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Crete can be reached by plane, but doing it by ferry is more epic. It is not that you, rudder in hand, go to captain the boat and sail the seas, but so you can see when you arrive, through the porthole of your cabin, how Chania is colored with the first rays of the sun . Companies like Anek Lines or Blue Star Ferries make the journey from Athens (you have all the information on the Discover Greece website ).
Crete is pretty, a lot. It has the appeal of different beauties, which gives it the rare avis of the Greek islands.
At dawn, Chania gradually becomes colored © Alamy
Used to the prints of other more 'manageable' for their size and flirtatious in their architecture of white houses and blue roofs, Crete is presented as an island lady, large, forceful, serene in its rhythms of life and generous in its charms, too Tanned by centuries of Minoans, pirate, Venetian, Turkish and even German invasions, to bother to make frills to impress you. He does not need them.
Therefore, as soon as you dock the ship and with the impetus of those who have not been on land for seven hours, you will dive into its incredible landscapes, making the E75 road the driving thread of a journey through the north of the island, from Balos to Heraklion With a brief flirt with the south, that's why we said we bathed in the Libyan Sea.
FIRST STOP: BALLS
It may be counterproductive to start your foray into the island with a visit to the Balos lagoon because it will be virtually impossible for you to exceed the beauty levels your sight reaches here.
Do not listen to the bad languages of some locals, lovers of hammock, umbrella and easy reward tourism, which will insist that you visit Elafonisi or Falassarna . It is not that these are not worth it, it is simply that the beach show that you have to visit is called Balos.
It is reached after driving for about 20 minutes on a dirt track that leaves the main road in the west of the island. At some points along the way we could define it as a goat path, rather than by the road itself, by the goats. Traveler, be strong and avoid stopping to photograph each and every one of them.
Imagine bathing here © Getty Images
Remember that the reward is at the end, with the car parked and after traveling a half-hour walk. Do not curse that scorching sun: he is responsible for the blue and green tones of the water dancing intensely with the white of the sand.
The perfect postcard made beach. In front of you, a lagoon of temperate waters in which to bathe or the sea with a conato of bravery that stays in that, a few playful waves. Guardians of all this, two islets: Gramvousa and Balos with its huge cliffs. The first is reached on foot, crossing a tongue of sand. On the second, you will be satisfied with looking at it from a distance or, if you dare, you can hire one of the tourist excursions that will take you to it.
SECOND STOP: LA CANEA
In Chania, Casa Delfino (Theofanous, 9), a boutique hotel in the historic center of the city with two powerful attractions: a terrace from which to contemplate, at your feet, how the Venetian neighborhood awakens to life; and a letter of massages in which different techniques are mixed so that your back stops being that field of knots fruit of hours in front of the computer.
Treat yourself to these two pleasures before launching for a third party, to verify that in Crete they take it seriously for breakfast.
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In Theatro Chocolaterie (Plateia Chortatson, 5), for example, you will be entertained with frappé coffee, almost a religion in Greece ; Toasts with butter and marmalade; Chicken omelette with cherry tomato, ham, cheese and mushrooms; and lemonade with ginger. You were notified.
After this, walk, walk and walk. Chania is discovered without haste, without the need for more guidance than your instinct. Get lost in its old town, with its colorful houses and craft shops in the ground floor. The small boats anchored in its Venetian port and its fishermen preparing hooks to take food home will make you turn your steps there.
With the adventurous spirit dispossessed of his lethargy as an office worker, you'll want to know what the open sea looks like beyond the lighthouse. We already tell you: it looks provocatively beautiful, with a play of lights that makes it flirt at times with the blue and at times with the green to give way to the transparencies. What we are not going to tell you is what the city and the port look like from outside. Nor, how do turtles splash casually in the water.
We are not going to tell you what Chania looks like from its lighthouse © Getty Images
Chania is also enjoyed at its tables. Lunchtime is a good time to drop by the Koutoutouki Tavern. Located in one of the less traveled bocacalles of the Venetian neighborhood (Episkopou Chrisanthou, 56), the tables are arranged under a roof of grape leaves in an alley where from time to time a clueless one slips in and cannot avoid looking hungry dishes. Greek specialties await us on the plate, such as empanadas stuffed with Mizithra cheese. The soundtrack is put by a couple of boys who dare with Greek folklore while a friend of theirs paints them from a chair.
Dinners, on the other hand, are a thing of Daliani Street, where the life of their establishments starts at about 6:00 p.m. Among so much offer, Oinopoieio (number 46) with its commitment to local products draws attention. Attention to your selection of island cheeses and octopus with Cretan peppers. Leave space for your desserts, those that water with raki, the native liquor courtesy of the house that ends any feast worth its salt.
THIRD STOP: RETHYMNO AND MONI ARKADIOU
In the 65 kilometers that separate Chania from Rethymno, you discover that driving in Crete means unlearning some of the laws you recorded on fire when you took your driving license. And, the shoulder, oh surprise, becomes an additional lane; overtaking, although predominantly on the left, can also come on the right; And the dogs, oh my friend, the dogs will give you great moments when you see them with their mane in the wind sticking their heads over the windshield of a convertible or with their front legs resting on the handlebars of the motorcycle that its owner drives.
