As the fifth largest island in the Meditteranean, Crete is like a small country all its own, offering the sites, tastes and terrain of a singular culture. We fell in love with the mountainous island; its quaint seaside towns, its winding roads and the history it shares with its visitors. With such vastness, we decided to rent a car for a week, which proved to be one of our greatest decisions. While buses do run from coast to coast, the freedom to stop in tiny villages and make midday beach pitstops was priceless. Plus, riding in an old Fiat as it climbed up giant hillsides and winded through miniscule streets was hilarious and an adventure in itself.
If you’re ever headed to Greece, I suggest you make your way to its most southern island, which will not disappoint you in your travels. Crete is a special place, and here I’ll share with you our favorite parts of it. Please comment if you’ve made the trip before and have anything to add, a week is not nearly enough time to become an expert!
After spending our first few days in Europe in large cities, we craved the beach and a camping site more than anything. We bought some groceries and a styrofoam cooler and sought out to find a remote beach to pitch our tent on. We spotted Balos Beach on our road map and it seemed far from any civilization, so we started driving. The road to this beach was on a penninsula and was unlike any dirt road we had seen. Its holes, cliffs, tiny passages and billy goat inhabitants made this an interesting trek to say the least. After the drive, a 2 mile walk down the other side of the mountain awaited. The beach following this journey was breath-taking. Neither of us have seen a beach like this in our lives, it is a Carribean-like oasis hidden in an otherwise rustic and rural island. We camped on the beach for 2 nights, ate delicious Greek veggies and feta cheese, took in some rays, hiked the mountain and swam far out to nearby sand bars. Balos is also reachable by boat so if you’re ever in Crete and looking to sunbathe, this is a must.
The Somarian Gorge
For travelers equipped with nothing but bathing suits and flip flops, this activity is not ideal. The Somarian Gorge is the largest Gorge in all of Europe and the hike is a whopping 17km. Although it seems long, the hike is almost entirely flat after the 3km initial decent, and the sites are quite priceless…especially for a geologist like my travel partner. It will definitely give you a different look at Crete, and allow you to spend a day within the trees, cliffs and wildlife of the island. This is an all day activity that should take around 7 hours, make sure to bring food (which we learnt the hard way) and pack your bathing suit for the final destination; the most refreshing swim in the sea.
Old Town Chania
We had read that Chania (silent C) was a tourist trap and a large city that might not be too appealing for those seeking more of a local feel. For that reason, we initially decided to skip Chania altogether. Once we met some locals and veteran visitors of the island, we were informed that it was a town not to be missed, so we made Chania our last stop in Crete. We fell in love with the city’s Old Town, where we found a lovely Hotel and enjoyed getting lost in its tiny streets, each filled with flowers, stray kittens and delightful shops.
As Crete’s main port, Iraklio is a busy spot for travelers beginning their trips. One of the city’s main attractions is Knossos, an archeological site from the Bronze Age, it is the most visited site on the island of Crete. Visitors are able to roam the ruins of an extremely large palace, restored and explained by archeologist Arthur Evans. We rented a vespa to get to it and despite a burn I got from the exhaust pipe (all better now), this was such a fun way to get around and find our way in Iraklio.
From feta in the oven to stuffed peppers and all the seafood in the world, I have to add that Crete is rich in taste too.There are so many other amazing things we experienced in Crete, but of course I can’t list them all. I’m sure if you are ever able to make the trip, you’ll have a list all your own. We’re making the long trek to Budapest via train now, with stops in Bulgaria and Romania, so I’ll be sure to keep the posts coming. I hope you’re enjoying a little taste of the backpacking life, if only I could share it all and more!