Written by MagdaDH_AlexH on 25 Nov, 2011
We take the inland road back to Kissamos from Elafonissi. The sun is low and the mountainous routes that cut through the central hill massifs of the island are spectacular. We stop at one of the roadside stalls to buy a bottle of wine…Read More
We take the inland road back to Kissamos from Elafonissi. The sun is low and the mountainous routes that cut through the central hill massifs of the island are spectacular. We stop at one of the roadside stalls to buy a bottle of wine (which, at 5 Euro, proves mediocre later on) and a jar of honey (which, at similar price, proves to be pure, fragrant, toffee-and-wild-herbs-blossom delight). This route is as attractive, and more unusual than the coastal road we took from Falasarna. One of the defining features of landscape in Crete is the number of gorges that run to the sea through the mountains of the island, the most famous of all being the Samaria. There are several gorges in the western end of Crete, including Sirkari and Roka, but the one we unexpectedly come across on the way back from Elafonissi to Kissamos is the mile-long Topolia gorge. Although the fairly modest by Cretan standars size makes it only a local attraction, the gorge is pretty impressive, with steep, sheer sides of raggedy rock the colour of honey, almost glowing gold in the setting sun, falling into the spiky greenery of the bushes in the valley long way below. Before the steepest and deepest part of the gorge, where the road passes through a single-carriageway tunnel regulated by traffic lights there is a cave, called, as many Greek caves, Agia Sofia Cave or the Cave of the God's Wisdom. Why is the notion of wisdom (sofia) associated with underground spaces – maybe this Christian custom harks back to the ancient chtonic cults and oracles, from Delphi to several Nekromantions. This cave has a small chapel and is of geological interest for its stalagmites and stalactites. We drive on through the tunnel and as the road gets nearer to Kissamos, we pass a a wedding party – seems like a whole village, if not several, were invited – in front of the church in Potamida village. Behind the church, and with stopping made impossible by the cars of the wedding party, raise komolithi – another phenomenon of geological nature, strange, tall rock formations akin to North-American hoodoos, topped with tufts of grass and bushes. After that it's less than five minutes to Kissamos and our hotel: a long day with a lot of driving, but an attractive one and with a good mix of historical sites and stunning scenery. Close
Written by MagdaDH_AlexH on 21 Nov, 2011
Falasarna is a coastal settlement around 10km from Kissamos, on the very western coast of Crete. The beach is well know because of its ''end of the world'' feeling and pinkish sand, and a popular destination for trips from the area. The village is, however,…Read More
Falasarna is a coastal settlement around 10km from Kissamos, on the very western coast of Crete. The beach is well know because of its ''end of the world'' feeling and pinkish sand, and a popular destination for trips from the area. The village is, however, not a village as such but a widely scattered collection of domatia (rooms to let), pensions and hotels with a bit of a ramshackle character. The sea looks good, but the coastal plain is full of polyethylene greenhouses growing vegetables and generally not very attractive. We didn't go to Falasarna for the beach, though, but to have a look at the Ancient Falasarna, an large, open archaeological site nestling under high, steep hills at the very end of the road that follows the length of the Falasarna Beach past several car parks and a few bars and restaurants, through a lengthy and dusty olive grove to what used to be the only port in ancient Crete from which one could sail on eyesight to the Greek mainland. Important Minoan harbour, it was rendered useless after the Thira eruption that likely caused the subsequent collapse of the Minoan civilisation, and which raised the western seaboard of Crete by thirty feet. Re-inhabited later and re-constructed as a port, it was a major Crete city in the 4th century BC, its inhabitants notorious pirates. Subjugated and destroyed by the Romans around 70BC, it became a lost city and was unearthed only in the 19th century.There are ongoing excavations at the site – the archaeologists reside in a little hut and potter around the dig, directing the local muscle working with shovels and baskets. Some of them, especially the younger ones, are quite keen to share their knowledge, others, especially the older ones occasionally grace the visitor with their – often disapproving – attention. There is an informative board at the entrance and a sheet you can get to learn a bit about the site, but the fun is in wondering around at random, trying to work out what various places and ruins might have been. There is quite a lot to see at Falasarna, although most of it fairly low key, but because it's a harbour site, there are more than just the usual house and wall foundations: we saw towers, quays and mooring rings; cisterns and storage rooms. Unless you have a special interest in archaeology, it's not a site worth travelling from very far to see, but if you stay anywhere in the Hania prefecture, Falasarna makes a good day trip with its beach and ancient remains, or combine it with a visit to Kissamos or even Elafonissi. Close
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.…Read More
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. Close
Written by Meggysmum on 11 Oct, 2009
Ocean Village market themselves as the "Cruise for People who Don’t do Cruises". Feeling that as a family we would feel restricted on a traditional cruise line we decided to take our first steps into the world of cruising using Ocean Village.One week cruising…Read More
