Something about Greece reminds me of home. Maybe it’s the hot, dry weather or the mountainous, desert landscape, or the way Greek sounds vaguely like a more guttural Spanish. Something about the Mediterranean climate speaks to me. In fact, I’ve noticed this about every place I’ve visited in the region–Crete, Tel Aviv, Italy, Barcelona. The weather is great, the landscape is familiar, and the food is fantastic. (No offense to northern Europe, but y’all need to learn about seasoning. Flavor is not going to kill you, neither is salt. But I digress.)
Everything seems more laid-back in Crete than in northern Europe. Bars give complementary tapas with your drink. Restaurants give you free raki (a local specialty that tastes like cheap tequila and burns like a UTI) after a meal. Cafes give you a glass of water with your espresso. It’s the opposite of those travel guides for green Americans that warn you not to sit down in cafes which might charge for a table, or advise you to treat any act of kindness as a potential scam. Everyone is open and welcoming. Well, except the staff at this trendy bar in the harbor with only purple lights and no dance floor. But they were empty at midnight even though they were playing Rihanna, because the staff ignores you and what’s the point in playing Rihanna if there’s no place to dance? (Don’t worry, we went to a bar playing reggaeton instead.)
I was in Chania for 3 days because, as the Irish customs official told me when I went to Dublin 2 weeks ago, it would be a shame not to ride those cheap Ryanair fares like a donkey. But you could easily find things to keep you occupied for a week or more. There are ancient and less-ancient ruins, beautiful beaches, wineries, night life, and boat excursions. Here’s a list of my itinerary, because the art of the narrative is dead and I’m too lazy to resurrect it.
All the locals told us that if you want a nice beach, you have to get out of the Chania area. Luckily, the main station has buses to every part of the island, leaving every few hours. We hopped on a bus to Falassarna Beach, mostly because the bus for our other beach recommendation had already left, and this beach was only an hour and a half away. I know, I make all my decisions sound this poetic.
The beaches on Crete are great because besides the cool blue water and great landscapes, they are not (yet) overdeveloped. Each town has some hotels and shops near the water, but there are no mega-resorts that carve up the coast, making any desirable stretch of sand private, accessible only to guests. There are umbrellas that you can rent for a pretty reasonable price (6 euros for 1 umbrella + 2 beach chairs), or you can brave the sun all day for free.
Note: Check the bus schedule ahead of time. Some buses leave very early and don’t have a bus back until very late in the day.
Greece is hot, dry, and hilly (just like California!) which means they grow a lot of grapes. And what do you get when you grow grapes? Pretentious white people going wine tasting!
I love wine. When I was in Italy with my parents, I was only 20 and had not yet come to appreciate wine. What a fool. Now, I love wine and will take any opportunity to drink it. I know nothing about tannins or whatever but I don’t care. I have taste buds and to me wine has two flavors: delicious, and too acidic but I’ll drink it anyway.
We opted for the 20 euro light lunch wine tasting at Manousakis Winery. This package includes a tasting of 5 different wines, plus two more glasses of your choice (really, more than 2 glasses because as I said before, Greeks are pretty generous) and a meal just big enough so you aren’t sloppy-drunk by 2 p.m. Both the food and wine were amazing, despite my unsophisticated palate. Enjoy the scenery, then go back to your hotel and take a nice day-drinking nap at 4 p.m.
Note: You can take a bus to this winery for only 2.30 each way BUT! The bus does not run on Sunday. A taxi will cost you 20-25 euros each way from Chania.
I’m not usually one to go on things like boat trips, because I think they’re usually a waste of money. You do have to be careful, because there are tourist traps that will take you on a sub-par excursion, like a glass-bottom submarine through Chania Harbor, which is pretty boring as there are no sea animals living in the harbor. But for my last day, I wanted to sleep in rather than catch an early bus to another beach, so we found a 3.5 hour boat tour from Chania Boat Tours recommended by the Australian girls in the room next to us.
The tour was 20 euro and takes you to Theodorou Island, a national park and home of these weird goats called kri-kris. They have 3 swimming stops and free snorkeling equipment. You can see the fish and the wreckage of a German WWII fighter plane. It’s a nice little expedition, and in the true Greek spirit, there is a free shot of raki if you weren’t already feeling nauseous.
Chania is definitely a tourist town, so finding accommodation is relatively easy. There are hotels, guesthouses, and hostels all over. It probably wouldn’t be hard to get off the bus, walk down the street, and find something. We stayed at Chryssoula Guesthouse, which offered good rates and is right in the middle of the old town. The economy of the town depends on tourism, so it’s nice to rent from a local family who run the place themselves instead of a large hotel chain.
I can’t recommend Crete enough. The place is full of tourists, but doesn’t lose it’s Greek-ness to accommodate foreigners. You don’t have to go to Santorini and fight everyone to get a good shot of the sunset. Sunsets in Chania are relaxed and uncrowded, and just look how pretty! Hashbrown no filter. For real though, no filter.