Saturday, 9 July 2022

Western Crete, things to do, and see, and eat!

 A basic guide to Western Crete, according to AnnieQPR

A little guide on things to do, see or eat whilst in Western Crete, knowledge gained from 2003 when we first visited, and took ownership of our Annie's Villa in 2004.   Will update as and when, but this is being published in 2022.

Firstly, the language, most speak English, and the road signs are first in Greek and then in English, so there won’t be a problem.  However, with most countries, they will appreciate you trying the basics.

Kalmera, good morning

Kalispera, good afternoon

Kalinichta good night

Yassoo hello or goodbye

Efhaisto, thank you

Ochi, No

Ne, yes

You may also hear kali orexi when dining, the best equivalent is them saying bon appetite.

 Driving In Crete

There is a major “National Road” that goes the length of the country, it’s a great road, and doesn’t get too busy.   Keep right however, as they will overtake you, and be prepared for sheep to appear in the road when off the beaten track.

GOOGLE MAPS work perfectly in Crete, our Villa is also on there, so any locations I mention you should be able to plan the trip using the maps.

Day Trips Out Etc.  – a small summary of what’s on offer….

Beaches – Kalyves, and Almyrida are nearby, these are some of the best beaches you will find, although there are so many beautiful beaches around the island, you won’t be disappointed and don’t need to travel out for a beach, I mean it’s sand and water, with plenty of good food available for lunch and respite etc.

You will see tour details for Elafonissi (pink beach) gramvousa and balos, the tours can be good but you don’t get much time to appreciate them, and again, it depends on what you want to get out of your days? 

Further on the national road is Georgioupolis, another great beach with some of the old traditional rides available, used to be a banana, now it’s a couch or something, still harem scarem.     Near there is also Lake Kournas.

Lake Kournas – the lake is a man made lake but it’s a beautiful location, and you can hire various pedalos, then grab some lunch.   As above, you could combine Georgioupolis and Kournas into one day out. 

Chania – a beautiful city that offers everything.  Stunning views across the Venetian harbour, which you can walk along.  Wonderful tavernas all around the harbour too, and back streets are the width of two donkeys, with much shopping to do.   Leather street smells divine.

There is also a lively street market in the old town on a Saturday, its mainly local produce, and “fashion” but fun to spend some time.  You can get a bus for around 3 Euro, or if driving, when you hit the one way street, find a parking space, as further in there are parking restrictions, or follow Parking signs when in the Centre.

There is a wonderful old market place, but it is currently being renovated so not sure when it will be open.

Limnoupolis – water park!   An absolutely wonderful water park, its huge, and has all the brilliant features, big rides, lazy river, zip wire and drop across the pool!   It is cheaper in the afternoon, and in the full sun, it’s probably enough.   There are concessions on top for lunch etc.  But the shop on the ground floor as you enter the park is also well stocked and cheaper than above.  We often grab a baguette from the bakery for days out like this, there is no problem taking in your own food.  Lockers etc there for valuables.  Full day is 25 per person, afternoon session drops to 17, that can be quite a saving for a large family.

Loutro – can only be reached by boat, you get the ferry from Chora Svakion, a stunning little place with amazing waters that look like the boats are just hovering.   Lovely places to eat too.

Samaria Gorge – a full day walking the gorge, my Jasper wasn’t so keen, many hours of him saying “what’s the point” but we like a good hike.   Whatever floats your boat and if you have enough days etc.  You know what you’re going to get walking a gorge.

English War Cemetery (Souda) – again, whatever floats your boat, but it’s nearby and absolutely immaculately kept.   There is a massive NATO presence in Souda, a few places where no pictures allowed etc.   You’ll see some of the local messages to them in graffiti.

Aptera – not far on the National Road is Aptera, amazing ruins and Amphitheatre.  A good hour or so can be spent here, combined with lunch at Ta Aptera (see under food).

Argyroupolis Springs/Ancient Lappa (springs and tings) – amazing waterfalls, traditional fish, there is an upper and a lower, you can do a walk around the upper village from memory, getting a map from the olive oil soap shop there  

There is also (in Lappa) the church of the Holy Five Virgins (from memory signposted).   As you walk down towards the river you will also see the massive tree that has since been split into 2 to create a path.

It is in the prefastructure of Rethymnon, so not very close by, but worth a visit in my opinion, or could combine with a trip to Rethymnon, though maybe a long day?