Ocean Village market themselves as the "Cruise for People who Don’t do Cruises". Feeling that as a family we would feel restricted on a traditional cruise line we decided to take our first steps into the world of cruising using Ocean Village.One week cruising in the Mediterranean was booked and the anticipation mounted. We booked flights with Ocean rather than booking independently for peace of mind. This proved very useful as our flight was delayed getting to Crete by several hours so the boat was kept in port until our plane arrived. If we had been independent it would have left.Arrival at the port was straightforward, passports were checked, photographs taken and a credit card imprint was also obligatory for shipboard expenses. The luggage was taken separately from the coach on to the ship. We were given directions to our cabin and we easily found it. One steward is allocated to just a few cabins and he immediately appeared to show us around the cabin and asked if we wished him to set up the sofa bed for us due to our late arrival. He was very pleasant and all general tipping is included so you are not to tip staff for each activity.The cabin (called a stateroom) was larger than anticipated with a large double bed and a good size double sofa bed. An immaculately clean bathroom and large dressing area were nice to. Some of the fittings in the cabin were looking a little tired but in general we were very pleased with the standard. The problems arose when I opened the doors to access the balcony. This ship does not have glass balcony walls it only had bars with very large gaps between them. I immediately felt that they were not at all safe. My son was 10 but very slim and also very active and I had visions of him falling straight through. I immediately retreated back inside and later told the steward of my concerns. He explained that for children under 10 they automatically put up safety netting and if I wanted he could do that for us. True to his word the netting was put up within a couple of hours and made me feel much more secure.Life jackets are stored in your cabins and the next morning we had to go to a demonstration about ship safety and evacuation. I believe this is a legal requirement for all cruise ships.The next day was spent exploring the ship and we were extremely happy with what we found.Restaurants- buffet food was available 24hrs a day in the Plantation restaurant and then the Waterfront Buffet restaurant opened at meal times. La Luna was a restaurant on the deck with pizza available at lunchtime. In the evening La Luna and the Bistro were available for an extra charge. We never visited restaurants that required an extra fee as we enjoyed eating as a family and we found the choice and amount of food was excellent. The ship was full when we were sailing but we never had a problem getting a table.Bars- there were 8 bars in total. The Sun weavers on the deck was great for ice creams and soft drinks. We purchased passes for the children so that they could go and get ice-creams and soft drinks without our signature. The other bars varied between quiet, late-night and comedy venues so there was a good selection. Drinks are signed to your room bill; children’s room keys prohibit them from buying alcohol which is useful for parents with older teens.Evening entertainment consisted of the cinema, casino or the Marque theatre so there was usually something going on. We saw some good tribute acts and a great trapeze show up on the deck under the stars.The children also spent some time in the Kids club which I believe ran to quite late at night.On deck there were two swimming pools; one was adults only with Jacuzzis. A couple of shuffleboard courts, my son particularly liked those. A golf driving net and a football/volleyball court. There were also a huge number of deckchairs so you could usually find somewhere to sit when the ship was at sea. When the ship was in port the pools etc were quite quiet.For those wanting to look their best there was a spa, a hairdressers and a gym. I must admit I didn’t venture into any of these.When in port the ship arranges lots of "Action ashore" excursions. These can be expensive but are good when the area of interest is a long way from the port e.g. in Athens. The ship newsletter gives you details of the excursions and also local areas of interest that you can walk to. We booked our excursions before we went on holiday so we never had to queue at the activities desk which seemed to get quite busy.We found everything about cruising suited us. The staff were all pleasant, nothing was too much trouble. Seeing new places everyday without any effort to get there was so relaxing and meals available when we wanted them made for such an easy holiday that now we are cruise converts! Close
Written by MALUSE on 01 Sep, 2009
We went to Crete for one week at the beginning of November to fill ourselves up with sunshine before the drab and dreary season starts in Germany, how could we know that the island would greet us with a cool wind blowing dark clouds across…Read More
We went to Crete for one week at the beginning of November to fill ourselves up with sunshine before the drab and dreary season starts in Germany, how could we know that the island would greet us with a cool wind blowing dark clouds across the sky and the tourists away from the beaches?We chose the resort Hersónissos, 40 km east of Heraklion, the capital of Crete, because it’s nearly in the middle of the north coast and we thought it would be a good starting point for excursions. Hersónissos is the busiest resort on Crete with the most hotels and an active night-life, we had read about it in a guide book and heard about it from a taxi-driver, we didn’t notice it, though, as the tourist season ends at the beginning of November and the pavements were being folded up (as we say in German), some hotels and all entertainment sites were already closed. Sun Beach, for example, where - according to the taxi-driver - daily 5000 young tourists "have funs", maybe the plural seemed right for him considering the many attractions including several water slides and bungee jumping. The beaches are nothing to write home about (sadly, that’s true for the whole of Crete), they’re small and narrow and must be crammed full in July and August, I imagine people only sitting on their towels because there isn’t enough space to lie down. :-)One day walking along the main street of Hersónissos we encountered a loud and merry group of people sitting at tables in front of a restaurant, we learnt that they were shopkeepers celebrating the end of the (successful) season. You hate mass tourism? They love it!The resort has no tall buildings, I didn’t see a hotel with more than four floors – a Spaniard from, say, Torremolinos would only sneer derisively – in Heraklion we didn’t