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three weeks in Crete how much to really see without too much driving the entire island?

we are two active seniors who travel often but tend to get caught up in too much driving.... what are some good bases to stay at for two or three nights and spoke out from there, then move on to the next stop? we are interested in the culture, the food, wine, people and history not too keen on lots of hiking but do want some beautiful beaches any suggestions?

Posted by
2813 posts

Debbie, here's a detailed online map that greatly clarifies how to discover a lot of Crete without excessive driving and stay-changes. -- click & it gets huuuge; move around via side-slides. It shows terrain, thus makes it obvious that mountains restrict your route choices. THere are really 3-4 ways to go from the Big North-Coast Highway (the Big Green Road), the most modern road in Crete, to the South Coast ... and in most places you cannot go West-East on South coast because... NO roads at all! You CAN go W-E there, but only via small ferries, so, not for car-renters.

I've been to Crete 4-5 times for about 5 days each time... and still have not got much farther east than about 30 mi east of Heraklion. However, you can do SO much in Crete in 3 weeks ... and a Mega-Contributor in this regard is the famous "Stanbr"; he and his helpmate have far outdone me in the West AND east. I bookmarked one of his West Crete Trip reports here, and when you click on one of his photo albums, you have the opportunity to see MANY views of Crete in numerous albums ... it will make you want to see more more more.

That being said, Western Crete is tops for dramatic landscapes, amazing beaches & enchanting villages; Western Crete, Central Crete some of the top ancient-civ sites (Phaistos, Gortyn, Knossos) and East of Heraklion a drive that Biggie Green Highway, more ancient sites at Malia and Mochlos and Gournia. Here's a recent discussion that both "Stanbr" and I contributed to:

To condense my wordy advice, I think one can enjoy at least 4 days in Chania vicinity (no need for car when exploring the city 2 days), Then decide about South Coast ... If not a hiker, then drive to Paleochora & back. Want to see an Unforgettable beach? Drive West, stay 1 night at HOtel Petalida on a bluff overlooking Falassarna; the owner has fishing boat, serves the day's catch nightly. After that, think about a "V" approach .... from Chania to quick stop @ Rethymnon (for the Fortezza), then SE thru Spili (on that map it's a big Red Road with a white-boxed #97 -- but there will be NO such numbered route-signs)... to Matala or another Lybian-Sea place. Eventually, meander your way N.E. on that same #97 ... You might want to stop at Zakros in the hills (the Source for the the most famous bottled-water in Greece), then detouring off in "Wine country" around Dafnes, to tour a vineyard, have some tastings... and maybe decide to stop driving & spend the night! When u reach Heraklion, it has a marvelous Museum and some truly wonderful "palaces of Mezedes" (Ippokampos & Ligokrasi) but I'd advise just a short-stay there, with a seaview balcony if u can. The trip reports by Stanbr will suggest many more byways. Happy planning!

Posted by
91 posts

Firstly, congratulations on your 3 weeks, how lovely.
In order that you don't end up driving too much, I'd suggest you don't try to see everything, but instead select a few places to enjoy more slowly & deeply, along with a couple of short stops. Ideally, fly into Heraklio & out of Chania, to save back-tracking.
For instance (logically, roughly in this order!):
- As history lovers you will probably want to see Knossos & the Archaeological museum, so a night or 2 in Heraklion.
- you may like a couple of nights in Elounda, to see Spinalonga island (has a very long & interesting history, the last part being as a leper colony, & the subject of famous book 'The Island' by Victoria Hislop). There are good beaches around Agios Nikolaos. This is as far East as I suggest, then head West to explore that in more detail.
- I love Zaros (pretty sure this is where Janet meant, rather than Zakros which is very wonderful but as far East as is possible, which I'm not suggesting you do) it's a great base for a couple of days inland to visit Phaistos & Gortys, both interesting historic sites.
Then head to the Amari valley for a couple of nights, for some fantastic landscapes, hardly changed for several centuries. Perhaps stay at Thronos, at the head of the valley, for fantastic views
Rethymno, maybe for 4-5 days, as well as the town & beach you can easily visit Eleftherna & Arkadi monastery, perhaps Margarites &/or Argiroupolis
- Then I suggest you drive to Hora Sfakia, leave your car there & visit Loutro for a couple of days (optionally you could go further along the coast on the little ferries, but as you are not keen walkers it's not essential)
- Then to Chania, where you could easily stay for a week. From Chania you can visit many places, like the 3 monasteries on Akrotiri, Aptera, the Apokoronos villages, beaches & landscapes, the Botanic gardens, Therisso gorge drive, & lots more. You can go to the West coast for the day, to Elafonisi, or Balos, or Falasarna beaches.

That might be your 3 weeks taken care of! Enjoy your planning.

Posted by
2813 posts

Jwugg, we both have interesting itineraries, just in opposite directions! I suggested flying in to Chania, then slowing wending their way Eastward, you went the other way. we hit many of the same high spots, where I'd differ with you might be • Am not so fervent about Ag. Nikolaos, basically a resort, nor SPinalonga since didn't read the book. HAVE read book "Freedom or Death" by Nobelist Nik (Zorba the Greek) Kazantzakis which made me much more aware of life & perils in Heraklion under Ottoman occupation ... but still wouldn't recommend a long stay in Modern Herak... the Concrete Canyon.

I should have mentioned Amari Valley as a "loop" on the way from Chania down to the south coast, an enchanted byway, go before it changes ... but personally wouldn't linger 5 days in Rethymnon, maybe 2, the Old Town much smaller than Chania's and its beach while admirably sandy, is lined with those boring convention-type hotels, maybe I'm wrong, to each his own! Good idea tho to go to Hora Sfakion, leave car for a night or 2 in Loutro, depends... if one does not hike, what does one do there?

Whatever they decide, it's sure to be a memorable trip ... advice would differ depending on what time of year they plan to go -- April and July and late October are all very different; perhaps in later post debbie will say.

Posted by
7 posts

My suggestion would be to stay somewhere a little east of Heraklion to start with and would look at Sissi or Elounda as a base. Among the highlights in the area (and I am happy to provide more details) are the wonderful Lassithi Plateau which is gorgeous and the road up is a stunning drive with much to see on the way up and back as well as on the plateau. Lovely villages such as Mohos, Vrahassi and Kritsa. Just outside of Kritsa you have the ancient site of Lato which I think is one of the best sites on Crete. You have Spinalonga which I think is also a must see. Malia Palace is another option as is Milatos Cave. There are also interesting Moni's such as Moni Fanemomeni near the site of Gournia. As I said I am more than happy to provide more details and link a few together for day trip itineraries.
I would then move west and have a base in Chania (and perhaps a couple of nights in Rethymnon) or have a base somewhere between Rethymnon and Chania such as Georgioupolis (15 minutes from Rethymnon and 45 minutes from Chania Town).
Finally I would move down to the south west of the island and have a look at Paleochora as a base which is a lovely town with a great end of the road feel to it. From there you can visit Sougia which is a lovely village, catch a ferry along the south coast as far as Loutro which is a stunning journey. Visit Elafonisi as part of a day trip either by car or by boat.
Again I am more than happy to add more details for this area as well as the middle section of the trip.
Hope that helps a bit and any questions at all just ask away :-)