After we finish a RS 14 day Greek tour we are going on our own to Crete. End of September, beginning of October 2016. We are open to ideas of where to go, any airport, hotels, attractions, hotel recommendations, car rental companies, day tour companies. Open to driving on our own, want to see some of the sights, some beach time, and of course some great food. So anything you have for us to do for 7 days in Crete would be appreciated!! We've booked no flights from Athens to Crete, hotels or anything at this point. Thanks!
Whatever you do, do hike the Samaria Gorge. You need some physical fitness and pretty much a full day but it's well worth the effort.
Doug, I think the BEST thing for you to do is to do some of your own research, otherwise we have to do Crete 101 for you... once you see all that crete has to offer, you can choose your priorities and ask us for opinions on those. I hope you will stop off at your local library and grab some guidebooks -- ROUGH GUIDE to GREECE is really good on details, if u want me to pick just one & there's also a Rough Guide to Crete I believe. Here's the best "one=stop" website http://www.explorecrete.com. NOT commercially sponsored altho of course there are ads. I suggest you go thru it Sectin by Section, and bookmark everything key. I know I have at least 12 bookmarks -- everything from transportation and Km distances to walks and vineyards. And here's my top fave map of crete (click & it gets huuuuge) http://www.explorecrete.com/crete-maps/images/Crete-eot.png -- which shows ALL roads & terrain (making it clear why it's hard to get from N to South except in about 3 places).
We can't lay out a complete plan for you because we're not travel agents but we can point you in the right direction. For people with 7 days starting in ATHENS I usually suggest starting In CHANIA. A flight takes 50 mins vs. overnight on a ferry ... spend at least 1 day in amazing Old Town; my friends pix: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157632117917828/show/?rb=1 Then drive to explore West Crete a bit .. https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157632115757899/ U may want to drive south to Paleohora's beach -- OR u could do day-excursion to Balos/Gramoussa. I like HOtel Palazzo (not really a palace, just a lovely renoveted Venetian town house, family run) -- because it's got such a great view, at the ocean end of the pedestrianized street Theotokopoulos (BTW that jawbreaker is the actual family name of "El Greco" ... don't you love it that Greece, and France, and Italy, name their streets and plazas for writers and artists?? In America we name them for politicians and Generals. sigh).
Then rent car, (I have used Autoways 4x with excellent rates & results) drive down on big road from Rethymnon area to Palace of Phaistos and Matala (the beach with clliffs, that Joni Mitchell sang about in the 70s) ... The hotels on the beach are mashed all together & not that great; I preferred Dimitris Villas, back from beach about 300 yards, nicely landscaped family-owned, pool etc.
he same big red road leads North-Westish through Crete's Vineyard area (near Dafnes, u could stop for the night around there), and end up near Heraklion to see Knossos, if it interests you. Heraklion is pretty much Concrete City, but you can find a hotel w sea view (Boutique & pricey is Hotel Leto/Lato?), more budget is Hotel Kronos, right on water, ask for sea views.. That evening u can walk out the causeway to the MONSTER fortress (it held off the Turks for 23 YEARS), then at the traffic circle at base of Causeway, have a lovely last dinner of Mezedes at the glassed=in taverna there.. And Crete is the Queen of Mezedes (like tapas; you order 6 or so as a meal). U can fly from Herak. airport OR take overnight on large newish ferry - I believe it's called Knossos Palace or some such... much nicer than the vessels serving Chania. It's your call.
I didn't mention the Samaria Gorge it's an all-day thing, and it takes another day of doing not much, to recover. I much prefer the Imbros Gorge, next gorge over.... instead of 8 hours, less than 4, and no tour groups or crowds, and just as narrow and just as lovely scenery -- But the logisitcs are a bit more complicated. Samaria usually has busses for tour groups ... for Imbros, you drive to the Gorge start, and at the end,you pay a taxi to drive back up the rim road to your car.
BTW, this was the Gorge down which Cretans led British soldiers after the Nazi invasion of Crete, so they could escape via offshore ships... Nazis pursued of course but were picked off by Cretan sharpshooters from on high... Cretans are tough Cookies!
interesting comment about the Samaria Gorge and certainly good to know that there is an alternative.