Rethymno could very well be a carbon copy of Chania, if it weren't because its Venetian port is smaller and the streets of its old town are wider.
Rethymno is satisfied that beauty is inside © Getty Images
With Rethymno it is fulfilled that beauty is inside, in this case, hidden between tourist restaurants and souvenir shops. Therefore, its port must be looked at a lot, and moving away by the breakwater that leads to the lighthouse, to get to see it as well as it deserves.
Its historic neighborhood walks with its eyes on the sky so as not to miss the mix of styles present in its colorful houses and stately bearing, with Venetian columns at the door and wooden terraces, inheritance of the Turkish presence, on the upper floors .
Here, all roads lead to the Rimondi Fountain, around which life is full of bars, restaurants, small shops and ice cream shops with attractive flavors. And, if what you wanted was to get away precisely from that coming and going, head towards the fortress, in the northwest corner of the old city, to contemplate city, port and beaches from above. From there, you will see several restaurants next to the water in which to stop and fond before entering the history of the island. Because that's what you'll do when you head to Moni Arkadiou.
Moni Arkadiou, living history of Crete © Getty Images
Located about 20 kilometers south of Rethymno, this monastery is well worth driving on winding roads between gorges and olive fields. And is that what a priori might seem a stop over the road, ends up astonishing. It is for the Renaissance architecture of the main building of the enclosure, but, above all, for what it represents. Moni Arkadiou is the symbol of Crete's resistance to invaders. There, in 1866, some 300 Cretans, mainly women and children who had survived the Turkish siege, preferred to immolate themselves using the powder magazine that was still in their hands to surrender and be captured by the enemy.
FOURTH STOP: THE PARADISE IS IN AGIA PELAGIA
It is not that this coastal town located between Rethymno and Heraklion has a charm of those that cause crush. There is, there is; but you have to find it in the details that make mass tourism somewhat diluted.
That is built on hills that will give the sea as a Greek theater is one of them. That your promenade is dotted with restaurants and taverns in lis that have dinner watching how the sun sets over the sea is another. That you can spend the night at the Lifestyle Collection Hotel is what makes the difference and will make Agia Pelagia your base of operations for the rest of the trip.
The difficult thing is not to arrive, it is to get out of here © Lifestyle Collection Hotel
Sunrise at this Preferred Hotels & Resorts member hotel is to face first-world dramas such as deciding whether to contemplate the sunrise from the terrace overlooking the sea of one of its Exclusive Suites or to do so without leaving your fluffy and huge bed. It is not knowing what to have breakfast when you enter your buffet and discover that you can choose between cooked eggs of a thousand and one different forms, a wide variety of island cheeses or pastries and the bread that a woman works and bakes patiently in front of you . And fruit, lots of delicious fruit.
In the Lifestyle Collection Hotel, one invests time in losing oneself on the roads of the private peninsula of Agia Pelagia where it is located to contemplate the horizon that is emerald here. He also dedicates hours to his spa and to that capsule treatment that, by water and massage, reactivates your body to return it to life away from stress.
The hours of swimming pool or private beach give way to a good meal in one of its restaurants. Opt for the Greek specialties, which play at home.
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FIFTH STOP: HERAKLION
With a stop on the way to visit Knossos, considered the archaeological site that best reflects the splendor of the Minoan civilization. And yes, you will find some fascinating traces and stories, but also, let's not fool ourselves, much concrete as a result of the reconstruction undertaken by archaeologist Arthur Evans to whom many attribute an excess of fantasy.
5 kilometers north, we find Heraklion, the capital of the island and its great surprise. It is not that it is a beautiful, beautiful city, but it is not at all as ugly as the Cretans will tell you it is. In addition, you breathe local life.
Stroll through its historic center, flirt with the shops of a lifetime and let your legs guide you to its Archaeological Museum (Xanthoudidou 2) , the beautiful girl of Crete. Its restoration has taken fifteen years and touring it is a journey through the history of the island, the Minoan collection that occupies thirteen of the twenty-seven rooms being especially spectacular .
You will see vessels, jewels, tombs, you will try to decipher the inscription of the Disc of Festos and, do not deny it, you will skip somewhere to enjoy the collection of mosaics . Eye, that returns to enter scene Evans, although this time, we have to recognize it, that pieces like the Ladies of blue and the fresco of the Dolphins captivate the spectator.
Knossos, vestiges of an ancient civilization © Getty Images
SIXTH STOP: MATALA AND A BATHROOM IN THE SEA OF LIBIA
Heading south, to the hippy Matala, where the lifestyle that scared the inhabitants of the place in the 60s and 70s has now become their main tourist attraction, to the point that it is possible to visit the beach caves that the hippies used as a home.
This small town of low houses is reached, literally, when the road ends. Flower drawings cover streets and walls and thatched huts become owners and ladies of the beach, flirtatious as shown at the foot of the cliff.
It is recommended to arrive early to get one of the umbrellas (2 euros) and hammocks (another 2 small euros) that set the sand. In its crystalline waters, framed by two rocky ledges, you can say that you have bathed in the sea of Libya, under the watchful eye of a phrase that reminds us of the importance of living in the present because the future does not exist.
Matala and the importance of living the present because the future does not exist © Getty Images