1.0.1 guide: escaping to the sunshine in the middle of a global pandemic (tried and tested)
That’s when I decide to play Russian Roulette with flights. Here’s how it works.
Step 1 – Head to Momondo or Skyscanner and book the cheapest flights you find to desired destination (in my case, a £30 return ticket from London Luton to Heraklion in Crete. On Wizz Air) a couple of months away.
Step 1B. Assume it will get cancelled to avoid disappointment.
The likeliness of this trip actually happening was pretty low- The list of steps separating me from my ticket to freedom was pretty exhaustive… But it gave me the glimmer of hope I needed to get through another month of solo lockdown without losing what was left of my sanity.
- UK had to ease lockdown to allow non-essential travels (which seemed very far away considering we still weren’t allowed to meet people nor travel even within the country – Shops and restaurants. Still closed)
- Greece had to open borders to UK visitors
- Greece had to lift quarantine rules for UK visitors upon arrival
- UK had to lift quarantine rules upon return from Greece (Create an “air bridge”)
- Flight had to not be cancelled by the airline
6. Test COVID negative on arrival (if tested) Random testing in Greece upon arrival. If you got tested and were positive you would have to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.
Slowly but surely, we ticked through all the boxes as I held my breath, and non-essential travel to Greece from the UK was allowed just a week before I was due to fly out. Neither flight was cancelled and I landed in Heraklion on July 27th 2020 – Hello freedom!
Needless to say this wasn’t the most prepared I had been for a trip. With this holiday so likely to get cancelled, we booked the rental car and accomodation the day before departure once our flights were confirmed. All things considered – We’ve optimised our stay and I’d recommend following the same itinerary. I flew to Heraklion, while my friend flew to Chania so we decided to meet in Chania after I spent a first night alone in Heraklion.
1 WEEK to 10 DAYS CRETE ITINERARY
Know before you go
This is by far the easiest way to get around, and how most people chose to explore Crete. However note that some gravel roads are best to avoid if you are driving a small rental car. Driving around the island is pretty straight forward – Just note that Cretans tend to drive pretty fast so you may need to move to the side (to the emergency lane even) if they are overtaking you.
Note: We rented a car with CENTAURO agency, long story short – Stay away! We should have checked the reviews before booking, I won’t bore you with the details but do yourself a favour and book your car via any other agency, but stay away from Centauro.
The main cities are well connected with buses (modern coaches with WIFI) so that’s also an option if travelling solo or you don’t wish to rent a car. I got a bus from Heraklion to Chania and then from Rethymno to Heraklion – There are buses ever hour departing from the central bus stations.
CURRENCY/PAYMENTS - € (Cards accepted everywhere – I’ve barely had to take cash out. American Express only accepted in some hotels and large chains)
SAFETY – Super safe! I experienced Crete as two girls and then solo and always felt very safe, even walking around in the evenings by myself.
TOP TIP – Always have trainers with you! We learned the hard way that a lot of beaches in Crete are only accessible via rocky paths. This is important to know if you are travelling with young children, elderlys, or easily injure your knees or ankles! We weren’t prepared and did most the walks in flip flops which I absolutely do not recommend doing, and we wished somebody had warned us!
detailed crete itinerary
XANIA (Pronounced “Rhania”) is the name of a region in Crete, and the name of the town.
CHANIA TOWN (3 NIGHTS)
WHERE TO EAT IN CHANIA
- TAMAM – So good we went back twice! A mix of Turkish and Greek food.
- EMPHOR – On the harbour
- MESOSTRATO – Great atmosphere with Greek live music
DAY 1 - Enjoy breakfast and a morning stroll around Chania Town, before making your way to Seitan beach (30 mins from Xania town). We had zero expectations but this was one of the highlights of the trip! Similar to Icelandic Blue lagoons (only warmer!) the sea is a gorgeous turquoise blue! But getting there was an adventure in itself… The drive down to Seitan is spectacular, but I won’t spoil it for you. You will park your car at the top of the cliff and. Make your way down by foot – The walk is pretty steep and rocky so make sure to pack a pair of trainers with you (Coming from the girl who had to do this in flip flops - Learn from my mistakes!)
DAY 2 – Samaria Gorges Hike
For mountain lovers and fellow fitness junkies – If you like an active holiday and fancy seeing something a little different in Crete, book a tour for Samaria Gorges. A. bus will pick you up from Chania Old Town early in the morning (6:30) and drive you to the top of the mountain. From there you will make your way down. The gorges all the way to the sea. 18KM, 1200M elevation, all downhill. And in 38 degrees hit as. You will be mostly under the sun in the gorges, so only recommended for good. fitness levels. There are plenty of water stations (and even toilets!) along the way, so only pack a little water, a picnic, good shoes and. A. hat! At the end, you will have some spare time to take a dip in the Sea (Libyan Sea!) before you catch the ferry (1h) and then bus back. A long day but absolutely worth it for the views, if you fancy a little active adventure.
In the morning, drive from Chania Town to Kissamos (1h on easy highway). From there, you can catch the ferry to Gramvoussa and Balos (There were two departues: 10:30 and. 12:30 but check with the ferry company). Pack a lunch as there won’t be anywhere to buy food or drinks on the island. Note - There is an option to drive to Balls Lagoon, but we had read that the path was very rocky and locals strongly recommended we got the ferry rather that drive with a rental car.
First stop: Gramvoussa - A beautiful little island with clear turquoise waters. There is a fort at the top which you can hike to (Again. – Learn from my mistakes and pack trainers!)
Second stop: Balos Lagoon
From Kissamos, we drove to our hotel in Fallasarna. We stayed at Casa D’Irene Deluxe Hotel.
DAY 4 - FALASSARNA / ELAFONISSI
MORNING: Falassarna Beach (And why not stop for lunch at Orange Bleu, overlooking the bay?)
AFTERNOON – Elafonissi Beach
I was disappointed when I first got to Elafonissi seeing a crowd of tourists. However – You will see a little island opposite the beach, which you can access via the water (water up to your waist so you will need to carry bags over your head, but it’s easy enough), then cross the mini island to get to the other side. Be ready to be blown away by the blue-est waters you have ever seen, and a. much quieter beach!
Gregory also recommended we head to the monastery just a few 100 meters down, where witnessed one of the most magical sunsets - Truly a moment out of time!
RETHYMNO (2 nights)
We stayed at Cressa Suites in the middle of the Old Town. The charming narrow streets of Rethymno are lovely at night, with so many dining options. Here are the ones we tried and recommend:
- Veneto - A super cute, upscale restaurant in the old town
- Prima Plora – Outside the old town on the seafront, great for lunch or sunset (make sure to book for dinner!)
- