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A guide to the magnificent area of Chania

Ancient Aptera ● Balos ● Chania ● Chania Old Town ● Crete ● Elafonisi ● Falasarna ● Frangokastello ● Gavdos ● Gramvousa ● Lake Kournas ● Samaria Gorge ● seitan limani ● white mountains crete ● 24 June 2021
 
Located in the western part of Crete , the region of Chania has everything you might ask for in your holidays. Exotic beaches, impressive mountains, magnificent landscapes, incredible history, and delicious food are all waiting for you to explore! Below, you can see a guide to the most beautiful parts of this unique place. 


The old town of Chania

One of the most celebrated and most photographed areas of the city! As it is a very touristic area, you can easily find a variety of cafes, bars and restaurants. You will also find many shops, where you will have the chance to buy souvenirs and traditional products. A popular shopping area is  "Stivanadika" - also called "the leather street". In Stivanadika, they sell "stivania", which are the traditional Cretan leather boots. Apart from the boots, you can also find a variety of other leather products. Another well-known shopping point is "Macheradika", where you can buy traditional Cretan knives. 

One of the most charming spots of the town is the old harbour - a perfect place for a nice romantic walk. While you are in the harbour, don't forget to visit the Venetian lighthouse, a majestic monument that also serves as the trademark of Chania. The lighthouse was originally built in the 16th century, and it was then rebuilt by the Egyptians. Unfortunately, entrance to the building is prohibited. It definitely worths a visit though, as it will pay you off with magnificent harbour and town views.

Another sight worth visiting is the Firkas Fortress, also located in the harbour. It was built in the 17th century by the Venetians to protect the entrance. It also offers great panoramic views of the harbour. Firkas Fortress now hosts the Maritime Museum of Crete, where you can see, among others, ship models from ancient times till now. The museum also hosts a very interesting shell exhibition. 

One of the first things that will get your attention when you arrive is Yali Mosque. This imposing building dates back to the 17th century, and it is was the first mosque to be built in Crete. The name means: "seaside mosque". It operated until 1923 when the last Muslims left the island, and it is now used as an exhibition venue.


Yali Mosque and the Old Town


Balos Beach

Balos is one of the most famous beaches of Crete that attracts thousands of tourists every year. It is an exotic, stunning beach located in the west of the island. Balos is known for its turquoise waters, white sand (in some spots, it is even a  kind of pink), and wild natural beauty. The beach is also ideal for children as it has shallow waters. As it tends to get crowded, it is better to schedule your visit early in the morning. The easiest way to get to Balos is by ferry. Ferries depart from Kissamos and make a short stop for swimming on Gramvousa islet before arriving at Balos. The alternative way to get there is by car - keep in mind though that you will have to walk for about 1km at the end of the route


The exotic beach of Balos with the white sand


Falasarna

This is another beloved beach with beautiful water colours. It actually consists of several different beaches. That is why, despite its popularity, it doesn't get too crowded. The landscape is marvellous. The biggest part of it is organised with sunbeds and umbrellas, and you can also practise water sports. It is also considered a great place to watch the sunset- one of the best on Crete.  The area is not very developed, so there are only a few cafes and restaurants, and not many places to stay. It can be easily accessed by car or bus. Finally, if you are interested in archaeology, you can visit the ruins of the ancient Hellenistic harbour that is located nearby.


Elafonisi

Elafonisi is definitely one of the most famous and photographed areas of Crete. You have probably already come across some pictures of this amazing beach by now. It is mostly known for its sand, which has a unique pinkish colour, as well as its turquoise waters. The waters are warm and shallow, so it is another perfect choice for children. It is also suitable for snorkelling and surfing. As expected, the beach gets very crowded, so you may want to consider visiting off-season or - once again- getting there really early in the morning. You can get there by car/bus or by boat (departing from Paleochora).


The pink sand and turquoise waters of Elafonisi


Gramvousa

Gramvousa is a small, inhabited island that is a tourist attraction due to its crystal clear waters and history. You can visit the Venetian fortress -  one attraction of historical value, as it is considered one of the most important castles in Crete. You will have to walk for a few minutes to get there - but apart from the castle itself, you will get to see a lovely sea and island view. Finally, another attraction of the island is an old shipwreck that is located close to the port. You can visit Gramvousa during your cruise to Balos. The boat will leave you there for some time to visit the fortress and enjoy a swim in the incredible waters. 


Beaches in the town of Chania

If you are in Chania for only a short time and don't have time to travel to the well-known beaches that are outside the town, don't worry! There are still some fantastic beaches you can visit inside the town or close to it.