see a single skyscraper, Crete appears low key and modest to us. The private houses in the small towns and villages are exactly like the ones in other Mediterranean countries, i.e., simple, ugly concrete boxes with flat roofs, the Cretan variety is advanced in one respect, though, nearly all houses have a collector for solar energy on the roof, very laudable!What did we do? We walked along the coast, had a look at the tiny harbour (the town itself isn’t pretty) and discussed the fact that every ten metres there’s a high price jewellery shop or a pharmacy, never have we seen more of both in one place!Or we took the bus to Aghios Nikolaos, a famous resort in the east of Crete, the buses are frequent, clean, convenient, not expensive (return ticket = 5,80 € for a ride of 50 minutes), mostly on time. I like public transport when I’m abroad, where better can I watch the locals? The Cretans are small and stocky, they’re friendly towards foreigners (even at the end of the season!), don’t gesticulate, aren’t loud, traffic is civilised, honking is no national hobby; they remind me of the Portuguese without the latters’ melancholy.Aghios Nikolaos is situated at a bay and has a small lake (now connected with the sea) where goddess Athene went for a swim – or did she? The lake and the seaside are lined with restaurants and cafés, a pleasant sight and atmosphere on a sunny afternoon (the wind subsided on the third day and the sun came out). Surprisingly, the houses here aren’t pretty, either, no elegant architecture as in Italian seaside resorts, for example.From Aghios Nikolaos boat trips to the island Spina Longa are offered "every day", unfortunately "every day" ends on 31st October! I was disappointed, I had wanted to go there, I like being on a boat, and to see the Venetian fortress; the island was used as a leper colony from 1903 to 1957 (!), can you imagine. So we had to content ourselves with a walk along the marina and the harbour and a meal in a restaurant beside the (small) beach watched intently by some hungry cats (which weren’t so hungry any more when we left!). - This is the opportunity to point out that all the public loos I visited were clean as was the whole island.Aghios Nikolaos has a small Archeological Museum, for me the most impressive exhibit is a pretty life size daisy made of gold, probably a brooch, estimated to be 4000 years old, influenced by designs from Ur, if you’re sensitive you can feel the breath of history here! An ornamented ostrich egg and several Egyptian idols from gravesites prove that Crete had close relations with Africa.The highpoint, however, was our visit to Knossos, the Minoan palace built about 2000 BC, as committed Europeans we wanted to see where it all started. This is the place of the labyrinth, where Zeus and Europe lived, the Minotaur thrived on the blood of young people, Ariadne had the idea with the woollen thread and Daedalus and Icarus built their wings. The frescoes and findings from Knossos are exhibited in Heraklion, a 10 minute bus ride away, tourists nearly always see both sites so that a reduced combi ticket is offered. I doesn’t matter in which order the tourists visit the palace and the museum, but only both together make the experience complete.Not far from the museum is the Daedalou street (Odos Daedalou), a pedestrian precinct with souvenir shops, boutiques and jewellery shops (!), when we were at the Daedalus Gallery in the middle of the street we looked right and saw that we had hit on the meeting point of the Cretan jeunesse doree, there are five cafés, one beside the other, with tables and chairs on the pavement, occupied by twenty somethings drinking mostly nescafé frappe – I wanted to try it but decided not to carry research too far, I hate the taste of nescafé and don’t like coffee without milk and then the drink is cold! I opted for a cappuccino which is served with cinnamon sprinkled on the milk froth, it tastes good! It’s pricey, though, not only here, but also at the airport where it’s served in a cardboard cup. Eating and drinking out is expensive on Crete, I wonder how often the locals can afford to do it.Although the young people were dressed and made up according to the latest international fashion, I noticed some young men playing with strings of beads, up to that moment I had thought that was only a toy for old Greek (and Turkish) men. This gave the scene quite a provincial touch, on the other hand this side street was the only place on Crete where I heard British and American pop music blaring out of the loudspeakers, in all other public places where one is attacked by music nowadays – shops, buses, taxis, restaurants, cafés – it was only ever Greek music. Would we visit Crete again? Yes, why not? We haven’t been to the western part of the island which has some nice towns as well according to the guide book, maybe early spring would be a good time before the tourist season starts, we would never go there in peak season, that’s for sure. Crete is very barren, the mountains have no trees, no bushes, just patches of grass and herbs, if they’re in full bloom the landscape must be pretty. Close
Why is Europe called Europe? Come with me to Crete, to the Palace of Knossòs (stress on the second syllable) to be precise, and I’ll tell you the myth and also some others which you may already have heard or read about but maybe don’t…Read More
Why is Europe called Europe? Come with me to Crete, to the Palace of Knossòs (stress on the second syllable) to be precise, and I’ll tell you the myth and also some others which you may already have heard or read about but maybe don’t associate with this Greek island. We’re in the Bronze Age, in the third millenium BC , one day Zeus, the leader of the gods, who was born on Crete, fell in love with the Phoenician princess Europa, he transmogrified into a snow-white bull and appeared in front of the maiden who was struck by its beauty and climbed on its back. The bull ran into the water and once safe at sea revealed its true identity, then swam west to the island of Crete [the Cretans were supposed to have come from Phoenician settlements in Asia Minor].After reaching the coast Zeus changed back into his original shape, copulated with Europa and bigat triplets one of which was called Minos (later this name came to mean ’king’, the period from 2600 BC – 1420 