Day 1 in Chania
Welcome to Chania! Arrive at your hotel, check in and then grab a bite to eat in one of the many cafes to be found around the harbor overlooking the landmark Venetian Lighthouse. The Venetian port lies in the heart of the old town and is surrounded by picturesque alleys that create an idyllic atmosphere perfect for exploring. While admiring the beauty of this city, be sure to see the Monastery of Santa Maria, the Great Arsenal with its brightly painted replica of a Minoan boat (built for the 2004 Athens Olympics) and the Mosque of Hassan Pascha as well as the Byzantine Collection and the Firkas Fortress, which houses the Naval Museum. From here, head south to the Turkish Baths and the Archaeological Museum (found inside the Catholic Church of St. Francis) before stopping at the Folklore Museum (time permitting) and the Cathedral of Chania.
This afternoon, head to the Akrotiri Peninsula, northeast of Chania town, where you can see interesting museums, monuments and monasteries, including the tombs of Eleftherios Venizelos and his son, Sophocles Venizelos, two of Greece's greatest politicians. In Stavros, the Monastery of Gouverneto (also known as the Monastery of the Lady of the Angels), established in 1537, is considered among the oldest monasteries in Crete. Founded by Saint John the Hermit, there is a small chapel dedicated to him next to the katholikon as well as a small ecclesiastical museum with precious relics. In nearby Marathi, you will find the Monastery of Agia Triada (Holy Trinity) Tsagarolon. This is an impressive monastery and is, in fact, the largest monastery in Crete. Established in the 18th century, it features Venetian and the Cretan Renaissance style architecture. This monastery played an important role in the Cretan Revolution against the Ottomans.
If you have had your fill of history, you can always relax on the beautiful sandy beaches found in Kalathas and Stavros before returning to Chania Town. As evening approaches, enjoy an ouzo in Platia 1821 (1821 Square), where many of Chania's locals gather. This leafy square is filled with open air restaurants and is the location of the Greek Orthodox Church of Agios Nikolaos. Later, leisurely stroll the labyrinth of cobbled streets stretching throughout old town.
Day 2 in Chania
Wake up early this morning and head southeast to Souda, the second largest port of Crete. A beautiful Venetian castle known as the Fortress of Souda stands on a small islet in the middle of the gulf. There is also a small chapel dedicated to Saint Nicolas. Just above the port of Souda, with a beautiful view to the Aegean Sea, you will find the Commonwealth War Cemetery, final resting place of the soldiers of the British Commonwealth who died on Crete during the Second World War. From Souda, continue to the village of Kalami and the Fortress of Itzedin, former prison of political opponents (including Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos in 1905). The ruins of Ancient Aptera can be found here as well including Roman and Byzantine remains and a Turkish fort.
Next, head south for brief stops in Vamos, an authentic Cretan village that remains untouched by tourism, and the War Museum in Askyfou, which houses a private collection of guns, revolvers, canons and even German bombs from the Second World War. Alternately, you may want to just head all the way to the southern coast to the traditional village of Sfakia. Situated around the White Mountains, this village is known for its local cuisine and its picturesque port is surrounded by many cafes and tavernas where you can enjoy a fresh seafood lunch. Nearby is the main beach of Sfakia, where you can relax and have a refreshing swim. From Sfakia you can visit the remarkable cliffs of Imbros and the Samaria Gorge, but we recommend an excursion to the Fortress of Frangokastello, an important historical monument. An interesting local legend is connected to Frangokastello, called the story of the Drossoulites (Dew Men). On May 17th, the anniversary of the Battle of Frangokastello, the dead soldiers of Dalianis appear with the morning dew, rising from the sand and marching from the ruined Church of Agios Charalambos only to disappear into the sea at the first rays of the sun. This phenomenon lasts for about 10 minutes and many people have reported seeing these ghosts!
This evening, have dinner in one of the excellent restaurants found around Frangokastello; or return to Sfakia for dinner in one of the fish tavernas around the port (if you did not already do this for lunch).
