For those out there headed to Crete, driving the countryside is one of the great treats of this marvelous island destination. What’s more, navigating the well maintained Crete roads is a welcome adventure with mountain goats and sheep a plenty to keep visitors company. One such “discovery path”, the road to famous Elaphonisi Beach, is the spotlight of Argo today.
If you’ve used Google maps to pre-explore Crete, then you’ve taken note of the pristine wildness of the island too. To the far west and east, and especially to the south, the Crete landscape is as natural a panorama as you can imagine. As for the trip from Chania to one of Europe’s most famous beaches, Elafonisi is not just a destination, the trip really is an adventure. The hour and a half trek from Chania’s center (better allow two), along the main coast road, and through the western passes of the White Mountains, can actually be a bit harrowing at times. Sheer cliffs inches from your tire treads, around a corner surprises by herds of goats and sheep, despite the great condition of most roads exploring lesser visited places on the island is exhilarating for tourists.
Elafonisi, in the South-West of Crete dream destination for day trippers intent on lapping up the sun in relative seclusion. The main attraction of the place being the wild a wooly nature of the place, and its relative “middle of nowhere” appeal. Sunning here has become a fad for locals and tourists the past few years, but the trek you’ll have to make also makes a good “filter” to ensure the crowds are never too big. In early Spring, and in early Fall, Elafonisi is practically deserted. This is just in case you’re in for an ideal aloneness on a pristine beach.
The road to this area of Crete is isolated, to say the least. Winding and a bit spooky for its elevation, the two lane snake of a highway winds past tiny villages that literally cling to the sides of mountains, and numerous wild critters which scamper across the road to scare the living daylights our of the kids (and the driver at times). But for all its isolation and white knuckle driving stress, the sights along the way make any hardship a pleasure. We passed, a magnificent ancient winery (image above)Agia Sofia cave, passed along another of Crete’s marvelous wildlife preserves, the Chryssoskalitissa Monastery, and through a half a dozen villages with mysterious Greek names, the countless farms and rocky promontories, and finally down to the pink sands of Elaphonisi.
The water here, crystal clear and almost colorless, adds to the “secret lagoon” feel of the place. Tanning beds scattered about, beltray an otherwise sense of Robinson Caruso wonder. Deserted, this is how Elafonisi appeared to us in April of 2o14. Our group did actually run into a couple from Australia on a backpacking excursion across Crete, but other than this charming and rugged couple, only the minnows in the shallow waters kept us company.
Noted services and attractions:
Plant life and flowers – Elafonisi is a protected area and a so-called Micro-Reserve for the protection and study of Androcymbium rechingeri. The small island just off the landward beach is home to 110 plant species and a dream for anyone interested in botany. Most notable are Sea daffodils, Androcymbium rechingeri, and endemic Juniper trees.
Amenities – Don’t expect Miami Beach here, but access is AOK for most cars if you are careful not to drag your tailpipe off. The end access is dirt and sand, like back in the old days. Parking is free, umbrellas and sunbeds are available, as well as toilets, changing cabins, and showers. The aforementioned island has a path leading to the western tip of the island and the lighthouse that follows close to the rocky north shore.
Other features – A small and lonely Innachorion, where you can eat or get libations to quench a thirst. And Taberna Elafonisos (at bottom). Kite surfing and snorkeling are very big in this area of Crete. The famous Shipwreck of the Imperatrix lies just off the island on the seabed, and the lost of the ship are buried on the island too.
More information: Monoa Info has some great images and tips about Elaphonisi. The Elafonisi Villas are a very nice respite in case you want to stay at the beach for a spell, and Incredible Crete provides still more info and needed suggestions. If you still have questions about this or other wonderful Crete destinations, don’t hesitate to email or tweet us at @Argophilia– we’re always happy to help.
Image credits: Elafonisi Beach boat, Jay Thomas Photography