For the past three years I have made it so I am never in the country on my birthday. This year, I wanted scorchingly hot weather, impeccable beaches and low airfares. Chania in Crete won out.
There are several other great destinations in Crete: Malia has a fabulous party scene and Heraklion has the buzzing old town. Further East in Lassithi are the luxury resorts but I chose Chania because I wanted to balance a great local scene with easy access to the stunning beaches further west.
It just so happened that my manager and boyfriend’s sister both saw Crete’s appeal in the same early-summer era so it was a popular destination that summer.
Our resort was Kalamaki – chosen for being less tacky and touristy, but not pure dead. It also looked a bit prettier than some of the other recommendations.
The flight from the UK was around four hours, with two hours ahead time difference once we got into Crete.
I wish to now applaud what is easily the greatest technological advancement of my time: e-boarding passes.
Please, if you’re still printing out boarding passes like an elderly, arrêtez. You deserve better. If you’re capable of using the e-passport gates then please get yourself the Easyjet, Ryanair, Emirates… whoever, app and use the QR code boarding passes on your phone. No print outs needed.
I didn’t even get paid for that promo!
After our efficient flight, we arrived in Chania Town by taxi. Assuming that, in thirty + celcius heat, no sleep and a tiny breakfast, we were raring to go, we set out for Kalamaki resort on foot. Atrocious idea. We had no maps, no phone data, and we what we expected to be a 15 minute walk was in fact a 20 minute car journey.
Tired, hungry and jetlagged, we reached our hotel to find there is no one on reception.
We exchanged that look that couples do. One of us fucked up. We know exactly who (me, this time. I am the administrator in this union) but if either of us says anything we will break into a massive argument.
“I’ll call the woman.” I said.
Alessio said okay, in the tone of voice that really means “just fucking sort it”.
I called the woman and a man picked up. He spoke English, then passed me to the owner who spoke ONLY GREEK.
“Kalimera! Ah, … … …”
“Uh, kalimera… sorry, erm … okay”
She very quickly appeared, told us in broken English that we are very early and have to wait, so we did. We took to the sun loungers and slept – I also took the above selfie – until finally, our much smoother check in.
Once we were checked in, and had obligatory sex in our new home for the week, we did the also obligatory “shop for huge bottles of water” that all Brits Abroad do. We booked two excursions in the town – the strip along the beach in Kalamaki is a little bit dry if you’re used to busier, more touristy resorts, but there are plenty of places to buy food, eat out and book excursions. But it’s a very pretty strip.That’s one thing about Crete, and beach holidays in general. There’s only so much pool-beach-pool-bar I can do before I get bored, and I resent staying in the same area. If you stay only in Kalamaki you may as well only stay for three days.
Walking further down the beach, more Eastwards, you come to some busier beaches. Dolphin beach is fun, and a biological revelation. Did you know sea urchins don’t look like mini Ursulas? I didn’t.
My boyfriend went swimming on Dolphin Beach and returned horrified.
“There, baby, is ALL ricchi”
“Who’s Ricky?” I asked, taking another selfie for the fans.
“The ricchi, baby! Ricchi di mare!”
It translates to sea urchins, and I had never seen one, nor learned to fear them in my entire life. They are tiny spiky Sonic the Hedgehogs that live as close to beachbumming tourists because they’re spiteful little shits. They exist ONLY to ruin your holiday. If your bed was watery, you bet these assholes would camp there too.
After having our day spoiled by sea urchins, we moved westwards down the seafront to Iguana Beach, which was fucking hilarious.
It’s Crete’s… wait for it… most ethnic beach.
What was the most ethnic thing there?
Oh and… this.
We saw all this in a day, and there’s a conveniently placed Lidl so you can stock up on food and drinks there, then head back west via the beaches.
They are lovely beaches, but incomparable in size and beauty to two of the most famous in Greece: Elafonisi and Balos beach.
Elafonisi we visited on my birthday, and we may or may not have rowed due to tireness and a reluctance on his part to take sufficient pictures of me. On my birthday!
It’s known for its sands near the water, where crushed up corals result in this gorgeous soft pink colour. Happy birthday moi.
