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CRETE

Trip report: Desert beaches, mountain offroad, paths hanging on the sea: a wild approach to a spectacular Greek Island
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CRETA: PHOTOS AND TRIP REPORT

It's surprising how Crete in the mid of August can look like a deserted paradise. In a few hours you can drive from some active nightlife to completely isolated beaches.
So here below there are almost 50 beautiful photos (they are beautiful because of the landscapes, of course, not because of our photographic skills) and an entertaining trip report. Check them out!
If you haven't seen it yet, there is a map of the travel itinerary here: www.wildtrips.net/crete.htm.

Chania Port
Chania

CRETE TRIP REPORT

Who wouldn't like to enjoy a week of summer on a Greek island? And who wouldn't like to do it by driving a 4x4 over mountains and through canyons, looking for beaches that are empty even in August, along imposing coasts and fascinating villages?
Well, I hope that every sane person is up for it. Crete is the ideal island for this purpose, being the largest one of the greek archipelago. During a relaxing holiday, you can enjoy the beaches and nightlife of the northern coast, but the rest of the island can be explored like in a real adventure.
So, here it is a phantasmagoric (to be modest) trip report.
It was the 8th of August 2014, we were two, the plane was Ryanair, the sun was shining. We flew from Pisa to Chania, we landed at 3PM. We pocked up the Suzuki Jimny, a 4x4 convertible that would be our companion till the end of the holiday: 490 euros for a week with Anna Cars (a local agency), including insurance - the high season price. After just twenty minutes driving we parked the Jimny in Stavros, on a beautiful beach with crystal clear water and a rocky mountain as background. A good start for our improvised travel itinerary.
For the evening we stopped in Chania, perhaps the most fascinating town in Crete; it lies on the sea, is full of bars and restaurants, with streets and alleys on the water and an old, quaint harbor. There were lots of tourists and the city was quite animated.
Chania sea-promenade
Chania is the most beautiful and touristic city in the whole island.
The next day we drove to Balos beach along dirt roads that became more and more panoramic. You can reach this beach also by ferry, with organized boat trips, but the view from the top on this bay is something unique and unforgettable, with the lagoon and the rocky islands.
Balos Beach, Crete
Balos Beach. One of the most famous and yet spectacular landscapes of the island.
Balos Beach, Crete
Balos Beach
The dirt road to Balos is viable even with a normal car, albeit very slowly, so the road access is really advisable.
We took several photos, one more spectacular than the other, and we explored the hidden corners of this very famous yet wild bay.
Balos Beach, Crete
Balos Beach
Balos Beach, Crete
Balos Beach. An original and unique way to explore a famous place:)
Balos Beach, Crete
Balos Beach
We left Balos in the afternoon. While walking uphill, towards the car, under the sun, we understood while many prefer the boat... But still, it's not so terrible, and there are also mules for rent. We reached Falasarna before sunset. Here we found a huge beach, occupied only for a small part by bars, chairs and equipments for water sports.
It was dinner time when we began looking for a place to stay, planning to sleep in the car if we couldn't find anything for less than 30 euros each. Amazingly, even if it was August, we soon found a double room in a hotel with a superb view and a swimming pool. The room obviously was nothing special, but A) who cares and B) it came for 20 euros per person. In the following days, this kind of room and price would prove to be the norm for Crete, despite the last-second organization and the peak season.
Phalasarna beach, Crete
Phalasarna. A long beach in the western part of the island.
Phalasarna beach, Crete
Phalasarna beach. Here a basic double room with use of the swimming pool is just 45 euros per night in the middle of August.
We had fish for dinner (for the food, in Crete, one has to be careful, as the restaurants on the sea are often overpriced and the quality is not always great) and we spent the evening in the only bar with some nightlife.
Along a road that skirted sinuously the wild and sensual sea, passing near protruding rocks and deep valleys, we arrived at Elafonisi, a famous and inevitable beach destination in Crete.
Elafonisi beach, Crete
Elafonisi. A beautiful peninsula, to be explored, with crystal clear waters.
Here we faced once again the miracle of Crete. The beach was touristy and crowded, but it was sufficinet to walk for a few hundred meters along the sandy peninsula to find beautiful, secluded bays with crystalline waters.
Elafonisi beach, Crete
Elafonisi
We explored the area, then I hired a windsurf. The wind was exhilarating, gusty, violent. And by violent I mean very violent, it kept throwing buckets of water at me, shaking the board, hitting me with the boom and trying to drown me. Since this is my trip report, I can write here that I was skillful and acrobatic, but in reality it was mostly a struggle for survival, in which a thrilling glide on the water always terminated in an involuntary dive on the sail.
In the afternoon we decided to continue our travel itinerary along the coast (we didn't have a precise plan, but we wanted to follow - more or less - all the perimeter of Crete).

