We spent most of our first day on Crete recovering from the half-night's ferry journey from Kythira, but as our hotel was within walking distance of the town centre, we went exploring around lunch-time; obviously in confirmation of the mad-dogs-and-Englishmen adage. And Crete was hot: hotter even then Peloponnese and Kythira we have just came from.
Kissamos is a small town at the western end of Crete, about 60km west of Hania, and its main current claim to importance comes from the ferry connection to Peloponnese via Kythira and Anti-Kythira. This is actually the way the ancients went, the shortest crossing between Crete and the mainland and one which allows the sailor to stay within the sight of land (weather dependent) all the time.
The ferry port is some 3km north-west of Kissamos though and the town is a small, sedate place that seems to have enough solid confidence not to rely entirely on tourism. The coastal strip with beaches, hotels and seaside tavernas is somewhat separated from the town centre by an area of newer housing still interspersed with patches of overgrown wasteland.
It's nothing special but I liked Kissamos, which even in the peak summer season retained this sleepy, provincial character, with black-moustachioed men of all ages in black and blue shirts sipping their coffee in pavement cafes and hardly a gift shop visible.
We wandered down to the Kissamos archaeological museum, a small but informative facility with numerous information boards in English covering the area from the prehistoric times as well as exhibiting finds from various points in time, starting with the Minoan period.
The highlight of the displays was definitely the upstairs gallery with some wonderful mosaics as well as huge amphorae on a reconstructed sand bank.
After the museum, we walked to the sea-side. Kissamos lies on the south coast of the large Kissamos Bay, opened to the north, with two peninsulas bordering the east and west sides. The western peninsula – Gramvousa – is a popular tourist destination despite very poor road access as it boasts a Venetian fort (one of the last ones in Crete to fall to the Ottomans) as well as a "tropical" beach of Balos, among the most famous and popular beaches of the island.
Kissamos itself is not a major resort, although it seems to host many Eastern European visitors. The beaches in town are reasonable enough, and sandy, but the water (at least during our visit) lacked the crystal-clear quality that the best swimming places have, possibly because the sand from the bottom is churned up by waves coming into the bay.
Still, we had a decent swim at the Telonio beach and there was a couple of showers as well as some surprisingly cool palm-leaf parasols to hire. The sea was full of little fish that seemed to go for one's feet a lot. I quite liked the sensation (and the hope that instead of just brushing past they will eat all the old skin just like the pedicure fish in those new-fangled salons) but the Older Child got positively and very loudly freaked out by the experience.