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Crete On The Road

The Sunday Telegraph.

Crete on the Road: the Best Driving Tours around West and Central Crete by Frankie Miles. Frankie is from Villas Crete Holidays and she is very knowledgable about this part of the island.

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Villages East of Chania Crete

The Apokoronas region is just east of Chania and is packed with sandy beaches, excellent tavernas, small archaeological sites, and local handicrafts. You do not have to drive very far to experience a huge amount. The National Highway runs through the middle of the Apokoronas, dissecting it into two very different parts. The north side of the highway is the area with the shallow crescent shaped sandy beaches. It is busier than the south side and caters more to tourism, but in a lovely understated way. Despite the presence of many new houses in some parts, this area is still stunningly beautiful with glorious views of Souda Bay and the White Mountains. South of the highway the contrast is quite marked. It is unbelievably quiet, very green and the roads take you up into the hills, resulting in spectacular views. Only 10 minutes south from the northern coastline you will find that there is no tourism at all. Everything is traditionally Cretan and the friendly locals speak very little English but are great at sign language!  

 

All of the villages described below are within 1 hours drive from Chania Airport and the majority are within 35 minutes.

An absolutely gorgeous hilltop village with fabulous views of the White Mountains. Set in the foothills of the White Mountains, just off the main road to the south coast, this is a very quaint and traditional village which has a kafenio where the very friendly locals gather to chat. The Church of the Koimesis is a tiny Byzantine chapel with extraordinary frescoes dating from the 14th century. Many conifers on the surrounding hillsides make this a very green village. Just on the outskirts of the village is the Dourakis Winery which produces 300,000 bottles of wine a year, and hosts dinners and lunches which include a tour of the winery and wine tasting. Very rural, yet only 7 minutes by car to the many amenities and the National Highway in Vrisses. 10 minutes to the sandy beaches at Georgioupolis, and 40 minutes to either Chania or Rethymnon.

A group of a few traditional houses built alongside the old Chania to Heraklion road, set between Kalives and Vrisses. The small village has lovely views of the White Mountains and is surrounded by acres of olive groves. There is a taverna, kafenio, souvlaki shop, and a petrol station in the village. There is direct access to the National Highway which leads to either Chania or Rethymnon in about 35 minutes. Many amenities are available within about 5 minutes drive to Vamos, Vrisses or Kalives (which also has the nearest sandy beach).

A tiny hamlet of just a few houses set along the back road between Almyrida and Gavalohori / Xirosterni. The ruins of the houses of the original Venetian village can be seen. With gorgeous views of the green valley and White Mountains to the south and (often) sea views to the north, Agios Vassilis is a rural location with good walking trails, yet is only a few minutes to many amenities. Only 3 minutes by car to Almyrida, 7 minutes to Kalives, and 4 minutes to Gavalohori.

A lovely village built around a crescent shaped sandy beach with a small fishing boat harbour, and views to the White Mountains. The water is shallow which is particularly good news for those less confident swimmers or for small children. Along the edge of the beach there are many excellent tavernas and cafes, and the village also has hotels, 2 bakeries, 5 mini markets, gift shops, a great jewellery shop, and the Villas Crete Holidays Tourist Office that is owned and run by Frankie Miles.  A sporting centre operates from mid April – early October offering windsurfing, kayaking and catamaran sailing. There are many sea caves on the coastline near Almyrida as well as the small islet of Karga. Most of the amenities in the village close during the winter months, but a few cafes stay open all year round. At the entrance to the village is the mosaic floor of a Byzantine chapel dating from the 6th Century. Almyrida is 5 minutes by car to Kalives and the National Highway, and 30 minutes to Chania.

Armeni has a very lush, green setting with tall plane trees lining the main street. Located in the middle of a verdant valley with bountiful springs and a river running through the centre, Armeni is a quiet Cretan village where most of the occupants rely on farming the surrounding olive and orange groves to make a living. The focal point of the village is the typical kafenion which sits under the shade of a large chestnut tree. There are 4 excellent tavernas, a good butcher shop, a well stocked mini market, and a number of cafés and souvlaki shops. One of the tavernas hosts regular “Cretan Nights” throughout the season, with live music and fun Cretan dancers, but be warned – you are expected to join in the festivities! For a complete change of pace, another taverna is surrounded by an expansive lawn with the tables set on the river bank. There is a babysitter on the premises and a huge array of children’s toys so that visiting parents can have a break and eat a quiet romantic meal if they wish. Leisurely canoe trips that head up the river can be taken from here during low season. Despite being only 3 minutes drive to Kalives and the National Highway, Armeni has remained traditional and charming.

