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Crete without a car

Many people, it seems, come to Crete to see Knossos, or hike the Samaria Gorge, or rent a car to visit little villages and ruins. Not us. We needed to sit by the sea, with our toes in the sand, and let the stresses of the past few years drift away. And on this, our first visit to Crete, we found the perfect way to do that.

Chania
We arrived on the evening of September 5, 2022, after a flight from Denver-Munich-Athens-Chania. A taxi had been sent to meet us and take us to our hotel, the lovely Elia Palazzo on Theotokopolous Street.

We had booked a Superior Room with balcony overlooking the street. Bountiful breakfast included. Highly recommend both the hotel and the location. €122/ night. We booked six nights here, intending a day trip for an olive oil/wine tasting. And a trip to Balos Beach. But we learned that both would require hours on buses. And we were enjoying just wandering around Chania. So we skipped them without regret (nothing had been pre-booked).

Restaurants in Chania: Favorite was Colombo Kitchen & Bar, down a little alley. Amphora was good. Our worst experience, in all of Crete, was at Taman. This highly-recommended place served us an almost inedible meal. .. and afterward, the waiter held out his iPad and asked for a tip! Only our second night there, we were not sure if this was standard. So we tipped 10%, and immediately regretted it, and were never asked for a tip anywhere else in Crete.

Paleochora
Crete has a series of little villages along the southern coast, linked by ferries. This was the key to our car-free trip. So we took a 2-hour bus to the first one, Paleochora. We had booked the Aris Hotel, €111 per night including breakfast. Unable to get a sea-view room, we chose a small double room with a patio. It was fine.

A block from the hotel is a taverna called Methexis. Fabulous food. Across the street is a small rocky beach with sunbeds and umbrellas. Another small beach is north of town. And the main lovely long sandy beach is on the west side. We aren’t sitting-on-the-beach people but we love walking in the sand or just watching the sea with a frappe or an Alpha.We had planned to take a day trip to Elafonissi from here, but it was very windy and the hotel clerk said it wouldn’t be a good day. So we skipped it.

At night, the main street in Paleochora is closed off; restaurants and bars move tables into the street. There are lots of little lights. Feels like a party. We made the short walk downtown each evening for a nightcap to enjoy the activity.

Sougia
After three nights, we hopped our first ferry -- a lovely 45-minute trip to Sougia along the Libyan sea.

In Sougia we stayed at Oceanis, €80/night for a two bedroom apartment with balcony overlooking the courtyard and sea. We didn’t need two bedrooms but loved having the extra space. It’s very basic. But clean and comfortable. No breakfast, but there are plenty of restaurants nearby. And a bakery around the corner where my husband would pick up huge fresh croissants every morning.

We had four nights here and could have happily stayed longer. Nothing to do, really, but take walks, or read books, or swim, or just contemplate the sea. The beach was rocky and lined with tavernas, each with sunbeds.There are also two tavernas west of town (near the clothing optional beach) with comfy chairs where you can eat, read, and hang out.

The Oceanis courtyard was a great place to chat with other guests. I met a lady from Austria who had spent the entire month of September here for the past 20 years! Another lady was writing a book. Something about Crete (and especially Sougia) being the center of the energy of the world because Zeus and Hera were born here? All I know is that I have never felt more relaxed in my life.

Sougia has wonderful restaurants -- the best food we had in Crete. We will definitely be returning.

Posted by
2040 posts

Continuing:

Loutro
We were sad to leave Sougia but were intrigued by photos of Loutro. So we hopped another ferry, which took us to Agia Roumeli (for about an hour layover) and then on to picturesque Loutro for three nights.

Accessible only by sea, no roads lead to Loutro. It is comprised of white buildings, built around a bay. Incredibly scenic. There is a main ferry dock, plus a pier in front of our hotel. Little boats would come and go all day, taking people to beaches or nearby towns.

We stayed at the Daskalogiannis Hotel, in a triple room with sea view balcony and breakfast, for €117/night. It was fine but little things (like the air conditioning blowing right on us) took away from our enjoyment.

All the shops, hotels and restaurants on Loutro are linked by a covered boardwalk. At the far end of town was beach bar called Akroyialis, with beach toys (kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, etc.) for rent. This was a fun place to hang out. Like all the towns we visited, there are walks and hikes you can take from the outskirts of town. We saw lots of hikers coming through Loutro.

Plakias
Our final beach town was Plakias. My ferry system broke down here. We were able to ferry from Loutro to Chora Sfakion, but had to arrange a taxi to meet us there and take us to Plakias. There was some confusion (I didn’t realize Chora Sfakion had two harbors!) but eventually we met up with the taxi driver and we had a hair raising ride to Plakias (€60).

