Greece is one of the most magical countries. On the Mediterranean Sea, the people and the vibe of Greece are warm, welcoming, and relaxed. You could spend all day swimming in the blue waters with the iconic white washed buildings in the backdrop, sipping beautiful wine, and eating to your heart's desire.
Crete is the largest island in Greece and 88th largest island in the world, over 3,200sq. miles. So while visiting most other Greek islands, such as Santorini and Milos, renting a scooter, bike or ATV is the best way to see the whole island in just a couples of days, you’ll need more power and more time than that to see Crete.
When I arrived on Crete, I was lucky enough to see and stay with a dear friend of mine. Her father is originally from the island so she has spent all of her life visiting Crete (and the rest of Greece) for months at a time.
We had five days on the island, so we rented a car and set out to see as many of the beautiful towns and beaches as we could on western Crete.
We started in Heraklion, the capital and largest city of the island. Heraklion is a lively port city filled with sights including famed Knossos (the Minoan palace said to be Europe's oldest city), museums, restaurants, bars and hotels.
From there, we made our way west, stopping in Rethymno for a walk along the beach. The town was a bit touristy but it did provide us with the first highlight of the road trip….great food!
1. Delightful Cuisine at Prima Plora
Prima Plora is an organic restaurant & wine bar with views of the ocean and the adorable town of Rethymno in the distance. They serve incredibly delicious food and Greek wine. We sat here for hours just soaking up the experience. It’s a restaurant my friend goes to every single time she’s in Rethymno.
Back on the road, heading still west, we saw a sign for a winery and campground nearby. For wine, we stop!
2. Wine Tasting at Pnevmatikakis Winery
I love wine. I particularly enjoy wine tasting in different countries, being introduced to another great wine region and learning about the history, tradition and culture of wine in the area. My first Cretan wine experience was in the tiny, quaint town of Drapanias at Pnevmatikakis Winery.
We walked into the establishment and they lead us upstairs for the tasting, where we quickly saw a massive table with about a dozen wines and other goodies like olive oil and Tsikoudia (a very popular Cretan liquor often called Raki) laid out. She explained each one to us and then went back downstairs, allowing us to try as many and as much as we wanted. We stood there in shock and pure delight. We tried everything a couple of times to be sure of which to buy. We were very thankful that the campground was just across the way, no more driving today!
The next morning, we awoke early to head to Balos beach. This beach and the nearby town were my third highlight from the road trip.
3. Balos Beach & Kaliviani Town
Balos beach is a remote beach located in northwestern Crete, with crystalline blue water and slightly pink sand!
Since it is possibly the most beautiful and famous beach on the island, we wanted to get an early start so we could find parking in the wild, natural, unpaved lot and a place to lay on the beach.
After a few hours of enjoying the sun and swimming in the ocean, we headed back through the charming town of Kaliviani. The town has only one road, it’s the road you have to take to get to Balos, so there’s no getting lost.
Here we had a very late breakfast at Agarathos, a relaxed, small tavern offering authentic Cretan specialties. We both ordered the yogurt it was the best Greek Yogurt I have every had; delicious taste and texture!
In the town of Kaliviani, it's hard to not admired the surroundings, particularly the restaurant just next door, Gramboussa, which wasn’t open for lunch yet but looked incredibly inviting. In fact, Gramboussa had been recommended to us so it was such a surprise to unexpectedly stumble upon it!
After we ate, we headed through the mountains and dramatic cliff side road inland to Palaeochora, my fourth highlight.
4. Hippie beach town of Palaeochora
The town of Palaeochora is tiny, colorful and artsy. You’ll find lots of artisanal jewelers and other goods here. Plus, no shortage of lovely beaches. As a peninsula, on one side of Paleochora you’ll find sand beaches and the other side is stone. Stone beaches often mean much clearer water, but the sand side has the sunset.
