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Naxos and Crete - two dream islands in Greece

Naxos, and Crete: our Greek travels, part 2


In our last Travelrebel blog, we wrote about our first big round trip to Greece and made a confession: We love Greece, the people, the scenery and the food. It's an affair that has now lasted for almost 20 years. In between our long-distance travels, we will continue to grace this great country with our presence. Greece simply deserves to be visited.


This time we would like to summarise two more trips to Hellas. This has reasons.

Firstly, we love to talk and write about our travels - it always brings back memories long thought lost and that's what travelling is all about. No one can steal those wonderful memories. Secondly, we love to give travel tips and are always happy when someone writes to us or asks us about it. And thirdly: because we simply enjoy it. Passion remains passion.



After our Greece round trip with the old Landrover, there were other trips to the land of sirtaki, ouzo and suvlaki: Maybe someone doesn't have any plans this summer and feels like taking one of the following two trips.


2012 - Island of Naxos, 2 weeks

Zeus, the father of the gods, is said to have spent most of his youth here. We understand him very well, because the largest island of the Cyclades is definitely worth a visit. We spent the last two weeks of June on this tranquil island in 2012 and still talk about it today. We travelled from Vienna to Santorini, from where we finally took the ferry to Naxos. Our hotel, the 3-star Hotel Naxos Resort, was a real stroke of luck. It hadn't been opened long ago and we paid only 800 euros per person for 14 nights with breakfast - including flight and ferry, mind you. A bargain especially because the hotel had exactly those qualities we love so much: not too big, not too high, no unbearable party guests, not far from the beach and a good breakfast.



The Naxos Resort and Beach Hotel in Naxos Chora exceeded our expectations.

(Foto and Link: Booking.com)


Besides the Strauss opera "Ariadne auf Naxos", Naxos is best known for its landmark Portara. The Portara of Naxos, also called the Temple Gate of Naxos, is reminiscent of a portal to another world. It is made of stones from the temple of Apollo and is located on a peninsula in front of Chora, the picturesque capital of Naxos. There is probably not a tourist who has been to this island and not had a photo taken of themselves in front of Portara.


The Portara is the most famous landmark on the island of Naxos, only about 15 minutes' walk from the capital. (Foto: Pixabay)


What surprised us about Naxos were its beaches. Light sand and crystal clear water make Naxos a beach paradise, but the excursion possibilities don't make it boring here either. Our beach highlights on Naxos include:

  • Agios Georgios beach

  • Agios Prokopios Beach

  • Plaka Beach

  • Psili Ammos Beach

and the secluded bay of Ormos Panormos on the diametrically opposite side of the manageable island, where we met some friendly ducks.


The beaches of Naxos are convincing: fine sand, crystal clear water. The finest.

(Foto: Pixabay)


Even though Naxos is the largest Cycladic island in terms of area, you can get to all the destinations in one within 2 to 2.5 hours. We borrowed a car for a few days and a quad bike for one day - so we could explore the whole island.


With its narrow alleys, the idyllic harbour promenade, the Old Market and the numerous tavernas, the capital is a wonderful holiday destination and an island highlight. In Chora, which means "the central square", you can enjoy a fantastic meal (see our "Eating and Drinking" tip), take a relaxed stroll, go shopping or enjoy an ice cream in the evening sun. From the Xilokastro hill, which is about 2.5 km behind the capital, you have a great view of the snow-white rock chapel Agios Theologos. The view from Chrysostomos Monastery, just a few metres further up, also has its charm.



On Naxos you will always find idyllic tavernas offering ouzo and great food. (Foto: Pixabay)


The interior is definitely worth one or more excursions. It takes about 30 minutes by car from Naxos town to the Tragea plain, also called "Livadia" (meadowland) by the locals. Here the tourist density decreases noticeably and the original Naxos comes to the fore. It is beautiful, especially until mid-June, when the summer sun does not yet shine as mercilessly as in the following summer months and the flora blossoms in hundreds of colours. Naxos is a natural paradise as it is written in the book. Hilly meadows, mountain massifs, idyllic wine terraces, vast olive groves and small villages alternate.


If you love the Greek way of life as much as we do, you shouldn't miss the villages of Sangri, Filoti, Chalki and Apiranthos. Head there and enjoy a coffee frappé in the charismatic main squares of these typically Greek showcase towns.


Our insider tip: a walk through the village of Filoti, with 1,500 inhabitants, at an altitude of 400 m, just below the mighty Zas massif. A visit to the local folklore museum is also interesting.


Finally, a tour of the island takes you to the marble centre of Naxos. Here, up to 5,000 tons of the beautiful Naxos marble are quarried and exported every year.

From Kinidaros, the route continues towards Melanes. Shortly before Myli, a road branches off to the Kouros of Flerio or Melanes. Three legendary Kouros statues can be found there. The best preserved is the Kouros of Flerio, an unfinished statue of a young man carved out of stone about 2500 years ago.


