Crete is a continent all its own. Ask anyone who’s come here and stayed more than two weeks. For those who’ve not visited and travelers who only vacationed a week or ten days, worlds of fun and adventure lay waiting. When you travel, it’s best to think of Greece’s biggest island, like four adjoining states in America or elsewhere in Europe. Yeah, it’s that big.
In this report, I want to help people headed to Chania Town get the best possible experience. Of course, like any other suggested trip, a lot will depend on the traveler’s desires and expectations. This is one reason I will recommend the Platanias of Chania Prefecture over other beautiful places for your base camp. There are a few reasons why travelers should put their suitcases along this touristy, energetic stretch of beach. First and foremost is the fact the area is my favorite in Chania. Secondly, it’s got everything, but it’s also on the road to everything in West Crete. You can enjoy fabulous beaches, the best restaurants, many chic shops, nightlife, traditional Crete experiences, and much more. So, let’s begin.
You’ve just landed at Ioannis Daskalogiannis, Chania’s quaint international airport. Your driver, Christos Pontikakis (+306971665744), is waiting in the welcomingly small parking area outside with a big smile. You drive through fascinating Akrotiri, down through the outskirts of Chania, and along the north coast highway to Platanias. Ask Ioannis to drive you past famous Stavros Beach (below) if you like. This is where the famous film Zorba the Greek was filmed. There is a lot to see on the peninsula, but you’ll have to come back later. If you’re taking my best advice, you’re staying at one of two places. If not, you’re missing out. Really.
For travelers who want an authentic experience in western Crete, staying at family-owned properties is an absolute must. However, if you want Ft. Lauderdale, there are a ton of excellent five-star all-inclusive resorts dotting the north shore. Let me know. We have many resort recommendations all over Crete. However, I recommend you stay at either Vasiliki Apartments right on the beach/boardwalk or one of the Rock Houses Luxurious Traditional Cretan Villas right in the center of the village.
Here’s the lowdown on these two perfect stays outside Chania, followed by a first-day suggestion and high points not to miss.
Stay on a Budget
Vasiliki Apartments are run by a fantastic lady named, you guessed it, Vasiliki. These cozy, I’d say, “charming” apartments are perfect for families on a budget or out for a nostalgia experience. They even have the same coffee makers the high-end resorts at Giorgiopolis do, only hundreds of euros cheaper. And the quant apartment hotel is about —- Oh, 30 feet from the Cretan Sea.
This little hotel has a 4.5/5.0 rating on Tripadvisor, but it should be 4.95. The old-school Greek beach vacation spot is a warm, welcoming, nostalgia trip a few feet from half a dozen excellent restaurants, the marina, and overlooking Agioi Theodoroi (Theodori Island) I’m guessing the guy who complained of hard beds rook Vasiliki’s property down a notch. But remember, I said “nostalgic.” Don’t you remember those firm mattresses and frame beds from your childhood vacations? I do. These apartments are a trip down memory lane and a new of incredible Cretan hospitality memories in the making. The location and the atmosphere are perfect.
Rates in high season are about € 60 per night on Booking.com, but I suggest you call and talk to Manolis for the best deal. Beware, Vasiliki Apartments are usually 110% booked in Summer. Contact them via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: at +30-694-047-6438
Stay at Luxury & Reason
Just around the corner from the apartment hotel, Rock Houses Luxurious Traditional Cretan Villas is a Tiny-Eden tucked in a little garden just off the beach. These traditional stone houses are just splendid, owned and operated by Agis and his wife Yioula; they’re in the middle of everything and in solitude as well. Walled in by lush plants and trees, the two villas have their own pool, yard/garden, and alfresco dining/cooking spots.
Villa Rapsody and Villa Melody feature traditional Cretan architecture, furnishings, and all the usual suspects, like free WiFi, a washer, a dryer, and even a private entrance and parking (a rarity in Crete). Both houses have gourmet kitchens, fireplaces, terraces, entertaining space, al fresco dining outdoors, and much more.
The houses go for about € 200 – € 200 per night depending on your dates and where you book. For the best/up-to-date rates, readers should contact the owners via phone at: +30 694-625-5290 or via email at: email@example.com
Your First Full Day
Whichever accommodation you choose, you’ll want to explore Platanias a little, stroll or swim at the beach, and kick back and get over the journey. After breakfast, you should head to the marina and the great people at Seaking Adventures. A morning boating adventure out to Theodorou Island, snorkeling, and learning about the fantastic sea creatures offshore of Crete is a must if you visit Platanias. Captain Antonis and master diver Ioannis will impress you. Ask Ioannis to show you how to catch the octopus. This excursion is perhaps the best value on Crete fun/euros wise. Adults pay € 25, and the kids cruise for € 15. The trip is 3 hours. I suggest you call 698 694 7118 once you’re on the island and book in advance. All their boat trips are popular.
