1. South Rethymnon area
First of all the famous Preveli palm beach with its river and the monastery of Preveli one of the most important during Crete’s history is a must. Within short distance from Rodakino, you can visit the mountainous villages of Mariou, Myrthios, Selia and Asomatos , which retain their traditional features and have amazing view to the vast blue of Libyan Sea. You can hike in the gorges of Kotsifos, Kourtaliotis and Mesa Faragi. If you like rock-climbing you can visit also the vertical cliff of Paligremnos where locals say that the legendary hero Digenis Akritas drank water from one of the springs in the region. Don’t forget to visit Aghia Galini village, Aghios Ioannis village, the springs of Spili, and the biggest springs in Crete in Kourtaliotis gorge. Pay a visit also to the numerous isolated or famous beaches of south Crete such as, Souda, Damnoni, Ammoudi, Ligres, Triopetra Aghios Pavlos and Korakas, Polyrizos, Agia Marina in Rodakino of course.
2. Town of Rethymno
Rethymnon town is the capital ( 40.000 inhabitants) of the same-name prefecture. It is one of of the most significant tourist resorts in Greece and the most delightful town in Crete. Rethymno is a town of unique natural beauty which maintain even today the authenticity and the customs of the island alive. It offers a variety of natural and cultural leisure activities, which will satisfy even the most demanding visitor. The area has a long and eventful history from the Minoan times to the present. It is the only city of Crete which keeps invariable her middle age character.
A day trip to Rethymnon-town is a “must” as you will have the opportunity to visit its centre dating from the period of the Renaissance, its fortress and museums as well the longest sandy beach of Crete. A travel in time as if time had never passed is the visit of the sixteenth century Venetian Fortezza, the old Venetian-harbour as well the Turkish and Venetian buldings of the old town. Rethymno represents a place of contrasts, boasting a long and remarkable history, untouched places of natural beauty and living traditions. If you’re interested in the history of the island you may also want to step into the Historical and Folk Art Museum for a taste of traditional Cretan-ceramics, textiles, artifacts, jewelry, and clothing from across the centuries.
3. Samaria Gorge Chania
You have to wake up relatively early and drive to Chania in order to get the bus to Omalos. The suggested time to get the bus from Chania Bus Station is 6:15 or 7:45 (times might vary so please check the official website of Chania Bus Station). The bus will take you to Omalos where the entrance of the longest trekking gorge in Europe starts. It takes about 5-6 hours to cross the gorge which is about 18 km. The beauty of nature and of the landscape will make it significantly shorter!
What is more interesting about Samaria Gorge is the Gates where the two sides of the gorge are just four meters close and soar up to 500 meters. In the gorge you can see a wide variety of flowers and birds as well as the rare goat of Crete named Kri-Kri.
The route starts at an altitude of 1,250 meters and it ends after 16 km of hiking in the gorge plus 2 km of walking to reach the small traditional village of Agia Roumeli after the exit of the gorge. Depending on the time you make to cross the gorge you will grab the opportunity and swim in the Libyan Sea. Alternatively you can choose to eat in one of the taverns of the village but I would rather grab something small to eat and enjoy the beach.
There you take the boat for the way back as there is no road to connect Agia Roumeli with the north of Crete. The boat departs at around 17:30 and it takes you to the village named Sfakia οr Chora Sfakion (time might vary so please check the official website of the ferry company ANENDYK). There you have to go directly to the local bus station and get the bus to Chania Bus Station. The bus departs at 18:30 but do not worry, there are enough busses for everyone and they wait to get all the passengers coming from the boat.
There is a chance during autumn or spring the gorge to be closed for the public. If the weather is rainy for safety purposes the local authorities prohibit the entrance. I highly advice you to check it by contacting either the Information Desk of Samaria Gorge at +30 28210 67179. Additionally, to check alone the weather conditions at Samaria Gorge visit http://penteli.meteo.gr/stations/samaria/ .
