Crete is a captivating and sometimes chaotic Greek island full of wackiness and wonder. A part of Greece, yet apart from Greece. Knit together by family, food and faith, this Mediterranean island stands on its own with its feet firmly planted in a culture that has evolved over 5000 years.
In the five years of living on Crete, our road trips were my favorite weekend getaways. Although we loved our old Venetian hometown of Hania, we always seemed to navigate towards the south coast with its beautiful beaches, secluded spots and casual ambiance. Join me on a visit to the south coast and whet your appetite for even more travel experiences around this beautiful island.
Paleohora is a small beach town with an enjoyable end-of the road, laid-back feel. Originally known as Kastel Selinou is located on a spit of land about 6 blocks wide that juts out into the Libyan Sea. The compact little town center sits below the ruins of an old fortress built by the Venetians in 1279. In 1539, the famous pirate, Barbarossa destroyed the fortress. Never restored, its low ancient walls provide the perfect perch for a stellar view down to the harbor and over the Libyan Sea.
This little gem of a location is loaded with excellent uncrowded beaches, art galleries, shops and tavernas that specialize in coastal Greek cuisine. Try the out-of-the-way Gialskari beach if you prefer an expansive pebble beach where you can enjoy relaxing in the shade of the tamarisk trees before heading out to the pristine waters for a snorkel adventure. After you are sufficiently waterlogged, head back to the beach taverna and have a fresh Greek salad and cold Mythos beer. And if you’re in the mood for some serious pampering, indulge in a massage or pedicure in the little spa hut that packs a big “Ahhhhh” factor.
Back in the town center, look for Manto Studios – a side street art gallery. Manto is a raven-haired, blue-eyed Greek beauty and a hardworking, savvy businesswoman with a passion for sharing Greek hospitality. Her artwork, each depicting a simple Mediterranean scene in dramatic color fill every inch of wall space proving she is not only talented but prolific as well.
She also runs a small B&B including suites outfitted with her artwork and a breakfast/lunch cafe that features a variety of abundant Greek food, fresh squeezed orange juice and the perfect espresso.
For an unforgettable evening, view the sunset from the sandy beach (west side of town) and then go off the beaten path and head up the nearby Anidri gorge to the cafe To Skolio. A converted school in the little town of Anidri, its kitchen now boasts some of the best cuisine and wines in the area. Try to grab a table on the stone terrace under the huge old olive tree and enjoy the view high over the Libyan Sea as you savor the flavors of Mediterranean French, Italian and Greek cuisine.
Then head back down to Paleohora and finish off the night reveling with locals and tourists on the main drag through town. The main street closes down to traffic at night and the area transforms into an outdoor party. Tables, chairs and music spill out from the tavernas into the street where old men play backgammon, young tourists drink raki and everyone relishes in the activity.