I got to travel to Chania, Crete last summer with my in-laws on our way back from a family destination wedding in Cyprus. A short and inexpensive flight from Paphos, my husband and I originally planned to stop here on our way home after the wedding and invited my in-laws to join us. Luckily they accepted, because my husband ended up not being able to go due to switching jobs a couple of weeks before the wedding. Still, the three of us got to enjoy four relaxing days exploring this seaside town, and it was awesome to have this quality time with my parents in-law to settle more into my role as a new daughter after years of being the girlfriend/fiancé.
Chania is situated on the northwestern coast of Crete, and its old town, where we stayed, extends concentrically, narrow street by narrow street, out around its famed Venetian harbor. While we were there in July the city was bathed in sunshine every day and enjoyed gorgeous, moody sunsets each evening.
Our trip started with our taxi dropping us off just outside of old town, in which you need a permit to drive. Upon stepping foot on the first street I was completely charmed by the neighborhood. Citrusy and pastel colors are abundant, as are off leash dogs, thriving curbside potted plants, and locals sitting and chatting at round two-tops casually set up beside doorways. Though Chania attracts its share of tourists, the side streets in old town don’t all feel touristy. I could live here, I think, as I always do at some point on most trips.
Our hotel was a lovely blush colored villa tucked in one such quiet area. Only a couple minutes’ walk to the busy waterfront area, it truly was a hidden gem. Crossing through the gate was like walking into a mini secret garden. Worn tiles, big canvas umbrellas, plants and vines. The hotel even has two patios: a rooftop one and a mid-height, trellised one. My room was on the third level, so opening my shuttered windows allowed for a nice breeze and a view of the courtyard and down the street. I so wish my husband could have seen this place. Seldom have I been almost as excited about the lodging as getting out there to explore the part of the world that brought us to book the room.
The Venetian Harbor
We spent some portion of each day of our visit at the waterfront. I think it’s ingenious, the semicircular design that allows you to see all of the goings-on during the day. Benches facing the water are set up right at the edge of the harbor, which is sometimes just a couple of feet above the water’s surface. When the tide is choppy seawater crashes up over the side, over the benches, and onto the pavement, and people just go about their business hustling patrons into restaurants, fishing, drawing portraits. Imagine sitting on one of those benches, coffee in hand, sun on your face, and starting each day gazing out past the lighthouse and toward the sea.
As night falls and light spills out of doorways and twinkles under awnings and from table top candles, you can look across the way and it feels as if you’re observing a lively open air party from wherever you stand. It fills the evenings with a sense of possibility because joining any scene is just a matter of going around the bend. How wonderful and magical is that?
One layer out from the water and you immediately feel how condensed life once was there. The streets in old town are narrower than the yawning harbor would have you expect, but stretch out as you walk farther outward with some welcome squares dotted here and there.
There’s incredible interconnectedness in the way the structures are laid out. You can enter a cafe from the waterfront main entrance and leave out of the back door, slipping onto a tiny quiet street of shops. There are plenty of interesting artisan jewelry and ceramics shops all over, providing ample opportunities to discover something special to take home for yourself or as a gift.
Chania knows and takes pride in its strengths. It embraces color with zeal from its pottery to the facades to the bougainvillea, thriving, draping across and creeping over low walls. Stores and restaurants are tiny spaces, like jewel boxes that draw your attention to the details.
Windows are thrown wide open and gauzy curtains catch the occasional breeze that penetrates the streets which at the height of the day, can make you feel a bit like you’re standing in a hedge maze: surrounded by beauty but disoriented, overwhelmed, and hot. That’s when you head back to the water or seek the fresh air of elevation from a rooftop, balcony, or second story bar.
Seafood is the star as is usually the case with seafaring towns. We had standout grilled octopus at multiple places as well as lots of simple preparations of fish served with large wedges of lemon. Order with a carafe of local white wine.
Each meal ends with watermelon slices and a small bottle of raki for your table to finish, or not, at a leisurely pace. Amazing.
Our hotel also prepared lovely, fresh breakfast spreads. I loved the greek yogurt with local honey, muesli, and granola, and the fresh fruit. They made me an americano every morning. The two managers we met were both wonderful, offering plenty of suggestions, conversation, and one even sent an employee to walk us to the pharmacy when she saw the angry looking bee sting on my back that I'd gotten in Paphos. They packed us some to-go baskets on the morning of our boat excursion which left too early for us to be able to eat in the courtyard. I loved breakfast here, which is wild because hotel breakfasts typically equal only opportunity loss, missing the chance for another travel experience, another meal somewhere else.
But look at the picture below. This was such a happy thing.
Half Day Boat Trip
We arranged for a half day excursion to Gramvousa and Balos. Gramvousa is a rocky island where you can hike up the mountain and see a church at the top. We hiked most of the way up and then spent some time on the small beach near where our ship docked before heading over to Balos beach. Balos was pretty cool, it's a sandbar that stretches wide and clear between two mountains, and very warm, very shallow water is interrupted by rock formations where you can set up a blanket and lay out.
More pictures from our stay:
We learned that in the winter months, the establishments at the harbor can't always open for business due to rough waters causing flooding and otherwise inhospitable conditions. Our waiter at Pallas restaurant showed us a video from his phone of waves crashing up on land during what looked like a pretty turbulent storm. Research tells me that the best window of the year in which to plan your visit is April - Mid-October. Our visit in early July was smack in the middle of the window and we found plenty of sun and not too many crowds.
Antoniou Gampa 32, Chania 731 31, Greece
Akti Tompazi, Chania 731 00, Greece
Go to Pallas one night for sunset. It's a bit scene-y but nothing beats the view on their rooftop. Good food with a trendier spin, this is the place you want to go on the night you wear that going out outfit you packed.
6, Akti Enoseos Chania 6, Akti Enoseos, Chania 731 00, Greece
Our cab driver recommended this classic, no frills seafood joint at the end of the harbor. We had that amazing grilled octopus pictured above and some locally produced white wine under a canvas awning. The menu seemed to have been drawn up in crayon and pencil and it was thoroughly charming. A little dog came and lay beside my feet for most of the meal and sauntered off after a quick nap as we left. This was our first lunch and I really enjoyed it.
Diniakos Leather Handmade Sandals
Archoleon 13, Chania 731 32, Greece
I bought several pairs of sandals from this shop at prices ranging from 15 - 20 euros. Leather sandals are available in the old town aplenty but this shop, located on the outskirts, offered great pricing for shoes handmade by the shopkeeper's husband. A true mom and pop. Take a tip from my mother-in-law and try on both sandals in the pair. Because these babies are handmade, you want to make sure they both fit exactly right.