Anyway, back on shore, it will be time for lunch, so a short walk from the marina, there are scores of beautiful restaurants. The best of these is the Olive Tree Restaurant, which is a short stroll down the beach (East) from the marina. Here, owner Petros and his team create exceptional traditional Cretan fare made with all local products. This is another of the fine traditional restaurants/tavernas that abide by the “farm to table” creed. Always look for the Agronutritional Cooperation of the Region of Crete at such places, and you’ll know you’re getting the best.
After lunch, a stroll or short drive up to the War Shelter Platanias is a brilliant educational experience, especially for anyone interested in history. As you may know, Crete was the scene for one of World War 2’s most epic confrontations. In May of 1941, Nazi Germany launched the largest airborne invasion in history against the island’s British, Australian, and Greek forces. This museum is located in one of the preserved fortifications the island’s defenders took up. Local merchant Kyriakos Lourandakis, the owner of Utopia (a great bar – go there), took it upon himself to preserve this fantastic site. He is still the curator, a remarkable man dedicated to keeping history alive. If you have kids, they will never forget this place or Kyriakos. My son talks about him still, years since our last visit. For info and opening and closing times, you may call 693 241 7259.
Well, you’ve had a busy day so far. You’ll be half-starved and in need of a serene finish to your day. Luckily, right up the street from the War Shelter, there’s a unique restaurant with fantastic food, breathtaking views of the area, and magical sunsets. Vigli Restaurant sits in an idyllic location overlooking the Cretan Sea and Chania in the distance. We stumbled upon the traditional restaurant after visiting the museum for the first time. The quaint eatery is at the highest point of the mountain ridge, up several winding stone paths from the museum. You can expect the same quality gastronomy experience here as at Olive Tree, only with an unbelievable overlook and a stunning sunset. Have a raki on me since it’s free all over the island. :) Call 282 106 0559. It’s another very popular culinary spot.
You probably landed in Chania Prefecture because you wanted to be close to Crete’s most photographed town. But, of course, Old Chania is a bucket list destination; it will take you two days (or a lifetime) to fully enjoy. So, seriously, plan for a day strolling around the Venetian Harbor. I suggest a second day with a bike tour via Ride Around Chania, or a path I like, the self-guided scavenger hunt via World City Trail. The Treasure Hunt (€20) is a blast and one of the best ways to take in this amazing town.
A special note here, if you are staying with Agis and Yioula at the rock houses, they have lots of tour suggestions, local experiences, and contacts for you to get the best experience in the area. Without question, the famous beaches of this part of Crete are a must. Make sure to slate a whole day for taking in Balos Lagoon, which is in the extreme northwest above the beautiful town of Kissamos. Also unbelievable are Falasarna Beach (my favorite), fabulous Sfinari Beach, and world-famous Elafonissi Beach, a true natural wonder. Of course, there are many, many others. Take note, these beaches are geographically close to one another, but West Crete’s mountainous terrain puts them far off time-wise. Schedule appropriately.
By now, you’ve begun to realize there’s too much to see and do in this Crete state for a week’s visit. I feel sorry that many will have to pick and choose. That said, the south coast is a fantastic experience. If you’re driving, take a day and cross the fabulous White Mountains. Wind your way down to a beautiful remote village called Sougia. Maybe even take the ferry to Agia Roumeli, which can only be reached by boat or a long hike. With a simple Google search, you’ll find the possibilities are endless. From hiking the famous Samaria Gorge to visiting Gavdos Island, countless traditional villages, beautiful gorges, and waterfalls, this is a nature lover’s Eden.
More Close Wonders
Finally, right around Platanias, there are countless fantastic attractions and destinations. Go visit my friend Alexandra Manousakis at one of Greece’s most famous wineries. You’ll be amazed, trust me. And you must experience how some of the world’s finest organic olive oil is produced at Biolea, where its production and making is genuinely an art. Seriously, go and see the Biolea Astrikas Estate. A few minutes from your room, the Olive Tree Museum of Vouves is where you’ll find (probably) the oldest olive tree in the world. And also, for nature lovers, you’ll be gobsmacked at the biodiversity of the Botanical Park & Gardens Of Crete, which should be part of a memorable day trip into the mountains. There are so many more. I am almost tired of typing. Here, these resources will help you discover hundreds more. And the video above from the Region of Crete validates my contention that this island is a continent.
- Visit my friend Alexandros Roniotis’ Cretan Beaches, the most comprehensive guide to the island.
- Our friends at Incredible Crete have done a spectacular job of presenting the island.
- Greece’s Tourism Ministry also has an informative section on Crete on the Visit Greece website.
- And the Chania Tourism Bureau also does a superb job.
I hope this suggested itinerary/guide has been helpful. The people and places I’ve suggested have proven time and again to be among the very best Crete has to offer. I know they will not disappoint you. I leave you with something about the island, written by a legend.
“I have heard it claimed that Chania is the most beautiful city in Crete, even in Greece. These are quite some claims to make, but that anyone would consider making them should tell us something about the town. It is effortlessly sublime.” – Nikos Kazantzakis