A tiny, very quaint hamlet set on the top of a hill overlooking Almyrida and Souda Bay to the north, and/or Gavalohori and the White Mountains to the south. A lovely peaceful spot with many wonderful walking trails, yet only 2 minutes by car to the amenities and beach in Almyrida, or 5 minutes to Kalives and the National Highway.

A small traditional village which has long been popular with the painting groups that visit Crete. A lovely stone taverna, has a terrace shaded by a large carob tree for the summer months, and a huge fireplace for the winter months. Views to the White Mountains, and / or Souda Bay, plus close proximity to the beaches at Almyrida and Kalives, make this a lovely place to live or visit. 3 minutes by car to Gavalohori, 5 minutes by car to Kalives, Almyrida or Vamos.

Set high on the Drapanos peninsula hill, this village often has panoramic views of either Souda Bay and the coastal villages of Almyrida and Kalives to the north and west, or the green valley and the White Mountains to the south. There is a taverna, mini market, and 2 cafes in the village itself, and only an 8 minute drive to Ombrogialos Cove and  Almyrida or 13 minutes to Kalives and the National Highway.

A very traditional village set on the side of a hill in the lower region of the White Mountains. Wonderful views to north and east of the Vrissses valley below the village, and to the south of the White Mountains. The village has the ruins of a Venetian castle, and a quaint chapel built into a cliff face cave. The Mochlakis dairy makes lovely yoghurt and cheese, and the owner will guide you around. A mini market, a bakery, and a kafenio where the friendly locals gossip, all add to the village. A lovely rural location yet only 8 minutes by car to the amenities and National Highway in Vrisses, 12 minutes to the sandy beach at Georgioupolis, and 40 minutes to either Chania or  Rethymnon.

A tiny hamlet with just a few houses in a very green location. Surrounded by olive groves and conifers, Filipos has a pretty view to the White Mountains. Rural and peaceful yet only 5 minutes by car to the nearest amenities and the National Highway at Vrisses, and 10 minutes to the sandy beach at Georgioupolis.

A tiny hamlet with 1 kafenio, set in on a hillside just outside Vrisses. Very green and rural, with distant sea views to the east, and surrounding hills. Very peaceful, yet only 3 minutes drive to the National Highway, and 5 minutes to the any amenities in Vrisses.

A traditional village set in the lower foothills of the White Mountains. Great views of the mountains to the south, and the verdant Vrisses valley to north, combined with a quaint village square, and a beautiful church make this village a popular choice to live. A lovely chapel built high upon 2 rocks, with a beautiful picnic area, and surrounded by walking trails, is another attraction. There is a bakery, dairy, mini market and a number of kafenion in the centre of the village. 10 minutes drive to Vrisses or Agios Pantes, 15 – 20 minutes to Kalives, and 40 minutes to either Chania or Rethymnon.

Gavalohori is a very traditional village and it has great historical importance in this area. There are buildings still remaining from Byzantine, Venetian and Turkish eras, and artefacts have also been found in the area from Neolithic and Minoan Times. Many of these wonderful artefacts are now housed in the Historical and Folklore Museum which is located on one of the village’s narrow streets. On the outskirts of the village there is a lovely picnic area beneath a thicket of shady trees and next to some Venetian Wells. The village square is still very much the focal point of village life. The main kafenion/taverna is a beautifully renovated stone building which is run by the very friendly Giorgos and Monica Papatheofilo. The food and desserts here are delicious and the prices are low. Sitting under the kafenion’s shady mulberry trees and watching the world go by, is a favourite past time for both locals and visitors alike. The friendly locals sit here in the evenings playing tavli (backgammon). On the opposite side of the square there is the Women’s Craft Co-operative which is trying to keep traditional handicrafts alive by making and selling products such as pottery, throws, lace. And herbs.  In the village you can also find 2 more tavernas, 2 mini markets, 2 cafés souvlaki shops, a dessert cafe, and a bakery. Conveniently located only 4kms from the sandy beach at Almyrida, 3 kms from Vamos, and 10 minutes drive from Kalives and the National Highway. Depending on where you are in the village, there are lovely views of Souda Bay and / or the White Mountains.

