1. Agiofarago beach
2. Stefanou Beach
3. Aspes beach
23. Laggos Gorge, ZourvaBetween the villages Zourva and Meskla we meet one unknown canyon, one of the many of the region, which is called Lagos. Its entrance is located west of the village Zourva and ends in the village Meskla, at the bridge of the village, just before merging with the river Keritis. It is formed by the union of two canyons that are located a bit higher, that of Tromarissa and Pigaidakia (Pigaidakia is one of the most important and longest technical canyons of Crete).
The beach of Agiofarago is located about 80km south of Heraklion city, at the exit of the homonym Gorge of Agiofarago. To get there you must either cross the gorge, by easy hiking of about 30-50’, or catch a boat from Matala, Agia Galini, or Kali Limenes. We definitely recommend the first option, as the route within the vertical walls of the gorge is breathtaking. On the way you will see the large caves were some hermits still live and the chapel of St. Anthony, with a well outside.
The beach at the exit of the gorge is stunning, with fine pebbles and clear blue waters, which are usually very calm. West of the beach a beautiful arch is formed, beneath which you can swim. Vertical cliffs surround the beach, on where you might see hermits praying. Nudism is not allowed here, like in all religious places of Crete. The beach is ideal for camping, but you must carry all your stuff in the gorge. However, you can 'gain' some weight if you do not take water with you, but collect it from the well in front of the chapel, located just 5’ away from the beach. You could also wash yourself there (without shampoo!). Next to the well there is a trough from where goats drink water. If you have time fill it with water and many goats will come to drink, thanking you!
If you have your sneakers with you, in the afternoon you should climb the cliffs on the east and reach the top. The view from there is fantastic. If you walk southeast you will meet a hidden saltish lake, called Vourvoulitis, surrounded by vertical cliffs. It is a sinkhole communicating with the open sea by underground passages. You can approach the lake, but it’s extremely dangerous. To see exactly where it is, check out the map. You will see a dark area southeast of the beach.
If you want to get there from Heraklion, you should drive the road to Sivas village and then to Odigitria Monastery. From Odigitria you should take the road heading straight (the right heads to Vathi) and drive in the dirt track heading to Kali Limenes. After 4km you have to turn right (there might still be a primitive road sign to Agiofarago) and continue till you reach no end, in a wide area for parking. Do not leave your car under the tree shade if you don't want to see it ruined by goats, that get on the car roof to eat from the tree. Then walk through the gorge for half an hour until you reach the sea. On the way to the beach, you'll meet the small church of Saint Anthony and the caves. If you come by boat, you can visit the rocky islet just opposite Agiofarago, that is called Papadoplaka. There are huge holes with clear sea salt, that is gathered by locals.
2. Stefanou Beach
Stefanou beach is located near the position of Seitan Limania (i.e. satan harbours), 22km northeast of Chania and 2km east of the village Chordaki, at the east side of Akrotiri Cape. The wider area is named Seitan Limania, after the wild landscape, the steep cliffs and the strong sea streams which are very dangerous. Here are situated three parallel narrow coves, well protected from the waves.
In the middle of this wild landscape, it is not expected to see something tranquil. However, in the northern cove a tiny fantastic beach is shaped, with deep azure waters, namely the beach of Stefanou. The beach has fine pebbles and sand, transferred there from the nearby quarry through the canyon Diplohahalo. On the right and the left sides of the cove, huge marble rocks are standing high to protect the beach from the bad weather. It is quite unknown to most people, even the residents of Chania. This paradise is mostly known to the lucky residents of Chordaki village, who struggle to keep it safe, beautiful and clean. Therefore, please respect this place and keep it clean.
If you do not have boat, access to the beach is not that easy, as there is a narrow steep path leading to the beach. It takes 15-20' to reach the beach from the nearest parking plateau (accessed by asphalt road). In the path, you will see a door, used by the shepherds so please keep it closed. The beach is also known as Saint Rafael, named after the church at the starting point of the gorge. Moreover, another name is Agios Spyridon, after the old cavernous temple closeby.
3. Aspes beach
The majestic black beach of Aspes is located about 58km south of Heraklion, in one of the most remote and inaccessible areas of Asteroussia Mountains. It is situated 4km east of the hamlet of Treis Ekklisies.
Aspes in Greek means mountain collapse, due to the sliding cliffs of the area
Aspes has dark-colored sand, quite unexpected for beaches of Asterousia Mounts. It is surrounded by almost vertical high cliffs with beautiful caves formed in them. The caves hve orthogonal sides, like some has chiseled them. The colors of the sea have a vivid turquoise color, making it one of the most beautiful and scenic beaches of Crete and probably the nicest beach of Heraklion prefecture. Swimming and fishing here are two amazing experiences.
Access to the beach is impossible on foot, thus you can reach it only by boat. The nearest harbor is in Treis Ekklisies or Tsoutsouras. Indeed, there is a daily excursion boat running to Aspes from Tsoutsouras harbour. Because of its isolated location, the beach is always peaceful and ready to welcome the lucky boat-owning visitors. The boats are tied high on the rocks of the beach and their ropes create a weird grid!
Lastly, if you come to Aspes, it is worth having a spoon with you and collect salt from the natural salt pans formed on the rocks, at the side of the beach. Moreover, observe the tall rocks on the west end of the beach, reminding of dispersed Obelix's menhirs!
4. Balos lagoon
The famous lagoon of Balos is located approximately 56km northwest of Chania and 17km northwest of Kissamos, formed between the Cape Gramvousa and the small Cape Tigani. Balos is surely the mostly photographed beach in Crete, a very favorite subject of all tourist guides for Greece. It is no coincidence that Prince Charles and Princess Diana visited Balos with their private yacht many years ago.
Balos is famous for its turquoise waters, the wild natural beauty and the beautiful exotic scenery. During the summer, Balos is visited by thousands of people, who arrive mostly by the ferries running from Kissamos port. If you do not like crowds, you’d better avoid to visit the beach in July and August. Also, a perfect idea is to arrive at Balos in the morning, before the boats arrive from Kissamos. These few hours of remoteness in such a heavenly place will remain etched in your memory forever.