Tip: If you stay a little longer on Naxos and still have some time left, you should also visit the nearby islands. Island hopping has a special flair in Greece and the ferry connections are well developed.


Naxos gets 10 out of 10 travel rebels!


2015 and 2021 - Island of Crete, 2 and 3 weeks

We could write a whole book about Crete, so we'll keep it short on purpose. The largest Greek island, and with an area of around 8261 km² and 1066 kilometres of coastline the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean after Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus and Corsica, is a world of its own. Even after 5 weeks on this typical Greek island, we still haven't seen everything.


Crete is not only a paradise for spoilt goats, travellers also get their money's worth here.

(Foto: Pixabay)


Crete lies just under 100 kilometres south of the Greek mainland and is very mountainous. The island is defined by a mountain range stretching from west to east, which slopes steeper towards the south coast and flatter towards the north. We travelled in all directions and stayed in six different types of accommodation. In Crete, just about everyone gets their money's worth. There are spectacular hiking routes and gorges, overgrown primeval forests, great beaches, beautiful towns and everything you could wish for in terms of infrastructure. Crete is always worth a visit.


Crete manages to conquer the hearts of all Greece fans. (Foto: Pixabay)


We went to Crete for the first time in 2015. Our son was 4 years old at the time. We imagine that he would have learned to love Greece at that time, too. At that time, we had booked 14 days in the Beach resort of Platanias. The coastal town is about 15 km west of the city of Chania and forms a coastline together with Agia Marina. The largest town in the west of Crete scores with a fine sandy beach, best water quality and the absence of skyscrapers, the hotels go up to 3 floors at the most. Instead, there are countless accommodations and restaurants and enough space for the evening stroll along the coastal road. In the summer months, however, there is a lot going on here.


Excursions that can be made from Platanias, for example:

  • Chania town

  • The ruins of Aptera

  • Limnoupolis the water park near Chania

  • Agia Marina Beach

  • Kissamos: you can find very good restaurants here

  • Balos, a beautiful but often overcrowded beach

  • Botanical Garden

  • Samaria Gorge: the most famous of several impressive gorges on the island. There are often a lot of people here, so it makes sense to check out the other gorge walks too e.g.

  • Agia Irini Gorge

  • Acropolis of Polirrinia

  • Trip from Platanias with a childfriendly “train” to the nearby mountains - highly recommended.


We stayed at the Porto Platanias Resort and Spa, which was very nice in itself, but after 9 days we decided to change location and hotel for the remaining five nights. The 4-star resort was actually of good quality, the food was excellent, the pool large, the staff warm and you were allowed to use the infrastructure such as pools, bars and gym of the associated 5-star hotel across the street. Unfortunately, the crowd at Porto Platanias was too loud for us. Night after night, some drunks bawled us out of our sleep on the way to their rooms. We were just unlucky, but a good night's sleep is very important to us - especially with children.


Porto Platanias Village Resort is a fine complex right in the heart of Platanias.

(Foto and Link: Booking.com)



While we were still there, we booked ourselves into a small but quiet accommodation in Ierapetra, at the southernmost end of the island. In the Oasis at the Sea - Nicolas Apartments we immediately felt at home. Even though the flat was not as new and stylish as the 4-star accommodation before it, it was cosy, extremely relaxed and above all quiet. Away from the mass tourism, we could relax here by the pool with an extraordinary sea view and were spoiled every morning with a great and very personal breakfast. To get down to the sea, there were steps only about 20 metres down. It is possible to stay here - quite cheaply.


Oasis at the Sea - Nicolas Apartments are located a few metres above the sea and offer tranquillity-seeking Cretan holidaymakers everything they are looking for. (Foto and Link: Booking.com)


Excursions you can do from the oasis by the sea, for example:

  • Town of Ierapetra: a short trip to the town with the southernmost point in Europe is worthwhile.

  • Farángi Chá

  • Mylonas waterfalls

  • Bramiana reservoir

  • Spahti in the Lasithi plateau

  • There are also several beaches in the vicinity. The practical thing about the area around Ierpetra is its location: the shortest possible connection takes you from there to the other side of the island to Pachia Ammos - the roads there are even better developed.



Six years later

In 2021, we were back in Crete, this time already with two children. Due to the Corona pandemic, long-distance travel was still unsafe, which is why we chose Greece again, for the third time in a row. This time it was to be three weeks on the Greek sunny island - in three different accommodations. We spent the first week at the Candia Beach Resort near the pretty town of Agios Nikolaos. This resort has two pools, a small beach with many shady spots and a children's club. We particularly liked it here because the price-performance ratio was excellent. We chose the breakfast option, but full board is also available. But as we like to try out different tavernas, we decided against it - with the small kitchen in the room, it was the right decision.


