Family travels to Western Crete
It’s no secret that we’re big fans of Greece when it comes to a family holiday at TMK. I’m always searching for the Greece I fell in love with 30 years ago on backpacking adventures and I found it on Western Crete.
Crete seems to be a holiday island of two halves. The eastern end is a haven for the club 18 – 30 party animals but Western Crete is a (thankfully) very different place. Small villages and sophisticated marina towns with ancient Venetian architecture and golden and pink sandy beaches, walking, shopping, eating out and enjoying family time during long soft velvety Greek evenings are the order of the day.
We based ourselves in the tiny village of Samonas, in the hills above Chania. Being in the hills meant cool evenings, no mosquitos and no needing to sleep with the clattery noise of air conditioning! It felt just like the “real” greece, very little traffic, the noise of bells around the necks of the sheep as they amble round the village. Friendly neighbours who came to chat, bring us some fresh eggs and bread and invited us to their house for the village party on Fiesta day! There was also a litter of kittens that came with our villa!
Home from home
We totally fell on our feet with our holiday accommodation. We found an exquisite villa with a private pool in a tiny village. Beautifully renovated by an architect it is a triumph of understated luxury. We arrived late at night. Flying from Scotland meant we flew to Heraklion at the other end of the island and arrived at 10 30 pm. The amazingly kind car hire people not only practiced their English with us, stayed cheerfully late at the airport for our flight, then insisted we follow them going 40 kms out of their way AND waiting while we stopped at a supermarket for basic supplies! Arriving in the dark and guided by the pool lights we felt somewhere in a cross between paradise and the set of Mamma Mia. But however gorgeous the house nothing could compete with the resident Mama cat and her litter of kittens. Our 8 year old Kate fell deeply with kitten Bowie (already named by previous holiday makers – every entry in the guest book featured the kittens!) and it was hard to drag her away from house, pool and kittens at times!
Exploring Western Crete with kids
Having a car is an essential in Western Crete. The roads are great (certainly compared to our single track roads on Skye!) and once you are off the main coastal highway the driving is pretty relaxed. We used our car every day either for excursions or simply to drive down to the coast to eat lunch and dinner at the beach or in the old town at Chania. Chania is a delight. a Venetian old town and port with endless little streets to explore, shops to spend holiday pennies and cafes and restaurants serving “proper” Greek food. The street hawkers are entertaining and never too pushy. And our country kids loved chasing Pokemon Go all over town too! A place for wandering and exploring – there are no wrong turns only new discoveries. The kids loved it and the traffic free centre made it relaxing and peaceful for us all. We also found a fabulous make your own frozen yogurt/ice cream shop – hours of fun!
We day tripped to Frangocastello. A Venetian Fortress on the south coast of the island. We drove up through the White Mountains and truly spectacular gorges and passes and tiny villages high in the hills and spent the afternoon exploring the fortress and the nearby beach (and ice cream). As our children get older and we allow (a little) more freedom it was great to watch them clamber around the 14th century fortress from our viewpoint high in the tower as they imagined ancient battles.
Melissa, on hearing that we were off to Crete, insisted that we go visit Elafonisi – a pink beach on the very west coast – and it is truly astounding.
On other days we stayed closer to home at the nearby beach of Kalives – where the azure water of the sea and the pristine beach with bamboo beach umbrellas – were the very stuff of holiday brochures. The beach boardwalk is lined with little cafes serving great seafood and traditional Greek hospitality saw us progress from a gift of watermelon at the end of our first lunch to a full bottle of ouzo at the end of our third lunch in one taverna! This little town is not only a holiday makers spot but a lively town with traditional cafes and kafenion where the old men sit flicking worry beads and drinking the strongest coffee. Priests go about their daily shopping and old ladies dressed in black pass time on the verandas of their homes. Family is strong and businesses involve the whole family.
We also explored Rethymon, a Venetian town further along the coast towards Heraklion. It’s tiny streets with Venetian wooden fronted houses were utterly charming. Kate loved lingering over little purchases and chatting with the girls in the shops while they made her 5 euro purchase feel just as special as any other. Tom’s shopping indulgences ran to replica football kits! We all loved walking round the harbour and stopping for drinks and canapies in one of the very chic chic harbourside bars.
Every good holiday villa has a great guest book. Ours had one that people had taken time to fill with recommendations and we followed many of them. There was one I dismissed and wished I hadn’t! A highlight of our trip was to be a visit to Knossos, the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete and considered Europe’s oldest city. As a history and Greek geek I had long wanted to visit. Time and again the visitor’s book told us to see Knossos but not to expect too much and to head instead for Phaestos. We saved Knossos for our last day and it was hot, overcrowded and disappointingly replica. If only I had listened! We did enjoy a trip the the excellent aquarium that afternoon and the cool of the displays were a welcome escape from the heat of the plains.
None of us can wait to go back and we have all (almost) recovered from the pain of saying good bye to the litter of kittens who so engaged us all week.
Photography: Rosie Woodhouse at Love Skye Photography
Flights Scotland to Heraklion – excellent service with Jet2
Accommodation: Villa Vigla by Freelance Holidays
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