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Crete

We're in the beginning stages of a 3 week trip to Crete probably September 12. We're in our early 70s and prefer slow travel (usually). We will be renting a car and would probably take 2 day trips from each town. In doing some research we've settled on 5 nights each in Chania, Heraklion, Rethimno, and either Agios Nikolaos or Sitia. Our thinking is that we could take 2 day trips and have 2 days to enjoy each town. Without getting into which sites we will visit, our first issue is in what order to stay in these towns? We would fly into Chania and leave from Heraklion or vice versa. But Agios Nikolaos/Sitia is out of the way. We could fly into Heraklion and go directly to Agios Nikolaos/Sitia, then drive eastward and end in Chania.

Our questions are: Which is best order of arrival and departure? Is there any town where we should spend more/less time? Which is preferable to enjoy the scenery and old town, Agios Nikolaos or Sitia?

Any advice would be appreciated as well as answers to questions we have not yet thought of. Thanks in advance!

Posted by
16893 posts

Heraklion is a much bigger, denser city, but with less of general tourist interest. Three nights should work if you are arriving or departing from there, and want to visit Knossos, the Archeology Musuem, and maybe the market area.

Posted by
1366 posts

I would suggest you fly into Chania and spend at least 5 days there perhaps a few more. For day trips you could consider visiting Ancient Aptera just 18 km east of Chania. There is a lovely one day excursion boat from Kissamos that takes you to Gramovossa with its pirate fortress and then on to Balos lagoon for an hour of beaching. You might be interested in visiting Falasarna beach and the ancient site there and perhaps drive down to Elofinissi with its pink sand.
Western Crete http://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157632115757899/

Chania http://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157632117917828/

Another consideration might be to head south to the Libyan Sea and take the ferry trip that hops along the coast stopping at several small villages. You can catch the ferry at Paleochora then head to Sougia then Agia Romeuli where you can walk up to the end of the Samaria Gorge. You can return to Paleochora or take the second ferry to Loutro and then end at Chora Sfakion. It is a magnificent coast. Last summer we stayed in several of the villages just to immerse ourselves in the experience.
Ferry trip Libyan Sea https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157653434073393
Crete Libyan Sea villages https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157645487373222/

You don't even require a car to do most of this the local KTEL bus service is reliable comfortable and inexpensive. If you go down to the Libyan sea I would definitely recommend you take the bus the drive through the white mountains should be experienced with a professional driver.

Next Rethymnon. It really doesn't need a full 5 days. It is similar to Chania but with a smaller harbour and old town but it does have a Venetian era Kastro and a large beach. Three nights is probably enough.
Rethymnon https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157654700502270

From Rethymnon we always head south again to visit the great beaches around Plakias. Plakias is a purpose built village which is there to service the tourists visiting the beaches. As such it has little charm but if you like beaches you will understand why we keep returning.
Plakias Crete https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157665045541263

Heraklion is a large hot, dusty, noisy city. You will not be happy spending 5 days there. Two days should allow you to explore the central city and Venetian Harbour plus the museum and of course Knossos.

Heraklion https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157655935354556

This might be a good time to head south and visit the amazing ancient sites of Phastos and then find Gortys. Gortys has a nice compact archeological site but if you park the car and start walking along the olive groves you will find fallen roman columns just lying there. Explore further and you will find a half buried amphitheater, baths, the Roman Governors Prateorum. It is a treasure trove of Roman ruins all just waiting to be excavated. It feel like you are the first one discovering this stuff. Bring water there is no infrastructure.
Crete Archeological sites https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157645085297380/

We won't be visiting East Crete until just about the time you will be visiting in September so I can't recommend anything although we are planning on staying in Sissi and Ag Nik.
Have a great time.

Posted by
3317 posts

SO many good ideas from Stanbr! As always, I have a "tweak" to suggest. Rethymnon does have an impressive Fortezza, but its Old Town is smaller than Chania's, more crowded and souvenir-stall-filled. Its archeological collection, in the Fortezza, has much less & worse organized than the small but superb Chania museum (in a former church). Thus my suggestion would be, do Rethymnon as a day trip & free up time for other West Crete gems. This terrmap http://www.explorecrete.com/crete-maps/images/Crete-eot.png (click & it gets huuuge) can help you see clearly All roads large & small. PLUS terrain (v. important). Some ideas

• Drive EAST from Chania on "old road" below the big Highway -- goes thru numbers of villages quite unchanged ... and we've even been behind a herd of GOats or sheep taking their fine old time, filling the road. In 1 village we were silenced by pathos; a cenotaph in the village square --couldn't read greek but the carving showed; in this village the Nazis massacred all the men.

