Where mountain goats are abundantly found on tree branches and steep rock cliffs, there is an island that almost feels like a country on its own. It’s small enough to have a care-free island vibe; large enough to have its own fascinating culture. Crete is ancient and elegant with its historic landmarks, dazzling landscapes, and beautiful beaches. The traditional Mediterranean villages on the island are charming and the cuisine in Crete is brilliant. A two-week road trip around the island in the Summer gives a perfect opportunity to explore Crete at full-scale.
This article describes a suggested route that will guide a life-enjoying traveler like yourself through dreamy Cretan villages, adventurous mountains, the best beaches on the island and ancient antiquities.
Noted down in history, ‘The great island’ Crete in the Greek islands is reported to be the cradle of ancient Greek civilizations. Cydonia, now Chania, was the most powerful city in the West of the island during the Minoan Greek period (2600 to 1100 BC). At the time there were five great cities on the island, of which Knossos is another sublime example. In modern Chania, you’ll still be able to find ancient Greek excavations that date back to the Minoan times of Cydonia.
In Chania, where our route starts, you’ll be able to get the best first impression of wonderful Crete. Touch down the ground at Chania airport and either rent a car at the airport or take a bus into Chania town. Make your way up to your accommodation in Chania and prepare yourself for your first Cretan brunch, lunch or dinner in town or at the seaside.
Tip: You’ll also have the option to rent a car at a later time by visiting one of the small rental shops in the city center of Chania.
Local Food in Crete
Renowned for its unique fundamental ingredients and traditional flavors, Cretan cuisine benefits local products such as mountain herbs, local cheeses, fresh fish & seafood, excellent olive oil, refreshing fruits & tasty vegetables from the Cretan garden. To close of a meal, a strong grape brandy called Raki sure proves the good quality of life in Crete. Make your way up to a cozy restaurant in one of the little streets of Chania. Barpaki, Prassein Aloga or To Monastiri Tou Karolo are good choices for great Cretan food in Chania.
There is something undoubtedly dreamy in the way Topolia unveils itself in the Cretan landscape when you ride your wagon through the small Greek roads on the island. Covered within green olive groves and fairytale hills, Topolia will be your first inland stop after Chania on this route in Crete. Not very much is to be seen in the town center, but this particular Cretan village makes a great introduction to the heartland of Crete. A few lonesome shops, a petrol station, and one or two satisfying tavernas with fresh oranges as a free appetizer are to be found in the small town center for your convenience. Make a shortstop, buy lunch in one of the welcoming stores and have your appetizers under a shadowy olive tree whilst you gaze over the Greek hills that surround Topolia. Nearby Topolia gorge is worth a stop for a fine natural experience.
How to travel around in Crete? A rental car service can help you out with that.
From the North coast straight to the South Sea, Palaiochora is a traditional fishermen village with a balmy vibe in the summer. A wonderful camping with a horizon view is located at a walking distance from the town center, where lovely restaurants are widespread next to the Mediterranean sea. This fishing town has been famous since the 70’s when it used to be a hippie enclave. These days, the town is sprouting of a form of enjoyable and relaxed tourism. Stay a night or 2 and have a good time at the Paleochora pebbles beaches.
Worth a stop on your way in Crete for a number of amazing hikes uphill. There are a few admirable restaurants and a beautiful long beach in the lovely bay of Sougia. This coastal Cretan town managed to remain mostly unaffected by the mass of tourism in Crete. It’s a wonderful retreat that mostly attracts travelers looking for a relaxing stay away from the highlight spots of the islands.
Drive your vehicle from the orange growing region of western Crete up to the high plateau of Omalos, which is located in the North of the central White Mountains. This region of hills and peaks is a whole different world compared to the rest of Crete. Mountain towns & wild goats are widely found here and the constant presence of ridges in the background make the mountainous feeling complete. Still located in a Mediterranean Cretan setting, but more adventurously and seemingly far away from the fine-sand beaches that Crete is rich with.