Agios Nikolaos is an important holiday resort in the eastern part of Crete and impresses with a good infrastructure and many very appealing restaurants. It is a great place to spend your holidays.


Families with children will especially enjoy Candia Beach Resort.


Excursions that can be made from Agios Nikolaos:

  • Labyrinth Park: Nice excursion with children.

  • Aqua Plus Water Park (near the Labyrinth Park)

  • Gipedo Golf: Here golf fans get their money's worth.

  • Richtis Gorge

  • Palace of Petras: The excavation site of Petras (Πετράς) is located about 1.5 kilometres southeast of the city centre of Sitia (Σητεία) and 400 metres south of the bay of Sitia.

  • Vai: the well-known palm beach of Crete.

  • Also from Agios Nikolaos it is very easy to get by car to Spathi on the Lassithi height.


Some impressions from our second Crete holiday.


In the second week we went to the opposite end of the island. On the drive from Agios Nikolaos to our second accommodation, we really became aware of how big and, above all, how long the island of Crete is. We lead most of the way along the north coast, past the capital Iraklion, Bali, Rethymno, Fodele (our third stop), through Chania and Platanias again to Kissamos, where we had a well-deserved lunch break after a drive of several hours. Here we could perceive the effects of the Covid pandemic, because the otherwise well-visited place was like empty - in the middle of July! From Kissamos, it was another hour or so through the mountains of Crete before we finally arrived at our private Villa Horizon via a steep and decidedly narrow serpentine road. Already the arrival was a dream. We were greeted personally by the owner, who surprised us with a happy message: We had the villa, which is actually designed for two families, to ourselves for the whole week. Great!


The gorgeous property near Keramoti Beach is in complete tranquillity, and each of the two separate living units is exceedingly spacious, with a generous kitchen, two bedrooms, a spacious living area and - what the fuck - a small raki barrel with a tap. The Cretan marc brandy is quite something if you plan to spend the whole day in this villa with two pools, barbecues and a great sea view.

The Villa Horizon with its own pool was really amazing. We would love to come back!


We really enjoyed ourselves here for a week and only made two excursions: once to the famous beach of Elafonissi and once to the equally beautiful Sfinari Beach, whose waves gave us a lot of fun. One thing stands: If you are looking for peace and relaxation, this part of Crete is absolutely the right place. There are no bed castles here and no overcrowded beach promenades. Except for Elafonissi, not many tourists seem to come here.


After this villa luxury, we had to squeeze ourselves back into the car. We drove to our next, the last, hotel, dropped off our luggage there, and immediately set off for Heraklion or Iraklion. At the airport we had to say goodbye - not to the island, but only to our rental car. In the last week, we treated ourselves to the Fodele Beach & Water Park Holiday Resort, an all-inclusive resort with 5 stars, which we wanted to do without excursions - which we didn't manage. Firstly, we wanted to surprise our children with the child-friendly resort with a large water slide park and secondly, we simply wanted to test whether the number of stars really has such a big impact on the quality of the stay. To say it right away: It didn't!


The Fodele Beach Resort scores particularly well with its large water park.


Please don't get us wrong, the Fodele Beach Resort is a wonderful hotel, with very good food, nice rooms and well-maintained grounds, but in our opinion it is not worth the rather lavish price difference to hotels like the Candia Beach Resort or similar accommodation. We can explain why this is so:


  1. the rooms were pretty, no question, but you can tell that they tried to fit as many of them as possible on the large property. No room is felt to be even one square metre bigger than it needs to be to get 5 stars. The same goes for the terrace.

  2. the catering was very ok, but had room for improvement - considering the prices. The waiting times at the entrance to the evening buffet were partly too much even for the extended holiday patience, plus the exaggerated corona measures. At the buffet you couldn't take anything yourself and never actually got the amount you would have liked.

  3. the complex is too big: there was even a shuttle train to take guests from one end of the complex to the other. A good service, but we prefer it a little more manageable.


The plus points of the Fodele Beach & Water Park Holiday Resort:


  1. the water park and the pools are top class. Here, the children could really let off steam and in the meantime fortify themselves with delicious all-inclusive hot dogs, cakes and lemonade.

  2. The animation team was world class. Apart from Rhodes, we have never seen such talented and entertaining entertainers - one in particular stood out. Max, who is a theatre performer himself, had the pleasure of improvising a skit with him:

Max had a lot of fun on the stage:


3. the complaint management works excellently: After a complaint about the long waiting times at the buffet, we were promptly summoned to the hotel manager, who sincerely apologised and invited us on the return trip to the airport the next day (no, he didn't kick us out, we had to go home anyway).


4. the restaurants belonging to the hotel away from the buffet are excellent. The food here is excellent and special requests are catered for.


