Once the heart of the Minoan civilisation, a flourishing Bronze Age society associated in mythology with the bull and labyrinth and noted for its Goddess worship and advanced arts, Crete is one of the Mediterranean’s most intriguing islands. An island large enough to retain a strong identity and culture while being incorporated in Greece, Crete has its own distinctive poetry, music and dance styles. Traditional dress can still be seen in the island and the islanders are proud of their history and customs.
There is much to be proud of, not just with regards to their legacy and traditional way of life, but also when it comes to the island’s stunning geography. Mountains stretch along the interior, a vast range made up of different groups, while gorges plunge steeply down and rivers flow out to the sea. It’s a superb landscape for hiking and car rental in Crete is easy to arrange for those who like to explore by car.
But around the coastline lie even greater gems. From the prefecture (regional unit) of Chania in the west to Lassithi in the east, there are hundreds of beaches to be found. From broad sweeping curves of golden sand to tiny inlets, from gently shelving slopes and quaint harbours to rocky beaches with cliffs as their backdrop, the beaches in Crete do not disappoint. Here are five of the best.
Elafonissi Beach is one of the most spectacular beaches on the island, with an unreal quality that sets it apart from other contenders. Located to the far southwest of the island, in the regional unit of Chania, Elafonissi has sparkling pink-tinted white sand, an amazing colour that is due to the thousands upon thousands of broken shells that make it up. With its pristine turquoise waters, shallow and inviting, you might be forgiven for thinking that Elafonissi lies somewhere in the Caribbean rather than the Mediterranean.
Looking for seclusion and a more untamed habitat? No problem. Crete has so many beaches it is easy to escape the crowds. St Paul Sandhill Beach, in Rethymnon prefecture and around 60 km south of the city of the same name, is a wild and impressive site. The name comes from the large sand dunes behind the beach, and these lend to St Paul a sheltered and private quality. The bay also protects against the wind and there is a very peaceful and quiet feel to the beach. Great views can be had from the top of the dunes. The waters are clear, green and deep and the seabed rocky, making it superb for snorkelling.
Also in Rethymnon prefecture, between the villages of Fragokastelo and Rodakino, is Peristeres Beach. The defining feature of Peristeres is its amazing caves to the east, complete with magnificent arches and huge boulders. There are a number of other tiny beaches scattered around. Peristeres itself is secluded and access can be a bit tricky, but once there it is well worth it. The water is great for snorkelling and there are a couple of laid-back tavernas in which to while away a lazy lunch or afternoon.
Back in Chania prefecture, around 12 km west of Chania town, is Gerani Beach. If Elafonissi Beach is reminiscent of the Caribbean, with its exotic appeal, then at Gerani there can be no doubt that you are firmly back in the Mediterranean. Nestled in a lush green valley of olive and citrus groves, with its golden sands, Gerani offers the perfect blend of relaxation and activity. Unlike some of Crete’s more secluded beaches, Gerani has excellent tourist facilities, with loungers and umbrellas for hire, showers and lifeguards. There are some great bars along its 2.5 km length and opportunities for water sports, such as wind-surfing and water-skiing.
Another beach that offers a great balance between chilling out and more adventurous activities is Episkopi, between Chania and Rethymnon towns. At 3.5 km in length, it is one of the longer beaches in the region, and visitors can find all kinds of services here. There are many beach bars and cafes, suitable for all the family, and the beach has a lively and fun atmosphere. There are also loungers, umbrellas, lifeguards and water sports.