The lagoon of Balos has white sand and exotic white, vivid blue and turquoise waters. The sea is very shallow and warm, ideal for young children. In many places the sand has a lovely pinkish color, because of millions of crushed shells. Beyond the rocks at the boundaries of the lagoon, the water is deeper and colder, ideal for a snorkeling. The lagoon and the wider area, with rare species of flora and fauna, are protected under the Natura 2000 program. Eleonora falcons, shags and cormorants nest in the caves of the area. Moreover, the area is a shelter for the protected monk seal and the sea turtle caretta caretta. Despite the protection, a primitive café and umbrellas have appeared on the beach in recent years. You can buy water from there and from the bars of the ferries.
Some drawbacks of the lagoon is that the seabed is muddy and the shallow waters facilitate the growth of microorganisms, which sometimes cause an unpleasant smell. Lastly, the locals say that the sea currents transfer rubbish or tar to Balos.
Balos can be accessed in three ways. The first and easiest way is to take the morning ferry from Kissamos (around 25 to 30 Euros). You'll have the chance to see the wild shores of Gramvousa and the marks from their lifting up for 6-9m after a strong earthquake in 365AD. If you're lucky, you might be accompanied by dolphins. Furthermore, the ferry will leave you for a swim in the exotic beach of Imeri Gramvousa islet, where you will see the old fortress and the wrecked ship.
If you do not want to come by boat and have a car (4x4) or motorbike, you can drive in the very bad dirt road, starting from Kaliviani and running along the Cape Gramvousa. After 10km the road stops, just over the lagoon. The panoramic view of Balos and the island of the Imeri Gramvousa is breathtaking. From there, you can walk in the 1km long path leading to the beach or, better, in heaven!
However, the most exciting way to access Balos is by trekking for three hours from Kaliviani, crossing the rough and dry landscape Gramvousa. Do not forget to wear a hat and have plenty of water with you. If you come in Balos, you can visit the small chapel of Saint George located in Tigani. At Tigani, you could also visit the large cavern where many women and children were slaughtered during the Turkish massacres in 1825. The Christians were hiding in the cave, but the Turks soon discovered their shelter, thus killed them all. There is a commemorative sign at the site where the bones of the victims were found. Also, north of Balos, in Cape Korykon there are remains of the small Roman town of Agnio with the temple of Apollo. Today, there is the picturesque chapel of Agios Sostis.
5. Loutro by Sfakia
Loutro is a small seaside village situated approximately 71 km south of Chania, at the end of Cape Mouri. It is believed that this was the site of the ancient city of Phoenix and was the ancient port of Anopolis. Later, it became a winter port for Chora Sfakion, due to the fact that the enclosed bay and the small island at its entrance create a natural harbor where ships can be safe even in very bad weather.
You can stay at Loutro and use it as a base for visiting surrounding beaches, either by taxi boat, canoe or on foot. You can visit the magestic beach of Glyka Nera east of the village. Moreover, you can canoe or walk till the adjacent unorganized pebbly beaches of Timios Stavros and Pervolaki that are located 1km east of the village, just before Glyka Nera. However, if you want to stay at Loutro, the small beach in front of Loutro and the longer beach right after the east end of the village, called Keramos, are a very good choice, especially when wind from South is strong. The beaches are pebbly, well-organised and the water is always calm and has an amazing deep blue and green color. Moreover, you could visit the closeby beaches of Likos, Finikas and Marmara. There is a boat that leaves every day to Marmara and Glyka Nera.
Loutro is a place for those people who want something different. A small picturesque fishing village in south west Crete, not yet spoilt by mass tourism. For example there are no big hotels with swimming pools. There are no overcrowded streets, restaurants and beaches, there are no cars!
The only access is by boat or as you wish, by foot (1.5 hour hard trekking from Chora Sfakion). There are daily routes to/from Chora Sfakion, Sougia, Gavdos island, Paleochora and Agia Roumeli.
WHAT TO DO IN LOUTRO
Once in Loutro, enjoy walking in the scenic, unspoiled mountain countryside with its valleys and gorges. Firstly, you could visit the Koules of Loutro and admire the old endemic palm trees dispersed in the area. You could also climb to the beautiful village and plateau of Anopolis. You have to climb 2000 feet on a 2000 year old mule track, which you must take very easily, one foot in front of the other, sticking to the zigzag path, taking regular stops, especially if you are not walking in the shade. Allow just under two hours up to Anopolis where there is a very good choice of tavernas. You could also explore the Aradaina Gorge, the Imbros Gorge or the Samaria Gorge or make a day trip by boat to the island of Gavdos, the most southern tip of Europe and try to get a glimpse of escorting dolphins. Moreover, if you are a keen snorkeler, you might meet sea turtles that are very frequent visitors of Loutro.
The village was named ("Loutro" means "bath" in Greek) after the baths which have been found in the area and from which water was directed to nearby Anopolis. Among the older buildings that you can see here, you will find the Municipal Building used by the first government, in 1821. In ancient times, habitats of the area believed in Cretan Zeus and Apollo in Delphi. Some meters away from the village you can still see part of the ancient town and the temple of Apollon. In 1821 the Chancellor of Sfakia founded a hospital in Loutro that saved thousands of wounded fighters.
6. Menies Beach
Menies or Diktynna is located 45km northwest of Chania, on the northeastern shores of Cape Rodopos and at the exit of Foundas Gorge. It is a lovely secluded beach with pebbles and deep crystal blue waters. It is not affected by the usual winds blowing in the area and is ideal for isolation, far away from urban centers. For many kilometers there are absolutely no facilities, so make sure you have all essentials with you.
Access to the beach of Menies is a bit tedious, as you have to drive in a bad dirt track (23km long) from Rodopos village. This road leads very close to the beach, but is not recommended for low cars. Moreover, there are some small boats running to Menies from Platanias harbor, which run also to several other nearby beaches.
Menies is located on the site of ancient Diktynna. Diktynna was the most important temple of the goddess Vritomartis, which is believed to be goddess Artemis. Thousands worshippers used to come in the area from all over the island. Vritomartis was worshiped here during the Hellenistic and Roman times. There are still a few remains of the ancient Roman temple, but remains of the Hellenistic temple have not been found.
Also, about 1km southwest of the coast, you can visit the very old monastery of St. George. It was built in the 9th century but it was abandoned several centuries later, because of the raids of pirates. You can still see the fortified tower of the 16th century in the courtyard of the monastery, used for warning of the arrival of enemy or pirate ships.