Do not forget:
-Hat-Sneakers or hiking shoes-Sunscreen-Swimsuit-Flip flops for the beach-Towel-Snacks
-Water (optional as there are numerous natural springs)-Light jacket (depending on the time you visit the gorge)
Samaria Gorge Official Website – http://www.samaria.gr/
Chania Bus Station Official Website – http://www.e-ktel.com/
Weather conditions in Samaria Gorge – Live Update – http://penteli.meteo.gr/stations/samaria/
ANENDYK – Official Website of Ferry Company (Agia Roumeli-Chora Sfakion) – http://www.anendyk.gr/
Chania Bus Station – +30 28210 93052
Samaria Gorge Info Desk – +30 28210 67179
4. Agios Nikolaos – Elounda – Spinalonga island
On this excursion , you will visit the eastern part of Crete. Passing by Heraklion you will reach the charming little town of Agios Nikolaos lying on the famous lake “Voulismeni”. Beatifull place with a unique atmosphere. After visiting the town , our trip continues towards Elounda bay. Time for a swim and lunch before sailing to the small island of Spinalonga , just off coast Elounda. On the island of Spinalonga housed the last leper colony in Europe closed in 1957 (opened in 1903). The old Venetian fort and houses previously occupied by a Turkish population which became their homes still stand,now empty. A small walk through Spinalonga island is an unrepeatable experience.
5. Knossos palace Heraklion
Knossos Palace, is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete and probably the ceremonial and political centre of the Minoan civilization and culture. The palace appears as a maze of workrooms, living spaces, and store rooms close to a central square. Detailed images of Cretan life in the late Bronze Age are provided by images on the walls of this palace. Today is the most famous tourist attraction on Crete. It is 20-25 minutes from the centre of Heraklion. For many this is a must see, and for some a major reason to visit Crete. While you are in or near Heraklion it makes sense to visit this well-restored and sprawling work of Arthur Evans who spent much of his life, and his inherited fortune to make Knossos what is is today.
A Minoan palace – this is is the closest you can get to piecing together the threads of the story of the Minoan civilisation through the structures the Minoans lived in. Many publications about Knossos are available both in bookshops in Heraklion and at the gift shop there. Knossos also has guides who will, for a fee, enlighten your visit with details and history and provide a more rewarding visit. There is a cafe just after entering the gate, and several cafes and tavernas to eat in on the Knossos road just outside the gates.
You could spend anywhere from 1 – 3 hours and more here, depending on your interest in archaeology. To get there by bus go to Bus station A near the harbour. At the bus station look for the KNOSSOS ticket office [see more info about bus stations]. By car or taxi it is a 15-20 minute ride from Heraklion center. Open: every day 08.00 to 19.30 (to 15.00 in the winter). Tel: 2810-231940. Admission: 6.00 euros. Combined Knossos and Heraklion Archaeological museum ticket: 10.00 euros. Sundays (November to end of March) free for all!
6. Falasarna Beach Chania
The exotic beach of Falassarna is located 15km west of Kissamos or about 150 min drive. 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. The sand in Falassarna is white, making the water color tropical. 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 main beach of Falassarna is called Pacheia Ammos. 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/canteens where you can get food and water. There are also services for water sports and a beach volley court 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.
7. Elafonisi beach Chania
Elafonisi is located 40km south of Kissamos and 5km south of Chrysoskalitisa, in the southwestern most point of Crete. Elafonisi is an oblong, which often “breaks” in two parts by water giving the impression of being a separate island. It is a Natura 2000 protected area full of dunes with sand lilies and jupiners. Exotic beaches with white sand and turquoise waters, reminding of the Caribbean, are formed on either sides of the peninsula. The sand is pinkish in many places, taking its color from thousands of broken shells. Near the “breaking” point of the peninsula, the water does not exceed 1m, creating a small lagoon, ideal for children. You can easily cross the lagoon in order to reach the “island” and swim there if the group has kids over 12 year old.The eastern side of the beach, in front of the lagoon, is well organized. There are umbrellas, showers, lifeguards, snack bars and changing rooms. Also, near the beach there is a huge area for parking.