The journey was a bus ride of no more than two hours, with a stop off at some riveting (not) caves, then straight down to the beach. One big complaint I see is that in the summer months it is crowded. There are people, but I am not so needy I require an entire beach to myself? There are plenty of quieter patches because it’s colossal but if you want complete silence, this beach may not be your pick. It is popular and for good reasons.
The second excursion beach was Balos.
Similarly to Elafonisi, because we didn’t rent a car, we did a hired excursion. The bus which took us to a pier. From there you boarded a titanic with about seven million tourists on it. We found a seat in a quiet shaded area of the boat. We were joined by an Australian family who sat behind us, the girl shouting about how her Dad “ALWAYS ruins the holiday” and one sweet lady on our table – who was later joined by three of her loudmouth friends.
After such an enjoyable journey, with no free food provided, we pulled into Gramvousa port. This was a quick stop on the boat journey to Balos, but we had around 45 minutes to rest and relax on a tiny beach.
As the boats emptied it honestly looked like a pilgrimage. Some people journeyed to the top of the mountain, but most piled onto the sand. The boats were mostly from continental Europe, all of whom know about ricchi di mare. And in the picture, any black space you see is probably a sea urchin. There were trillions on that beach. It was the China of the sea urchin universe. So the tourists had a field day screeching about the murderous little sea creatures.
We didn’t spend long there, it was beautiful but there wasn’t enough space for the people who arrived. The boat continued onto Balos, this pretty little lagoon.
Rather than the boat journey, you can also take a car then trek down the hills to the beach, but the car journey down is not very simple and the trek back up in the heat is hellish. The only other alternative is the boat, because the land is surrounded by hills and water.
The beach area is also very shallow, to my surprise. It is made up of sand and delightfully warm puddles, so not your typical beach. I liked this about it though, it’s a great beach for playing and paddling. We got out our beach tennis game for a play.
But it’s also worthwhile remembering that all those on the boats in Gramvousa will be there in Balos – and then some. It is big enough for you to play and have fun, but you are always very near someone. For that matter, an old lady laughed at my beach yoga attempts. I’m sorry, but I had to “accidentally” splash her.
It’s a lot like Elafonisi in that there are many people and it’s touristy, but its beauty and the gorgeous waters mean it doesn’t matter. If you’re going to have a play, it’s a great beach for that. And the artistic talents of its visitors…
Aside from beaches, Chania town deserves a solid visit. Spend some time meandering through the small streets of the old town. There are shops, restaurants and slices of history in the synagogues and churches.
The shops have lovely wares – like all places the more authentic and traditional items are pricey. The market was a little unremarkable – plenty of cheeses and food but little in the way of unique or different gifts.
The waterfront offers a nice stroll and view, but be mindful that you will find pricey and low quality restaurants. Good restaurants don’t have picture menus.
There’s a pretty little stroll to the lighthouse there, which is what we did on the last day before our flight.
Really, in terms of food, it’s okay. It’s not a foodie destination and the food it’s known for is not really my bag. We mostly cooked in our apartment to save a bit of money, but we enjoyed great meats at a hotel bar on my birthday with a delicious salad and pita.
And FREE raki refills, which is like a Greek grappa. Don’t knock eating at home though – our apartment had a barbecue. We had never grilled before, but we stuck some coals and paper on the barbie and waited. And waited. Nothing. I headed to the local store, determined to have our barbecue, and picked up what I hoped was barbecue fluid.
“Can I use this on the barbecue?” I asked the gentleman.
“No!” He said horrified. “You will…” and gestured an explosion. He led me back to the barbecue section and gave me a bottle. “This is for barbecues.”
Given that I had seen him all week and never warmed to him, I didn’t quite trust him. I was all out of options, so I purchased it and headed back to the hotel. The result was as follows
Truly, Crete in July was lovely. It was exceptionally hot, very busy and the bigger beaches were definitely not “untouched” but I had a great time. One downer was that people stared at me a lot, always a killer on a holiday. I would however, definitely recommend Chania in Crete if you’re looking for warmth, fun and beautiful beaches and a bit of a buzz. Oh, and an ethnic beach. Sorry. I’ll stop.