BC is known as the Minoan one), making her the founding mother of the first literate civilisation in this part of the world. Zeus soon abandoned Europa for new amorous adventurers, she married the king of Crete who raised her children, Minos succeeded his step-father on the throne.Once Minos wanted to sacrifice a bull but couldn’t kill it because it was so beautiful, Poseidon who had given him the animal was miffed and as a revenge made Minos’ wife fall in love with a bull [They had it with bulls in those days, the bull cult was an import from Egypt with which Crete had close relations, the Cretans got bulls from Egypt in exchange for honey, grain and olive oil]. The queen turned to Daedalus for help, an architect and craftsman from Athens, who constructed a wooden cow covered in real hide into which the queen climbed to mate with the bull (don’t ask!), the result of this union was Minotaur with the body of a man and the head of a bull.Not surprisingly King Minos was outraged and banned the freak into the maze like cellar of the palace Daedalus had built, he ordered that Minotaur was to be fed seven young men and seven virgin women who had to be sent from Athens every nine years [the Atheneans had been conquered and subjugated by the Cretans], when this had been going on for some time, Theseus, the Athenian King’s son, volunteered to be one of the seven sacrificial young men, he wanted to kill the Minotaur and end the suffering of the Atheneans.Ariadne, King Minos’ daughter, fell in love with Theseus and gave him a ball of thread which he unwrapped entering the maze like cellar, he killed the Minotaur and found his way out again by following the thread back to the entrance.Daedalus who had aroused the King’s wrath by building the fake cow was also imprisoned in the palace, he escaped with his son Icarus adjusting wax wings to their arms; Icarus overwhelmed by the height and the speed they reached went too near the sun, the wax melted, he fell into the sea and drowned, his father Daedalus, however, succeeded in flying as far as Sicily [Minoan artefacts have been found there].Of course, it’s not necessary to know all this, but it certainly helps to get a feeling for the place. We visited at the end of October shortly before the end of the tourist season, we had bought a guidebook and intended to walk through the site on our own after paying 6€ (concession 4€) for the ticket, but then a woman addressed us in German and invited us/talked us into a guided tour for 8 € each, quite expensive in addition to the entrance ticket, but I’m glad she did. She said that following our guide book we’d need about three hours until we would have figured out what was what whereas the guided tour would only last one hour and we’d understand everything at once. Right she was.Right behind the entrance is a small column with the bust of Sir Arthur Evans (1851 – 1941), the British archaeologist who bought the site at the end of the 19th century convinced he’d find the Palace of Knossos there, he was not mistaken, together with his team he excavated the site for more than thirty years, he partly restored the palace according to his ideas pleasing the visitors, enraging many archaeologists His enemies claim he consciously manipulated facts to arrive at his version of Minoan civilisation, some even speak of Disneyfication.The Palace of Knossos is the largest archaeological site on Crete, there are some other sites of former Minoan palaces in other parts of the island where the visitors find only ruins, heaps of stones scattered everywhere which mean nothing to the untrained eye; I’m grateful for Evans’ work, I’ve got difficulties enough as it is to complete the whole palace in my imagination. I know that hardcore archaeologists disagree, but I’m a layperson, I simply can’t construct a complete building in my mind when I see only the base of a column.When we came to the first wall, the guide pointed to a double axe chiselled into the stone, the symbol stood for power, ‘double axe’ is ‘labrys’ in Greek, the term ‘labyrinth’ means only the palace of the double axe, nothing more, it does not mean maze. As the structure was like a maze with around 1000 rooms the two terms have got mixed and now the guides are nearly driven crazy when at the end of the tour the tourists who haven’t listened attentively come and ask, "And where is the labyrinth, please?" The palace * is * the labyrinth!It had four wings with several storeys arranged around a rectangular central court, tourists can see the throne room with the oldest throne of humankind, a simple stone chair (a replica is standing in the European Court of Justice in Den Haag), some restored frescoes adorn the walls. One can see many storerooms with huge vase-like jars that contained oil, Evans calculated that all in all around 19 000 gallons of oil were stored in the palace, the many kitchens, residences and workshops prove that the palace was an enormous site, unfortunately these rooms can’t be visited at the moment. The inhabitants are believed to have lived in luxurious conditions, the palace had a drainage system, luxurious bathrooms, ventilation, water conduits and waste chutes, things that after the destruction of the palace were forgotten and had to be reinvented thousands of years later.The guide made us look at the surrounding barren landscape and told us to imagine it in lush green, the mountainsides covered by forests, when the palace was built, the climate on Crete was subtropical, it was so warm that people didn’t wear much, we know from frescoes that women didn’t cover their breasts. The palace is situated on a hill, a river was flowing at its foot which could take boats to and from the sea (now there is not a drop of water), the palace was not surrounded by walls, the Minoan period was a peaceful one according to historians and archaeologists, troops were only kept for decoration. We walked slowly across the site, looked at whatever there was to look at for as long as we liked, it was very relaxing and just the way it should be. Besides us there were approximately 50 other tourists, we shuddered when the guide told us that in summer every day around 10 000 tourists visit the site, waiting for up to one hour to peep at the throne with temperatures of 35°C and no shade, I think I’d rather do without this cultural experience than