The island of Crete is the largest island of Greece and the 5th largest in the Mediterranean. One of the most beautiful areas of Crete is the Chania county. It is situated on the west side of the island and is the greenest one. It has pristine beaches, beautiful landscape and nature like the Samaria Gorge and the White Mountains, a picturesque town with a Venetian port and lovely village. The food is great and the people very friendly. Chania is the ideal place for your holidays.
Here are the best things to see in Chania Region, Crete
The Town of Chania
Your first stop upon arriving in the region should be to the old town of Chania. Easily one of the most beautiful towns in all of Greece, Chania is a mix of Cretan, Venetian, and Ottoman influences. It is composed of maze-like, cobbled lanes and the narrow alleys are sprinkled with beautiful Venetian buildings, elaborate churches, shops filled with traditional Greek products, and delicious tavernas serving up the epitome of Greek gastronomy.
The Samaria Gorge
The Samaria Gorge is situated in the Samaria National Park in the White mountains. It opens to the public in early May and closes in October. A certain degree of fitness is required in order to pass it because it is long and the terrain is tough (16km until the village of Ayia Roumeli). It will take you between 4 to 7 hours. The gorge is home to 450 species of plant and animal, 70 of which are endemic to Crete. I was a bit reluctant at first if I could manage to hike the Samaria Gorge. At the end it wasn’t that difficult and it was one of the most rewarding experiences.
Lake Kourna is the only freshwater lake in Crete.The lake is fed by streams from the nearby mountains and hills. It is the ideal place for an afternoon walk. If you are traveling with children they will love it. You can stroll on the banks of the lake, eat in one of the restaurants overlooking the lake, swim or just ride a pedalo and feed the ducks. You will also find shops selling traditional pottery.
Balos Gramvousa Cruise
One of the most famous beaches in Crete is Balos. You can either reach the beach by 4X4 vehicle ( the road is bad) and then descent for around 15 minutes to get to the beach or by one of the cruises starting from Kissamos port. The advantage of taking a cruise ship is that it will take you to the island of Gramvousa. There you will have time to climb to the castle where you will enjoy one of the most breathtaking views. You will also be able to swim in the pristine beach of Gramvousa before heading to the exceptional Balos Beach.
The beautiful village of Loutro
The picturesque village of Loutro is situated south of Chania in Libyan sea. Loutro can be reached from Chora Sfakion either on foot through the European path E4 (6 km, around 2 hours) or by boat (15 minutes). The beautiful village offers some basic accommodation along with some restaurants and cafes. You can either swim in Loutro beach or take a boat to Glyka Nera beach(Sweetwater beach) or Marmara beach. I consider Loutro to be a hidden gem that shouldn’t be missed.
Jeep Safari to the White Mountains
The White Mountains, or Lefka Ori, is the largest mountain range on Crete with its highest summit, Pahnes, a towering 2,453 meters high. The White Mountains are home to over 30 peaks that reach over 2,000 meters and several gorges, the Samaria Gorge being the most notable.
To really experience the beauty of the White Mountains, take a Jeep safari with Safari Adventure. The first stop on our off-road adventure was at Kafeneio, a traditional coffee shop in a small village. We enjoyed some Greek coffee, raki, and homemade cheese and herb pies. We got back in the Jeep and continued on to the dam, saw gorgeous vineyards, and visited a shepard’s hut. We stopped for lunch at Therssos village where we were served traditional Cretan lamb and sausages. Finally, we drove through the Therissos Gorge before arriving back in Chania.
A Boat Trip
If the weather cooperates while you are visiting Chania, you should definitely take a boat trip from the old port of Chania with Notos Mare. Notos Mare offers a variety of private day excursions from romantic full moon trips with dinner under the stars to family-friendly day trips. We started our excursion from the old port from which we were able to get some amazing photos of the harbor. We then sailed alongside Thordorou, a protected island that is a sanctuary for the endangered Cretan goat, the agrimi, which is affectionately referred to as the “kri-kri.” Thordorou is completelyuninhabited and is a Nature 2000 protected area. We were able to swim there before the boat took us back Chania port at sunset.
Visit a Winery
Wine has a long history and tradition and Crete is proudly home to the oldest wine-producing area still in use on the European continent. Weather conditions in the northern part of the island are ideal for growing grapevines. Wine is part of daily life as each meal is always served with a glass of wine. To really immerse yourself in Cretan wine culture, take a tour of Mavredakis Winery. On their more than 25 acres of vineyards at the hills of the White Mountains, the Mavredakis family produces native and international varieties of wine including Crete’s most well-known red grape variety, Romeiko. We were able to walk through the vineyards and the process of making both red and white wines was explained. We visited the cellars and tasted each of the 17 different wines Mavredakis produces paired with traditional Cretan food.
