This summer is already flying by in a whirlwind of planning, working, and nesting, and I’m thankful that we took the opportunity early in the summer to plan a getaway to Crete. Martin’s competition and coaching at the European team championships was not only well-timed, falling just at the end of my second trimester, but also in a location providing the perfect combination of relaxing beach getaway, culture, and good food, just a few hours flight from Zürich.
We flew into Heraklion via Athens and drove two hours hours west over winding, rambling, and mostly picturesque roads to Chania, Crete’s second largest city. Here we thoroughly enjoyed one week spent lounging, swimming, and exploring.
Our hotel was located a few miles outside the city on a fairly quiet sandy beach, and we spent most of the first few days on the beach alternating reading, swimming, snacking on pita with tzatziki (and lots of other Greek yogurt-related treats), and drinking strawberry granitas. It was also really nice that Martin could practice just a few minutes away from the hotel, and it was easy to get into town.
We spent one morning and several evenings wandering around town to check out the sights of the city, eat dinner out, and do a little shopping. While the newer part of the town was rather unremarkable–mostly traffic-filled streets and run-down buildings, the old city was quite charming. Chania itself is probably most known for its Venetian harbor and the architecture of the old city does have a very Florentine, Venetian, and Turkish feel.
Around the old town, many shops sold Cretan olive oil (and olive oil-based beauty products), natural sponges, and leather goods. Frozen yogurt and gelato are also popular, as well as donut shops, and coffee shops with many varieties of iced coffee (frappes)–which also seemed to be available at nearly every gas station even out in the middle of nowhere. Outside of Starbucks, nowhere in Europe have I ever seen so many people regularly drinking iced coffee and blended drinks.
After a few beach days, we decided to adventure inland and spent one day driving into some of the wildest stretches of Crete through the mountains to southern Crete, west to one of Crete’s most renowned beaches, and back up the coast to Chania.
The first part of the ca. 45km journey took us up through several picturesque villages, including Lakki (below), and through the mountains where we encountered quite a bit of sheep traffic before reaching the entrance of the Samaria Gorge. At 16km long, the Gorge is apparently the longest in Europe and is also a popular and beautiful hike filled with wildflowers and a number of endangered species on the trek down from the mountains to the beach. We looked down into Gorge, but the hike will have to wait for our return to Crete when I am not nearly 7 months pregnant.
After reaching the southern coast, we spotted for lunch in the beach town of Paleochora before turning west to go another few miles to reach Elafonisi beach. At this point, our Lonely Planet guide said, “the road worsens.” Well, that’s an understatement. Our rental Seat thankfully (and somewhat surprisingly, in the end) safely made the journey, but only due to the extreme diligence and skillful driving on Martin’s part to avoid the largest of the many ruts, bumps, and boulders along the last few miles. The beach was worth the trip and though quite windy, the sand was super soft and the water crystal clear and perfect for a little de-stressing and relaxation after the rocky drive.
When it was time to leave Chania and head back to Heraklion for Martin’s competition the next weekend, we stopped in the town of Rethymno on the drive back for a look at the city walls, harbor, and more picturesque streets and a refreshing Greek frozen yogurt smoothie for the road.
Then, with a whole afternoon free before the rest of the Swiss team arrived at the team hotel, we ventured on to the Palace of Knossos for a little cultural excursion. Knossos, Europe’s oldest city and largest archaeological site from the Bronze Age. After the first palace was destroyed by an earthquake in 1700 BC, this more grand palace was rebuilt and inhabited by Minoan kings (“Minos”) for several hundred years before eventual abandonment.
We took a guided tour with several other English-speaking visitors, and it was fascinating to see what was left of the royal apartments, throne room, storage rooms, frescoes, and especially the giant clay jars “Pithoi” used for storing grain, wine, and olive oil. Although the original frescoes are now housed in Crete’s archaeological museum, the photos below show some replicas displayed at the site.
The final few days of our trip were mostly spent inside Heraklion’s stadium spectating (me) and coaching/throwing (Martin). I was lucky to have an official Official’s pass to the event, as part of the Swiss team, and enjoyed the opportunity to see the team compete and quite a few other fans fill the stadium on both days.
The best part of this part of the trip was definitely sharing in the spirit of such a team competition. I’ve never traveled with Martin to an event like this one and it was so much fun to see all the teams excited to work together to compete and earn the most points for the competition.
This made the last few days really enjoyable, even though the hotel on this part of the trip was not that great, other than the sea view. I’ve never really stayed at an all-inclusive style hotel, and I would not return to this one for a vacation. The non-smoking room was somehow still smoky, the food mediocre (at best), and the beach was much to far of a walk down a long, steep hill to be enjoyable. That being said, it was nice enough for the team travel and made us appreciate the rest of our trip even more.
And, when early Monday morning came, we returned home re-energized with the sounds of the waves still echoing in our ears, a little more prepared for our next big adventure, and great memories of our last big vacation as a family of two.
- stay // Ammos Hotel
– We really enjoyed our stay at this small and modern hotel
which was well-located, clean, and comfortable. The on-site restaurant was quite good, especially the pita, dips (e.g. pureed eggplant, tzatziki, and white bean dip), and baklava, and the breakfast buffet was also generous with savory and sweet Cretan favorites alongside muesli and fruit. The hotel is very family friendly, with a nice little pool and beach lounge chairs.
- eat & drink // The Well of the Turk, Tamam (Chania): Herb’s Garden (Heraklion)
- shop // Elephant Store, Carmella (7 Angelou Street) (Chania)