Personally, I loved our day in the Samaria Gorge and it is my most memorable experience of our trip to Crete - because we took a full day out of other vacation activities to do nothing but enjoy the landscape. Yes you do need some fitness but it doesn't take another day to recover. We were there in May so the crowds weren't too big and I imagine that it would be similar in October.
Beatrix, both of us are making recommendations based on inadequate information, either ours or Dougs ... We don't say what OUR age & fitness level is, and Doug doesn't either. I was in my middle 60s and very fit (3x week at a gym plus regular 3 mi walks), but Imbros was a major workout for me! The work of balancing on the boulders (both gorges are largely fields of boulders, not level gravel) was hard on the knees, and I couldn't have done as well without a walking stick. When you say you were fit, what age were you? and Doug does not say his age either. If we knew, we'd be able to judge better.
We also know they have 7 days, but are not that clear on top priorities or whether they'll be back. I did my walk on a 6-day visit to Crete, but since then have been back to Crete 4 more times. Perhaps Doug & spouse will never be back.. that might affect what their priorities are.
I agree with the advice to consult a good guidebook -- Lonely Planet is usually my favorite -- to help you figure out how to spend the time you have. Chania is supposed to be a great base for western Crete (I haven't been there, sadly). The palace of Knossos, near Iraklion, is well worth seeing. The Archeological Museum in Iraklion is also excellent. Iraklion has an interesting waterfront and some other worthwhile sights, but it's the big city with lots of traffic and not where I'd recommend spending more than a night or two.
We spent three days with a local guide, Georgios Spiridakis, who was incredibly knowledgeable about ancient Crete, subsequent history, and Crete today. Besides Knossos and the museum, he took us to Gorton, Phaistos, and Matala south of Iraklion, and out to the Lasithi Plateau in the east. All time well spent, I wish we'd had more.
We spent five days in Crete in 2013, post RS tour (GREAT tour, with GREAT guide Colin). Flew on Aegean from Athens to Chania,
easy cheap express bus into center of town. Rented a comfy one-bedrm apt., highly recommend: Pandora Suites. Fabulous location - quiet (uphill) side street but with table-&-chairs balcony overlooking the gorgeous little Venetian-built harbor (balcony immediately above the Mosque of Kiotsouk Hasan) & the see-&-be-seen street action (skip the overpriced restaurants down there; good sidewalk tables for a beer, though). Our suite, " Afrodite" (when in Rome/Greece!), was 545 euros for five nts. Excellent breakfast buffet on Pandora's rooftop terrace, friendly staff with good English.
Rented from Avis for 3 days to do incredible Knossos, Chora Sfakion, etc. - mountains, valleys, the Libyan Sea, all wows. Parking in Chania in July was challenging - municipal lot always had waiting lines - but worth it for seeing more of Crete.
Ate very good food from Chania's municipal market (designer olive oils but also good cheeses, bakeries, etc.), a nearby supermarket, side street restaurant Doloma, hole-in-the-wall souvlaki places. In Chora Sfakion, restaurant Ob-something virtually on the beach, terrific fresh seafood.
Chania has a very good Maritime Museum - stunning replica Minoan ship that sailed to Athens in 2004 - & separate Naval Museum - much focus on WW II, affecting. Good walking-around town - active churches & real-people stuff besides all the touristy; picturesque twisty lanes with artisans' shops behind the Firkas Fortress; archaeological excavations in the middle of town - you walk down a quiet street & surprise, Minoans.
(This all from Stewart's wife Vicki - can you tell I loved Crete?)
If the afore-mentioned guide Georgios (spelling~) is the wonderful man used by RS for Mystras, get him. Colin said "his territory is all
of Greece," so he may well do Crete.
Have a great trip!
Whether by rental car or by cobbling together some bus rides, do see the interior.
Crete is generally divided into three regions, roughly one-third of the island from west to east for each. I would recommend choosing one and focusing on that. For our seven days we stayed solely in the far west (Chania base) and barely scratched the surface of just that portion.
Chania is great for at least three nights and you can include a gorge walk in that time (Samaria is the most well-known but there are others that are equally stunning). I recommend just taking the bus from the city bus station to top and back, regardless. This will save you a lot of money (as much as $50 if my memory serves).
The boffo beaches to the west are within a couple hours so might be a good day to rent a car. There are lots of ancient monasteries up in the hills to the south.
Less is more. Great place to cap off a RS tour, I would say!