Again, this needs to be a Part 1. We had no idea how huge the island of Crete actually was. We had been to Greece for my birthday two years ago for an amazing vacation booked through an Amex travel agent to Athens, Mykonos and Santorini (must stay, or at a minimum have a cocktail at the Altana in Imerovigli). We are planning to go back to those places again, at the latest, next summer. Crete was on the list, but we couldn’t work out the transit that times. When we moved to Germany, we knew we had to get there ASAP.
Note about Greece in general – we have been asked a lot about going all-inclusive or not. It is not necessary at all. It’s nice to have breakfast included to start the day but overall, it is very affordable there. We typically didn’t spend more than 40 euro total for a full dinner with app., main course, shared dessert and wine. One night, we ate at a local restaurant and our whole dinner was 14 euros with homemade Raki and everything. Amazing and fresh everywhere from the smallest tavern to the fanciest hotel.
There are direct flights on Eurowings from Stuttgart to Crete in under three hours. There is an hour time difference too. Once in Crete, a rental car is a MUST. After a misshap with the rental car booking that costs us about an hour’s time and a long phone call with rentalcars.com (whom we will never book through again) at the airport, we had our little car and were on our way.
Tip: Carry an international driver’s license to Crete to be safe if you are American renting a car.
In the other places in Greece, a car wasn’t really necessary since we stayed in resorts we could walk or take the bus. We did rent a car one day in Santorini as well as a day in Mykonos to explore some spots not easily possible by public transit. We were glad we did. Mykonos was the best one to get out a bit with the car to see the beaches in the north, away from the resorts.
In Crete, we booked a place called Aroma Creta outside of Ierapetra on the opposite South East side of the island from the airport. It was about a two hour drive. On the way there, we stopped in in Malia because it looked like there were more restaurant options in Google Maps. We were glad we did because we ended up stopping there on the way back to hang out at the beach before hitting the airport.
Note: Buy water at the gas station or convenience store on arrival, you can’t drink tap in Greece. A pack of 6 liters is cheaper than a single bottle sometimes too at under 2 euro.
The restaurant stop for lunch was Taverna Eva. Best/unique Greek salad (with goji berries, peanuts, sunflower seeds and veggies) and Beef Stifado, which is cooked for hours in red wine and spices. The family also wrote down a list of places we must see when in Crete, when we told them the area we were staying. We went to almost all of them… then lost the piece of paper which we found in the wash later. Note to self: Take a photo of the paper next time the waiter gives you tips.
When we arrived at the hotel, after getting a little lost. Attention Google Maps– we really need a version that tells you not only the fastest route, but what type of terrain the route is, “rental car friendly, ” etc. The first route it led us on, much like in Sicily, was not an actual drivable road by any normal vehicle. We again had to u-turn on a rocky cliff. When we made it there, the hotel guy greeted us with Raki, (a super strong local made shot), so all was good. We headed down the hill (walking) to the beach where there were two restaurants for dinner. Both had excellent reviews, so we ate the first night at the family run spot, Taverna Psaropoula, and the more modern one, Pelagos Sea Side Restaurant the next day. We had grilled octopus, calamari, local cheese, rabbit stew cannelloni, whole fish and salads between the two nights. All delish.
Chrissi Island – The weather was hot, but unseasonably windy for most of the week. The small boat we were in contact with before the trip called Christina by El Greco tours, was not operating because of the wind, which we did not find out until we arrived at the port that morning. The large cruise ship looking boats were not appealing at all, so we planned to just head to the beach after checking out this fortress by the harbor. There, we ran into this guy who operated a sailboat. He was looking for a couple more people to fill his boat to take over to Chrissi Island for the day. There were only eight of us on the boat in total when we left. We sailed about an hour and a half to the preserved island of Chrissi to spend the day on the beach there. Once on the island, where the boats drop off, there is a beach and restaurant/bar, or on the side of the restaurant, there is a path to the larger beach with chairs and services as well. In the evening, the boat picked us back up to take us to the port. The wind made the ride back bumpy, wet and a little longer than it was to get there, but we loved the crew and the semi-private transport, we would absolutely do it again.
Best beach of the trip was Xerokambos Beach. It was a shame though because it was so windy, we had to cut the stay short because the wind was so strong, we were getting sand blasted. It was a the best reminder of Hawaii we have seen in Europe so far. There is nothing really around it either so BYO is necessary if you are hungry.
Mirtos (Myrtos) Beach – This was a cute tiny town to stop in and hang out at the beach all day. Chairs are free if you eat at the restaurant. We stopped into the shops on the way for some fresh bread, sandwich supplies and beer for a snack, then had a late lunch of fresh grilled fish and wine on the beach.
Waterfall of Milona – Again, strong need for a terrain map function as the gps led us up a mountain, u-turning on a cliff. Do not use google to get there. When we drove back down to the beach, we saw a cardboard sign saying that there was no water in the waterfall. It was sumer, we should have known it was dry. It was really too hot to hike so it was for the better probably, but we were still a little disappointed. We went to the beach nearby and lounged all day instead.
One of our favorite days was actually spent mostly in the car. Driving over the mountains, through the gorges, olive groves, desert vineyards and small villages from one coast to the other was pretty cool. We couldn’t count the number of switchbacks if we tried. The photos do not begin to show how high we were sometimes.
Kato Zakros Beach and the Minoan Palace of Zakros ruins – Here, the tavern-owners have their own gardens and grow everything they serve. We had the best watermelon there with our fresh whole grilled fish and greek salad with house wine at the one with the big tree stump inside. You can’t miss it. At first the area looks touristy with the taverns all next to each other on the beach, but it was really one of the best lunch stops.
The ruins were 6 euro which is a bit much for a park of rocks but it was our historic stop for the trip. There are tons of marked ruins and churches driving through Crete.
Pefki – This town was on the list as a traditional Cretan village where we stopped to walk around for under an hour on the way home from Zakros. There, we bought honey from a family who harvested it from bee boxes. They also sold olive oil and jams. Otherwise there was not much else to do or see there. There were only two restaurants also so we moved on for dinner.
On the way home we stopped at Robinson Taverna. Note: the sign over the door doesn’t say the name of the restaurant. The family is so nice that runs it too. Tables right on the water. We had a cretan pan cooked pasta with cheese called, Pastitsio, and rabbit.
Agios Nikolaos – We stopped here to walk around on the way to the beach at Malia before heading to the airport. Lots of tourist shops and bars here plus, the port of boats going to the island of Spinalonga, ruins and former Leper Island. The trip was recommended to us by friends, but we didn’t have enough time to take the day trip and make it to the airport in time.
Cretan Olive Oil Farm – we did plan time for a stop at an olive oil farm. The son has taken over the farm and turned it into a “museum” though he does produce small amounts of products himself. To make up for it, he also sells and has a master potter on site for lessons, grows and dries herbs, sun dried tomatoes, and has a partnership with a local honey producer. You can taste everything. The experience is about 3 euros per person.
Our last stop to Melia Beach was perfect. The beach was the most crowded, “party beach” of all the beaches we went to, but it was good people watching. Chairs and umbrella cost the same as most places, about 10 euros or less for two chairs and an umbrella. There are bars and restaurants everywhere. The beach was actual soft sand which was a great end to the trip over a rocky beach. The old man on the beach selling huge doughnuts was the best.