Between Menies and Afrata we meet several small bays formed at the exits of small streams, accessible on foot or by boat. One of the is below Saint George monastery.
7. Tripiti beach(Gavdos)
The beach of Tripiti is located 7km south of Karave harbor and is the southernmost point of Gavdos and Europe. The eastern part of the beach is sandy, while the part close to the "tip" of Gavdos has large stones and pebbles.
The landscape in the southern beach of Europe has as trademark the three arches, called Kamarelles, formed at the corner of the island at the eastern end of the beach (after these "holes" (Greek: tripes) Tripiti gets its name). Over Kamarelles there is a huge chair, on which you can climb and admire the vast Libyan Sea.
Tripiti is shaped at the exit of a dried river and next to the beach there is a salt lake which dries in summer. The salt pan hosts many birds migrating from Europe to Africa in winter.
ACCESS TO THE BEACH
Beautiful Tripiti can be accessed only on foot (unless you have a boat of course) along the trail that starts from Korfos. The distance is 3.5km and the route crosses pine wooded areas and at almost all points you will have panoramic sea views. Moreover, during the course you will meet derelict stone farmhouses built at position Alyki (where another trail to Vatsiana starts).
When returning back, it is worth visiting the settlement of Vatsiana (through Alyki) with the few inhabitants. In Vatsiana you can enjoy the local cuisine. Apart from eating, you can also visit the small but very interesting folklore museum of the neighboring settlement Sgoudiana. The museum exhibits old objects of everyday life of Gavdians, while there is also a small collection of fossils that abound on the island.
- Prefecture: Chania
8. Preveli palmgrove
Preveli is located about 35km south of Rethymno and 10km east of Plakias. Beach of Preveli, also known as Lake Preveli or Phoenix, is located at the exit of the imposing Kourtaliotikos Gorge, where the Great River (Megas Potamos) is flowing.
It is certainly the most famous beach in southern Crete, accepting thousands of visitors every summer. During the 60s and 70s, it was a favorite destination for hippies. On the banks of the Grand River there is a large colony of Theophrastus palm trees, which give the region a sense of an African landscape. The river, forming a large lake, 500m long, before emptying into the sea, has water all year round. You can walk along the river, under the shade of palm trees and other trees, and start ascending in the beautiful canyon. You can swim in the cold ponds formed in the gorge. A big fire in 2010 burnt almost everything of this paradise, but paradoxically the palmgrove recovered most of its damage.
At the exit of the river, a sandy beach with pebbles and sand is formed, with sea water being very cool due to the river. In the eastern part of the beach, there is a beautiful rock reminding of a mast. It is poorly organized because the area is protected, without any umbrellas, but with a few restaurants and snack bars nearby. Moreover, you could rent pedal boats for a ride in the river.
You have two basic options for accessing Preveli, from the west or east. The first option is to drive from Plakias to the Monastery Preveli, following the relevant signs. 1.5km after the Kato Monastery of Preveli, you will stop at a large parking lot, where a path that descends to the beach starts. The parking is located near towering vertical cliffs, west of the beach, where you can take some fantastic photographs. To reach the beach walk the footpath that takes about 15-20 minutes. However, return is tedious as the ascent is rather steep.
To avoid the difficult climb, you can alternatively drive in the dirt road leading to nearby Drimiskiano Amoudi (see related article for instructions) and walk the short path that leads to Preveli in just 5 minutes. However, you won’t have the chance to see the spectacular view from the tall cliffs on the west side. Lastly, there are small boats running to Preveli from Agia Galini and Plakias.
Preveli gets its name after the nearby historic monastery of Preveli. It is a men-only monastery, founded in the 16th or 17th century and is dedicated to St. John the Theologian. There are two monasteries, the old and the new, called Piso and Kato Monastery respectively. The old is abandoned and you will meet that a few meters south of the old stone bridge, on the road to Preveli.
WERE THE FIRST CRETANS FROM PREVELI?
This landscape, characterized as one of the most beautiful in Europe, seems to have attracted homo erectus who might used to swim here, before 130,000 years... The archaeologist Professor of Art History at Providence College in Rhode Island, Thomas Strasser, who conducted excavations in the Southwest coasts of Crete (2008-2009), at the annual meeting of the American Institute scientists (01/07/2010) reported archaeological tools of that distant era inside the Gorge of Preveli.
- Prefecture: Rethymnon
9. Skinaria beach
Skinaria beach (or Shinaria) is located 33km south of Rethymno, 3km south of the village Lefkogia, in the east part of the wider Plakias area. The beach is relatively unknown to most locals, but for its few visitors it remains a heaven and some of them regard it as one of the best beaches of Crete.
Skinaria is a small beach with soft gray-beige sand and fine pebbles, with crystal blue deep water. The seabed is rocky, but on the north part of the beach, it is sandy. Life thrives in the area, in and out of the sea. On the beach there are small ponds with fresh water that comes from springs that carry water from the surrounding mountains. Around these lakes lush vegetation has been developed, reminiscent of tropical landscapes. Moreover, locals say that the life in the sea is as vivid as that on the beach. Indeed, the seabed of Skinaria is one of the richest on the island. It hosts huge morays, blackfish, octopus and generally all types of local marine biology, in abundance. Furthermore, water clarity is really impressive, exceeding 40m in horizontal direction. Indeed, it is no coincidence that a scuba diving centre works here and accepts tourists from all over the world.
The beach is slightly organized, with a tavern offering a few umbrellas and refreshments. The last time we visited the beach, umbrellas and sunbeds were free if you bought refreshments. The place is also ideal for camping.
The beach can be accessed via a narrow road that starts from Lefkogia. As you head to Plakias from Rethymnon, when you meet the taverns "Stelios" and "Vassilis" in Lefkogia turn left. There are also signs showing you the way. The very narrow road that starts from Lefkogia leads to the beach after 2km. On the way to the beach, you'll see an amazing cylindric cave on your left hand, inside a rock.
