Ah beautiful Crete. This was by far, our favorite leg of our Greece trip. Crete is the largest of the Greek isles and as such, we decided to split our trip with 3 days in Chania and 2.5 days in Elounda. I highly recommend doing this as it gives you the time needed to explore and really take in the island without trying to drive from one end to the other in one day. It is a beautiful island with amazingly hospitable people who take great pride in their shops and restaurants.
We took a 45 minute flight out of Athens and rented a car from Sixt (counter at the airport) to get around. If you are brave enough to take on the Greek driving experience, I’d highly recommend renting a car. We drove about an hour to our hotel in Chania, Domes Noruz. Trust me- you must stay here. The service was impeccable, and the restaurant was amazing. Upon arrival, we met our lovely concierge who gave us a full tour of the property and our room. Rooms have Nespresso machines, wading pools and private patios. There is also a spa on site which looks really nice, but we didn’t indulge (should have!)
We were starving and ordered an early lunch from the restaurant, a tasty salad with grilled Greek cheeses and some freshly baked bread with dipping sauces. Heaven!
We were feeling our jet lag and decided to relax by one of the two pools until dinner where we ventured out into the old Venetian port area of town. The stroll down the waterfront is so romantic in the evening, with tons of restaurants to choose from and little shops to explore down cobblestone alleyways. We opted for some Italian food for dinner as we needed a break from the Greek fare. We both enjoyed pasta dishes at Veneto. The pizza here is supposed to be quite good as well. The food and service were on point and made for a perfect, romantic evening.
We ate breakfast at the Domes Noruz restaurant almost every day and it was worth every penny. It’s a huge Greek spread of miniature baked goods, fresh breads, jams, honey, nuts, fruits, yogurt, granola and hot items like eggs and sausage, all that you can enjoy on the patio overlooking the ocean.
For our first full day, we ventured out to the famous pink sand beach, Elafonissi. It was a bit of a trek from our hotel on narrow, winding roads sprinkled with tiny, idyllic villages. The beach was more crowded than we expected, but still worth the trip. There are several stands where you can buy a bite to eat and restrooms that cost a euro to use. Be advised that the beach is extremely windy so you’ll want to bring a towel to sit on and a towel to wrap yourself in when the wind picks up. We were able to find a spot amidst some rocks to lay out, enjoy the views and read. There’s an inlet of water that you can wade through that is quite warm with clear water. The water is a breathtaking blue with lots of soft sand to put your toes in.
From the beach we headed back to Chania with a few planned stops along the way. We popped in a shop called To Pantopolion which is a gem filled with wares from local artisans and Cretan products. We really wanted to bring back gifts and souvenirs that were unique and truly Greek and this shop offers just that. Our concierge recommended we visit a tucked away eco resort, Milia Mountain Retreat. You guys….this is a must visit. It’s a bit of a beast to get there, up some winding, narrow, non-paved roads, but WHEN you get there, it feels like you’ve stepped into an old world fairy tale. The property dates back to the 17th century and has since been restored into a sustainable resort and restaurant hosting cooking courses and activities for guests. We enjoyed a fantastic late lunch in their rustic dining room made primarily from ingredients grown on the property including a spinach feta hand pie, bean salad, strawberry sorbet and goat’s milk ice cream.
We headed back to the resort and were still full from lunch so turned in as we had a 5am wakeup call.
The Samaria Gorge! If you are on the athletic side and love nature and hiking, you must hike the Samaria Gorge, the largest gorge in Europe. There are several tour companies and I would highly recommend the company we used, Elafonissos Travel and mountain goat of a guide, Kostos. This is an ALL day adventure and does require a certain level of physical fitness as it’s over 11 miles of rocky down and uphill hiking. To begin, the tour bus picked us up at 6am near our hotel and then we begin the drive to the top of the gorge, about a one hour trek through beautiful albeit windy mountain roads (If you get carsick, you’ll want to forgo this or take your Bonine). The bus makes a pit stop at a small restaurant at the starting point where you can purchase grab and go items such as pastries, to go sandwiches, hardboiled eggs and fruit.
And now the hike begins. The trails are primarily downhill and are extremely rocky and uneven. You’ll want to wear a pair of real hiking boots, although there was an older gent in our party who survived the whole ordeal in Teva sandals so there’s that. Keep in mind, if you break anything the only way out is by donkey so just wear the right shoes. There are also bathrooms and water fountains at intervals along the hike.
The hike takes you through wooded areas, slot canyons and the old Samaria settlement, vacated in the 1970’s. The scenery is gorgeous, and you are hiking next to and through a river the entire way. The hike ends in the small and car-less village of Agia Romeli where you can put your feet in the ocean, enjoy an ice cold beer, gyros and relax. Pack your swimsuit and take a dip in the ocean and relax on a beach chair that you can rent for a few euros. We took a ferry back to our pickup point and made a very long bus ride back to Chania along some treacherous roads, half eroded away by landslides and flooding. Quite an adventure.
Despite being absolutely pooped, we decided to hit up the Domes Noruz restaurant again for an amazing fancy dinner. A great way to put an exclamation point on a lovely visit to Chania.
We were in serious leisure mode after hiking the previous day, so we decided to check out late and then head to Elounda, about a three hour drive. The plan was to stop in Heraklion and explore a bit, but once we got into the heart of the city, driving was too chaotic and we opted to head to our hotel to lay by the pool instead. We were in serious relax mode. We stopped for a pizza and salad lunch at Olio in the little downtown of Elounda.
We checked into Blue Palace which is a huge resort right on the ocean and directly across from the small island, Spinalonga which was once used as a leper colony. The service was great, and you could easily get lost at this property as it’s so large. There is a gondola type elevator that moves you between the different levels. We had a two level room complete with a soaking pool looking out to the ocean. Honestly, it was the size of a small condo, way more than we needed but fun nonetheless. There are multiple pools on the property and an extensive beach. We explored the resort and then meandered down to the adjacent little town of Aglios Nikolaos for dinner. We had the loveliest, intimate dinner on the patio of a restaurant called The Carob Tree. Again, the service was amazing and they gave us free starters and dessert (very common in Greece so bring the stretchy pants). We enjoyed fresh bread, fish roe, a bean salad and beef stifado. There are a few eclectic shops right around there that are worth exploring, Mezzaluna and The Blue Shop.
We had breakfast in downtown Elounda at a place called Babel and it was pretty tasty. From there we decided to visit a little olive oil “farm” of sorts, The Cretan Olive Oil Farm. It’s really just an outpost for the olive oil producer to sell products but also offer tours and mini classes. Classes include ceramics, cooking and cheesemaking. We chose to do a tour and the cheesemaking class. For the price, it was fun and interesting as we got to meet a real shepherd and watch the initial process of Greek cheese making (and yes, you get to eat it!). We also learned a ton about olive oil and picked up some nice products to share with family.
If you’re feeling adventurous there are several boats to take you out to Spinalonga, but we really wanted to be lazy and laid by the beach all day. The water is gorgeous and we wanted to take it all in. I can’t remember where we ate the last night so it must not have been very good!
The next morning, we were off to Heraklion to catch a ferry to Santorini. I’ll do a recap of our three days in Santorini in a separate post.
Would love to hear if you’ve been to Crete, what you did, what you ate!