5. The beach and the beach bar invite you to linger. This is a great place to be!



On the second day at Fodele Resort, we rented another small car and went for a drive around the area. We especially liked Rethymno. On this occasion, we repeated our hike through the nearby Myli Gorge, which we had already done for the first time in 2015.


Hiking is also always a great alternative to lazing on the beach in Crete.


Excursions you can do from Fodele Beach:

Rethymno: great place with great beach promenade and a good sightseeing bus line.

Bali: small but very nice seaside resort

Panormos: nice little beach

Myli Gorge: a very recommendable hike

Iraklion: a trip to the lively capital is a must on Crete.

Psiloritis and Katafigio Agrias Zois Trigiodo: connected, extensive hiking area


We spent the last night in the capital, in a hotel near the airport, as our flight home started very early in the morning. We stayed at the Hotel Sofia, which met all our requirements and even had a small pool.


In conclusion, we can only emphasise once again: Crete is incredibly versatile and also suitable for a longer stay. If you like Greece, you will love Crete. Just like us.In conclusion, we can only emphasise once again: Crete is incredibly versatile and also suitable for a longer stay. If you like Greece, you will love Crete. Just like we do.


Crete gets 9 out of 10 travel rebels!

(especially in comparison with Naxos, an island that is a little more relaxing and above all clearer).


In our next blogs, travel reports will follow about:

- 2017 - Skiathos Island, 2 weeks

- 2019 - island trip Karpathos and Rhodes, 3 weeks

- 2020 - second round trip with our own car, 4 weeks


Shopping tips for the perfect Crete holiday


Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

Lonely Planet's Creteis your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Stroll along Hania's Venetian Harbour, laze in Elafonisi's clear turquoise waters, and hike dazzling Samaria Gorge - all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Crete and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet's Crete:

  • NEW pull-out, passport-size 'Just Landed' card with wi-fi, ATM and transport info - all you need for a smooth journey from airport to hotel

  • Improved planning tools for family travellers - where to go, how to save money, plus fun stuff just for kids

  • NEW Accommodation feature gathers all the information you need to plan your accommodation

  • Colour maps and images throughout

  • Highlightsand itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests

  • Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots

  • Essential infoat your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices

  • Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sightseeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss

  • Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - history, people, music, landscapes, wildlife, cuisine, politics

  • Covers Hania, Iraklio, Rethymno, Lasithi, Knossos, Vai, Elounda, Agios Nikolaos, Agia Marina, Hersonisos, Platanias, Vamos, Almyrida, Ierapetra, and more

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet's Creteis our most comprehensive guide to Crete, and is perfect for discovering both popular and off-the-beaten-path experiences.

Looking for more extensive coverage? Check out Lonely Planet's Greek Islands or Greecefor an in-depth guide to the country.

About Lonely Planet: Lonely Planet is a leading travel media company and the world's number one travel guidebook brand, providing both inspiring and trustworthy information for every kind of traveller since 1973. Over the past four decades, we've printed over 145 million guidebooks and grown a dedicated, passionate global community of travellers. You'll also find our content online, and in mobile apps, video, 14 languages, nine international magazines, armchair and lifestyle books, ebooks, and more.

TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice Awards 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 winner in Favorite Travel Guide category

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Crete offers an incredibly multifaceted realm for walkers. Many areas of the island are still rugged and pristine. The island’s terrain is dominated by three mighty mountain ranges, furrowed by deep gorges. Lofty mountains and a deep-blue sea are in close proximity – an ideal combination for any holiday.

The finest coastal and mountain walks on Greece’s largest and most diverse island can be found in the Rother Walking Guide »Crete«. The choice ranges from a pleasant walk across foothills through vineyards and sprawling groves of olive trees all the way up to the highest panoramic summits. There are even some demanding peaks, over 2000 metres in height, to climb. Breathtaking canyons can be traversed and isolated, dripstone caves are waiting to be explored. Everywhere you look, you’ll find little villages, secluded monasteries and remote caves. Coastal trails lead to tranquil coves for bathing; is there anything better than, after a walk, taking a dip in some refreshing waters? Even the classic Cretan walks, like the Samaria Gorge and Dead’s Gorge with its Minoan palace grounds, are included in this guide.


Rolf Goetz, a seasoned writer of walking guides for the Bergverlag Rother, presents 70 walks on the island of Crete, all rich in diversity. Each individual walk includes a short preface with all the important key points, an exact description of the route, a pertinent height profile and a little walking map with the route marked in. Apart from these, there are many tips pertaining to the availability of refreshment, possible alternative routes as well as sites worth a visit. GPS tracks are available for downloading. Numerous delightful photos whet the appetite for making the island your first choice for your next holiday sojourn. An essential guide for Crete fans!

 

English edition of these detailed Naxos maps. With all roads and important points of the popular Cyclades island. Ratio 1 : 40.000


 

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