Coastal Crete: From Sfakaki to Chania

Much of the northwestern coast of Crete feels like one giant sandy beach, so it’s a popular area with both tourists and locals alike. My sister and I spent two nights in the small town of Sfakaki, which is less populated than many of its nearby neighbors. It has a wonderful beach both during the day …

… and at sunset:

We suspect that not many people go to Sfakaki because the mostly-sandy beach is cluttered with seaweed and small rocks. But we found the water wonderful — you can walk a long way out on the sand and then play in the waves. We also loved lunch at Restaurant Eleven by the Sea, where both the mushrooms (served in a cream sauce with tiny pieces of smoked pork called apaki) and the view were outstanding.

Sfakaki is just twenty minutes away from Rethymno (also spelled Rethymnon or Rethimno), a college and beach city best known for its medieval Old Town. This Venetian- and Ottoman-inspired section is filled with shops and restaurants.

We found Rethymno a bit too crowded for our taste (and the traffic is terrible), but we had one of our best meals of the trip at Avli. I could happily eat their apaki every day, and they also make a mean cocktail.

En route heading west to Chania, Crete’s second-largest city, inexplicably took us through the coastal village of Nikiforos Fokas, where we pulled over to see this beautiful little chapel …

… the small rocky beach …

… and the teeny-tiny not-quite-harbor. also took us through Vryses, which is a charming shady town by a river where we wish we could have spent more time. But we did stop for popsicles at the bakery!

Our final destination was Chania, which we really enjoyed.

Chania has a long and important history. It was once the home to a Minoan settlement — and more recently, it was the capital of Crete (though that shifted to Heraklion in 1971). Like Rethymno, Chania was occupied by both the Venetians and the Turks, so it has a lot of interesting buildings and windy streets. We walked through the old town without a lot of purpose, just enjoying the scenery.

We stumbled on an archaeological dig …

… found the Church of St. Nickolas (established in 1205 and later turned into a mosque by the Turks) …

… admired doors …

… and went shopping.

I didn’t buy this kri-kri (Cretan wild goat), though I really liked it — but I did shop for dresses at colorful Philly, where the motto is: “life is too short to wear boring clothes.”

We also walked briefly along the harbor, which is just lovely.

The harbor area and old town can really fill up with tourists — it was a bit crazy in the evening — but we still enjoyed our time there immensely.

If you find yourself in Chania, we can recommend the boureki (a sort of potato, zucchini, and mizithra cheese pie) at Tamam (though their Cretan salad was a disappointment) and a hotel stay on the quiet side of the harbor at Porto Veneziano.

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