A busy coastal resort with a fishing harbour, where the mouth of the Armyros River meets the sea. Well known for its towering eucalyptus trees which line the river banks, and surround the village square, which has many tavernas, cafes, gift shops and mini markets. Georgioupolis is also famous for the Agios Nikolaos chapel which is set on a causeway out in the sea, a sandy beach which stretches for 9 kms to the east.  A favourite outing for both young and old alike is to rent a boat and paddle up the river to see and feed the loggerhead turtles. There are many activities in Georgioupolis including horse riding and mini-golf. The village is much quieter in the winter months, but has direct access to the National Highway, and is only 30 minutes by car from Rethymnon.

A lovely little village with wonderful views of the White Mountains. The villagers are often found relaxing under the shady mulberry  trees on the village square. There is a kafenio, taverna, and a mini market in the village, which is only 5 minutes drive to either Vamos or Agios Pantes and the National Highway. 15 minutes to the beach at Kalives, and 35 minutes to Chania.

Kalamitsi is separated into 2 small villages, both on a hillside with panoramic views of the entire White Mountain range, and the verdant Vrisses valley below. Kalamitsi-Amigdali has 2 tavernas, a mini market, and a kafenio. Kalamitsi-Alexandrou is famous for its tiny silk making co-operative that is run by the ladies of the village. Vamos, and Vrisses and the National Highway are only 5 minutes away by car, and the sandy beach at Georgioupolis is 10 minutes away.

The village of Kalives has long been a popular destination for holiday makers seeking a typically Greek seaside resort that has many amenities, but is far removed from brash tourism.  Kalives stretches along 4 kilometres of sandy beaches, and the narrow main street is lined with old white washed houses. Two rivers join the sea at Kalives, and there is a traditional fishing boat harbour at the eastern end of the village. There is an abundance of excellent tavernas and cafes lining the seafront, and there are shops of every description including 3 large supermarkets, 2 bookshops, many gift shops, 5 clothes shops, 3 organic fruit and vegetable shops, 2 chemists, 3 bakeries, 3 butchers and a laundry. The village is also the home of a number of talented artists, and the only traditional barrel maker who is left in the area (a great place to go for a wine tasting visit). With direct access to the National Highway, Kalives is only 25 minutes drive to Chania. Lovely views of the White Mountains and Souda Bay are available from many places in the village.

A tiny hamlet situated between Plaka and Kokkino Horio. No amenities to speak of, but Kambia does have the studio / gallery of an artist famous for painting on glass, and the gorgeous Agios Nikita chapel which celebrates its feast day on September 15th every year. Perched high along the ridge of a hill, there are wonderful panoramic views of Souda Bay and /or the green valley below the village, and the White Mountains. Only 3 minutes by car to the amenities in Plaka, or 5 minutes to the sandy beach at Almyrida.

Kefalas is regarded as one of the most beautiful villages in the region. The village is a maze of narrow, winding, bougainvillea lined streets. One side of the village faces east with panoramic views over the sea to Rethymnon and Mount Ida in the Psiloritis Mountains, and the other side faces south, west and north to the White Mountains and Souda Bay. This charming village has 2 tavernas, 2 well stocked mini markets, and 4 kafenions. There are eight churches in Kefalas, some of which are historic, and the villagers celebrate with a feast day on August the 15th. On the outskirts of the village towards Drapanos there is the ruin of an ancient windmill, and you will also see many old corn threshing circles dotted around the area. Kefalas is just 10 minutes by car to the gorgeous rocky cove at Ombrosgialos, which is famous for its turquoise water, great snorkelling, and a lovely taverna nestled on the rocks. The National Highway and the beach villages of Almyrida and Kalives are only 15 minutes away by car.

Kera is a tiny hamlet set around a cove on the coast between Kalives and Almyrida. The sandy beach has been left totally natural and does not have any sun-beds, umbrellas or cafes, making it the perfect spot for a picnic away from the crowds. A few villas have been built on the hill overlooking the cove, affording them wonderful views of Souda Bay and the White Mountains. Kera is perfectly situated with a short 2 minute drive to Almyrida, and a 4 minute drive to Kalives and the National Highway.

Kokkino Horio means “red village” in Greek and was named for the red tiles on the roof tops. The village that was the main set in the 1960’s for the film of “Zorba the Greek”. Many of the elderly inhabitants were extras in the film and love to show you photos of themselves with Anthony Quinn. The main part of the village still has narrow streets and white washed houses. The outskirts of the village boast stunning sea views and, very often, wonderful mountain views as well. This interesting village is set on the side of a hill which has a cave leading to many passages that were made by the Germans during World War 2. At the entrance to the village is the glass blowing factory, where you can watch the craftsmen make beautiful products from recycled glass. Lower Kokkino Horio has a coastline that is dotted with sea caves, and Koutalas cove is a more private spot for swimming and snorkeling. The village has 1 excellent taverna which hosts occasional music nights during the summer, and a kafenio / mini market, but is only 5 minutes drive to Plaka, and 7 minutes to Almyrida.

