery. From Chora Sfakion, boats leave regularly for Loutro
Just east of Chora Sfakion is Frangokastello- “Castle of the Franks”. The Venetians built this fortress in the 14th century to protect the lands and wealth of the local Venetians nobility from the locals and pirates. The Venetians called it the castle of St. Nikitas, but the name didn’t stick. “Franks” was the word for Catholic foreigners. This is why the locals, who saw it as intrusive, called it Frangokastello.
On a remote stretch of beach, this Venetian fortress is a dramatic sight. This rocky part of the island has intense sun and little shade, so you’ll enjoy a swim at the excellent beach after your visit.