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