undergo such torture! Ropes mark the way the masses take/have to take through the site in order to avoid total chaos, we could walk wherever we wanted, walking is difficult, though, handicapped people can forget Knossos, even healthy people should have the fitness of a mountain goat if they don’t want to sprain their ankles, thousands of years and the feet of millions of tourists have left their traces on the paving stones.The building of the palace was begun in 2000 BC, it was destroyed three times, in 1700 BC after a massive earthquake, then it was rebuilt and destroyed again following a tsunami and a devastating fire connected to the volcanic eruption of the neighbouring island of Santorini, the final destruction came when peoples from mainland Greece invaded the island.Filled to the brim with information we left the site not before using the (clean) bathrooms at the exit and went to the bus-stop outside to go to the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion where the findings of Knossos are displayed. Close
Written by H.M. Woods on 14 May, 2006
Our last two days we spent in Hania in the north west of the island. It is a city built by the Venetians and is set low to the water just like Venice. No gondolas but otherwise, it had the same feel. We loved…Read More
Our last two days we spent in Hania in the north west of the island. It is a city built by the Venetians and is set low to the water just like Venice. No gondolas but otherwise, it had the same feel. We loved Hania. They are still uncovering old Greek ruins beneath the Venetian ruins. You can see archeology digs going on in empty lots between the buildings. We had a room on the ground floor of our hotel, so we had our own patio that abutted some old stone ruins! Colin, who loved Venice last year, found a way to do Venice all over again but in a new destination. He is crafty, that boy!
Most exciting about the western end of Crete was Falasarna, 45 minutes away from Hania. We spent Easter lounging on this undiscovered, beautiful beach with pink sand and blue green water. Falasarna is where the locals go, and it was the very casual, friendly owner of our hotel who told us we had to see it. After cresting some low mountains (by this time we were pros at the roads) we saw the Agean Sea stretching before us. Between us and the waters… nothing but olive trees and green houses for the favored Greek tomatoes. There were no hotels and only one little taverna within miles. Perhaps in the summer months one may find more open, but it was amazing to find something that lovely and completely lacking in commercialism.
We found a spot between some dunes and rocks that allowed for us to have our very own stretch of sand. Colin swam and I got in up to my neck. The waves were quite gentle, but enough to play in a little sandbar that stretched out for 20 yards or so. This was our most low-key day, and well deserved. There were some goats eating the sea grass behind us. Occasionally we could hear them, and that only added to the feeling of being completely out there away from everyone else.
Written by jenandfrank on 10 Oct, 2005
Plaka is basically a fishing village, very small and not much to see. Located past Elounda, on the eastern half of Crete. I would write more but this is about it. I will say the food here is as good as anywhere…Read More
Plaka is basically a fishing village, very small and not much to see. Located past Elounda, on the eastern half of Crete. I would write more but this is about it. I will say the food here is as good as anywhere else on the island so I would recommend this area for good tavernas at very inexpensive prices. There are also boats to Spinalonga for about 6 Euro which is a bit cheaper than Elounda.
Elounda, considered part of the Lassithi province of Crete, is located about 65 kilometers from Heraklion on the eastern part of Crete. While driving from Heraklion to Elounda, there are several areas on the side of the road (cliff) where you can get some incredible panoramic shots of the city. Sheltered by the Gulf of Mirabella, this area offers a more exclusive selection of hotels and villas, along with tons of water activities. Elounda offers total privacy and is often favored by most celebrities for this reason. It is said that choosing where to stay within Elounda is usually the most difficult part of your trip. Ultimately considered a quiet fishing village (although I disagree and say this applies more to Plaka), it is located north of the more "cosmopolitan" city of Aghios Nikolaos (Ag Nic).
Although I have a journal that discusses this hotel in great detail, because of lack of space (1500 words) I am including basic info concerning the Blue Palace here: The hotel is only open from April 1st-October 31st, keeping with the tourist schedule on the rest of Crete. Overall a very pretty hotel that I felt was located perfectly for us, outside of the main tourist attractions; Elounda and Aghios Nikolaos but close enough that we were able to drive there quickly. (10 minutes to Elounda, 30 to Ag Nik) However, it is a far drive to Knossos, Samarian Gorge, etc., so if those attractions are important to you should stay closer to Chania. The Blue Palace is a fairly new hotel with incredible views and excellent service. Rates range but this is by no means a cheap hotel. Note: There is no atm at the hotel and the front desk will not charge your room and release cash--so plan ahead. There are a number of kid’s programs available but we saw less than 5 children during our entire stay. The funicular came up quite a bit in terms of questions; what is it, should we stay near it, etc.. The funicular at the Blue Palace is an elevator that basically is pulled by wires along an incline/decline. There is one funicular for the entire hotel and other than getting a ride from the bellboys in a golf cart- it is the only way down to the beach. Initially taking the funicular down to the beach is fun but the novelty of it wears of quick, real quick. We were there during off-season so I can only imagine how annoying it is during peak season. By all means try and avoid having your room near the funicular. There are many rooms that are adjacent to it and passengers traveling up and down can look into your balcony. Let us not forget the noise from the funicular working all day and night long as well.
