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A Week in Crete

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A Week in Crete

 Balos Lagoon

How would you spend a week in Crete? Get off the beaten track on the unspoilt north west coast and enjoy a slower pace of life, fabulous fresh produce and stunning sunsets. Becca from our Marketing team visited Gavalachori in July and reported back.

We arrived in Crete on a very late flight, landing in the pitch black darkness at Chania’s tiny international airport. Despite the inky sky outside, when we stepped off the plane we were hit with that delicious warmth that washes over you when you emerge from your air-conditioned cocoon. After weeks of rain in England, it was delightful.

As we drove away from the Akrotiri Peninsular we turned on to the National Road and headed east, away from Chania. The air was filled with smell of pine, figs and occasionally, the sea, and all along the road huge tumbling clouds of bougainvillea swayed in the evening breeze. This was new territory for my fiancé, and indeed me. I have visited Crete before but either to Kolymbari in the far west, or Elounda in the far east, while this was my partner’s first visit. This time we were up in the hills for some rest and relaxation, and we couldn’t wait.

Our villa was beautiful, everything I’ve come to expect from A&K. We were tired from the flight and rushed straight to bed, but the next morning we awoke with the sun and were delighted with our beautiful surroundings. We were staying in a rustic property with a view out across the countryside, which was lush and green even in the height of summer. All around us the crickets screeched their merry welcome, while high above the swallows dipped and swooped over the pool. We were in paradise.

Not wanting to waste a second of the sun, we gathered our beach things and headed out for a day of sightseeing. This was to be the blueprint for the rest of our trip: up and out early to enjoy the beautiful weather, returning to the villa late afternoon for a dip and a nap before a relaxing dinner at a local taverna or in our luxurious villa, with the backdrop of Lefka Ori, the White Mountains, better than any televised accompaniment.

During our ten days in Crete we visited a wide range of beaches. From Gavalachori the drive to the beaches of Elafonisi and Balos was long but undeniably beautiful. I was apprehensive about the Greek driving – particularly on some of the hair-raising mountain roads – but the driving was fun and much safer than I’d come to believe. The National Road is undoubtedly the best thing to happen to Crete in recent years, as the dual carriageway format cuts the driving time considerably. We loved Elafonisi beach for its pale pink sand and shallow waters, where we waded out to sea for 200 metres up to our waists. The waters were beautifully clear and warm, and although the beach was a little busy it was easy to find sunbeds out of the way of the crowds. Balos was like a little visit to the Caribbean: a large, shallow lagoon on one side with a wave-lapped strip of sand leading to the ruined ancient fortress. It involved an interesting drive along a dirt track, followed by a short hike, but our little Fiat Panda coped admirably and the views made it all worthwhile.

Our favourite beach was thankfully closer to home, and we visited it several times during our stay. Less than ten minutes down the road from Gavalachori is the pretty resort of Almyrida, with a cluster of lovely beachfront cafes and tavernas. We loved a late lunch of super fresh Greek salad at Tsunami before a lazy afternoon on the soft white sand and snorkelling in the pretty bay. There were plenty of colourful fish to spot, and kayaks and Hobie Cats for rent if we were feeling a little more adventurous. Just along the road from Almyrida is Kalyves, another sea front town with more tavernas and fantastic grocery shops overflowing with papery onions, colossal watermelons and plump, ripe tomatoes. We enjoyed wonderful moussakas by the sea at Akrogiali, listening to the placid sound of the waves and the gentle strumming of the bouzouki from inside the restaurant.

We made many stops at local stores in Kalyves, picking up lovely fresh fruit and vegetables for our meals at the villa, and we were very grateful for our hire car for enabling us to cart back bags of produce. We loved the little nearby village of Armeni, with its imposing church and fabulously Greek square. Two kafenions (coffee shops) sit side by side under the shade of an enormous plane tree, which also serves as the village roundabout. Here we visited the fantastic butcher for cured hams and local cheeses, and the deliciously fragrant bakery for fresh bread and those little mini chocolate covered ice cream cones you only seem to find in Greece for only one euro a piece. In short, we were in heaven.

Gavalachori was the perfect place for us for our summer break; with the freedom of our villa and hire car we could be as active or as chilled out as possible. It really was the best of both worlds. One of our highlights was the village’s close proximity to Chania. In just twenty minutes we could leave the serenity of the villa and be in the centre of the city, immersed in history and bustling Greek life. We loved visiting the market, picking up local herbs, honey and oil; we can recommend the shop called Samaria Gorge – the oregano we bought is still fresh as the day we bought it, even after a muggy flight home and a few months in our kitchen cupboards! We took a walk around the harbour to the striking lighthouse, but we really relished the short distance to Chania in the evenings. Not being big drinkers, we spent several evenings in the city without needing to pay for a taxi home. We had a wonderful dinner at To Sardelaki, winding flavoursome strands of fresh pasta around our forks and mopping up the seafood sauce with fluffy bread. Taking a walk along the harbour front towards the Mosque of the Janissaries (another must see), the young and the beautiful crowd together at the bustling bars. Our favourite was Apothiki, with its rowdier neighbour, Deck just next door.

Our top tip? Parking in Chania can be a nightmare if you don’t know where to look – and exceedingly expensive. At the very end of the harbour next to the fortress, there’s a large car park that’s mercifully free of charge, and yet still close to all Chania’s best attractions.
 


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