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Paleochora - good base for exploring west/southern Crete?

Victoria, Canada
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Paleochora - good base for exploring west/southern Crete?

We are a middle-aged couple from Canada, travelling to Crete this spring for 10 days from May 9-19, 2011. A lifelong dream really (and our honeymoon). The first 5 days we are staying in Chania. Then we thought we'd rent a car, and spend the next 5 days in Paleohora.

Would this location make a good base for exploring the western and southern parts of Crete? We would like to have a few picnics, take nature photos, go on some walks (not too strenuous, but we are fit and have good endurance), see some ruins or old buildings ... go off the beaten path, if safe to do so.

We would also like to get out on the water... take a boat trip during the day, rent a canoe/kayak (if not too windy?), maybe join a local fisherman for a morning, just to experience the sea.

We are not interested in laying on the beach -- unless we are resting from a night of good Greek food, conversation, and music! Our idea of a memorable holiday is to be inspired by day, and have a good night's sleep at night. We've timed our trip to see the full moon over the Libyan sea!

Any travel tips or suggestions are appreciated!

London, United...
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1. Re: Paleochora - good base for exploring west/southern Crete?

I think, given what you've said about your interests, that you would like Paleochora. It's the biggest of the five small villages on the south west coast, with a wider selection of places to stay and to eat than any of the others. It's a good base for exploring the whole of the Selino area, which abounds in little Byzantine churches, many with frescoes. It's a nice area for walking, and there are boat trips to Elafonisi. You could also take the ferry eastwards down the coast to visit Sougia and/or Agia Roumeli.

Sougia is much smaller, much quieter, and very nice. I've stayed there several times and like it better than Paleochora, but for a first trip the larger village may be a better choice. I love Agia Roumeli, which is spectacularly situated, but it's completely isolated (no road to it, only the ferry)and unless you want to walk all day or lie on the beach there is little to do there. (The beach, though, is marvellous, and the swimming is excellent, as it is everywhere along the Libyan Sea coast).

If you do stay in Paleochora you could go by ferry to Sougia and/or Agia Roumeli (a spectacular trip, with grand, wild coastal scenery) and from Agia Roumeli, if you wish, walk part way up the Samaria Gorge and back and return on the late afternoon ferry.

The one thing you might not like is the wind. Crete is a windy island, and Paleochora is one of the windiest places.

I have been travelling to Crete for the past 30 years, mostly to the southwest, which - I think - is the best part of the island! So my view is biased - but I think you'd like it. It's a wonderful place for a honeymoon, and May is a wonderful time to go. Enjoy it!

Edited: 21 January 2011, 23:35
Devizes, United...
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2. Re: Paleochora - good base for exploring west/southern Crete?

Hi there

You might want to consider heading a bit further east along the south coast. I say this as apart from the road to Sougia, the only way out of Paleohora is to it's north as you have the Lefka Ori mountains blocking any chance of a route east. There a couple of narrow, low grade roads that skirt across the mountains to meet the Vrisses-Hora Sfakion road but although the views would be stunning, the drive would be steep in places, winding and relatively slow going.

If you considered staying around Agia Galini, you would be within easy reach of Preveli Monastery, Frangokastello, Matala, and the ancient sites at Agia Triada, Gortys and Phaistos, which for my money, is the best Minoan site in Crete and in the best location, overlooking the Messara Plain.

Alabastron gives you some great suggestions - there is plenty to do using Paleohora as a base, but I'm merely offering an alternative.

Edited: 22 January 2011, 17:53
London, United...
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3. Re: Paleochora - good base for exploring west/southern Crete?

A very good alternative, and like you, I think Phaistos is the most interesting and evocative of all the archaeological sites in Crete. I have only been there once, but it was a memorable visit: it was in 1981, and it was possible to stay at the little tourist pavilion overnight. It was beyond basic, and pretty filthy, but we had Phaistos to ourselves in the evening - eating by ourselves on the terrace overlooking the Messara plane watching the lights of all the Messara villages come on - and in the morning. I've never forgotten it.

Devizes, United...
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4. Re: Paleochora - good base for exploring west/southern Crete?

I know the original poster here won't be approaching Phaistos from the north, but as you start the descent from Agia Varvara towards Agii Deka, the panoramic view of the Messara Plain is just wonderful. We must have pulled over 10 or 12 times on that descent to take the view in.

London, United...
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5. Re: Paleochora - good base for exploring west/southern Crete?

Yes, it is wonderful!

Victoria, Canada
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6. Re: Paleochora - good base for exploring west/southern Crete?

I've digested everything shared so far. I think you have both confirmed that our decision to stay in Paleochora is a good one, but you have also opened our eyes to other sites and vistas we now want to include!

After our time in Paleochora, we had planned to drive to Iraklio for one night, to be ready to take the ferry to Santorini for our last weekend, before flying home with all our memories. But what to see along the way?

So after reading your comments, I think when we depart Paleochora, we will turn south from Rethymno to make a winding curve through Phaistos and that beautiful Messara plane, before driving north to Iraklio. Looking at this route on Google Maps, it seems like it can be done in one day, if we leave Paleochora first thing in the morning. Is that correct?

Thank you for helping us shape a very nice itinerary, with many treats for the eyes and soul!

Sheffield, United...
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7. Re: Paleochora - good base for exploring west/southern Crete?

The route you describe could be driven in a day, but it would be a very long days drive. Remember the nature of crete's road network is one of winding roads, not always well engineered and with some serious inclines. It would be worth stopping off in Spilli, south of Rethymnon, if only for refreshments. It's a lovely mountain town with impressive fountains. Take your time and savour every moment of this magical, infuriating, enchanting and seductive island... one trip is never enough.

Devizes, United...
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8. Re: Paleochora - good base for exploring west/southern Crete?

Hi again

It isn't that long a drive - Rethymno to Phaistos/Matala/Gortys area takes a couple of hours, maybe 2.5 at a steady pace, and you can easily then "do" Phaistos area to Iraklion in 75 minutes as the road although winding in places, is well surfaced and maintained. The stretch from Phaistos to Agii Deka is almost straight and quite flat. The section from Agii Deka to Agia Varvara is steep in places and a bit winding but once "over the top" at Agia Varvara, the E97 is wide, fairly straight and the last 20 kms or so south of Iraklion are fast.

Look out for the "split" main drag through Mires - my missus was driving us back to Iraklion last September, missed the "no entry" sign and she ended up driving the wrong way down Mires' main street, wondering why all the local drivers were "so friendly" for flashing headlights and waving their arms at her...:0)

Sheffield, United...
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9. Re: Paleochora - good base for exploring west/southern Crete?

Yes, but if your starting from Paleochora, your looking at a good 21/2 hours to get to Rethimnon in the first place. They are upgrading the road from Paleochora up to the northern highway, but in Sept. 2010 it still took me well over an hour just to get to the Tavronitis junction. Anyhows, I still say don't rush and enjoy the trip. :-)

Agii Apostoli...
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10. Re: Paleochora - good base for exploring west/southern Crete?

I think that any place south of Chania has its own hiking and cultural pleasures! To start with, all beaches are nice. The most recomended places are Paliohora, Sougia and Loutro. There is no direct road connecting them, but there is a regular ferry along the south coast!

Enjoy!