Aghios Nikolaos is home to about 9,500 persons and is the capital of the Lassithi province. Named after the small Byzantine church of Saint Nikolaos, which is located next to the Minos Palace hotel. It is built around the "bottomless" Voulismeni Lake on the western side of the Mirabella Bay. That lake is linked to the sea by a narrow canal that was built in 1867 by Commissioner Costas Adossidis Passas. Ag Nic, as it is referred to by most tourists, is the most developed of all of the tourist areas within Greece. Here you will find a wide selection of hotel and resort accommodations (of all price ranges) as well as many levels of dining options; from simple tavernas to fine restaurants. This is where cruise ships dock. The streets seem endless here and they are all lined with shops opened from early morning until late in the evening. These shops sell everything from your average tourist trinkets to leather goods, from handmade local pottery to fine local art pieces. The Port of Ag Nic is surrounded by tiled-roofed houses, small hotels and lots of boats all lit up at night by the surrounding bustling restaurants and cafes. Ag Nic is definitely the place to go at night if you want to have fun or just hang out.
Many of the tourist attractions on Crete have tour buses that leave from the center of Elounda and Ag Nic. The municipal beaches in both towns are also very well maintained and in large supply, each with its unique view.
The food here is fantastic. The produce is as fresh as I have ever had the pleasure to eat and the olive oil--well, don’t even get me started. Interesting to note there are NO fast food places in the Lassithi province. I thankfully did not see a Burger King or Taco Bell for two weeks!
Overall a fantastic trip to a very pretty and rustic island with warm and generous people. I always felt safe, and the island was very clean and well taken care of by the locals. It was so nice not to see graffiti or litter everywhere and not to have to worry about pickpockets, etc. The tourists were predominantly British and German, with a small number of Italians and Americans mixed in. (which made for a welcome change) to me, the best time of year to go is when we did, in September. I feel that way because it’s considered off season and the amount of tourists are down to about half – plus the weather is beautiful all day long and the evenings are crisp. The sun does get strong but the constant breeze/wind makes for a very comfortable day. I know many people complain about the wind, but I thought it would have been too hot otherwise. I would definitely recommended investing in a pair of water shoes for this trip – definitely, and perhaps a float that you wouldn’t mind leaving behind. Most of the beaches are made of rocks both in and out of the water. The tourist season runs from April thru October. We were told that the rest of the year is dedicated to working on farms/olives, going on holiday and enjoying family.
We went from Crete to Santorini via ferry and left from the Iraklion port. I will discuss this more in my Santorini journal but I will say that the port itself is a bit confusing, with many large ships, most unmarked and without signs, just lined up. We had to ask more than one person which ship was heading towards Santorini and once on board it was basically a free for all.
There are so many things to do and places to see, that if you do not manage your time well you may not leave enough time to relax.
When it was time to plan our trip to Greece we knew Santorini was a definite but other than that we were unsure. We ultimately were debating between Crete and Mykonos. Obviously Mykonos is the better known island, especially among American travelers. We…Read More
When it was time to plan our trip to Greece we knew Santorini was a definite but other than that we were unsure. We ultimately were debating between Crete and Mykonos. Obviously Mykonos is the better known island, especially among American travelers. We were hard pressed in fact to find anyone we knew who had been to Crete and decided at that point, Crete is where we should go. We were not disappointed. If I had to compare it, I would say Crete is a cross between Kauai and Aruba; Kauai for its mountains and Aruba for its arid climate. Often referred to as "Kriti" by the natives, this island is almost a country in itself. Interesting note: every word, town, or name in Greece has at least three different English spellings, so be careful.
We flew from JFK (New York) to Athens on Delta and experienced a very bumpy ride, so bumpy in fact the captain had the flight attendants stop serving dinner and sit down – that is never good. We made it to Athens almost 2 hours late and assumed we had missed our connecting flight to Crete on Olympic Airlines. After waiting on line at Olympic and asking (almost as a joke) if we missed our flight, we were told they would hold the flight for us (we landed in Athens 10 minutes before our flight was to take off but needed to claim our bags and get through Customs first). Excited and almost doubtful, we ran like lunatics to the gate and caught the connecting flight to Crete as planned. When all was said and done we arrived 30 minutes later than originally scheduled. Before our trip we heard many comparisons between Olympic and Aegean airlines, saying that Aegean was far nicer. To be honest I thought Olympic was much nicer. (We flew Agean from Santorini to Athens) The planes were extremely clean, they served drinks and newspapers – the flight was better than most I have taken from NY to Boston. Athens airport is very large and clean and I am happy to report was easy to navigate with many English signs.
