Thursday, December 8, 2016


Epic countryside.

Unfathomable beauty.

Insane beaches.

Say yes to Crete, my friends.

It is hard for me to even begin to describe our experience in Crete. Gone were the crazy crowds of camera-crazy tourists and selfie-sticks. Crete was like an oasis of olive trees and turquoise water. The largest island in Greece, it is big enough to be its own county. The landscape is a undulating vista of rocky cliffs, smooth hills spotted with olive trees, and twinkling bays. The White Mountains sit imposingly bold in the distance and tiny towns litter abut winding mountain roads.

Greek mythology features the Palace of Knossos as the home of the Minotaur and its labyrinthine lair. The air feels like mysterious threads of history, legend, and magic are winding together as a reminder that all is not lost to modernity. The people themselves are reminders that this is an ancient and proud culture, rich with history and the warmth of hospitality.

Justin and I arrived very late in the evening at our hotel in Chania after a 2 hour ferry ride to Heraklion and a two hour drive down the pitch-black coast. We stayed at Alexis Hotel, right outside of Chania Old Towne. Seated almost directly on the beach, it is a family owned facility with a fabulous in-house restaurant. I love the Greeks. We were greeted with shots of coffee-flavoured raki and sent sleepy and tipsy to our rooms.

The next day dawned brilliant and we hit the road.

The first site we hit was Seitan Limania. It is a secret beach that requires a nerve-wrecking drive with 180 degree turns and no guard rails, followed by a treacherous hike down a cliff side. But, mother of God, it was gorgeous. Justin and I took turns cliff diving into milky turquoise water and sunning ourselves on the tiny slice of beach. When the beach finally became too crowded, we set off for our next location. 

Stavros Beach. In case you aren't getting the trend, our entire time in Crete was spent exploring these epic beaches. At Stavros we reclined beneath beach red umbrellas, drinking icy Cretan beers or testing out the underwater camera case. Pretty sick.

That evening we dined on grilled octopus, hummus and pita, and stared out at the darkening Aegean. In some ways Crete is a budget vacation. All the beaches and parking are free, cocktails at happy hour are 2.50 euro, and fabulous gourmet meals are less than 10 euro a piece. After a day of sun, swimming, and snorkling Justin and I sat drowsy and full beneath the wide, brilliant Cretan moon. 

The morning sky the next day was temperamental, with a haze of gray clouds and brisk winds blowing across the countryside. We hopped in our rental and risked life and limb driving through tiny mountain villages to make our way south. Greek driving is unlike anything else I have experienced. All the freeways on Crete are two lanes, each with very wide shoulders. Everyone drives the line between their lane and their shoulder and you flash your lights to let the car in front of you know that you are attempting to overtake them. Said car moves to the shoulder and you barrel past them. When you are on tiny, winding mountain roads this concept feels like madness. Not to mention you have to swerve to avoid herds of goats. 

But our destination was worth it. We were finally going to Elafonissi Beach, the location that started the whole daydream of this trip. Two words: pink sand.

The following day was our final day in Crete. Only four days and we had traipsed the length of the island and driven to nearly every corner. But Crete hadn't given up her greatest secret yet. Balos Bay was waiting for us. It only requiring two hours of driving, an hour of which was spent on a gravel goat path where the constant fear of a puncture had me on pins and needles for its entirety. This drive was followed by a half hour hike down red-soiled mountainsides.

Worth it.

To complete a very long day of driving, hiking, and beaching, Justin and I drove into Old Town Chania for dinner. Old Town Chania is utterly charming, a picturesque collection of pastel villages sitting tucked between the sparkling Med and the White Mountains. It is home to a Venetian harbor and lighthouse and sits within crumbling stone walls. Shopping, maritime history, art, and architecture make Chania one-of-a-kind. I miss it already.