Greece’s largest island has quickly developed a reputation as a party island with crowds of revellers in the busier resorts looking for their next shot of ouzo, but you shouldn’t let that put you off visiting this sun-soaked island. Crete is filled with fine beaches, ancient treasures, dreamy villages, wonderful cuisine and hospitable locals who hold their traditional culture in high regard. There are still many quieter, less commercialized resorts, villages and secluded coves to explore and parts which are barely touched by tourism. Here is our choice for 10 of the most places to visit in Crete perfect for travel snobs.
Triopetra is surrounded by Siderotas mountain, olives groves and of course, seafront, the area is named after the three majestic rocks that rise out of the ocean at the edge of the peninsula. The smaller of the two beaches, Small Triopetra (or Koumado), is more an enclosed, sandy and rocky bay. Here, you can available of the offerings from the nearby tavernas and umbrellas are available. Bored of sunning yourself? You can always visit the amazing chapel of Prophet Elias. Meanwhile, the main beach of the area, West Triopetra or Chatzi, is characterised by beautiful coarse sand which casts unusual colours across the beach and water. It is famous for its never-ending stretch of sand, fabulous sunsets and peaceful atmosphere.
Definitely one of the most unspoiled places to visit in Crete, the pretty peaceful village of Loutro evokes some strong emotion when you land here – it is truly like stepping back in time! A small village consisting simply of a few hotels and tavernas, shops and restaurants and a church, but what Loutro lacks in modernity it makes up for in nostalgia and panorama. It is flanked by steep, mountainsides, home to a sizable herd of goats (judging from the clinking of bells) as well as a tepid sea, sheltered by a lush bay. No roads lead here and there are no nightclubs or nightlife. Visitors here can simply detox from life and tackle long-awaited books, take walks along the stunning scenery or simply eat, drink and be merry.
The wonderful White Mountains are located in Western Crete, and their gleaming shine is the dominant feature of the region. Visitors to the area might be shocked to find that it retains its snowcaps until the middle of spring and offers innumerable hiking opportunities from the Samaria Gorge to the Askifou plateau to Mount Ida herself. Mount Ida is the tallest peak of the range, named after the daughter of the King of Crete according to Greek mythology. What delights visitors the most about the White Mountains is the central and southern part of the Lefka Ori which, due to the high altitude, resembles a lunar landscape and offers visiting hikers a surreal experience of walking on the moon which, is wholly unique to the northern hemisphere.
The beautiful unspoilt Samariá Gorge is a major tourist attraction of the island and was created by a small river running through the White Mountains. The most famous part of the gorge is the stretch known as the Gates where the sides of the gorge close in to a width of only four meters and soar up to a height of almost 300 meters. The gorge became a national park in 1962, particularly as a refuge for the rare kri-kri (Cretan goat), which is elusive on the rest of island. It is an absolute must for visitors to Crete is to complete the walk down the gorge from the Omalos plateau to Agia Roumeli on the Libyan Sea, at which point tourists sail to the nearby village of Sougia or Hora Sfakion, where they could spend a night or they could catch a coach back to Chania. Although be warned, the walk takes five to seven hours and can be strenuous, especially at the peak of summer.
Despite the small size of Falassarna, it’s a popular spot and has a reputation for being one of the best beaches in Crete. The beaches in this area are all sandy, clean and stretch as far as the eye can see! But there is also an ecological interest – Falassarna is part of the Natura 2000 network due to the extensive array of flora and fauna the area has to offer. It’s vulnerable to high winds – but on the other hand, this makes it ideal for surfers. Falassarna Beach has won prizes for being the most beautiful beach in Crete and is always one of the top ten beaches in Europe, with its wonderful, fine white sand and warm, crystal-clear water.
Glyka Nera – Sweet Water beach
Glyka Nera is one of the most beautiful beaches in Crete and definitely one of the most unspoiled places to visit on the island, with deep blue water and fine white sands. There are two routes to the beach – by boat or for the most extreme, there is a path from Chora Sfakion and another from Loutro. These hikes can be strenuous and at some moments, hair raising but they are well maintained. On the beach itself, there is a tavern which sells local nibbles and drinks as well as sunbeds. Due to the presence of cold spring water streams, the seawater can be cold, even in summer but the beach itself is stunning. If you chose to arrive by boat, the route and views are particularly beautiful.
Tripiti to Sougia coastline
The walk between these two areas is truly stunning, the path along the way is marked with cairns to guide your route – thankfully – as it is easy to get distracted by the views! Although elements of the walk can be tiring, it’s most definitely worth it. Although the panorama can make you trigger happy with the camera, don’t ignore the beauty right beside you on the path – a Venetian fort, ancient churches, ancient cisterns and the breath-taking remains of the ruined ancient town of Pikilassos, not to mention the beautiful flora and fauna that you encounter along the way, including lots of olive trees – resist the urge to pillage! The walk can take upwards of two hours depending on ability and speed, but also inclination, make sure you take your time to soak up the beautiful views and atmosphere.
Domata secluded cove
Perhaps, Domatas unspoiled beauty has been preserved this long because the region has no roads or infrastructures. Access to this haven can be achieved through E4 trail but the climb can be treacherous in places as it climbs to an altitude of 700m, so it’s not for the fainthearted but on arrival, you will no doubt agree that this is one of the finest beaches in all the Greek islands. Most likely, it will only be you, the sound of the lapping water, the bristling sun and the rustle of the pine trees. For those who don’t fancy a steep, heady climb on their holidays, it is possible to hire a fishing boat in Agia Roumeli to take you to Domata. Aside from the peacefulness of the region, it is hard not to be astounded by the artwork the elements left behind- a series of terraces in the rock face which, will undoubtedly leave you awestruck.
Margarites is located in the very centre of the island of Crete, it’s an unspoiled villages surrounded by the vibrant green hills of the Rethymnon region and is as well known for its picturesque panorama as it is for its extensive pottery trade. Even the briefest of strolls through the village will showcase many of the wonderful pottery studios. The architecture of the village looks like it just sprang from a WWII novel, winding streets, brightly painted buildings, plenty of brick and crumbling plaster. There is Venetian architrave, Byzantine churches, frescos from the 14th century and oodles of lush green countryside as a backdrop. And oh the food! Courgette balls, broad beans, moussaka and mezedakia. The beauty of Margarites does not need to be explained or even described, the minute it comes into view- it will take your breath away.
Located in the south-eastern corner of the island is this tranquil, pristine, white-washed village full of traditional charm. The village itself is loaded with a rich history, including a museum which houses finds of Minoan archaeological importance found nearby and you can hear tales about the towns colourful past and folklore in the many local tavernas. The beach of Myrtos is a hidden treasure which, rarely gets crowded and provides a real opportunity to take a load off and truly relax. For those who love to explore there are ruins all over the area dating from the Neolithic and Roman periods which, with a bit of tenacity can be uncovered and discovered. Essentially, Myrtos has something to offer everyone – from a secluded, sandy seafront to a large dose of historical culture.
With all these unique and unforgettable experiences lying across the island of Crete, it is hard not to feel guilty for so easily dismissing it into the realm of partying, disco balls and all-nighters. Clearly, the island has so much more to offer – aside from the famous mythology and legends, there are also sites of architectural, historical and natural importance, that will leave any visitor completely enthralled!
Top 10 unspoilt places to visit in Crete was written by regular contributor Emma Clair Kelly.