8. Balos Gramvousa Chania
The famous lagoon of Balos is located approximately 16km northwest of Kissamos, formed between the Cape Gramvousa and the small Cape Tigani. Balos is surely the mostly photographed beach in Crete. 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. Also, a perfect idea is to arrive at Balos in the morning, before the boats arrive from Kissamos, by car. www.cretandailycruises.com is the website for routes beginning from Kissamos Port. 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. You can buy water, coffee and food from a local canteen or from the bars of the ferries. The island of Imeri Gramvousa is located 20km northwest of Kissamos, opposite the imposing Cape of Gramvousa and 2 miles northwest of the famous lagoon of Balos.
Gramvousa is famous for its historical Venetian fortress, which still stands at a height of 137m, over the beach. The fort had also been used by pirates. Also, the old wreck that was abandoned many years ago near the beach, has become a characteristic part of the landscape. On the south side of the island there are two large bays, with the wreck being between them. The west bay (below the castle) hosts hundreds of visitors daily, arriving here with boats. The boats run from Kissamos (1 hour trip) and stop here before continuing their journey to the lagoon of Balos. The visitors wander around the area, visit the castle and the wreck. They can also swim in the crystal waters of the western cove, near the church of the Holy Apostles. The beach with the fantastic turquoise color, has white sand and rocks in places. Some tamarisk trees are near the beach, offering natural shade. The seabed of the area is ideal for a snorkeling. Next to the beach, there is a cafe where you can buy the basics. You can also get food and water from the bar of the boats. No other amenities are offered in the area, because it is protected under Natura 2000 program.
9. Arkadi monastery Rethymno
The Arkadi Monastery is one of Crete’s most venerated symbols of freedom. The defiant defence of this fortress-like monastery during the 1866 Cretan rebellion against the Turks is still legendary and inspirational. It is one of the Eastern Orthodox Monasteries underlining the catholicity and universality of the Church. Each year the Monastery receives and hosts many visitors and pilgrims from all over the world, from distant civilizations. Here are blended many languages, cultures, traditions, history and polymorphism. Nothing from the above can impede the faith unity, the catholicity of the orthodox spirit, the universality of the ecclesiastical testimony.
The Arkadi Monastery has a unique natural beauty, a prestigious history, numerous legends deeply rooted in the time, heirlooms and thesaurus richness. Possibly because the old is livelier than the new, and the modern is often more mature than the aged. Each pilgrim and visitor feels something which is exclusively his, personal, original in his experiential and spiritual experience.
If you are in the town of Rethymno, reach the National Road and go towards the town of Heraklion. Approximately after 6 klm, take the exit of Tsesme – Platania, after turning on the right and then on the left (always versus Heraklion), you are on the old National Road. After 16 klm, after passing by the villages of Tsesmes, Adele, Pigi, Loutra, Kirianna and Amnatos you will have reached the Arkadi Monastery.
By Bus. If you wish to take the bus then you should go to the Bus Station and take the appropriate one. (Bus Station telephone nr: 0030 28310 22212)
10. Gavdos Island
The islet of Gavdos, opposite Sfakia, is the southern-most border of Greece and Europe. It is 22 nautical miles away from Loutro, right in the middle of the Libyan Sea. According to Callimachus, this is the ancient isle of Ogygia where, as Homer claims in “Odyssey”, the nymph Calypso lived.Other names of Gavdos in the past were “Cavdos” and “Clavdos” (Ptolemens and Ierocles), “Glavdi” (the Epistles), “Gozzo” (the Venetians). In the first Byzantine period, Gavdos had a bishop, as it had many inhabitants, but, during the Venetian Rule, the islet was abandoned, as pirates sought refuge there.
Gavdos is a low, sandy island wooded with pine trees and cedars. The island is filled with superb sandy beaches such as Sarakiniko, Agios Ioannis, Potamos, Lavrakas, Tripiti and the pebble beach of Korfos, all of which have recently been awarded with the “Golden Starfish”.
There are two ways to get to Gavdos by boat; either from Paleohora or from Chora Sfakion. For ferry connections check with ANENDYK Ferries in Chora Sfakion: +30-28250-91101 You can take a bus from the central bus station in Chania to Chora Sfakion and stay overnight. Depending on the weather conditions you will arrive more or less happy in Karave and if the water is calm, you might even see dolphins following the boat.