Rethymnon – another lively place, with a great fort, beautiful waters with many tavernas around.  3rd largest City in Crete which is a good look around too.  Much history and original venetian drinking fountain you can fill your water bottle from.

Plaka 1 – our plaka, Annie's Villa is on google maps.  The little square is home to some beautiful tavernas, and an English place The Loft (see under food).   We love it and it’s walking distance from the Villa.

Plaka 2 – Spinalonga – featured in the Victoria Hislop book “The Island”.  We’ve been a couple of times, and to be honest there’s not a lot left to recognise from the book’s descriptions.  Cretans were actually embarrassed by the leper colony and it was all but destroyed.  Now of course they are trying to preserve it and build it back up for tourism.   We stayed overnight in Plaka overnight.  The beach is stony, but there is also a wonderful taverna called Marias, and it did break the holiday up.

Marathi – for airport day.   It’s only half an hour from the airport, very sweet little beach, and some great tavernas, the furthest one, begins with P(?) is renowned for their fish and spaghetti?   If you’ve an afternoon flight, and have to be out of the Villa by 10, a good way to spend some time rather than hair tail it into Chania itself, or just lounge by the airport.

Wine tasting – Dourakis quite a fun afternoon, and a bit different, I’ve done it twice, once on a girls’ holiday and again with Chris.  Vineyard is up in the mountains, it is bookable in advance, and again, maybe a bit different for some respite from the sun.

Brewery Tour – Charma – Chris enjoyed it while we sat in the sun.

There are many other things that spring to mind, but we have been going there 19 years now, always on the look out for more, and to be honest we haven’t even been far South yet!?   Apart from Sissi and their local springs/drinking fountains.

A few other places spring to mind:

Oldest olive tree in the world(?) you can climb inside, quite a trek to see a tree?

Salt Caves Plaka (our Plaka) we eventually found them and they are amazing, but no signposts and a bit of a leap of faith – think Indiana Jones and the Temple when he throws sand out to reveal a hidden path that he then steps out on.

Olive oil factory (we still haven’t done one, oops) but the olive oil is the best in the world, according to James Martin, so I’m having that.

And now down to the other important matter of FOOD!

In all the years we have only ever had 1 bad meal, many years ago when we ordered Chinese (what were we thinking) and it was basically an Uncle Bens jar kind of thing.

The interesting thing about Greeks is that they love Greek food, they struggle to understand why we would want to go look for Italian, Chinese, Indian etc. when on their beautiful island, surrounded by purely simple and delicious food.   The menus will become samey, but trust me, once you leave you’ll be craving to be back there in the sun, eating the simple fayre before you.

The food is all very reasonable we find, particularly in the Villages, so no worries there.   Gyros is also a good, filling lunch, around 3 Euro, there’s a good souvlakerie in Kalyves too on the corner, who deliver!   Maybe an idea for a night in.

I will mention a few that are good, or quirky, or I believe deserve a special mention.

1)    Ta Aptera, there are 2 tavernas in the area, you want the one with the tables and blue chairs, not the one with the Kri Kri (Goat) statue opposite.  The lady there is amazing, her name is Chrissoula, and she will have a specials black board.   She’s quite colourful, and has a soft spot for our Jasper, who she’s known since 4 mths old (he's now 18)!  We like the garlic and beetroot, basically in olive oil, plain and simple.  Kids always have meatballs and chips (simple but incredible and always an empty plate).   Everything is cooked and prepared by Chrissoula – her English is outstanding too.  Particularly her command of swearing 😊

2)    KosMos – you will see signs around Kalyves for this, often depicted by a bee- hive sign (no clue), it is a quirky little place that was hand built with some crazy stuff inside (my nephews used to call it the spooky place), fun for simple food, or just a cool drink, and a good old wander.

3)    PARKING – this sounds mad I know, you will pass this a lot, and looks like just a service station kinda place, but once inside, the views are outstanding (no pics allowed ahem), but a beautiful spot.  We sometimes stop off here on the way to the Villa, just for a sit down and drink the views in.