A tiny village with a quaint square which is the location for a church, mini market, and the famous pizzeria. Lovely views of the White Mountains can be had from most parts of the village. Further amenities are available in Vamos, which is only a 5 minute drive away.

A gorgeous village set on a hill to the south of Kalives, with lovely views to the north of Souda Bay and the verdant Armeni valley, to the south of the White Mountains, to the east of the conifer rich Vrisses valley, and to the west of a tiny gorge which has beautifully coloured walls. Many original village houses have been lovingly renovated, and the village has a chapel cut into a cave in a cliff face. The natural amphitheatre is the perfect place for a few traditional music events during the summer months. 3 minutes by car to Neo Horio, 5 minutes to Armeni, and 10 minutes to the National Highway and the sandy beaches at Kalives.

Set on the top of a hill overlooking Souda Bay to the north, and the White Mountains to the south, this village has exceptional panoramic views. At the eastern tip of the village there is the famous Aptera archaeological site which boasts the largest Roman dig on Western Crete. Many important ruins of the ancient town of Aptera can still be seen, including amazing vaulted water cisterns, a Roman bath complex, a small temple and a small theatre. Near the Roman site there is also a large Turkish fortress which is the best place from which to view Souda Bay, and the entire Apokoronas region. In the village itself there are 3 tavernas and a mini market. It is 1 km to the National Highway, 5 minutes by car to either Souda or Kalives, and 20 minutes by car to Chania.

A tiny village set on a hill in the lower foothills of the White Mountains. Fabulous mountain views are guaranteed of both the White Mountains to the south, and on a clear day, Mount Ida in the Psiloritis mountain range to the east. Olive groves and conifer thickets cover the land below the village, and a view to the higher village of Paidohori, makes this seem very alpine. Despite its wonderful, peaceful location, Nero Hori is only 1 km from Agios Pantes and the National Highway, and 15 minutes from Kalives or Vrisses.

A typical, Cretan working village which has a 2 souvlaki shops, a taverna, a bakery, a mini market, a pharmacy, and a gift shop. The eastern side of the village is set on a hill with views to the White Mountains and Souda Bay. The rest of the village is in the valley, surrounded by orange and olive groves, but again with views of the White Mountains. Only 2 minutes by car to Armeni, and 5 minutes by car to Kalives and the National Highway.

A small village set in the foothills of the White Mountains. Wonderful views of the conifer rich valley, and the mountains, make this a very beautiful spot. There is a tradtional kafenio / taverna in the centre of the village, and Vrisses and the National Highway are only 5 minutes away by car.

A wonderful village set on the side of a hill in the foothills of the White Mountains. Very traditional and very alpine, this lovely village has panoramic views of the White Mountains to the south, Souda Bay to the north, and the verdant Vrisses valley to the east. There is a traditional kafenio in the village itself, and more amenities are available 5 minutes away by car in Agios Pantes, or 15 minutes way in either Vrisses or Kalives.

An increasingly popular village set on a hill 1km away from Almyrida, and known for its wonderful climate. The main square in Plaka is still very much the focal point of village life. There are lovely shady mulberry trees under which the locals sit to watch the world go by whilst enjoying a delicious meal or even just an ice cold frappe. Plaka was one of the original village sets for the film “Zorba the Greek” and it still has quaint whitewashed houses and narrow streets leading off from the square. A traditional village square with a great atmosphere has 2 tavernas, 3 mini markets, 2 cafes, and a sweet shop. A 3rd taverna with panoramic views, 3 more cafes, and a hairdresser are situated elsewhere in the village, which has narrow streets and white washed houses. There are some lovely walks through the olive groves and vineyards to the headland where there are there are some gorgeous rock formations and sea caves. Locals go to the headland to collect the natural rock salt that collects here and dries in the sun .Other reasons that Plaka is so popular, are the great views of Souda Bay and the White Mountains, and the 5 minute walk to the beach at Almyrida. Further amenities, and the National Highway, are in Kalives, which is only a 5 minute drive away.