• At Panormos, turn inland about 10 miles to Cave of Melidoni. Used for worship since stone-ages; filled with stunning stalactites --and another poignant memorial ... to Cretan women & children whom the Turks trapped inside, in 1825. Unforgettable.

• If heading S to Plakias as per Stanbr, you can turn RIGHT just before Spili & go thru the mountains (but I warn you, its a VERY curvy road) ... or you could turn RIGHT at Spili, and go through the beautiful Amari Valley... full of churches, orchards & quiet beauty.

• If you save days by not staying in Rethymnon and shortening time in Heraklion, you'dhave days to Spare! So when you leave your Chania hotel -- you'd have time to drive WEST all the way to Falassarna, to spend 1 night. It's a wee village, on a bluff overlooking a beach. It may be the ONLY beach in Greece with a (modest) surf -- not tidal, but waves caused by by the wind that comes all the way across the sea from Spain! A little hotel there, http://www.petalida-crete.com/MainE.html, is run by a nice family that has a fishing boat... and serves the day's catch in its restaurant. THere's a main building, but ask for the separate building with patios on the brow of the bluff. There I enjoyed one of the most stunning sunsets in all my Greece trips. IN the AM, 500 yards away, browse a wonderful little Hellenistic ruin, complete with Bath-Tubs! after that, zipping straight East on the Big North Highway, you can get to central & Easter Crete bases quite quickly. (or stop for several of the places above, or Stanbr's Aptera).

Posted by
1506 posts

Thanks for your thoughtful replies. So much to think about! I should have emphasized that we're in our early 70s and though in good health, we walk a lot slower than we used to so some of the walks and hikes are out of the question for us. Also, we no longer spend much time on the beach. Earlier this year we spent a month in Ireland, spending 3-4 nights in most towns and 1-2 nights in a couple of others. Beautiful time but after we got home we realized we were exhausted. We recently returned from 3.5 weeks in Portugal, one of many trips there. This was a slower trip which we also enjoyed. We have visited Greece twice before but never Crete, so we're planning to also make this a slower trip to enjoy the scenery, historical sights and architecture, and food :).

Stanbr, I have seen (and bookmarked) your pictures; beautiful; Janet, I have also read many of your posts on various countries and have always enjoyed them, especially Paris and surrounds as we were there last Christmas and some of your posts and articles were also bookmarked. So thank you both for your responses to me and to other people as well as we have used many of your suggestions.

Our thought now is to land in Heraklion and drive to Agios Nikolaos (or Sitios - having a hard time with this). We do plan to spend 5 nights in each location which, as we all know is 4.5 days. After subtracting 2 days driving away from each town (possibly 3 if we can't fit the sites into 2 days) that leaves only 2.5 days to wander in the town and rest. This is a very tentative (have barely started researching) idea of what we might do:
Agios Nikolaos or Sitia: Sitia or Agios Nikolaos, Moni Preveli, , possibly Toplou Monastery and Palace of Zakros but it seems a long drive; Panagia Kera; Elounda
Heraklion: Phaestos, Gortys(Gortyn?)
Rethimno: Armeni, Moni Preveli, Amari Valley, Arkadi, Argyroupoli; Knossos, Fortezza Castle; Cave Melidoni; Ancient Aptera and possibly Lake Kournas on the way to Chania
Chania: Elafonissi Beach, Frangokastello and Chora Sfakion; after doing more research we may add a night here and either add it to the trip or take it from Heraklion.

Thank you all again for your help. This looks like a good start but lots more research to do and books to read. But as I've said in many of my posts here, each trip is made up of three parts: the planning and researching; going and enjoying; reliving it through our pictures. Someone else wrote that a good trip starts at home. So onward with the planning. Thanks again.