A well-known beach inside the town is Nea Chora Beach. It is a sandy, organised beach and you will find nearby many cafes and restaurants. The area is also very popular for its fish taverns. It is approximately a ten-minute walk from the old town. A little further from Nea Chora Beach, you will find the Golden beach - another gorgeous, sandy beach. It is well-organised and suitable for children.

Another option is to visit Agioi Apostoloi beach. It is sandy, with shallow waters, and it is just 3km from the town centre. It can be easily reached by car or bus. It is well-organised, with beach bars and water sports facilities also available. If  you get hungry after spending the day under the sun, you can find many traditional taverns in the area. Agioi Apostoloi is also an excellent option for windy days, as it is well-protected and there won't be many waves.  


Stavros Beach

Stavros is a marvellous beach that is approximately a half-hour drive from Chania Town. It is sandy, equipped with umbrellas and sunbeds, and it is easily accessible. There are also a few taverns and bars. The beach is famous because it was the filming location of the Oscar-nominated movie "Zorba the Greek" with Anthony Quinn.


Seitan Limani

This astonishing, well-hidden beach is just 20km from Chania town. Set in a landscape of wild beauty, this small beach with the unique colour of water became popular only in the last few years. Apart from enjoying the sea, there is also a good chance that you will meet some goats there! After driving there, you will have to walk down a path in order to reach the beach. Keep in mind that the path is rocky, so you should be careful and wear suitable shoes. It is not organised, so you will have to bring water and everything else you might need. It is a small beach, so keep in mind it can get easily crowded during the high season. 


The breathtaking landscape and turquoise waters of Seitan Limani


Ancient Aptera

Located just 15 km away from Chania Town, this area is considered one of Crete's most important archaeological sites of Crete. It is believed that it has been inhabited since the Minoan times. Aptera has a strategic location due to the two ports it has (Marathi and Kasteli) and the view over Souda. For this reason, it used to be a significant commercial centre and an important city of the island.

If you visit the site, you will have the chance to see the fortification, the ruins of the Roman baths and the ancient theatre. You will also see the Monastery of Agios Ioannis Theologos that was built later.


Chora Sfakion

This historical, traditional village is 72 km away from the town of Chania. It is located in southern Crete. It has a pretty beach and many restaurants serving delicious traditional food. The village is also an excellent starting point to visit other areas, such as the famous Samaria Gorge. 


Frangokastello 

A very fascinating spot to visit, if you are in the area of Sfakia, is Frangokastello. This is a castle that the Venetians built  in 1371. It is 12 km away from Chora Sfakion. The delightful castle is associated with the legend of Drosoulites. Drosoulites are human-like shadows that appear every year around May in the area of Frangokastello. The shadows are visible in the early morning hours. According to the legend, these are the ghosts of the soldiers that died in a battle there in May 1828. According to the scientific approach, this is probably related to mirage, a kind of optical illusion. Moreover, in Frangokastello you will find a beautiful, organised, sandy beach with lovely waters where you can enjoy your swim.


The legendery Castle of Frangokastello


Samaria Gorge

A very popular hiking spot, it attracts many visitors from all over the world every year. It is actually one of the most famous trekking gorges in Europe. It was created by a river running between the White Mountains and Volakias. The gorge is also famous for the Kri-Kri, an endangered wild goat that lives only there. If you are lucky enough, you will get to meet it, so keep an eye out for it while you are in the area. This is one of the reasons that Samaria Gorge has been declared a National Park. As a result, you are not allowed to camp or stay overnight.

The route is wonderful, and it takes 5-7 hours to complete it, depending on your trekking pace. You will often meet water springs and toilets in the route, so you do not have to worry about that. The most impressive part is the "Iron Gates". In this part, the width of the gorge is only 4 meters, and the height is 300 meters. 

The route inside the Samaria National Park is 13 km, but after it ends, you will have to walk a little bit further (another 3 km) to reach Agia Roumeli in order to get the ferry for Chora Sfakion. From there, there is a bus schedule to return to Chania Town if you wish so. Keep in mind that the route can be tiring, especially if you attempt it during summer that the temperatures are high. As a result, it is better to visit during spring - the weather won't be so hot, and you will get to see nature at its best! Another plus is that it will be less crowded than in the summer.

Samaria Gorge usually opens around the beginning of May and closes around the end of October, depending on weather conditions. It is also closed on rainy days for safety reasons. Also, you can easily find an organised tour from one of the many tour operators of the island. 


The imposing Samaria Gorge


The White Mountains

This breathtaking mountain range has always attracted visitors from all over the world, and it is one of the most important sights of the Chania region. The mountains were given this name because they are usually covered in snow for many months, even until May, and because of the limestone they are made of. 