"So, shall we go to Paleochora?"
"Ok."
"Unfortunately, according to the navigator and the map we have to go back and follow a very long detour in the interior."
"We need to find a road along the coast"
In that moment we saw two road signs: a big one, in Latin characters, that led to the interior of the island, where we didn't want to go; and a small, run-down signal in Greek characters, that indicated Paleochora along a dirt road that seemed to follow the coast. We switched off the GPS navigator and we took the dirt road.
The track, in terrible conditions, full of rocks and holes, climbed to the top of a steep mountain on the sea. In the Suzuki Jimny we shaked as in a washing machine, but our choice was rewarded by the landscapes and a big sense of adventure.
Top view of Elafonisi beach, Crete
View of Elafonisi beach from the mountains
After the wild climb, the route downhill was paved (with lots of goats on the road). We arrived to a beautiful beach when it was about 4PM, so we took the opportunity to have a swim and explore the area, which wasn't famous nor busy, but that we loved. Later, we continued our drive, we crossed Paleochora but in the end we decided to continue to Sougia, where we arrived at sunset. The place was amazing: the town looked out on a long beach surrounded by huge cliffs. We found a room, and we went to dinner. In the restaurants the sea food was nothing special, and the very romantic atmosphere was more suited to couples, especially if with bad taste.
Sougia, Crete
Sougia. Another beautiful zone in Crete southern coast.
The day after our trip continued to the interior, toward the canyon of Imbros, which we walked on foot, downhill, between imposing cliffs.
Hills and countryside of Crete
The interior of the island features rocky mountains and countryside that can be really relaxing, especially if viewed from the terrace of a good tavern.
Imbros Canyon, Crete
Imbros gorge is several kilometers long and few hundreds of meters deep and it makes for an exciting trekking in the nature.
At the end of the trekking itinerary, lasting two to three hours, a woman with a mustache and her shaved husband loaded us into the back of their pickup and they gave us a lift, for a few euros, to the starting point of the walk - I don't think there are other options, apart from walking back.
Satisfied by the trip to Imbros Gorge, we drove down to the sea, we swam in the always clean sea and we continued along the coast, in places gradually more and more fascinating.
Southern Crete coast near Hora Sfakion
Hora Sfakion. Another beautiful stretch of coast in the south of Crete.
Loutro, Crete
Loutro
Southern Crete beach
A gravel road runs along a long stretch of wild cliffs and isolated beaches.
We arrived at Plakias at sunset. In this case it wasn't easy to find a room , but eventually we did it spending the usual twenty euros per perons. The evening in Plakias was quite lively... nothing amazing, but better than a high mountain stable full of Himalayan yaks in heat (I've never tried it, but I liked the comparison).
Plakias is perhaps the most touristy place on the southern coast of Crete, thanks to some large beaches within easy reach. At this holiday destination you can rent canoes, as we did the next morning, and try windsurfing, sailing dinghies, water skiing, etc.
By kayak near Plakias, southern Crete
By kayak near Plakias, southern Crete
Seagull in Plakias, southern Crete
Plakias
Plakias beach, southern Crete
Plakias
After the kayaking itinerary, we were back in the Jimny and we continued for several hours along dirt roads overlooking the sea, stopping every now and then to visit a beach and to take a swim. Every kilometer the coast became more and more wild and spectacular. With the eyes full of salt and memorable views, we reached Agia Galini at sunset, where we decided to stay overnight. We found a room that was nicer compared to the previous ones, and the price was even lower. Satisfied, we went out and we had some moussaka. The food once again wasn't anyyhing special, but the village of white houses overlooking the sea was fascinating.
Agia Galini, Crete
Agia Galini. A nice town in Crete southern coast.
So far the trip report was exhilarating, right? Amazing, no? No. Okay. But it continues anyway. I forgot to write that, between Plakias and Agia Galini, we visited the beautiful Preveli beach and the lush canyon behind it. The beach is spectacular, but in the south of Crete there are many beaches which are just as beautiful and much less popular: the canyon, however, makes all the difference.
Preveli, Crete
Preveli. Behind a beautiful beach with rocky cliffs on its sides, there is this very particular canyon.
Southern Crete beach
Southern Crete beach
The next destination was Matala, famous for its natural caves inhabited since prehistoric times, but also by the hippies in the 60s. The village is really picturesque, although a little touristy, and it overlooks a beautiful bay. On the rocky peninsula on the right of the village, there are several caves, to be visited (entrance is cheap). Not far from Matala and reachable on foot through a short but strenuous trail, there is the beautiful Red Sand Beach.
Matala, Crete
The natural caves around Matala were inhabited ages ago, but also in the sixties by the hyppies.
Beach near Matala, Crete
Beach near Matala
Matala Town, Crete
Matala
We spent hours swimming and snorkeling, then we left Matala and, in the grip of an insane desire for improvisation, we abandoned any logical travel itinerary and we drove to the north of Crete. We reached the highway and we drove east until we reached, Mohlos, or Mochlos, a beautiful village where we enjoyed a panoramic Mythos (the local beer). After some more driving we arrived at Sitia, a nice town where we lodged.
A Mythos beer on the sea at Mohlos, Crete
This bar in Mohlos, a small village in the north-east of Crete, inspires panoramic drinks. Mythos is the local beer.
The objectives of the next day were two: Vai and its beach with palm trees behind, and Palekastro, an ideal place of windsurfing. The first is so famous that it let us down a little: we arrived there in the early morning and it was deserted, but it looked trivial, and numerous parking spaces for coaches promised evil.
Vai Beach, Crete
Vai. In the eastern part of the island, a beautiful beach with palms.
We left pretty quickly and through pleasant landscapes we reached Palekastro. Here the wind brushing the bay. In the water there were dozens of windsurfs, on the coast there was a huge beach, mostly empty, with, in the background, a fascinating promontory of red rock.
We decided to explore the area by 4x4. We followed a dirt road that led us to drive along the sea on a wild peninsula. While the road got worse we were more and more excited. We passed a gate for goats and we continued adventurously in a beautiful landscape until the road, in bad conditions, ended directly on a pebble beach. We parked on the gravel 4 centimeter from the shore. Away from it all, we plunged and we enjoyed the beauty of the place.
4x4 offroad driving near Palekastro, Crete
4x4 offroad driving near Palekastro
Feeling a little wild, we went back to Palekastro beach and I rented a windsurfi. I fought against the gusts of wind. When defeated, beaten and satisfied, I returned to the beach, it was time for lunch. Looking for a restaurant we found another beautiful deserted beaches. At 3PM we finally found a characteristic and spectacular taverna where we got drunk of beer and meat and grilled octopus. In Crete you can eat at any time, and it you are in the interior or out of the beaten path the food is very good.
Windsurf at the beach of Palekastro, Crete
Palekastro. In the eastern part of Crete, this fantasic bay offers splendid conditions for windsurfing.
After some sublime and invigorating sleep on the beach, we drove for a couple of hours until we arrived to Malia, where we decided to stop - it was dinner time, for that matter.
It was the last day of our vacation, and with it, unfortunately for you and for literature in general, also this travelogue must end.
Before taking the plane from Chania, though, we had the time to visit the ruins, largely rebuilt, of Knossos - that after all the beauties of Crete and the adventures we had lived was quite disappointing. It's touristy and a bit fake and there are more fascinating archaeological sites in Crete, less rebuilt and in beautiful natural contexts. Knossos looked to us like a playground.
On the way to the airport we stopped for one hour in Rethymno, a charming seaside town of Venetian origins. The prize for the most beautiful city of Crete remains in Chania, in my opinion.
Ryanair brought us back home salty and safe.
As conclusion of this trip report, I am to write that an adventurous holiday in Crete is possible even in August: it takes just a rental car, some initiative and ability to improvise. In short, if you decide to spend your summer holidays in Crete, you will have Wild Trips' blessing (I know that without this blessing you would be lost!).
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