We'll imagine that you're disembarking at Souda, one of the best natural harbours in the Mediterranean it has always been of strategic importance, as the Venetian fortresses at its entrance indicate. From Souda, you could go either east towards Rethymnon or west towards Chania, just a short distance away. We'll take the latter route and try getting to know Western Crete. We leave Akrotiri on our right, which you should visit when you get the chance. It's so close to Chania and yet it has traditional villages, noteworthy monasteries and the grave of Venizelos.
A lovely town, Chania is full of bustle and vitality. While the modern side is lively and entertaining, what is really captivating about it is the vestiges of its fascinating past: the waterfront and the old neibourhoods behind it, winding alleyways and an Italianate façade. Venice has left her mark here, once again - in the buildings, bastions, and the church of San Francesco, now the archaeological museum. Added to this picture are the many reminders of the Turkish occupation and the picturesque covered market.
The west coast of the open Bay of Chania is lined with a succession of pleasant beaches: at Daratso, Agia Marina with the islet of Agii Theodori opposite, Maleme - a famous name since the Battle of Crete in 1941 - and on down the coast all the way to Kolymbari, where the Orthodox Academy of Crete and the important monastery of the Virgin Hodegitria are located.
As we proceed, the bay of Kissamos opens up before us. Nearing the Northwest tip of Crete we stop first at Drapania lured by the beauty of this beaches and then move on to the port of Kastelli. The ruined Venetian fortress as well as the other Greek and Roman antiquities in the region testify to its prosperity in ancient times. Worth visiting are the remnants of the ancient town and harbour at Falasarna on the west coast, the islet of Gramvousa, just off the western tip, fortified by the Venetians, and ancient Polyrhenia, to the south.
Other roads take us still further south: along the west coast, for example, to in the enchanting landscape around the monastery of the Virgin of Chryssoskaliotissa upon a rock overlooking the sea; to Palaiohora, where we have our first taste of the by now celebrated shores of southern Crete lapped by the Libyan Sea.
Palaiohora is much frequented by tourists, partly because of its magnificent beach, Pacheia Ammos, which in fact is one among many. If you take a little boat, you can explore the other magical spots along the coast, such as Souyia, Agia Roumeli, Hora Sfakion and beyond to Frankokastello, the great 14th century Venetian fortress. You can also reach Hora Sfakion by road from the north. As for Agia Roumeli, the only other way to reach it is... on floot, by hiking down the renowned Samaria Gorge, one of the longest and most stunning in Europe. The entrance to the gorge lies up in the White Mountains on the Omalos Plateau at Xyloskalo.
A national forest and recipient of an award by the Council of Europe, the Samaria Gorge offers an unforgettable experience, enthralling all the senses with its extraordinary natural beauty. Out in the open sea opposite Agia Roumeli lie the remote islets of Gavdos and Gavdopoula, the southernmost point in Europe. You can take a boat out to Gavdos, which some scholars identify with Calypso'' island. But we return to the north coast to our next destination, Rethymnon.
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