- Prefecture: Rethymnon
10. Samaria Gorge
The gorge is locarted at the South of Chania Prefecture in the larger uninhabited area of Europe, where no roads even exist. It was created by a small river running between the White Mountains (Lefka Ori) and Mountain Volakias. There are many smaller gorges vertical to Samaria Gorge, most of which have never been crossed by humans and require canyoning equipment.While the gorge is officially 18km long, this distance actually refers to the hiking distance between the settlement of Omalos on the northern side of the plateau and the village of Agia Roumeli. In fact, the gorge is 16 km long, starting at an altitude of 1,250m at the northern entrance, and ending at the shores of the Libyan Sea in Agia Roumeli. The walk through Samaria National Park is 13 km long, but you have to walk three more kilometers to Agia Roumeli from the park exit, making the hike totally 16km.The most famous part of the gorge is the stretch known as the Iron Gates, where the sides of the gorge close in to a width of only four meters and soar up to a height of 500 m. The gorge became a national park in 1962, particularly as a refuge for the rare kri-kri (Cretan wildgoat), which is largely restricted to the park and the island Thodorou just off the shore of Agia Marina. There are several other endemic species in the gorge and surrounding area, as well as many other species of flowers and birds.The village of Samaria lies just inside the gorge, in the middle of nowhere. It was finally abandoned by the last remaining inhabitants in 1962 to make way for the park. The village and the gorge take their names from the village's ancient church, Osia Maria ("Saint Mary").A "must" for visitors to Crete is to complete the walk down the gorge from the Omalos plateau to Agia Roumeli on the Libyan Sea, at which point tourists sail to the nearby village of Hora Sfakion and catch a coach back to Chania. The walk takes 4-7 hours and can be strenuous, especially at the height of summer.The problem with Samaria is crowds. It has become one of the" musts" if you go to Crete and there are up to 3000 visitors a day on very busy days. If you have the bad luck to pick one of those days, the atmosphere will be really spoilt. Starting at dawn (before the tourist coaches arrive) will give you a bit of a head start. It is possible to find good and cheap accommodation in Omalos. You can also start walking after 12.00, there won't be many people but you will most probably need to spend the night in Agia Roumeli because the last boat out will have left when you get there. However, we encourage you to do that, since staying in Agia Roumeli is quite cheap and the beach is majestic. The first tourist buses arrive at around 7.30 am and from then on it is an uninterrupted stream of buses until about 11.00 am.As far as the times of the year are concerned, the best time is in the spring: the weather is still cool and the vegetation is at its best. The worst time is in the middle of the summer during a heat wave. Give it a miss and come again at a better time.Local tourist operators provide organized tours to the Gorge. These include bus transportation from your hotel to the entrance (near Omalos village), and the bus will be waiting for you to disembark the ferry in Chora Sfakion to take you back. If you are on your own, you can make a one-day round trip from Chania or from Sougia or Paleochora. Note that the morning buses from Sougia and Paleochora do not operate on Sunday, but still make sure that you know the timetables. The ferries leave Agia Roumeli to Chora Sfakion (East-bound) and to Sougia/Paleochora (West-bound) at afternoon.Descent in the canyon starts from the position Xyloskalo at Omalos Plateau, at an altitude of 1200m. The trail is forested, wide and very well discernible, while at the beginning descends abruptly. We meet drinking water and toilets very often. In about three hours we reach the old village of Samaria, at an altitude of about 300 meters, after crossing by the church of St. George.
11. Agia Roumeli beach
The Samaria Gorge is the longest trekking gorge in Europe and also the most famous of all. Thousands of tourists flock here daily in the summer season to walk from the top to the bottom. For many visitors, it?is the sole purpose of their visit to Crete. The length of the gorge reaches 18km and takes almost 4-7 hours to hike from Omalos to Agia Roumeli, depending on trekking speed.
WHEN TO COME
There also exists a "lazy way" - from Agia Roumeli to the Iron Gates (more or less an hour of non-challenging terrain) and back.
THE COURSE FROM XYLOSKALO
In Samaria there are old houses, trees offering shade, water springs and if you are lucky you will meet the endangered Cretan wildgoat. From here onwards the landscape changes, becomes drier and the slope gets smooth. One hour later we meet a small river that follows us for some time. There are several small wooden bridges in several places, above the river.
After one more hour we meet the imposing Portes (Gates) which is a very narrow passage between two tall vertical 500m high cliffs. We soon reach the old village of Agia Roumeli that was abandoned in the mid 1900s due to a devastating flood and was moved to the seaside settlement of Agia Roumeli, which is about 30 minutes away.
11. Agia Roumeli beach
Agia Roumeli is a small secluded village, located 56km south of Chania, on a wide bay shaped at the exit of the Samaria Gorge. Thousands of visitors, descending the gorge, reach this place every day.
Agia Roumeli is a calm place in the wild and mountainous landscape of Sfakia. The only way to reach the village is either through the gorge or by the ferry from Chora Sfakia Loutro, Paleochora and Sougia. The more adventurous (and lucky) visitors could walk the path from Sfakia to St. Roumeli (7 hours). The picturesque village of Agia Roumeli provides all basic amenities, such as taverns with traditional food, rooms for accommodation, cafes, mini market, internet access and telephone.
Daily, between 13:00 to 16:00, the village and its beaches are swamped by the visitors of the gorge. However, after the departure of ferries, the village gets very calm! If you choose not to follow the crowd with the ferry, but to stay in the village for at least one night, then you will have the opportunity to admire this beautiful place with its unique people and the stunning natural beauty.
THE BEACHES OF AGIA ROUMELI
The beaches of Agia Roumeli wider area are magnificent, spanning a length of 3km. The closer you are in the village, the more crowded and organized it will be. The beach in front of the taverns, west of the harbor, is the most organized and provides a lot of amenities (restaurants, showers, umbrellas, pedal boats, etc.). This pebbly beach is the most crowded beach of all in the area.
On the east side of the bay, beyond the river of Samaria gorge, there beautiful rocky formations and cavities, which have beautiful pebbly beaches in front of them. These beaches are usually deserted. Even further, the beach becomes rocky and suitable for nudism and snorkelling.
The west part of the bay of Agia Roumeli is called Mashali. There is a second dock for boats and a lonely tavern with rooms. Next to this dock, there are two beautiful beaches with fine pebble. The tavern provides sunbeds, umbrellas and canoes for free. On these beaches, there are large rocks that provide shade, between which nudists may feel isolated. Little attention is needed when you walk in the main road, from the tavern to the dock, because goats on the mountain often cause stonefalls. Stonefalls are not very dangerous, but in order to keep safe, avoid walking next to the mountain walls, but keep on the left side.
Lastly, if you swim or kayak beyond the western edge of the beach, you will meet 2-3 caves, in front which "XS size" pebbly beaches are formed! They are known as Spilies sto Marmaro (i.e. Caves in Marble).
