Crete, Ammoudi beach. Photo by Olaf Tausch.
Arkadia monastery in Venetian baroque style, also known as Moni Arkadiou. Photo by Gerard Janot.
Sitia Port in Lasithi province. Photo by Sekundenschlaf.
Most travellers, however, are primarily in Crete for the beaches – with a touch of culture, perhaps to keep their intellects functioning while they bake in the sun and pickle their brains in Ouzo.
Elounda and Matala are typical of many of these superb beaches – soft sand, clear water and rather too many neighbours.
Crete’s best beaches are generally thought to be on the island’s west coast, Falasarna and Elafonisi.
*Sweetwater, *Falasarna, *Elafonisi
At 160 miles long, Crete is Greece’s largest island and offers a huge variety of holidays – mountain and gorge hiking (esp. Samaria and Zakros Gorges, windmill scattered Lasithi Plateau) exploration of little old Greek villages (fast disappearing), roaming the ruins of the Minoan civilisation (esp. Knossos), or slumping on hot beaches with a cold drink.
Iraklion, Crete’s capital, has little reason to visit save for its transport links, the superb Minoan Palace of Knossos (5km away) and the Archaeological Museum.
The island is lined with hundreds of beaches, from popular tourist destinations in the east, such as Elounda and Sitia, to the less well-known in the west:
Rethymno (NW), the attractive third largest town in Crete has a palm-fringed promenade running along a wide curved sand and shingle beach several kilometres long. The water is clean though you may need to walk a bit east to escape crowds. There is excellent choice of services.
Sweetwater (SW) is a casual beach with few visitors, some of them nude. It has a dramatic, swooping rocky backdrop and blue, blue sea. Sweetwater bubbles out from the stones at the back of the beach. A small beach taverna looks after consumables. Accessible only by boat or an hour’s spectacular coast walk from Loutro – and that’s the place to stay.
Far west Crete has a couple of superb beaches if you can get there.
Falasarna (NW) is big, with fine sand and rocks to add a little character. Tavernas and domatia (rooms to stay in) are nearby.
Elafonisi (SW) is a big, sandy, turquoise lagoon, with a pretty little island scattered with dunes and coves a few metres wading distance away. Facilities are few and unfortunately a new blacktop road means package tours and their attendant stalls have started to despoil this erstwhile beach paradise.
Elounda beach. Photo by Deror avi.
The Balos lagoon on the Gramvoussa peninsula. Photo by Olaf Tausch.
The famous Cretan palms and beach of Vai, east Crete. Photo by Marc Ryckaert.
When to go to Crete
The very best months in Crete are mid-May and June for less crowds, better ambience, lower accommodation prices and nice weather without extreme heat.
Summertime brings masses of visitors and considerable heat with occasionally blasts from the meltemi wind which cools things off but blows beach-goers and their kit all over the place. However, anytime from May to the end of October is possible as the southern location extends the tourist season.