For dinner, we headed to local favorite called Third Eye, a vegetarian restaurant making classic Greek favorites. Since this was my first time as a vegetarian in Greece, I was so thrilled to have a meatless Moussaka!
TRAVELERS TIP: Palaeochora, head up the mountain to the small town of Anidri for a coffee or lunch with a view. There’s only one restaurant up there so you won’t miss it!
After food and wine, we continued north to the town of Chania. We passed through the lovely small town of Kandanos where they have a WWII museum that’s worth a visit.
5. World War II Museum in Kandanos
The town of Kandanos was one of those small, traditional towns where all the men are sitting at tables outside eating unidentifiable meat and talking enthusiastically. It is the kind of town so cute that you just have to stop. So we did. We got out of the car and walked around and noticed a sign for a World War II museum, which we both thought was a rather odd place for one.
Turns out Kandanos, like many cities in Europe was invaded by the Nazi’s, but unlike any other city, the Nazi’s wrote threatening messages on large wooden doors and stone, making Kandanos the only place where Nazi’s left behind proof of their destruction.
It's not the most impressive museum I've ever been to but it was filled with memorabilia from the war including shocking pictures of the people who fought hard to protect their town. The museum feels more like you've walking into someone's home, which I greatly appreciated the desire to share the story of the past.
After our brief pit stop, we continued north to Chania where we very unexpectedly discovered another winery which is my 6th highlight of the road trip.
6. Wine Tasting at Anoskeli Winery
Buried deep in the rolling hills of western Crete is the lovely Anoskeli Winery. Wine tasting is free, but for 5 euros you can have a massive plate of bread, cheese, tomatoes and cucumbers. We obviously opted to add on the “meze”, meaning a selection of small dishes served to accompany alcoholic drinks.
Anoskeli makes some of the nicest wine I’ve ever tasted! We were lucky that they distribute to one of the larger markets found around Greece, since we were so enamored with the wine, we went roughly a dozen of the stores around the country to find and buy the wine! They didn’t always have it, but we did let lucky a couple of times! If you see these wine bottles being sold in Greece, try one!
Back on the road, still heading to Chania, and very satisfied with our lovely and unexpected pit stops on the way. Soon we reach the town, and it’s just as adorable as I’d heard.
7. Charming Chania
The town of Chania is inviting with lots of restaurants on the water, narrow winding streets full of shops and it’s world-renowned Venetian lighthouse.
We found a farmer’s market in town selling Kalitsouna pies, Cretan honey, and cheeses. Since we had purchased wine from Anoskeli, we decided to have ourselves a picnic with our delicious Cretan wine and other Cretan food favorites.
After Chania we started working our way back to Heraklion where we’d spend another night at the apartment before taking the ferry to Milos, and island in the Cyclades.
On the way we saw signs for a cave, and since we opted not to stop at one a few days before, we decided we’d try for the cave today.
8. Exploring Gerontospilios Cave
Near the town of Melidoni, is an impressive cave called Gerontospilios but often referred to as Melidoni Cave. It has a very rich history; archaeological findings indicate that the cave had been inhabited continuously from the Late Neolithic Era till the Late Roman period.
In more recent history, the cave was used as protection during the Turkish invasion in 1823 where roughly 340 women and children, and 30 men from Melidoni village found refuge in the cave, in order to escape the Turkish army.
Fun Facts: Crete’s oldest settlement has been dated to 130,000 years ago. Crete has been ruled by everyone from the Romans, to the Arabs, to the Ottomans during the last 5,000 years.
In just four days, we were able to discover so much beautiful nature, food, history and culture on the island of Crete.
At Sapphire & Elm Travel Co. I’m proud to have been to the country. I don’t plan my clients’ vacations based on vague, outdated or incomplete internet searches, but on personal experience and knowledge.
By traveling to the country ahead of my clients I am able to research and gather insight into the cities, activities, hotels, transportation, what to see, what to miss, and more. This often means I make mistakes in order to save my clients precious time, energy, money and hassle while you’re abroad.