Crete is located at the southernmost point of Europe and enjoys a sub-tropical climate. That is in part due to its geographic location, only 200 miles north of Africa in the Mediterranean Sea. It is an island with a history spanning over 4,000 years, where the Minoans were the first known form of civilization in Europe. Divided by four provinces; Chania, Rethymnon, Heraklion and Lassithi. Crete is a large island and it’s just not possible to cover it all in 5 days, which is how long we were there. We spent the bulk of our trip in Lassithi, only going into Heraklion to arrive and depart the island.
After arriving in Crete’s Heraklion Airport, we were greeted by the salesman at Eurocars. Not to be confused with Europcars which is located inside the baggage claim at a car rental desk. We rented the car in advance through the internet and I am so glad we did. Although expensive at 250 Euro for 5 days, it more than paid for itself with all of the driving we did to Vai, Lassithi, Ag Nic and Elounda every night. The charge included unlimited drivers, automatic transmission (that was a premium) and insurance, but no gas. He took a copies of our credit card and drivers licenses and gave us the keys to a somewhat dirty (on the exterior) black car (hundai). I felt like we worked for a delivery service because our car (as well as most rental cars here) had the company’s name on the sides. In LARGE, BRIGHT colors, I might add. I got past that, we stopped for gas and we started the drive to Elounda. At this point we were both exhausted and tried to enjoy as much scenery as possible, I will admit I fell asleep for part of the drive though.
Most of this island is cliff-driving. Drivers pass each other day or night without regard for safety it seemed. Cretans are warm people but aggressive drivers with no tolerance for sightseeing. In fact most roads are one lane each way and you will see people who basically drive on the shoulder to let others pass them. Almost makes you wonder why they just didn’t build 2 lanes on each side to begin with. The lack of street signs and street lights does not help your cause either. Cab fare from the Blue Palace (Plaka) was to; Elounda was 7 euros/one-way, to Ag Nic 20 euros/one-way, to the airport 65 euros/one-way and to the ferry port 70 euros/one-way. I said it before but will mention it again: if you plan to leave the hotel, then rent a car. The ride round-trip to the airport almost pays for it alone, and it gives you the freedom to come and go as you please. Plus, if you drive a standard, it works out cheaper! Elounda and Ag Nic had plenty of free parking so that was never an issue either. We saw many people who rented bicycles and ATVs and couldn’t figure out why. This is cliff driving, uphill, why would you (an average person) want to bike ride this? OR why would you want to drive an ATV that basically has you completely exposed on a cliff where people are driving fast and passing you?
Chania (pronounced HANIA):
We did not have time to visit this area of Crete, simply because it was too far away from where we are staying and we had too much else to do. It is known as a very picturesque romantic city with lots of cafes and restaurants.
Before we even landed in Crete, we read just about everywhere that the Samaria Gorge was a "must-see". This is an 8-mile hike and truly for the athletic or really outdoorsy types. It is written up in just about every travel journal and every guidebook but sadly we were not able to visit this site either as it was too far for us.
To be honest, we were so busy and were on the go non-stop that I really feel we had a great trip and didn’t miss out on much by skipping Chania and Samaria Gorge.
Ran out of space--please see Part 2 for more helpful Crete info.
Blue Palace Resort & Spa - Elounda, Crete, Phone (30)(2841) 065500
Located on the Island of Crete, between Elounda and Plaka this hotel has unparalleled views of Spinalonga and the Aegean Sea from each of its 204 bungalows, 106 private pools, the beach, the…Read More
Blue Palace Resort & Spa - Elounda, Crete, Phone (30)(2841) 065500
Located on the Island of Crete, between Elounda and Plaka this hotel has unparalleled views of Spinalonga and the Aegean Sea from each of its 204 bungalows, 106 private pools, the beach, the bar, the lobby, and just about anywhere else on its property. About an hour's drive from the Heraklion Airport and an hour and fifteen minutes from the Iraklion Port - all on excellent roads.
The drive up to the Blue Palace is a steep one, with a security guard/gate and stone walls. The hotel is immense in every dimension, being built of mostly beige cut stone. The front is understated but you can foresee by the views that this will be no ordinary hotel. The lobby is large with extremely high ceilings, its center piece a huge chandelier. The lobby extends into an indoor/outdoor bar and lounge area which in turn extends into a infinity pool and sun terrace. Very well done. The front desk is immediately to the left and was normally staffed with at least 2 people. They were helpful and efficient. Valet parking was free and handled by the bell-hops. After checking in we were escorted around by the concierge and then shown our room. It was a 15 minute tour and discussed some of the highlights of the hotel and how to get from A to B.
The lobby also has a concierge desk (rotated between two young women) and a Hertz rental car desk. The concierge service, although very nice, seemed a bit overwhelmed. Their information was off and often times we had to correct them on things they should have known, i.e., whether or not the ferries were running from Crete to Santorini. They had no maps, saying it was the end of the season (still had over a month left)--can you imagine? Crete's roads are unnamed with signs having only town names, arrows and kilometers--that's it. Without a map, driving can be a daunting task. The concierge also had difficulty recommending restaurants outside of the hotel. It seemed they would try to dissuade you from leaving the hotel to eat. Accordingly, there were no menus for any restaurants on the island--at all.