WHAT TO SEE
The Samaria Gorge is the longest gorge in Europe, having a length of 18km. During the summer, it is visited by thousands of tourists who trek the 18km in about 6 hours. Many of them have visited Crete just to cross the majestic gorge of Samaria. If you do not have the time to walk all the distance in the gorge, you can walk backwards, starting from Agia Roumeli.
Agia Roumeli is built on the ruins of ancient Tara. Tara was built by the Romans. To the west of the village, there are still ruins of the Temple of Apollo (or Artemis). Today, at this point you can visit the old church of Panagia (Virgin Mary) built in 1500.
On the hill above the village, there is a ruined Turkish castle (Kule), from where the view to the village, the vast Libyan Sea, Gavdos and Gavdopoula islands is fantastic. Walking the easy path to the castle takes 30’-60’. From the castle, if you continue walking on the steeper slopes of the mountain for 90’ more minutes, you will reach the ruins of a second castle.
On the eastern edge of the gorge, near its exit, you can visit the beautiful church of St. Anthony. The chapel is built in a cavity, shaped in the rocky walls.
Approximately 2km north of the village, inside the gorge, there is the old village of Agia Roumeli, in a lush green landscape. There you will see ruins of old houses and some homes restored by their owners. The village was abandoned in 1954, when it was completely destroyed by floods. Then, the village was moved to its present position, in Agia Roumeli.
Even people and food in Agia Roumeli constitute attractions! The people are genuine Cretans, with pure heart and real smile. The meat you will eat in their restaurants is bred by them. They also are the producers of cheese, vegetables and honey they provide in tavernas. Fortunately, despite the development of tourism, Agia Roumeli has remained authentic and picturesque, where you can meet friendly people, enjoy high-quality traditional recipes and the tranquility of nature.
- Prefecture: Chania
12. Matala beach
Matala is located 68km southwest of Heraklion, on the boundaries of the plain Messara and Asteroussia Mountains. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations of Crete and certainly the most famous beach of Heraklion. It is famous for the carved caves in the rocks and the hippies of the ‘70s. It is located close to Phaestus, the second largest palace of the Minoan civilization. Matala was the port of Phaestus, and on the Roman Times, it became a port of Gortys.
Matala is located at the exit of a small valley, which forms a large enclosed bay with nice view to the islands of Paximadia.The bay is a beautiful long sandy beach, 300m long, with fine gravel and crystal clear deep water. Moreover, the seabed is quite rocky in some places and the waves, due to frequent westerly winds, are very large and amazing. Furthermore, there is a huge cave on the north part of the beach, from the top of which some "crazy" people splash in the water. The beach is very well organized with umbrellas, toilets, showers, lifeguard, first aids, beach volley courts, snack bars, water sports, excursion boats, etc. Around Matala you will find many options for accommodation, entertainment and eating. Also, a large part of the beach is covered by tamarisk trees, where you can find shade. In the evenings, the bars on the beach are full with many people, both locals and foreigners. Especially in June, the internationally renowned Matala Festival takes place.
THE CAVES OF MATALA
The most striking feature of the area is the many caves, carved in the soft white limestone thousands of years ago in the northwest walls of the bay. There are several underwater caves, as well. It is believed that the caves of Matala were used as graves in the Roman and the Christian Era. However, many of them have rooms, stairs, beds or windows, suggesting that prehistorically they were used as residences.
The famous hippies of the '60s and '70s found their paradise in these caves, when they visited and stayed in Matala. Hippies expressed themselves freely, enjoyed love and creation. The hallmark of the hippies was the two fingers of victory, followed by the slogan «Peace Man». Around that time there was absolutely nothing in the area, but a small fishing village for the inhabitants of Pitsidia village, so the sense of freedom was unlimited. Matala became so popular with hippies that attracted several celebrities such as Joni Mitchell (sang a song for Matala called “Carey”), Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and Joan Baez. However, all that stopped abruptly during the Greek dictatorship (‘70s), when the local Church expelled the "shameful" hippies. Then the “children of the flowers” moved to other regions of Crete (Preveli, Plakias, Lendas, Vai), but most of them moved in Ios island, in Cyclades, and continued their happy life. Matala were abandoned for a long time and the Archaeology sealed the area with the caves.
In recent decades, the region has faced a rapid development and does not remind anything of the atmosphere of the past. Today you will see thousands of people, enjoying swimming on the beach, surrounded by modern hotels and talking about the lost past times. The caves are open to visitors for free, but it’s forbidden to stay there overnight.
Along the coast there are more natural caves, which are accessible by boat. Moreover, many archaeological sites and shipwrecks have been found in the surrounding area. The Cape south of Matala is believed to be the Cape Nysos, i.e. the point where the ships of Menelaus were wrecked (according to Odyssey). Southeast of the village, there are ruins of an ancient temple, and near the beach, a marble urn has been excavated. As we said, Matala were a port of Phaestus and Gortys.
- Prefecture: Heraklion
13 Voulisma beach
Istro(n) is located 12km east of Agios Nikolaos and 22km north of Ierapetra, very close to Kalo Chorio. It is a quiet village, situated in a lush valley full with olive groves and springs, which has been developed during the last decades. However, the development was fortunately mild, mainly due to the regional building restrictions because of the archaeological discoveries. The main growth driver of Istron is undoubtedly the emerald beaches which are scattered in three adjacent bays.
The most popular bay of Istron is located 500m east of the village. Here is one of the most beautiful beaches of Greece, which is featured in many card postals about Crete. Voulisma or Golden Beach is a beautiful beach with white sand and amazing turquoise waters. The beach is very well organized, although we would like to see that secluded. The only drawback is that when it is wavy, the streams move rubbish here. Then you can move to the smaller beach in the west part of the bay, which is very well protected from winds and less organized.
Between Voulisma and Pilos beach, there is a small peninsula, where you can visit the small pebbly beach of Hartalami Kolimbos, unknown to most locals.
