Chania, a Haven of Tales in Crete

Straddling three continents, Europe, Asia, and Africa, Chania has served as a crossroad for Empires of the Minoans, the Romans, the Arabs, the Venetians, the Ottomans – each of them leaving a deep footprint on the mosaic of the city. A melting pot of architectural styles, cultures, and religions, it is no wonder that this modern city reflecting all of these influences, attracts travellers from every corner of the world who wish to experience a diverse heritage of colors, scents, and flavors.  

Chania is a different destination at every turn: a sunny afternoon with friends lounging in a cosy café; cycling or walking along tree-lined streets; strolling by the seafront; breathing fresh air in broad green parks; visiting museums filled with art and artefacts; browsing quaint shops in historic quarters; taking in the beauty of the city skyline… away from the daily grind of routine life, people enjoy themselves and focus on what they really want, and the mind’s images of such leads to the discovery of a city, Chania.  

Here are some key features that give Chania a distinctively sense of place:

Explore

The Old City of Chania has been a center of culture, religion, and history for hundreds of years. Every brick and stone is teeming with history. No trip to Chania, or Crete, is complete without wandering through the maze-like alleys of the Jewish and the Greek Orthodox (Topanas) quarter at the western side of the Venetian Harbour or the Turkish quarter located at the eastern part. The visitor can walk past conservated and restored buildings like the Firkas Fortress, the Synagogue Etz Hanyyim, or the old turkish Hammam showing among the spectacular two and three-story venetian houses. Stroll around the Splantzia square with the impressive church of Saint Nicolas, the adjacent towering minaret at the south side of the temple, and the underwater font before reaching the Sabbionara, the Gate of Sand, leadind to the beautiful sandy beach of Koum Kapi.

However, the most iconic and featured picture of Chania is the 16th century Egyptian Lighthouse facing, to the north, the Cretan Sea and, to the south, the mosque of Yali Tzamii and Venetian Shipyards in the Old Harbour.

Currently under restoration the Municipal Market of Chania opened in 1913 with over 70 shops and stalls ranging butchers, fishmongers, and traditional tavernas. It is the perfect place to come and browse gaining a glimpse of daily life and the plethora of traditional cretan products.    

 

Escape

Beyond the urban chatter of Chania, hillside villages, pink sands, and stands of silver olive trees give way suddenly to ravines and soaring peaks. Corkscrew roads twisting through the White Mountains will lead you to the beautiful south side of the Chania Prefecture in less than two hours. The effort of the wander brings rich rewards: hospitable locals, incredible food, powerful landscapes, magnificent beaches. Sfakia, Loutro, and Fragokastello with its imposing Venetian castle and the myths of Drosoulites surrounding it, are perhaps the most representative villages of the area. Here you will also have the chance some of the most authentic natives whose mentality goes hand-in-hand with the wilderness of landscape: genuine, immense, intense, exhilarating.

 

Regroup

No matter how you decide to spend your day, make sure you are back in the harbourfront by sunset when the pastel-painted townhouses turn pink, candles in waterfront cafés are litten, the harbour lights twinkle on and the Venetian breakwater and lighthouse are sihlouetted against the orange sky. It is about this time of the day that you start to feel complacent about the idea that you may have booked just a weekend visit to Chania but you could end up staying for life.

A walk to the sandy beach of Nea Chora adds a whole extra level of charm to your experience of Chana. The walk is a photographer’s joy and will delight at any time of the day, however,  the panoramic of the twin  Lazareta islets and the seafront is arguably at its best as the sun sets.

 

Relax

Rejuvenating your mind and body and reconnecting with yourself is perhaps everybody’s top priority during vacation and Chania is definitely the place to find peace and quiet. Let your senses come alive walking barefoot on the white-pink sand of the magical beaches around Chania or go for a coastal wandering in the secluded coves of the south. The salty sea air and the endless view of the Libyan Sea along with the energizing warmth of the Mediterrenean sun will help you sink into the moment.

Besides the seafront, though, you may savor the comforting ritual of coffee or tea either at an enchanting café at the Old Venetian Harbour or while enjoying the panoramic view of the city from the Venizelos Tombs in the  Chalepa quarter.

And if you ant to spoil yourself, various spa and fitness centers are located all over the city promising a soothing experience for mind, body, and soul using in many cases essential oils and plant extracts of Creta nature.