Past the concierge desk there is a funicular. The funicular basically looks like an elevator that moves on the floor, almost sliding up the hill from the beach to the lobby. Although exciting and fun when you first arrive it becomes annoying when you realize you must wait for it sometimes more than ten minutes. There is one funicular for the entire hotel and other than getting a ride from the bellboys in a golf cart; it is the only way down to the beach.
Off the lobby is the Internet station, a large bar and lounge area (called the Arsenali Lounge) with plenty of sofa seating. The lounge is several mini-rooms separated by decorative metal walls and curtains. These little rooms were a great place to hang out with friends and family to have a drink, read or relax. All were decorated in a very contemporary and Moroccan manner. The lounge area has floor to ceiling glass windows that face the outside lounge area and one of the large pools. This entire area was very well done, very chic and always bustling with people. The internet station was ONE computer (which was constantly in use--in fact, we never were able to use it) with a cost of 6 euros for 2 hours. Past the lounge there are a few shops - all very expensive, selling items like leather goods and furs. (Who buys furs in a place where the weather is 80+ degrees all the time?)
The rooms, referred to as "bungalows", are more like very spacious standard rooms done with bleached furniture and burnt orange accents. Each has a large bathroom with a separated shower, tub and toilet - but one sink. There is marble throughout, plenty of light (both from the outside and the light fixtures inside) and offers enough room for you to forget you are in a hotel. The king deluxe room has a "shared" plunge pool and a private terrace/balcony area. The large terrace has a small picnic table, cushioned chairs and two cushioned floor-lounge seats. The shared plunge pool simply means you can swim past other room's terraces (about five per section), but there is really no need, nor does anyone do it. However, it seemed most rooms had infinity plunge pools that were seperated by a wall. Our room was on the 4th floor (out of 5) all the way to the far (Plaka) side of the resort. We had terrific views and plenty of privacy (NO funicular). There was a desk, couch, coffee table, large closet (no drawers), full size mirror, safe, minibar, fresh flowers and fruit, DVD player, and a very firm king bed. The bathroom had bathrobes, slippers, tons of toiletries (all Molton Brown products) including; loofas, nail kit, sewing kit, cotton swabs, razor kit, dental kit and bath salts. There was a small window off to the side of the sink that opened and allowed you to enjoy the view of the sea from the shower. It was so small it seemed pointless to me. The TV offered two English news channels, and that was about it. Housekeeping was very good and the turn down service was automatic. We were welcomed with fresh fruit and bottled water every day. We came back every night to candy treats and more fresh flowers.
There are five restaurants; Olea, L'Orangerie, Asia Blue, Blue Door Taverna and the Isola Grill. Olea is the main restaurant that is used for breakfast that is generally included in all room rates. At night Olea serves an international cuisine with live entertainment in an "elegant atmosphere". L'Orangerie Gourmet Restaurant is open only for dinner, and considered one of the best on the island. It has a Mediterranean cuisine and also offers live entertainment. Their menu does tend to get pricey however so be prepared. The Blue Door Taverna is a beachside restaurant that serves predominately seafood (catch of the day) and a lot of local Greek favorites. Open for lunch and dinner and almost set aside from the rest of the hotel offering great ocean views. We ate here for lunch one day and were pleasantly surprised. We ordered all of the basics; Greek salad, tzaziki, fried zucchini, etc.--all delicious.
The menu is somewhat limited, but the service was excellent and the food was average-priced for a hotel. It is a very relaxing atmosphere, with blue and white checkered linens, pretty blue painted wood furniture, and only a handful of tables. Asia Blue offers a fusion menu of four mini-menus: Chinese, Japanese, Mongolese, and Thai, and it's open for dinner only. Isola Grill is your cookie cutter resort beach grill. Plenty of seating all in the shade with views of the pools, beach and ocean. Their menu is referred to as "snacks" but includes Greek items, pasta, pizza, hamburgers and a children menu. We had two pasta dishes one day; Mediterranean and Carbonara, both were very good. The atmosphere is relaxed and service very good. There are also two bars down by the pool called Isola bar and the Juice bar. Overall, the food was very good although we only ate at the Blue Door and Isola Grill.
The main pool area and beach is really nice and spacious. There are two main pools, one with a children pool attached. The main pool(by the beach) was enormous, heated and filled with fresh water. The pool located on the lobby level was; adults only, fresh water and unheated. The plunge pools are not heated and filled with chlorinated salt water. Often times at resorts we have to rush down to the pool to get a chair. This was not the case at the Blue Palace. The pools were never crowded and there were plenty of chairs available. (the hotel was at full capacity). Each two lounge chairs were separated with a table and umbrella. The chairs had a towel cover on it and there were spare rocks around to put on top of your stuff to keep it from flying around. The beach is all baseball-sized rocks so bring appropriate shoes, especially water shoes if you plan on going in the water. The water was warm (even in September) and very calm (no waves) with designated swimming areas. The pools were always clean (including our plunge pool) - pristine clean - and your view, from every seat, is of the enormous hotel and, of course, Spinalonga.
A truly beautiful hotel with great service with a few minor details to work out.