The Omalos platform features a few local restaurants and hotels, and you’ll be able to do a few great hikes nearby. Either hike into the famous gorge of Samaria, or you can climb the Gigilos mountain next to it. Mind that both hikes are for the more adventurous traveler, but they will offer you a stunning walk into a breathtaking natural environment.
Famous for its golden long stretch of beach, Plakias is a great coastline town. The name Plakias in Greek means “flat” but the area around it has a rather mountainous look. However, the village itself is flat in contrast, so the name can be considered appropriate. Wonderful to relax a few days in the sun after a long hike into the White Mountains of the Cretan highlands. The town has a unique feel and it has a beautiful surrounding countryside with fine walks and gorges. Both the seafood restaurants and the backstreets small family restaurants offer a fine selection of the most amazing Cretan foods.
At the mouth of river Kissano Faraggi on the South coast of Crete, both a historic monastery and a palm tree grove can be found under the name of Preveli. The monastery probably dates back to the Middle Ages, when Crete was under the rule of the Republic of Venice. Stories tell that the founder of the abbey was a lord named Prevelis.
On the banks of the end of the river, there is a modest forest of Cretan Date Palms that give an exotic touch to the landscape. You can walk along the river until you encounter a little lake. Take some time off and relax under the shade of a palm tree, and take a short walk in the beautiful canyon of Preveli.
One of the most impressive things about the Gorge of Agios Antonios in Crete is the dense vegetation with high trees growing next to the riverbed, closed in by enormous rocky walls. The total length of the grove is 2km, and it is quite easy to cross, taking about 2 hours for the average nature stroller. On the path of the gorge, you will come across a little chapel with the name of Saint Anthony’s church. In Ancient time, there used to be a Minoan temple as worship of nature, which focused on the mystery of the change of seasons and the renewal cycle of vegetation. The sanctity of the temple had been respected and remained untouched until the early years of Roman conquer and following Christianity. The gorge of Agios Antonios also carries the name of Patsos, which is a nearby village. The temperature in the gorge stays mild and you will be able to walk through it without guidance. At the very beginning of this Cretan gorge, there is a lovely family restaurant. Perfect for hungry travelers.
After a short drive along the Southern coastline of Crete, you’ll find a picturesque little fishing village with the name of Agia Galini. The center at the seaside is packed with little tavernas and charming seafood restaurants. There is a good camping just outside of the village at a walking distance, perfect for an evening out in the town. Package tourism might have reduced a lot of the old charms of Agia Galini, but in general, it’s still a nice spot to visit on the South coast of Crete.
Having Agia Galini as your temporary home base, you’ll have a wonderful opportunity to visit an ancient Greek Minoan settlement. In fact, it used to be a palace that went by the name of Phaistos. Compared to the more popular, but also more expensive Knossos in the North of Crete (near Heraklion), Phaistos makes a great alternative. It’s cheaper and you’ll see some amazing ancient structures. For history lovers, this a must-see spot on your road trip in Crete.
Rolling your rented weels towards the East end side of the island of Crete, Koutsounari makes a good stopover location. There is a good option for camping and other types of accommodation. Most impressive here is the famous stunningly long stretch of pebbles beach. Good for a lovely time of relaxing and delicious Greek food in Crete.
Arriving at the east end of Crete, You’ll want to take a break for a few days in the isolated bay of Zakros. There is also an ancient Greek excavation to be found in the town and also some charming family restaurants. The beach is a bit short, but the bay sure is beautiful. Best to book your accommodation in advance to make sure you’ll be able to sleep close to the little village.
Renowned with the name ‘Gorge of the Dead‘, Zakros’s Gorge used to be a holy place in nature where the ancient Minoans in Crete used the caves in the steep cliffs to bury their dead. And such a great honor it was for those who had passed away to be buried in a place for which people had to risk their lives to reach it. This imposing gorge is a beauty and it’s a wonderful place for a restful walk.