14. Vai palmgrove
Vai is located 94km east of Agios Nikolaos and 24km east of Sitia, on the eastern coast of Crete. It is the most famous beach in eastern Crete, as its main feature is the large palm grove with the Cretan Date Palm (Phoenix theophrasti). Its name derives from the word vai, meaning palm in Greek. The palm grove is the largest in Europe with approximately 5000 trees, while there are smaller colonies in other parts of Crete and in the Canary Islands. According to the legend, the trees have grown from discarded date stones thrown into the sea by Saracen pirates. However, the palm grove is 2000 years old and the pirates are more recent. Thus this hypothesis has changed and the Saracens have been replaced with Phoenicians, that governed the Mediterranean Sea 20 centuries ago.
The heavenly palm grove is planted in a wide valley watered by the local river for centuries. An exotic sandy beach with whitish sand is formed near the shore, backed by the edenic palm forest, reminding of African and Caribbean seascapes. The entire region is owned by the powerful Toplou Monastery, which is the largest landowner in eastern Crete. The 15th-century monastery is built like a fortress, and hosts a great collection of Byzantine icons.
Vai was totally unknown until the early 1970s, when a popular commercial for the Bounty chocolate with coconut was filmed here, using the magical background of palm trees. In the advert, coconuts were falling from trees, however Vai palms produce dates. Consequently coconuts had to be falsely hung to create the right impression. The ad made this unknown earthly paradise renowned throughout the world. Thus, hundreds of hippies started to stay here on their holidays. In the 1980s, when hippism faded out, Vai was invaded by backpackers and rapidly degenerated into a rubbish-strewn campground. The palm grove was consequently fenced off and proclaimed a conservation area, being open to public only during the day light.
The beach has whitish sand and flat turquoise waters. In a few places, there are slippery smooth rocks, while on the opposite there are small islets that beautify the landscape. The beach is slightly organized (whatever the protection scheme allows) with umbrellas, showers, water sports, canteens and a tavern. The closest rooms to let are located outside the protected area (15'-25 'walk). If you want to stay isolated, there is a lovely sandy beach 5 minutes north of Vai, while another option is the idyllic Psili Ammos in the south.
If you come by car then you should leave it in the parking area. From Vai's car park, it's a 10-minute clamber over rocks to the beach. There are also buses running from Sitia and all travel agencies organize daily tours. The only drawback of Vai is that from the first moment you think that someone wants to dip into your pocket. Indeed, prices for parking, umbrellas and the canteen are too high. Moreover, the tavern is illegally structured, but unfortunately the greek state seems unable to react against the owner - bogeyman called Toplou Monastery, verifying the saying that priests govern Greece. However, Vai is one of the beaches that should definitely be visited by the first comers in Crete.
- Prefecture: Lassithi
15. Chrissi island
Chrissi island or Gaidouronisi is located 8 miles south of Ierapetra city, in the open Libyan Sea. It is a flat islet very famous for its tropical blue water that cover all possible palette hues of blue and green, the protected forest with large juniper trees and the thousands of broken shells that make the sand pinkish. The residents of Ierapetra love this island and call it simply "the Island". It is said that years ago by Gianni Agnelli, the chairman of Ferrari, wanted to buy the island to make it a tourist attraction. Fortunately, the locals rebelled and the island has remained free.
Chrissi takes its name (golden) after the golden sand that covers the entire island and comes from shell debris. The tropical beaches are crowded by many visitors who come by the excursion boats that leave Ierapetra in the morning and return in the afternoon. Chrissi has been declared as an area of natural beauty and it is strictly prohibited to camp and spend your night here. You must keep away from the fragile cedar forest, which has been signed with ropes. Lastly, collecting sand and shells is strictly forbidden.
The boat from Ierapetra reaches the island after 50 min and the harbor is located in the area Vougiou Mati, in the south coast. There is a tavern where you can enjoy your food. Next to it you'll see the South Beach of Vagies, where you can have a relaxing bath and rent an umbrella. Along the coast there are other bays with sand and stones, which you can discover yourself.
The most popular beach is located on the north side of the island, where you can get after a short walk from the harbor, crossing the magnificent cedar forest. After 5’ you’ll meet the main beach of the island, called Belegrina or Golden Beach. Belegrina is full of broken shells, the water is crystal clear and has sparkling light blue colors, strongly reminiscent of the beaches of the Caribbean. It is sligthly organized with umbrellas and a canteen where you can get drinks. The water is shallow and has great clarity.
If you walk west of Belegrina, the next beach you will find Hatzivolakas. It is calmer and the seabed is rockier. Nature here shows off its glory, with large fragile cedar trees, over 200 years old, surrounding you. West of Hatzivolakas, archaeologists have detected traces of a Minoan settlement that flourished because of trading Tyrian purple, the red dye used by Ancients and Byzantines, which was extracted by the gastropod Murex brandaris. Nearby, you can visit the small chapel of St. Nicholas, the old salt pan and the lighthouse of the island.
Alternatively, if you walk eastwards from Belegrina, you will find yourself in Kataprosopo beach (i.e. Face-to-face beach), which looks the islet of Mikronisi “face-to-face”. Mikronisi is located east of Chrissi and offers shelter to thousands of seagulls. The beach is less impressive than those of the north side, but more secluded. The water here is shallow and does not exceed 5m in depth (all the way to Mikronisi), making the area ideal for snorkelers.
- Prefecture: Lassithi
16. Agia Fotia beach
Agia Fotia, one of the favorite beaches of all Cretans, is located 45km southeast of Agios Nikolaos and 12km east of Ierapetra. It is a small bay formed at the mouth of a small stream that descends from the surrounding mountains. The settlement takes its name after the local Church of Agia Fotini (or Agia Fotia). The area is hidden in plane trees and tamarisks, while the bay is surrounded by high mountains and cliffs that create a magic scenery.
The bay has a beautiful beach, which is very famous and popular to locals. The beach has coarse grayish sand and crystal clear calm waters. It's a little organized and there are few taverns and hotels around. Next to the beach, there is a good beach bar offering very nice cocktails and drinks.You can find shade under the tamarisk trees of the beach. In recent years, beach volley tournaments are being organized every year at the local court. Finally, do not forget to walk up to the eastern end of the beach, where there is a spring on the rocks with potable fresh water, just next to the shore.
- Prefecture: Lassithi
17. Ahlia beach
Ahlia (or Achlia) is located 50km southeast of Agios Nikolaos and 15km east of Ierapetra, in the green area of Shinokapsala. It is a small hamlet in a small cove, surrounded by pine trees and high mountaints. In front of the cove lies a beautiful beach with coarse sand and vivid blue water. The beach is slightly developed with some umbrellas, water sports and some rooms, mini markets and taverns closeby. There are many tamarisk trees around offering shade to the visitors and the sea is almost always flat. The area is ideal for peaceful holidays and for families.