In Plakias we stayed at the Lamon Hotel, which was overall one of the best of our trip (deluxe double room with balcony, sea view, breakfast, €120/night). Right in the center of town, it has every amenity possible. Very comfortable. Wonderfully helpful front desk clerk. Even free sunbeds at the beach across the street which we immediately took advantage of.

Another rocky beach. Even with beach shoes, the footing is a bit slippery when first entering the water. But we persevered. We had a wonderful dinner that evening at GioMa Taverna. We woke up the next morning looking forward to another beach day, but it was cloudy and gray. Cool. Windy. Rainy. The next day -- our final day in Plakias -- was much the same. Disappointing.

After three nights in Plakias, we took at taxi to Heraklion on September 24. We spent the night at Kronos Hotel and took a ferry to Naxos the next day. I’ll do a separate small report on Naxos. We could have taken a bus from Plakias to Rethymnon and another bus to Heraklion, but the taxi seemed simpler (although a pricey €120) and delivered us right to our hotel.

And that was our first visit to Crete! We are already looking into a return trip.

Posted by
3975 posts

Thanks for this report. I'm adding it to my bucket list.

Posted by
2933 posts

Thank you for your report, Crete is on our list!
Were you using busses or just taxis? If you used busses, did you book in advance?

Posted by
7786 posts

Your trip is an example how traveling slowly is traveling better. And there's something about going to stay in one place or one island and getting up close and personal with the people you come in contact with.

We were on Crete in June--our second trip there. We wish we had enough time to really see the big island.

Posted by
2204 posts

Charlene,

I was happy to relive our trip through your trip report! We saw parts of the southwest coast by ferry like you did but my son and his girlfriend spent more time there. It is interesting how we all loved it, even though the beaches aren't exactly outstanding. We picked Sougia over Loutro but I must admit as we passed by I wished we had time for both. The white houses looked so charming!

Your taxis were pricey but then you didn't pay to rent a car (we did for part of our time on Crete) so you still probably came out ahead, given how cheap the bus is.

Posted by
2324 posts

Thank you Charlene for your wonderful report. Crete’s been on my bucket list for a long time but down the list. It just moved up for 2024.
Do you consider it safe for a senior solo female traveler? I’ve never heard bad reports about Crete.

Posted by
2040 posts

Cala -- I'm glad Crete is now on your bucket list. It's an amazing place.

Tammy -- We ended up taking just one bus (from Chania to Paleochora), and we bought the tickets about an hour before boarding. We did the same with ferry tickets (except for that final ferry from Heraklion to Naxos, which we bought weeks in advance). Taxis were arranged the day before. That final, €120 taxi could have been an inexpensive bus but we were getting tired at that point.

David -- That's very insightful. Travelling slowly really did give us the opportunity to interact with people. We were seldom on a deadline or rushing to get somewhere. I hope you get a chance to return and see more of Crete.

Beth -- Your trip was one of my inspirations! I was surprised how much I loved those little towns.

Horsewoofie -- I absolutely consider Crete safe for a senior solo female traveler. I think you'd have a great time.

Posted by
468 posts

Thanks - we visited Chania on a cruise ship in October and its on my list to return to for a proper land holiday - want to rent a car and see everything. It seemed a lot less over run with tourists than other Greek islands

Posted by
2204 posts

I did want to add two things to discussion of traveling by public transportation in Crete:
1. The buses and ferries are coordinated. It is quite nice. We arrived by bus from Chania in Hora Sfakion where we planned to take a ferry to Agia Roumeli (where we hiked the Samaria Gorge from the bottom). We walked from the bus stop to where the ferry tickets were sold and then to the ferry dock. The ferry left about 15 minutes after we arrived at the dock.
2. While it is very possible to buy tickets an hour or even less before a bus leaves, I always try to visit the bus station before that. When we did that in Chania, I discovered that the schedule had changed from what I had found online. It actually was better!

Posted by
2040 posts

Good points, Beth. We even noticed that a bus coordinated with our arrival at the Chania airport, loading passengers about the same time that we got into our taxi. If you know your way around (or you're not arriving jet lagged in the dark like we did) I suspect you could take that bus into Chania and save a hefty taxi fee.

And while we purchased bus and ferry tickets close to our departure times, we always made a scouting trip to the bus or ferry ticket office ahead of time to verify schedules. This is a habit from years of using public transportation on our travels: soon after arriving in a new place, we verify when & where we'll leave for the next one.