Help me plan a fun, active driving itinerary in Crete in late April
October 6, 2018 10:43 PM   Subscribe

I'm flying into Chania on the morning of Orthodox Holy Thursday (Thursday April 25) and out on the afternoon of Orthodox Easter (Sunday April 28). I'd love to zip along some mountain roads, stay in some atmospheric settings, and enjoy a bit of the Greek Eastertime vibe. Where should I base myself, and where should I go?

Some details:

- I've been to Elafonisi beach, Chania and Heraklion before, so I'm primarily interested in other places. Rethymno? The south coast? Going east to Paleokastro and Xerokambos? Just...circumnavigating the island? Or does it make more sense to base myself in one place and then do daytrips?

- I don't own a car and essentially only get to drive on vacation, so I'm actually quite excited about spending hours and hours behind the wheel. I'm 100% fine with the driving being the vacation.

- What are some amazing roads I should drive? I've seen, for example, the drive up to the Skinakas Observatory and to Kallikratis, but looking at Google Maps it seems like the entire island is full of tiny switchback roads with amazing views?

Thanks in advance!
posted by mdonley to Travel & Transportation around Greece (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don’t think you can circumnavigate Crete by road, it’s more like a spine along the north with branches down to the southern coast. I’d suggest the longish drive east and down south over the Lasithi plain, but you mention mountain roads, so maybe head down towards Chora Sfakion instead (or both if you’ve got time?).

Rethymno, really nice last time I looked, but from Chania it’s not much of an expedition.
posted by Segundus at 3:11 AM on October 7, 2018

We were in a minibus from Chania to the Samaria Gorge and I was sad I wasn’t driving myself. Amazing views and little villages with roadside tavernas, old churches, old ladies sitting outside of their houses under olive trees doing things with big bowls of vegetables while kids (both human and goat) ran around all over. If we had more time and my travel companions were into it I would have spent at least a couple more days driving around all over.

I’d just find some nice tavernas and mountain villages and plot a course, you really can’t go wrong, it’s all beautiful. The roads are decent but sometimes the lines are faded or missing, and there are lots of big busses and coaches that whip around the switchbacks like you wouldn’t believe. Remember that all the little shrines on the roadside commemorate a road fatality- it’s pretty sobering. I would try to drive south-ish in the morning and north-ish in he evening and afternoon as that will be the direction that most of the coaches are going, and I would rather be behind one as opposed to meeting one coming around a blind curve.

If you want any other tips or recommendations from a very recent traveller please feel free to memail me.
posted by cilantro at 5:22 AM on October 7, 2018

If you like mountain roads and are looking for a jaunt in the Rethymno area, you might like to drive to Argyroupoli, otherwise known as Ancient Lappa. It’s a beautiful village, off the beaten path, and has some interesting Roman ruins and mosaics to see. It’s known for its waterfalls, and thus also its tavernas serving mountain trout and sturgeon (!).

I’ve heard they do epitafios, the Greek Good Friday tradition of religious candlelit processions with lots of flowers. It’s usually okay for you to participate in these if you have a candle and are sufficiently respectful.

Chora Sfakion is also very pretty.

You sound well-travelled in Greece, but if you’ve never experienced orthodox Easter, be aware that it is the big family holiday of the year (much more so than Christmas), so things may be closed/disrupted/slower/cancelled more often than they would at other times. You’ll be fine at the airport, but I would avoid relying on any public transport. Make a plan for how you will drop off the rental car and key as the office will certainly be closed.
posted by Concordia at 6:46 AM on October 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

A final update:

- Overall the roads seemed pretty quiet for Easter! The smallest stick-shift car I could rent was perfectly fine. Everything I needed to be open, like petrol stations and basic shops, was open, even in smaller villages.

- The E75 road along the northern part of the island is not really a freeway/expressway and required pretty defensive driving, which I didn't expect.

- The road to Balos is eight kilometers of dirt - I knew this, but the terrain was quite undulating and I saw a few cars turn around and head back. Yet all the other drivers are also in tiny rented Hyundais like you! The parking-fee guy at the base of the road said I'd be fine, and then said that because it's all tourist traffic, it's sort of thrillingly enjoyable, and he was right.

- The road from Asi Gonias to Kallikratis is, perhaps as a result of it still being spring, somewhat missing in parts, with not much marking of the fact that bits of the road have eroded away - perhaps a large stone or a single cone. The drive south from Rethymno to Frangokastello took me nearly three (scenic but nerve-wracking) hours (with photo stops)!

- Had a great lunch at Agreco Farms near Adele and a fantastic dinner at Asikiko in Rethymno.

- Plakias was just open enough to be enjoyable, though the drive from Frangokastello was rather challenging. I somehow hadn't expected to have to drive right through villages at 15 kph, which shows that I don't know rural Crete as well as I thought. :)

- Restaurants in Chania, especially in the touristy harbour area, were basically fully open on Easter itself except for late on Holy Saturday (say, after 10 pm) and early on Easter morning (before about 9 am). I had no trouble finding places to eat outside that very limited time.

- Watching the procession of local folks passing candlelight from person to person for Easter midnight mass outside the Agios Nikolaos church in Plateia 1821/Splantzia in Chania was beautiful!

Easter in Crete: highly recommended.
posted by mdonley at 10:14 PM on May 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

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