The west of this beautiful island is high on the list of many traveler: Chania old town, Balos, Elafonisi and Samaria gorge are for sure not to be missed when visiting Crete. But we have to make a choice and if not all is possible, you can always come back for more!
We take the national route 75 westbound passing Heraklion. Up to the power plant it’s a double lane highway. Then the road curls through the mountains that reach till the sea. First stop is Fodele, 35km West of Heraklion and birthplace of Cretans most famous painter El Greco. It’s a small but very green village with lots of oranges and citruses. There are plenty of taverns for coffee or lunch and the small beach is quiet and maybe invites you for a first swim. We continue for Rethymnon, a nice little town with a Venetian fortress, picturesque port and small shopping streets and sure worth a visit. Maybe do some grocery shopping here too. For the night you have several options: Camping site near Rethymnon, long stretched beach near Georgoupouli, port of this village or continue to Kalives at the Souda bay and closer to Chania.
If you had no chance to visit Rethymnon yesterday, don’t worry. You could do it today and take some groceries at the supermarkets at the Atsipopoulo exit. We drive all the way towards the west, passing Kissamos and head for the sandy beaches and clear waters of Falasarna. Besides the beautiful beaches you could also visit the archeological sites of ancient Falasarna, an important harbor and flourishing in the period 400-300BC.
As the road to Balos is not suitable for a campervan, we suggest to take an excursion to Gramvousa and Balos by boat. They leaf around 10am from the harbor of Kissamos. Gramvousa is a fortress built by the Venetians to defend the West side of the island. It’s an hour sail and you can see at rock formations you pass how the island has risen 9 meters due to a heavy earthquake. Ballos is your next stop, a breathtaking lagoon with colorful waters and white sandy beaches. Sure it’s worth to walk uphill to enjoy the astonishing scenery. For the night you can either stop at Falasarna again, use one of the camp sites east of Kissamos or continue towards the south and stop at Sfinari.Tip: to stay away from the crowd, rent a jeep and make an early drive to the lagoon. Last mile is a downhill walk. You’ll not visit Gramvousa, but the views are breathtaking.
As the beach of Elafonisi is very popular and in high season overcrowded, we suggest to go there late in the afternoon. In between there are nice mountain villages to visit like Elos and Vathi or visit the monastery of Chryssoskalitissa. After 5pm the large crowds return to the hotels and you’ll have the beach practically just for yourself. To reach the beach you have to drive a sand paved path downhill to reach the central parking area. You’ll find a spot for overnight more to your right.
Elafonisi or La Fonisi as it’s called by the locals, is a beautiful peninsula with dunes, shallow waters and white and reddish sand. During Ottoman occupation locals used the small island as a hideout but where found and slaughtered. So the legend goes that the sand took it’s reddish color from the blood of all the victims. In 1907 an Austrian passenger steamboat stranded on the cliffs of Elafonisi and all bodies were buried on the island. This was a reason to build a lighthouse on the island. Elafonisi is a great place for a swim and to stay overnight (calm till 10am when tourist busses come in) but be aware that it’s a national park area and to be kept clean at all times and no camp fires.
If you didn’t visit Vathia or Elos yesterday, you will at least pass the villages today driving north before you can drive down south towards Paleochora. It’s a little village surrounded by sandy beaches. There are also 2 camp sites to visit if you want to stay here overnight. From Paleochora you can take a boat to the most southern point of Europe, Gavdos. But they are regularly cancelled due to strong winds!
You can also take an early ferry along the south coast towards Hora Sfakion. But in our plan we take the campervan and drive up to Sougia through the green canyon of Anidri. Sougia is a quiet and small village with a pebble beach and offers many places for overnight. For those who are in for a walk, we suggest the Agia Irini George, a 7,5km long canyon just outside Sougia. Otherwise, go for a nice refreshing swim in the Libyan Sea.
We could plan the Samaria gorge for this day. Logistical is Sougia the best place for this taking an early bus up to Ormalos, walk the magnificent George of Samaria, the longest in Europe. And take the boat back to Sougia late in the afternoon. Sure a good plan! But if you lack time or are not in the mood for just a long and full day walk, you could just continue your campervan tour. That’s the advantage of your freedom!
So we drive up to the plain of Ormalos and just have a view of the White mountains stretching out in front of us. White for sure in the wintertime when snow covers the peaks till end of May, but also white in the summer due to its characteristic white limestone. We continue our tour downhill and take a turn at Fournes towards Meslka. Kind of small roads so be careful with braches, but definitely a very beautiful one. From Therisso the road gets better and wider driving towards Chania. We could either stop at the camp site of Chania or make a stop in the picturesque village of Vamos. If you prefer a beach area, choose Kalives for the night.
Today we have planned to visit Chania, once the capital of Crete and for sure the most beautiful city of the island with lots of Venetian accents, small colorful streets and lots of shops and restaurants in the narrow streets of the Old Town. We suggest to park the campervan little outside the busy city center and take a taxi into town. Heading back east we could make a stop at the lake of Kournas. It’s the only natural lake of Crete and not very large. They say you can walk around the lake but ask at the local tavern for information. We take the road to Episkopi and then the local road along Gonia towards Atsipopoulo to hit the national road towards Heraklion.