The highest peak of the White Mountains is called Pachnes, and it is at 2,453 meters. Close to Pachnes, many other summits that are also higher than 2,000 meters. This mountain area with all these cone-like high peaks forms a very unique and impressive landscape, called a "mountain desert".

Apart from the famous Samaria Gorge, there are a number of other gorges you can visit there, such as Imbros Gorge. Imbros Gorge is a great alternative as it is considered to be much easier than Samaria, but it is also spectacular. It takes an average of 2.5 hours to cross it, so it is a good option if you are short on time. The fact that it is relatively easy makes it also convenient if you are travelling with children. The route inside the gorge is lovely, and you will meet some very narrow passages. Imbros Gorge is open all year round, and it can be easily accessed.

The mountains are also known for their deep caves. Most of them are very deep, though, and they can be really dangerous, so you should have the right experience to explore them. The most famous is Gourgouthakas Cave. This is actually the deepest cave in Greece - it is 1,208 meters in depth. But of course, it can only be accessed by very experienced cavers.

Another famous spot is the Omalos Plateau. This is the largest of the high plateaus of the area. It is particularly worth visiting during winter times, as it is stunning covered in snow. It also has historical significance as it served as a refuge for the locals during war times.

You will easily find plenty of tours to explore the mountains and the villages around them.


A village lying on the feet of the White Mountains


Lake Kournas

The lovely Lake Kournas is located 47 km from Chania Town and 4 km from Georgioupolis. This dazzling, peaceful landscape is a perfect choice for a relaxing day trip. It is the largest natural lake on the island of Crete. It is close to Kournas village. The lake is relatively small, and its maximum depth is 22.5 m. It hosts many birds, water snakes, as well as eels. Lake Kournas had always been famous for its eels, and although their population has been reduced, they still exist. During summer, the level of the water drops and small beaches are formed.

The water has a rather dark colour due to the algae at its bottom. Because of the dark colour, there were many myths about this lake in the past - for example, it was believed to be bottomless, but this was proven wrong. Another legend claims that there is a fairy living in the lake and that she sometimes appears at night combing her hair. 

You can enjoy a romantic walk around the lake, or you can even explore it by using one of the pedal boats that are available for rent. There are also some cafes and restaurants offering lake views. Many of these restaurants remain open during winter. If you want to try something different, a picnic at the side of the lake is always a great alternative idea!


The dark water of Lake Kournas


Gavdos

Gavdos is a bewitching, tiny island located to the south of Crete, and it belongs to the regional union of Chania. It is known as the southernmost Greek island. It is also the southernmost point of Europe. It is part of the Natura 2000 program of protected areas. It is believed that this was the island of Kalypso, where Odysseas, according to the myth, was kept during his journey of return to Ithaca. 

The island is relatively isolated, and it has a unique atmosphere and vibes. It is generally a quiet, peaceful island, so it is an excellent option if you need a relaxing vacation, away from civilisation and close to nature. It is also an excellent  place for hiking, and there are many beautiful and attractive routes you can choose from. The island is also very popular for snorkelling. An ideal spot for snorkelling is the beautiful pebbled beach of Lakoudi.

One of the most famous sights of the island is the chair of Gavdos, an oversized cement chair that has written on it the phrases "southern point of Europe", "relax", and "smile", and marks this southernmost point. From there you can enjoy magnificent, panoramic sea views. Of course, it is also a very popular photo shooting spot!

Another sight worth visiting is the lighthouse of the island. This lovely lighthouse was built in 1880, and it can be seen from 40 miles away. Unfortunately, it was bombed during the German occupation, but it has been restored now.

The island has many lovely beaches where you can enjoy your swim. One of the most notable is Agios Ioannis beach. It's an astonishing beach with sand and cedars. The waters are wonderful, and it is also easily accessible. Another beach famous for its beauty is Sarakiniko. It is sandy, and the waters are shallow. There is also a tavern there. You can go to Sarakiniko by taking the bus from the port (Karave) or even on foot. Other marvellous beaches you can visit are Lavrakas, Potamos and Korfos (which is also very close to the port). Finally, another one worth visiting is Diana beach. It is a dreamy, pebbled beach close to Tripiti that can only be reached by boat.

In order to get to Gavdos, you have to take a ferry from Chora Sfakion, Paleochora or Sougia.


The famous chair marking the southern point of Europe


Where to Stay

Hotel in Chania, Greece Akasti Hotel
8.4 10
Akasti Hotel
Kalamaki, 73100 Chania, Greece

Akasti Hotel is located in Kalamaki, Chania, just a 5-minute walk from Kalamaki beach. Chania Town is approximately a 10-minute drive away. Souda Port is 13.8 km away while Chania International Airport is 19 km away.


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