4)    Cactus – just a roadside place with a few covers overlooking the sea, quite new, different kind of menu, but another place to stop and drink in the views.   We were sat there a few years ago when some friends from St Albans pulled up alongside 😊

5)    The Loft – going against everything I’ve said up to now, I have to mention The Loft.   If you are craving a bit of spice of a bit of something different, The Loft in (our) Plaka has a very different menu.  Includes Thai Curries, burgers and pies etc.   Run by an English guy called Ian, always good value for a chat.  Last year we couldn’t find Scarlett – we knew she was safe with her mates, just didn’t know where she was – battery had died!  Ian got on his motorbike, went down to Almyrida beach, put Scarlett on the back (she does know him) and brought her to the restaurant.  Her face was a picture.   We quickly explained she wasn’t in trouble just make sure your phone is charged.   Top bloke!


Wine – I also go with the tavernas carafe (1L) or half carafe, I like dry white sauvignon and its good wine.

Beer – local beers are Mythos, or Fix etc., but the local brews are Charma on tap or Cretan Kings.

Shopping larger supermarkets on the Souda road into Chania, but there is an Inka in Kalyves which I often use, very good pricing, and has a butcher etc.

Oh, and you may well hear fighter jets, often on a Tuesday, we’re not at war, though Crete is strategically placed, hence NATO, and they often fly them for practice, very loud, and very impressive.  By the way, you’ll also spot the off-duty Americans around Chania, trying to blend in, but sticking out like sore thumbs!

Hope this is helpful, do let me know!

Annie x

Georgeoupolis and Lake Kournas

A fab day trip out would be to Georgioupoli(s) and Lake Kournas.  Both are well sign-posted off the National Road towards Rethimnon.  You can also do both in one day, or more of course if you wish, but there is also a little road train that connects the two for an extra bit of fun for the kids (or adults of course if that's your thing).

Georgioupolis is a stunning little town with a lovely little beach, gorgeous tavernas in and around the square, a lovely little mini-golf course and playground (which does get a little hot in the Summer), and the main attraction, the pretty little white chapel that can only be accessed by a rocky causeway.  No health and safety here, you cross it at your own risk.  I managed it in Birkenstocks and the kids did it fine too, but just be careful when the tide washes over your feet, oh, and look out for the lovely little crabs you see in the crevices along the way!

We've also seen weddings here, who knows if I ever did it again......................You can light a candle and say a prayer, and admire the paintings and little altar inside.  Just beautiful.

At lake Kournas you can take a peddalo out for an hour or so and spot the turtles if you're lucky.   Little restaurants line the front of the lake where you can grab a bite to eat, and some lovely little gift shops with some fab pottery too.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

It's All Greek To Me *boom boom*

A little taster for some basic Greek language.   The spellings aren't hard and fast because their alphabet is different, but close enough :)  Of course you will be understood in English, but why not give it a go :)

And yes, this is from a T-Shirt I actually bought from Chania market - I know!!! Enough sad *shamed face* ;)
and now for the really important questions! (Ena is 1 by the way)!

A small beer please - ena beera micro parakalo
A large beer please - ena beera megali parakalo
A bottle of white wine please - ena boukali grassi parakalo

Feel free to ask for further translations :)

Annie x

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Cretan Food - Try Everything :)

I guess Greece is known for it's wonderful Greek Salad with feta cheese, and yes it's amazing.  Also, for their calamari, which, again, is one of my firm favourites.

However, having travelled to Greece for around 19 years now, we have been introduced to many different local foods and I would urge you to try them.

Particularly around Plaka where our Villa is, the tavernas are serving locally grown produce, the olive oil is amazing, and they tend to cook their food long and slow - just how I like it.  Their food is cooked in the oven however, I have tried for many years to find a slow cooker out there but to date it has eluded me!  UPDATE:  Found a slow cooker, never been used :)

Calamari - yummy

Fortini's local taverna is rumoured to have a menu, but we prefer her to tell us what she has been cooking that day, or you can choose something from the grill, local fish etc.

You can of course choose Taki's bar for more Western food, and the sport, or Elpis next door for a mix of both.  Takis has a games room opposite the taverna, and Elpis added a fab playground opposite his taverna too.  So a fine choice of fayre in such a little village.

 Next along the main road is Ta Aptera, situated next to the fabulous Aptera Ruins.  "Funny lady" Chris, as my kids call her, the most marvellous women, offers more local food to die for.  Well worth a trip, if not for the food but the local gossip too :)
Beetroot, garlic and olive oil

Whats on offer Ta Aptera
Dining out isn't expensive either, we have found that both lunch with soft drinks, and dinner with wine, always work out at around 28 Euro for the 4 of us.