Day 3 in Chania
Today you will want to explore the beautiful west coast of Crete. First stop is Kolimbari, a lovely seaside village that has developed into a relaxing tourist resort. Here, the Monastery of Hodegetria (Moni Gonias), a 17th century monastery, sits on a hill offering gorgeous views to the sea. It houses an ecclesiastical museum with a great collection of precious relics, icons and religious treasures from the 15th and 17th century as well as a rich library. Next, continue to Kastelli Kissamou (Kissamos), the second largest town in Chania prefecture. Surrounded by a lush landscape and beautiful beaches, this area is famous for the production of wine. Churches, monasteries and lovely mansions are part of ancient Kissamos, but the Venetian Castello is actually the landmark of town.
This afternoon, head to the idyllic beach of Balos and the islet of Gramvoussa. On top of the islet, there is a large castle built by the Venetians during the late 16th century. The path up to the Castle of Gamvoussa is difficult due to the steep and rocky landscape, but the view to the Aegean Sea is absolutely breathtaking. A short distance to the south you will find the archaeological sites of Falassarna and Polyrenia. The site at Ancient Falassarna includes a harbor, an acropolis and a cemetery. Later, continue down the coastline to Elafonissi where you will find the historical Monastery of Panagia Chrissoskalitissa on a hill above the beach. The name Chrissoskalitissa means 'golden steps' and tradition says that one of the 90 steps that lead to the monastery is golden, but only those with a pure heart can see it. Inside the monastery, there is a small museum with Byzantine icons, rare manuscripts and a folklore museum displaying items of daily use, instruments, tools and memorials of the Cretan Revolution.
Tonight, head back to Kissamos where you can enjoy dinner and drinks in one of the many fine tavernas around the port; or return to Chania for an alfresco harbor side dinner overlooking the lighthouse.
Additional Days in Chania
Should you be able to spend additional days in Chania, we recommend an excursion to Heraklion. Starting at Koules Fortress, which dominates the lovely Venetian harbor, follow the city's medieval walls around, taking in the Historical Museum, Agios Minas and Agia Ekaterini before brushing up on Minoan history at Heraklion's Archaeological Museum. After lunch, make your way to the excavated ruins of the legendary Palace of Knossos, just outside Heraklion. This is the largest and most famous Minoan site in Greece. Later, admire the Venetian Loggia that serves as Heraklion's town hall before enjoying a bit of people watching while dining in one of the many cafes surrounding Lion's Square (Morozini Fountain).
Southeast of Chania you will find Lake Kourna, the only fresh water lake in Crete. As an important part of the Greek ecosystem, it has been included in the NATURA 2000 Program, a European initiative to protect places of natural beauty and ecological interest. Surrounded by a lush landscape with rare plants and trees, it is the perfect place for a relaxing afternoon. Pack a picnic or have lunch in one of the cafes or tavernas overlooking the lake; enjoy a refreshing swim and relax on its white sand beaches. Later, you may want to explore the charming town of Rethymnon just a bit farther east. Admire its lovely Venetian and Ottoman architecture, lovely old town center, harbor, museums, churches and mosques. People watch and enjoy the atmosphere from a waterfront taverna overlooking the port.
Another day trip option is to hike the Samaria Gorge, on the southern side of Chania prefecture. In 1962, Samaria Gorge was declared a National Park to protect the survival of the endangered 'kri kri', the rare Cretan wild goat that lives only in Samaria as well as other rare species of flora and fauna found in the gorge. Created by a river that runs between the White Mountains and Mount Volakias, Samaria is said to be the longest gorge in Europe. It begins below the Omalos Plateau and ends at the village of Agia Roumeli, on the shores of the Lybian Sea. The hike can take from 4 to 7 hours, depending on the ability of the hiker. You must be in good physical condition to attempt this trip because it can be very exhausting, especially in summer when the temperatures are high. The best time to visit is in spring, when the weather is cool, the natural landscape is at its best and visitors are fewer than in summer.
Your Last Day in Chania
Depart your hotel for the airport for your return home. Please remember to leave enough time to return your rental car before your flight out.