Posted by
3317 posts

Hi Carol!
I wish I could take credit for Paris tips but I haven't been there since 1997 ... must be another Janet. I HAVE been to Greece 12x since '99, including 5+ visits to Crete. For this reason -- and because you have ample time to research -- I do wish you'd reconsider yr itinerary. Is it based on Internet, or have you read guide books?? 2 that I find good on Crete: ROUGH GUIDE to Greece & CADOGAN's Greek Isles -- both available in libraries (latter not updated for 5+ years, but info on landmarks, history, ambience are timeless). ROUGh G is fab on history, scenery and - vitally - Candid about plusses/minusses of locales.

First, aside from no swims/hikes, it's not clear exactly what you DO want. Authentic villages? Architecture? Ancient Greek ruins? Dramatic landscapes? I'm wondering whether East-Crete choice is going to make you happy in all those regards, viz:

• Not been to Ag Nik or Sitia, but have read extensively & and talked to people who have. Feedbck: AG NIK =some nice buildings, isn't that historic, in 90s was big "package-holiday" draw for Brits. Port & lake-harbor lined with so-so restaurants/bars. Main site nearby is Spinalonga island; requires major walking. SITIA is a port RG calls "a pleasantly scenic if unremarkable place offering a plethora of waterside restaurants, sandy beach and a lazy lifestyle unaffected by ... visitors." Neither has an "old Town" as such. What is it that attracts you? PS: Elounda is basically an upscale resort -- I didn't sense that's what you're seeking.

• HERAKLION is "concrete city" -- ugly buildings thrown up after WW II, with the old Venetian stuff wedged in between. Bustling w. business, jammed traffic. Its museum is truly wonderful, and you can stay at a seaview hotel right near the huge imposing Fortezza, but I wouldn't recommend a long stay. There ARE fascinating historic aspects, but u need to be a true history buff. Knossos is a local bus-ride away.

• Both Stanbr & I have been SO entranced by WEST crete just because of all the aspects listed above -- and enjoying them does NOT require extensive walking. I should know; I'm 10 years older than you! (And both Stanbr & I have bum knees). Examples:

• CHANIA is "ground zero" for gorgeous Old Town architecture. Considered the 2nd Most Beautiful Old Town in Greece (next to Nafplio). A plus for slow-walkers, CHANIA has wonderful lodgings on flagstoned lane a few yards behind the portside, so you can explore the entire town on a series of SHORT walks... stopping every few minutes at a cafe or park. You can fly in to Chania, spend a couple of days just enjoying Old Town, and only have car delivered when you want to explore the area. Its museum (in a former church) is small and superb; walk counterclockwise thru 3 rooms, from stone-age to Hellenic in 20 minutes. The whole town (unlike those you named) is a visual delight of Venetian architecture.

• RETHYMNON can be an easy DAY trip - & u need not walk at all; they have a hop-on/ hop-off BUS that hits all the sites - http://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/17977187/RED%20BUS%20TO%20MILI%20GORGE3.pdf -- including a gorge & monastery.

• AREA - West Crete is TOPS for scenery, & no need to hike! For S. coast, bus down to Paleochora, stay the night (i hear that dinner at seaside has entire portside filled with tables), and bus back. In my earlier post, nothing I listed required major hikes; I don't do that any more, either!

• DRIVING "the LOOP" - from Chania to Herak, I suggest driving S. thru Spili (see map link I gave), see Phaistos, stay at Matala (or hillvillage Zaros) for a restful nite. Then amble NE toward Heraklion... maybe jump off @ Dafne for lunch & vineyard tour (it's wine country). Drop car at Heraklion hotel. See Museum & Knossos, depart via plane or overnight ferry.
If Stanbr & I can persuade you on west vs East, , happy to suggest hotels, resturants, etc. Now ... get thee to the Library!!

Posted by
1506 posts

Oops! Sorry, Janet. I checked and the other Janet is Janet Travels who posts on Tripadvisor. We have most recent issues of Rough Guide and Lonely Planet on Crete as well as chapters from Fodors and Greek Island Hopping from our previous trips to Greece. Between those and all the info on the web we have plenty of info. But, as usual, we end up with way more than we could ever see/do no matter how long we stay. Usually make a good tentative itinerary that doesn't appear to be rushed and often still end up cutting or sometimes adding sights. As to Elounda, saw pictures of the port and it looked pretty. Sounds like we'll cut some time from the east and add it to the west. That would also save on rental car expense. Will get more into the details as we read our books.

Thanks again to everyone for all your interesting suggestions and all the help!