We do also like to make use of the  BBQ, or use the oven of course, and have the odd night eating Al Fresco at the Villa, but you don't have to.

Following I've listed a few of the local foods you may find on offer, with an explanation of what you can expect.

Briam - a Greek style Ratatouille, packed full of good veggies and herbs

Boureki - a Cretan speciality, a potato and courgette bake

Saganaki - fried cheese, or Prawn Saganaki - a variation with prawns

Kleftiko - slow cooked lamb, but done to die for

Cheese pie - cheese and potato bake

I will add to this list, but I would also add a good tip, if you just want a snack, go for a Gyros - basically a wrap with - OK the original kebab, sometimes after a long day out I'm all over a 3 Euro deal, knowing its not an elephant leg and good food.

Enjoy x

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Top 10 Tips for Renting a Car & Driving in Crete

I've had many a conversation with clients who are nervous about driving in Crete.  It can be a bit mad, but if you follow a few tips you will be fine.

You can have a beach holiday at the Villa, but we like to hire a car to get out and explore more of what's on offer.   I would say also that the condition of the main roads is fab, though can be a bit rural in the villages.

1)  Drive on the right hand side - the roundabouts take getting used to but they have arrows to guide you.

2)  Drive very far on the right hand side on the main roads, as near to the emergency lane, there are some very hairy over-taking moments, so stay out of the way, not witnessed any crashes yet to be fair though!

3)  Don't panic if you see a road sign in Greek, on the main roads it will be followed by the same sign in English.

4)  Be aware that the Greeks don't much care too much about consistency in spelling places, there is often a variation - Almyrida and Almirida are in fact the same place.

5)  When driving through towns and villages, be wary that the vehicle/person in front may just stop for a chat with someone.  They will also be oblivious to your car horn - you are on Cretan time now.

6)  There are speed limits, and take care, as above, you are on Cretan time and the police won't understand why you'd be in a rush :)

7)  Whilst driving in the beautiful mountains, beware that you may suddenly come across a shepherd and his flock of sheep.  I like to think we are on their land, so let them get along to where they are, again hurrying them up is not going to help in any way.

8)  On windy roads the Cretans also like to travel in the middle of the road, no idea why but take care.

9)  Parking to Cretans can sometimes resemble abandoning of cars, but in the Cities, Chania etc. take care as there are parking restrictions and parking fines can be expensive.  If going into Chania, when you get to the one way road, there is plenty of parking at the top, but nearer the centre it is restricted. If you'd prefer a controlled car park, turn left at the bottom of the one way, opposite the majestic market (currently being renovated 2022), then further along, past Goodies on the right, you will see a parking sign, turn right, and it is under the main supermarket.

10) Be careful choosing a car hire company.  One of my clients was asked to leave 1000 Euro deposit with the company, at the airport, which basically wiped out all of his holiday cash.  So be very specific about what is expected of you.

I use the hire company Autoclub, they have offices in Almyrida and Kalyves, and have never had a problem with them.  Shop around though, as there are a few in the Villages now.   I would add however, that since the pandemic, some of them had to sell some of their assets, so car hire is more expensive now, as fewer cars, but hopefully this will settle.

If you have any further questions, do not hesitate to contact me :)

Annie x

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Holiday Villa for rent in Crete! This 2 bedroom bungalow villa stands on a wonderful hillside location, a short walk from the historic village of Plaka. The property boasts amazing views of both Souda Bay and the White Mountains. Due to what this lovely area has to offer, this is an ideal holiday retreat for both couples and families alike.

You can find more details about our Cretan Villa for rental here!  Or contact me direct on:

Annie x

Friday, 13 April 2012

Things to do in Crete - Aptera Ruins

Aptera is a fanstastic find, although occupied continuously since  fourteenth century BC, it is Roman ruins that currently remain, including a recently excavated Ampitheatre. 

I saw it last October when it was very open, but this April, after a rainy Winter, it was very colouful but more difficult to wade through!

Will leave you with some pics :)
Ampitheater covered in poppies

Ampitheatre from the bottom

3 chambered roman baths

3 chambers baths roof

Chuffed to pick up a cannon ball

Cheeky :)

Nearly lost him!