The word bonda is a forgotten Cretan word for the small river / stream You can access Ahlia by getting the main road heading east to Makrigialos, along the south coastline of Crete, till you meet the sign to Ahlia. On the east of Ahlia, before Agios Panteleimonas settlement, you will meet a small beach with rocks in places, totally secluded and ideal for isolation. This beach is called Bonda and is accessed by slight climbing from the main road, which runs just next to it.
West of Skinokapsala village, at position Kipos, starts the small and quite quite wide gorge of Ahlia. The pine-wooded gorge finishes at the beach of Ahlia During the winter months, waters from Thripti Range form a river along which there are several waterfalls (ranging from 5 to 8 meters high). Because the sandstone walls are not narrow, hiking is quite easy and no canyoning equipment is needed.
- Prefecture: Lassithi
18. Mochlos beaches
Mochlos is a traditional village, located 48km east of Agios Nikolaos and 35km west of Sitia. It is situated 150m opposite the islet of St. Nicholas with the homonym chapel, which is a very important archaeological site. The village retains the traditional elements of Crete intact and is an ideal destination for a relaxing holiday. The villagers, mostly originating from the village Sfaka, are very friendly and you will feel very familiar with them on the first day. If you're lucky, you might meet some of the events organized by the locals, such as fishing contests.
Along the coastal road of the village there are a few taverns and cafes where you can enjoy fresh fish and your drinks. The taverns are famous even to Greek celebrities. There was an old tax office next to the taverns, which was unfortunately demolished several years ago. In front of the small village, you will find the small beach of Mochlos that is sandy and has rocky bottom. Next to it there are the basic amenities, but still it is not organized. If you head to the east, you will find the second bay of the village, which is smaller and rockier.
If you want to stay isolated, you can also choose the sandy beach of Limenaria, located 400m west of Mochlos. Here is the local harbor and the beach is well protected from the waves. In 1986 archaeologists discovered in Limenaria a postminoan cemetery with several unlooted carved tombs. There were found more than 60 decorated vases and a minoan seal depicting a deer.
If you come to Mochlos, it is worth visiting the nearby villages Sfaka, Lastros, Tourloti and Myrsini. The villages retain their traditional style and are home to some very old chapels. Moreover, on a hill south of Mochlos you can visit the picturesque chapel of Holy Spirit (Agio Pnevma in greek) which has panoramic views to Mirabello Gulf. Lastly, near the village of Myrsini you’ll meet the Venetian Tower of Kornaros with the chapel of St. Anthony.
- Prefecture: Lassithi
19. Komos beach
Kommos (or Komos) is located 66km southwest of Heraklion, just 2km north of Matala and close the seaside settlement of Kalamaki. It is actually the southernmost and the most isolated part of the huge beachfront of Mesara Bay. Kommos was once the port of Phaestus, so you can still see the ruins of the town, near the beach. You can access Kommos by driving in the road heading to Matala, till you see a sign to Kommos.
The whole beachfront of Mesara is exposed to westerly winds, which mostly blow in the area. Thus, caution is needed because the seabed is covered by a rocky layer, not just sand. The protected sea turtles Caretta caretta nest in the sand of the beach, from May to September.
The northern part of Kommos, Potamos or Potamoserma, is a favorite destination for lovers of naturism, since the times when hundreds of hippies flooded the area. There are only a few tamarisk trees around, not buildings, because Kommos is a protected archaeological area and building is forbidden. Next to the archaeological site, on the south, there is an organized beach with umbrellas, sun beds, toilet, showers, a tavern and a lifeguard. All around there are many trees and huge sand dunes where you can admire the white lilies of sand, which sign the end of the summer. If you want to find a place to stay overnight or to eat, you can walk to the nearby Kalamaki, or drive to Pitsidia and Matala. Moreover, between Pitsidia and Kommos there is an organized camping site.
Wherever you are, the views to Paximadia islets is stunning, especially when the sun sets near the islands. Just opposite the archaeological site, 300m in the sea, you will see a beautiful big rock, which the locals call Volakas. Volakas could not be absent from the Greek myths. Locals say that the stone is the top of the mountain that the blinded Cyclope Polyphemus threw toward the ship of Odysseus in order not to escape. This was after Odysseus, with his companions, escaped from Polyphemus’ cave.
Kommos was the port of Phaestus and was established in about 200BC. It was destroyed by an earthquake several centuries later and was rebuilt on the same location. The archaeological site, which is closed to visitors, includes a Minoan harbor, many public buildings, warehouses, oil presses, shipyards and a large courtyard. Archaeologists have also found remains of a small temple, built on the ruins of an older one.
- Prefecture: Heraklion
20. Agia Pelagia beach
Agia Pelagia (Santa Pelagia) is located 21km west of Heraklion, on the west side of a long peninsula, which has many small coves with beautiful beaches. Agia Pelagia, initially a small and picturesque village built from the residents of Achlada village, transformed into a very popular tourist resort with many hotels, restaurants, cafes, bars, internet cafés, ATMs, taxi, etc., that is connected with regular bus services to Heraklion.
The main beach of the settlement is a long and narrow beach with sand and greenish waters. The Turks named the Gulf of Agia Pelagia in Tsanak Limani, because the area reminded them of a plate (tsanak = plate). Indeed, the water is almost always calm here and the bay forms a tranquil harbor. The beach offers many options for watersports, diving,umbrellas, food and accommodation. In recent years thousands of locals have fun daily in the beach bars of Agia Pelagia and choose its beach for swimming. Unfortunately, the beach is very narrow and the sunbeds have occupied almost the entire area, leaving little room to put someone's towel.
The main beach of Agia Pelagia is well protected from the north winds by the Cape of Souda, on which several ruins of the ancient port city of Apollonia have been extracted. Today on Souda there is a deluxe hotel. Just south of the hotel, in the north of the beach, there is the cavity of Evresi and a small shrine that is there to remind the place where the icon of Santa Pelagia was found some centuries ago. The monastery of Agia Pelagia was built there, that famous throughout the island. Thousands of worshippers came to the beach for the feast of the monastery and they put their feet or naked bodies in the sand, to cure their illnesses. Today, unfortunately, there are no traces from the monastery.