 

Indulge

What people usually call “Mediterranean diet” actually constitutes the Cretan nutrition. Cretan cuisine mainly comprises olive oil, fresh fish, herbs, vegetables and fruits from the indigenous flora, along with dairy products. Here every flavourable bite becomes the essense of a culinary history that dates back to the Minoan era, capturing what the Epcureans of ancient Greece defined as the “the pleasure of living”. Slow-roasted lamb, freshly churned goat cheese, puffry little doughnuts drenched in thyme honey, dakos, boureki, apaki, siglino, staka, ofto, chochlii are only a few of the recipes you should not miss. The Cretan cuisine’s main characteristic is the respect for seasonality and for this reason it is associated with all the major events and celebrations both of religious and private life like Christmas, Easter, namedays, birthdays, funerals and others.

A nice meal is always paired with good wine and the vines has been systematically cultivated in Crete for the last 4,000 years! The local variety of grapes gives the “romeiko” type of wine, a semi-dry wine of filled body, fermented in oak barrels, and of low accidity. The distillation of “romeiko” grapes’ pomace produces the world known “Raki” or “Tsikoudia”, a strong in alcohol, aromatic and flavourful spitit, synonymous to to the Cretan philosophy of open-hearted hospitality since a shot of tsikoudia is offered as a ‘welcome’ and ‘thank you’ gesture   which you definitely cannot resist or refuse.

 

Party

Chania’s reputation as a prime Cretan party hub may not beat Malia’s in Heraklion, but boasts outstanding nightlife hotspots offering anything from stylish entertainment to electro vibe, often hosting many prestigious events.

In the summer season, with visitors flooding in, traditional feasts (‘panigiria’) take place litteraly everywhere. These translate to traditional music, ecstatic dancing, vast amounts of food and alcohol until early in the morning. The ones organized in August are most of the times associated with religious celebration of Virgin Mary’s Dormition, many however are connected to the celebration of a local product such as honey, olive oil, or graviera cheese.  Panigiria are perfect opportunity for visitors to meet and socialize with locals in a laid-back mood under the warm summer night.  

Notably, the Municipality of Chania also participates in the organization of local festivals and events in the summer season with many of them gaining international recognition like the Chania Film Festival, the Dance Days Chania, the Rock Under the Clock or the Chaniartoon Festival.      

Adventure

If this party atmosphere seems like way to much fun, you can always spoil it by getting up at 5am and attempting to walk the Samaria Gorge. In its wilderness you will feel the visceral pulse of nature – rasping cicadas, circling eagles, chanting bees, before you reach the exit at Agia Roumeli and let yourself float and refresh in the electric blue waters of the Libyan Sea.

If the 11 miles of the Samaria Gorge is too long for you, you may try the 5-mile Imbros Gorge, from the village of Imbros to Komitades, or at least try to hike a part of the European E4 trail that connects all of the Cretan prefectures crossing the White Mountains, gorges and reaching remote beaches, monasteries, and pictureque beaches and villages.

More demanding in Chania are mountaineering and caving activities for which you will need the guidance of a professional. The cabins and shelters on White Mountains, on altitudes of more than two kilometers, pose a challenge for the daring hikers awaiting them in Kallergis, in Svourichti, in Volikas, and Tavri to offer their generous hospitality and reward them with a panoramic 360-degree view of the prefecture    

 

Have Fun

There are some sights for sore eyes in Chania and some of them are accessible only by boat. The island of Thodorou inhabited by the indigineous wild goats Kri-Kri or  the norhtwestern island of Gramvousa with a Venetian castle dating back to 1569 and the famous shopwreck on the beach below, or the Balos Lagoon are all included in the European Natura 2000 program due to their indigenous ecosystems. Small or not so small boats leave from the Old Venetian Port and Kissamos Port embarking on daily cruises, but you may as well charter a motoryacht from Kolimbari and enjoy a swim in turquoise waters, snorkeling, paddleboarding and scuba diving in various stops tailored to your own preferences and desires or just enjoy a sunset tour at the open sea north of the Rodopou peninsula.

Diving in the Elephant Cave is also highly recommended. This is a site accessible only by boat with a recently discovered cavern with stunning stalachtites and stalagmites that hosts the well preserved remainings of ancient Cretan elephants from more than 50,000 years ago – truly worth visiting!

Besides chartering an elegant yacht for a private daily cruise in the most secluded coves of the Chania coastline, you can also have fun onboard cherishing a special moment, like a birthday party, a wedding proposal, a milestone anniversary or a bachelor/-ette party and let the glamour meet the special moments of your private life against iconic and instagram-worthy backdrops.

 

Take time to discover Chania, experience the local culture and become inspired by the magical surroundings. A journey to Chania means true happiness. And paraphrasing the words of Zorbas, the hero in Kazantzakis book: “True happiness is to have the stars above, the land to your left and the sea to your right and to realize of a sudden, life has accomplished its final miracle: it has become a fairy tale.” So let yourself dive into Chania, a haven of haven of tales in Crete.

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