Visit a Traditional Olive Mill
Olive oil has been systematically cultivated in Crete for thousands of years, and the best olive oil in all of Greece can be found in the Chania region. The Chania region has anoptimal climate for growing olives and uses traditional techniques, such as cold-pressing, for the highest quality, incredibly pure, extra-virgin olive oil. Because olive oil is such a prominent feature in the Cretan lifestyle, you should visit a traditional olive mill. I paid a visit to Melissakis Family Olive Mill in Tsivaras, Apokoronas in the eastern part of Chania. They’ve been producing olive oil since the 1890s. We first saw how olive oil was produced using the traditional methods, then we were shown the more modern equipment that they use to extract the oil today. I learned about the difference between virgin and extra-virgin olive oil and to top it off, tasted some delicious olive oils that were produced there.
Cooking Lesson and Lunch at a Traditional Farm
While in Chania I also had the opportunity to visit a working olive farm for a Greek cooking workshop. The Olive Farm is located just 30 minutes outside of the city of Chania, at the edge of the tiny village of Litsarda in the foothills of the White Mountains. There are a number of activities to do at the farm to include cooking workshops, yoga classes, olive harvest workshops, wine seminars, olive oil soap workshops, and microscience for kids. We chose to try the cooking workshop and greatly enjoyed the experience. We started by exploring the vegetable and herb gardens and picked out ingredients for our cooking lesson. There were rabbits and chickens running around the farm, too! The natural feel of the outdoor kitchen made the experience even more unique as we made our own cheese, tzatziki, salad, and pork. We then enjoyed our meals together in the outdoor dining room with wine and raki.
Ancient Aptera and Koules Fortress
To immerse yourself in Crete’s history, a visit to Ancient Aptera and Koules Fortress are a must. During the Minoan period, Aptera was one of the island’s most important city-states. With ruins belonging to the Geometric, Hellenistic, and Roman periods, Ancient Aptera is a treasure chest of archaeological findings. Ruins of Roman bath houses, Roman cisterns, and a recently excavated theater can be found at the site. Near the ruins of Ancient Aptera, you will find the Koules Fortress. The fort was constructed as part of a serious of towers by the Turks after the Cretan Revolution of 1866.
Venetian Castle of Frangkokastello
Located on one of Crete’s most famous beaches, 80 kilometers southeast of Chania, is the Venetian Castle of Frangkokastello. Originally built in the late 14th century by the Venetians, the Frangkokastello was the sight of the 1828 Battle of Frangkokastello, an infamous battle during the Greek War for Independence, where Turkish forces massacred over 350 Cretan and Epirote soldiers. If you happen to visit the eerie fortress around the anniversary of the battle in mid-May, you might see what the locals refer to as the “Drosoulites” or “dew men,” unexplained, shadowy figures that appear on the beach early in the morning. Scientists have explained it as a meteorological phenomenon, but have yet to agree upon which one.
To experience one of Chania’s most magical beaches, head 75 kilometers southwest of Chania to the uninhabited island of Elafonisi. This island-beach is accessible by foot due to the shallow waters between it and mainland Crete. In 2014, Elafonisi Beach was named by TripAdvisor as one of the world’s top 25 beaches and with its remarkably soft, pink sands and warm, turquoise blue waters of the surrounding lagoon, it’s no surprise that this beach has become so popular in the last few years.
Where to eat in Chania Town
Located in the old harbour of Chania, Salis Restaurant serves Cretan flavors with a modern twist. It has a seasonal menu and all the products are from local producers.
Located at the seafront of the old harbour of Chania, Apostolis is a family run restaurant serving fresh fish and seafood.
This traditional restaurant located in the alleyways of Chania’s old town near the market is housed in building dating back from 1618. It serves traditional Cretan dishes made from local products.
Located in the scenic Tabakaria neighborhood, on the waterfront, Thalassino Ageri serves Mediterranean cuisine, fresh fish and seafood.
Where to stay in Chania
Chania has an abundance of hotels to choose from. On my recent visit we stayed at the Santa Marina Beach Resort hotel, located in the coastal village of Agia Marina, just 8 km away from Chania Town. Hotel facilities include spacious rooms with air-conditioning, direct access to the beach, swimming pools, a children’s playground, bars, and restaurants.
How to get to Chania
By air: There is an international airport in Chania with scheduled flights all year around. I flew from Athens to Chania with Aegean Airlines. During the high season (April to October) there are charter flights to Chania from many European airports.
You can take the ferry from Athens port (Piraeus). The ferry will leave you at Souda port which is just outside the town of Chania. From there you can take the bus or a taxi and discover the scenic town of Chania.
Whether you spend your time learning about Chania’s local olive and wine culture, exploring ancient ruins, or soaking in some sun at a nearby beach, there truly is something for everyone and you will never run out of things to do!
Have you ever been to Chania? What did you like the most?
Part of this trip was organized by Discover Greece, but as always opinions are my own.
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