Before I present you with some ideas for your one week in Crete, let me first explain the title of this story.
On our first day in Viglia, we asked our hostess Irini about different places to go. The two I wanted to see for sure were Balos and Elafonisi. Irini said that although Balos is actually very close to the hotel itself, the road there is not too good – it is unpaved, so the driving will be quite slow. After hearing this, we decided to leave Balos for later, when we have gotten used to local driving realities.
“And what about Elafonisi?” – I asked Irini.
“Oh, it’s a good road, asphalt” – she replied.
And so we decided to go to Elafonisi on our first day in Crete. Now, please keep in mind that my driving license was only half a year old during that time. I bravely started driving, got green the face after reaching the first mountain. Then I almost fainted when some goats jumped out on the road. At last, I got out of the car sweaty and trembling after some 30 minutes (which felt like 30 hours to me) and let Zsolt drive the rest of the way.
Since then “good road, asphalt” is a saying in our family, describing the road, which is really far from being easy. So, enough of the introductions. Let’s see where we actually went.
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Falassarna is a beach on the Western side of Crete. It is famous for “amazing sunsets”. Falassarna was also a short drive from us, so we went there on the evening of our arrival to be amazed by the sunset. We liked it, but we were not amazed.
In fact, it was there we realised that Lithuanian sea coast actually does have a pretty good sunset. It doesn’t excel in many things, like sea temperature, water transparency, aquatic life or others. But it does have great sunsets. Lithuania is facing directly West and is placed high up North enough to have nice slow sun-setting speed. It allows you enough time to sit in the cosy dunes, open a bottle of wine and actually finish it with a serving of smoked fish.
In Falassarna we had in fact have just enough time to jump out of the car, unbuckle Mark from his seat, appreciate the view, realise that the batteries of both our phones are dead and no pictures of this historical moment will be taken. And that was it. Good, we didn’t bring our fish dinner with us.
As you know, reaching it was not easy, but after I took the passenger seat, I really enjoyed. We were staying in Crete in April, so it did have advantages and disadvantages. Disadvantage – really cold sea. Advantage – not too many tourists.
And in that sense, Elafonisi is perfect in April. It is very shallow, so the sea gets very warm and you can swim and enjoy the sandy beach. And it is not overcrowded, as it gets later in the season.
Elafonisi is actually a tiny (1.5 sq km) island in the southwestern corner of Crete but is very close to the mainland. So close that you can actually walk to this island through the shallow water. And after you get there, you can enjoy the views of the blue sea and pink-ish sand. Yes, beautiful, yes, absolutely worth going there on this good road asphalt.
The idea was to mix the sea views with mountain views and Crete is good for that.
Less than an hour (scary) drive from us was Topolia Gorge – less famous than other Cretan gorges, for example, Samaria, and therefore again not overcrowded. The path is described as moderate, and there are tavernas with car parks at both ends of the gorge.
Also, if you are driving to or from Elafonisi, there is a chance you will pass Topolia anyway. If so, do mark it on your map – it’s worth seeing, and the taverna next to it is definitely worth visiting as well.
Our walk started peacefully in the olive tree valley and continued along the stream. It later became more and more challenging, as the path got very narrow and steep.
Aspri Limni Beach and Lagoon
First, please be advised: the last part of the road is total shit! If you have rented a little car, Corsa or Micra, like we did and almost all other tourists in Crete do, then you have a very high chance to damage it while driving. The road is full of stones, spiky branches, sudden hills and turns. And no people, only goats around, so you would have to find it yourself.
After driving several times in wrong directions, we decided to give it one last chance and actually got on the correct road. And when we got there, it felt amazing. As if the whole lagoon is ours, no people anywhere in sight for miles.
Balos and Gramvousa
It is a bay and two islands nearby, which was used by pirates in the older days. It is now recognised as one of the main sights on Crete due to the beauty of the bay and especially blue water.
You can reach Balos either by car or by boat. The boat leaves from Kissamos once a day and comes back there once a day as well, leaving you a full day to explore Balos. Also, being a boat, it will only take you to the sea level point, aka the beach. If you want to see the breathtaking view from the top, you have to climb all the way up yourself.
We wanted more flexibility, so we took the car. The distance from our hotel was about 20 km, and our speed also was around 20 km/h for the whole duration of this drive. And after arriving there we were met by local goats. At first, it was funny. Then they wanted to climb in the car and steal our oranges. Stealing food is never funny.
You leave your car at the car park closest to the viewpoint, but there is still some 30-minutes walk through a mega-hot mini-desert before you can enjoy the view.
Milia Traditional Village
Milia is a kind of eco-settlement, a preserved village, looking the way it was supposed to do a couple of hundred years ago. Of course, it now has also the nice perks of modern life, such as clean and comfortable bedding and internet. You can find out more about it here.
Our original plan was actually to stay in Milia for the whole week, as it seemed perfectly within our concept: eating traditional Cretan food and watching beautiful Cretan landscapes. However, although within the concept, it was far out of our budget. But we did want to visit it.
The road went up and up the mountain and then – when we thought we already are on the top – then up again. I was happy that Zsolt did all the driving and didn’t even offer my help for this ride. And the view was really worth it: you feel on top of the world.
In Milia we met a nice manager, who seemed very angry about the refugee situation and what the people are forced to go through (remember, it was April 2016), discussed the politics of Victor Orban and other dictators, and gave us a guided tour around the village. After a heated talk, the village seemed serene. At some point, I definitely could consider some yoga or writing retreat there. That is if someone drives me up there with my eyes closed.
The manager was so fascinated with 3-month-old Mark that he gave him a little bottle of local raki as a present. He instructed us to dig it into the ground in our yard and later dig it out for Mark’s wedding. We decided to disobey the instructions slightly and to keep it only until his 18 birthday. Still long enough.
We had lunch: some very random grass freshly picked from the mountain, steamed, sprinkled with salt and drizzled with lemon juice and olive oil (very generously). And then some bean stew.
It was there we found out that the actual famous traditional Cretan diet is not what we have imagined. The base for it is not feta cheese, fresh fish or grilled goat meat. It is climbing up and down the mountains picking herbs and beans from your almost vertical garden.
And yes, a lot of bread and olive oil. And if you are lucky, some yoghurt and fish – once in a blue moon. Locals, please correct me if I’m wrong. This was our last day trip in this visit, so I remember it now with a little hint of sadness, even though the lake is definitely worth visiting.
Kournas is one of the very few lakes on Crete. It has water the colour of emerald and two highlights:
- Goat dishes, which you can taste in small open restaurants on the shore of the lake
- Lake turtles. For this, you have to rent a little pedal boat and go around the lake.
The first mission – goat – was successful. The second – seeing turtles – not so much, we saw about half of the turtle properly and managed to catch none of them on camera.
Where to stay in Western Crete?
We stayed with Irini at Viglia Beach Appartments, and it was perfect. The property is not luxurious, but very well located away from the road, but close to main sights. And Irini herself is this Greek hostess of your dreams. She will meet you with hugs the first time she sees you and will make it her mission to feed you the biggest breakfast every day of your stay.
I almost always book my hotel stays through Booking.com, and in very rare cases directly with the property. If we want to have a more independent stay, then it’s Airbnb. If you haven’t tried it yet, you can get a 32 euro off by registering here. Crete is not too expensive, so it can actually be a good discount.
I have also liked staying in Malia, which is more towards the central part of the island. It is a party place during the season, but very family-friendly off-season.
Otherwise, check out some deals on booking: