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Crete, Greece's largest island, has something for everyone. Hikers can choose from exposed mountain tops still snowcapped in June; deep gorges terminating on isolated beaches; and everything in between. Urban adventurers can explore bustling port cities and sleepy fishing villages only accessible by foot or boat.
From North to South and East to West, Crete has more secret coves, sea caves and spectacular shores than you can visit in a single trip. If you're staying in the Chania region, don't miss three breathtaking beaches on Crete's west coast.
Beach type: Golden sand
Accessible by: Car
Activities: Windsurfing, surfing, wave riding, beach sports, swimming, sunsets
Amenities: Chairs, umbrellas, restaurants, convenience store, water rentals, free parking
Falassarna actually consists of several beaches. The two largest are separated by sand dunes and feature golden sand and crystal clear water. Two smaller beaches stretch further south: a sandy beach with rocks on the bottom and a pebble beach. Sunsets are spectacular at the rocky beach.
Falassarna is extremely accessible, attracting droves of tourists throughout the high season. Despite its popularity, the main beaches don't feel crowded. They're so long and deep that you can spread out and claim your own sandy spot, especially if you venture beyond the beach chairs and umbrellas.
Exposed to westerly winds, Falassarna is known for waves, making it popular with windsurfers and beginner surfers. The water is shallow pretty far out, so it's perfect for older kids to play in the waves. Lifeguards monitor the main beaches, but parents should keep a watchful eye on children when the yellow flag is flying. The flat, sandy beach is perfect for beach soccer, paddle ball, and volleyball.
In early June, the crowds haven't yet arrived. Come back in the evening, and you'll likely have the beach to yourself for sunset. Even on the rare cloudy evening, the sky and sea light up with color.
We stayed in a traditional stone house in the small village of Platanos above Falassarna. It's a short, 5-minute drive to the beaches, and Zaharia Traditional Greek Kitchen is a must-visit if you're in the area. Take the owner's suggestions to heart - you won't be disappointed with any of the delicious dishes he recommends.
From the city of Chania, plan for an hour of easy driving.
Beach Type: White & pink sand
Accessible by:Car, boat, foot (E4 trail)
Activities: Windsurfing, SUP, kayaking, hiking, swimming, sunbathing
Amenities:Chairs, umbrellas, drinks & snacks, water closet (fee), water rentals, free parking
From Croatia's pebbles to Mallorca's secluded beaches, we've been fortunate enough to visit gorgeous, award-winning beaches around the globe. Yet, from the moment Elafonisi came into view, we knew we were experiencing one of the world's most spectacular stretches of sand and sea. The sand is primarily white, but if you're lucky enough to visit when the conditions are right, you'll see pink sand, too.
Elafonisi is a small island about 200 meters from the shore, connected by a shallow lagoon. The warm, crystal clear water is perfect for families with young children. Despite the beach's growing popularity (and access via tour bus and ferry boat), you'll feel like you've been transported to an exotic paradise.
The island is protected natural habitat, home to rare flowers and protected loggerhead sea turtles. The pink sand is the result of broken seashells and coral, and it's protected, too. Escape the crowds on the main beach by hiking along the island's mile-long shore to find a secluded spot all your own. Stay on the marked paths to protect wildlife and fragile ecosystems; practice leave no trace; and don't be surprised to encounter sunbathers au naturale.
Leave early to beat the tour buses and boats. From Platanos, it took us an hour and a half to navigate the windy roads and hairpin turns on the coastal route. We returned via the more popular route from Kissamos which still crosses the mountains and treats passengers to jaw-dropping views of deep gorges. Plan at least an hour from Kissamos and 90 minutes from Chania.
Beach Type:White sand
Accessible by: Car, boat, foot
Activities: Swimming, sunbathing, hiking, snorkeling
Amenities:Chairs, umbrellas, drinks & snacks, water closet
After our unbelievable day trip to Elafonisi, Western Crete still had surprises in store. Only accessible by boat, foot or a rough, 8-km dirt road, Balos Beach is a wild landscape unlike any other.
Another island connected by a lagoon, Balos and the adjacent peninsula are protected habitat. The dusty, bumpy drive is worth the effort, and the 1 euro per adult fee (children are free) is a steal. From the parking lot, walk 2 km (1.2 miles) down a steep path and rock stairs.
There's plenty of room to spread out and enjoy Balos. Children love playing on the beach and splashing in the warm lagoon; dusty hikers may prefer a refreshing dip in the cooler sea. Adventurous explorers can visit a small chapel and hike to the top of the island for stunning 360-degree views.
Arrive early to beat the ferry boats. Plan at least 25-30 minutes to navigate the dirt road, plus another 20-25 minutes to hike to the beach.
Beyond the basics - bathing suits, sunscreen, and towels - be prepared for Crete's rugged, exposed landscape with these essentials:
Nicole's idea of a perfect vacation involves hiking, trail running and SUP with her husband and two daughters. She writes about travel, raising KÜHL kids and her obsession with outdoor apparel for KÜHL.
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