If you walk along the Cape of Souda (don’t confuse that with Souda of Chania or Plakias), passing by the shrine, after a few steps you will be above the most beautiful beach of Agia Pelagia, Fylakes.
A third unknown beach with pebbles is formed east of Agia Pelagia, below Hotel Diana. Vlyhada is a very small artificial beach with pebbles, but it is open to the winds. It is accessed only by swimming from Agia Pelagia.
Agia Pelagia was one of the most important ports in the region during the Venetian period. During the siege of Candia (today’s Heraklion) this port was used for providing help to the besieged Cretans. Later, the Turks built a fort here, traces of which do not exist today. Here, the legendary ship of Arkadi anchored during the Cretan Revolution, in order to provide ammunition to the rebels.
- Prefecture: Heraklion
21. Falassarna Beach
The exotic beach of Falassarna is located 59km west of Chania and 17km west of Kissamos. It’s located in the western part of Cape Gramvousa. At the northern end of the beach are the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Falassarna.
Falassarna bay is one of the most famous beaches in Greece, which has been awarded as the best beach of Crete and one of the 10 best beaches in Europe in the past. Falasarna spans a huge area and consists actually of five consecutive beaches, with the two most central being the most favorite.
The sand in Falassarna is white, making the water color tropical. Indeed, if you're lucky and be here on a day that is not blowing from the west, rare in west Crete, you will be enchanted by the beach and its turquoise waters.
The main beach of Falassarna is called Pacheia Ammos (i..e Coarse Sand). It is an exotic beach with a length of 1km and a width of 150m. This beach hosts the most visitors of the area, but because of its length it never seems crowded. The beach offers umbrellas and a few snack bars and cafes where you can get food and water. There are also services for water sports and a beach volley court.
There is another long beach north of the main beach having a length of 800m, identical to the main beach, which is broken into several smaller beaches. This bay is divided in half by a sand dune and a few rocks. The beach is more quiet than Pacheia Ammos and offers no facilities. Nearby, there is the chapel of Agia Paraskevi and a spring with fresh water.
Further north, near the archaeological site, there is a small cove looking south. It is pebbly and the seabed is rocky. It is a good choice when the winds blow from west or you seek isolation. South of Pacheia Ammos, at Livadi, there is another long beach that has sandy shore and rocky seabed. It is a very good choice for fans of the snorkelling. Livadi is surrounded by a very important wetland with ponds, which host many birds in winter. Even southern, near the small harbor of Limeniskos settlement there is a small pebbly beach, which is a good choice if you do not want to stay remote.
The area around Falassarna is magnificent and is a Natura protected region. If you have time and looking for something romantic, you can wait for the sunset, which is considered the best in Crete. How could this not be the best, when being in such an amazing landscape and there is no obstacle between the beach the horizon? When it gets dark, you might be lucky to visit one of the several beach partys organized in Falassarna during summer.
One drawback about Falasarna is that it looks west and is usually wavy. However, this is desired by windsurfers. There are also reports that the surrounding greenhouses pollute the sea with fertilizers and trash, which, if being true, is a real shame. If you do not have a mean to get in Falassarna, you can catch the bus from Chania or Kissamos.
Ancient Falassarna or Korykos was the main port of the Polyrinia and flourished in the 4th and 3rd centuries BC. The ruins of Polyrinia are located 6km south of Kissamos. It is named after the local nymph Falassarni. Falasarna had its own coin, with a woman on one side and the letters ΦΑ to the other.
In the ruined city, north of the beach, you can still see the city walls, ruins of the acropolis, remains of houses, ancient tombs and a stone throne, which is believed that was dedicated to the God of the Sea, Poseidon. Today, the ancient port are located on the shore, probably to the elevation of 6-9 m caused by the strong earthquake of 365 AD. Also, a part of the city seems to be immersed in the sea.
- Prefecture: Chania
22. Sarakina Gorge, Meskla
Near village Meskla at the root of the White Mountains, we meet the small, but really impressive, gorge of Sarakina (don't confuse it with the other popular gorge named Sarakina in East Crete, by Mythi at Province Ierapetra). The name Sarakina comes from the faith of the locals that Saracenes used to hide in there. Locating the gorge is not very easy, therefore it remains quite unknown to locals. It is a short (in length) gorge but is a real natural sculpture.
It is literally hidden in a ravine with some huge cypress and plane trees. In recent years, the local authorities tried to promote the site and build trails in Sarakina, thus they created a path that crosses the gorge starting from Meskla and ending at the starting point again (the path is circular) after one hour of easy hiking. At first we walk for ten minutes on a dirt road that eventually gives way to the path running along the riverside.
Along the trail there are wooden and stone steps, and metal corridors that cross the river. After the first ten minutes, the landscape changes completely and the gravel bed gives way to boulders of compact limestone, creating a true miracle of nature. The rock looks torn in the middle and the nature has created an amazing sculpture.
- Prefecture: Chania
23. Laggos Gorge, Zourva
Laggos is a truly beautiful and unspoilt technical gorge, crossing of which requires rope. Despite the fact that is a technical canyon, it has only a few very small rappels and a lot of walking. The rappels are not very high, are very well secured with double locks and therefore it is an excellent canyon for beginners at rappelling. It is not very narrow but still forms some beautiful narrow passages.
The vegetation along the gorge consists of plane trees, huge cypress and oak trees. It has water only in winter, after several storms and rainy periods. The most impressive and technical part is located close to the end, just before merging with the small gorge of Pises that starts from Laki Gorge. The descent of Lagos requires 2-3 hours.
At its exit at Meskla we meet a huge rock about 40 meters high, atop which there is a rock shelter. This rock is called Bee's Top. According to tradition, the rock shelter once hosted a huge wild beehive. The beehive was visible from the village and everyone wanted to get its honey, but could not reach it. A very poor villager thought that if he could reach it he would become rich. These years, the wax was more expensive than the honey. So, he promised Panagia (Virgin Mary) to devote all the wax to Her, if she helped him to reach the honey. He then cut huge cypress trees and managed to construct an enormous scaffold and climbed to the top of the rock. When he realized how big it was and how much beehive honey and wax it could yield, he thought that if he would sell all the honey and wax he would become very wealthy. While returning back, Virgin Mary knocked him down from the scaffolding, as a punishment for his greed.
- Prefecture: Chania