Tiny, very typical Cretan villages where time has stood still, with 1 kafenio each, set next to each other on the hill between the Vrisses valley and Souda Bay. Panoramic views of the White Mountains in the south, the sea facing east to Rethymnon, or Souda Bay in the north are possible from different areas in the villages. Lovely rural villages, yet only 6km from Vamos, and 7 kms from the beach at Georgioupolis.

A typical farming village set in the valley south of Kalives. Surrounded by orange and olive groves which flourish due to the river, and the natural springs in the village. The natural spring water is bottled at a plant in village, and sold with the famous “Samaria Water” brand name. The upper part of the village has lovely views of the White Mountains. The centre of the village is set on the river under the shade of huge trees, next to a beautiful, ancient church. There is a traditional taverna which is famous for its music nights in the summer, when villagers from the whole area come and dance until late. The village also has a souvlaki shop, mini markets, and a kafenio. Further amenities are available 3 minutes away in Nio Horio, or 8 minutes away in Kalives, which also has access to the National Highway.

A fabulous village with the perfect location! Still typically Cretan, with a quaint upper village of narrow streets, with either white washed or stone houses, a kafenio which is also a mini market and the delivery point for the post. Tsivaras is only 2 kms from the coast and has gorgeous views of Souda Bay to the north, the White Mountains to the south, verdant valleys looking west to the Turkish fort at Aptera, or east to Gavalohori and the Drapanos peninsula. Set on the main road between Kalives (2kms) and Vamos (4kms), and with many back tracks that lead to the National Highway (in 3 minutes), Kera Beach (in 3 minutes) and Almyrida (in 5 minutes). This village also has many different walking trails, including a tiny gorge to the east of the village. A lovely peaceful village with great views, yet so close to the many amenities in Kalives, Almyrida and Vamos.

Set high in the foothills of the White Mountains, this village is very traditional with panoramic views over the verdant Vrisses valley, and to the mountains above the village. On a clear day there are also distant views of Souda Bay. The village is surrounded by mature trees, and has a wonderful taverna built from stone and local cypress trees, a dairy which makes cheese, a mini market, and a kafenio. 10 minutes away by car to the east, there are further amenities, and the National Highway at Vrisses, or 15 minutes away to the west, the beach, amenities and National Highway at Kalives.

A very traditional Cretan village set in the foothills of the White Mountains. Panoramic views of the verdant Vrisses valley, and views of the mountains, are available from most parts of the village. The Vafeions have their own co-operative for the development of local traditions and way of life, with an emphasis on organic farming. The village has a lovely renovated stone taverna, and a kafenio. Further amenities, and the National Highway, can be found just 3kms down the hill in Vrisses.

The administrative centre of the Vamos district, which was first inhabited by Saracen Pirates in the 8th Century. Set on the top of the hill between Souda Bay and the Vrisses valley, there can be great views of Souda Bay and / or the White Mountains. Many of the traditional village houses have been restored, using local stone and cypress wood, by a village co-operative. The local co-operative also organise cooking lessons and hiking in the surrounding area. The village has many shops, 2 excellent tavernas, kafenion, 2 souvlaki shops, a bank, and 2 petrol stations. Vamos has the only pine forest in the area and is the ideal starting point for hiking down to the wonderful Agios Giorgos in Karydi Monastery which has beautiful ruins of Venetian arches and an old olvei press. 7 kms from the National Highway, beaches and many amenities in Kalives, and 4 kms from Vrisses.

Vrisses has only been in existence since 1925, yet is a very typical and traditional working / farming village. Set on the Vryssano River, which has lovely, shady Plane trees on its banks, and tavernas and cafes under the trees. Perfectly situated between Chania and Rethymnon (about 30 minutes drive to either), and on the road that leads over the foothills to the Imbros Groge (about 30 minutes drive) and to Chora Sfakion on the south coast (about 45 minutes drive). Vrisses is surrounded by many quaint hamlets, and is the perfect starting point for discovering many different areas of Crete. Famous for its delicious yoghurt and honey, the village itself has tavernas, kafenion, 2 bakeries, a butcher, 2 super markets, a bank, 2 petrol stations, a pharmacy, as well as other shops. Direct access to the National Highway, 5 minutes by car to Vamos, 8 minutes to Georgioupolis, and 15 minutes to Kalives.

A traditional village with only 1 kafenio, but only 2kms from the many amenities in Vamos, 9kms from Kalives, and 6 kms from the beach at Almyrida. Lovely views of both Souda Bay and the White Mountains are available from Xirosterni. The village is well known for a wonderful festival that is held every year on August 5th.

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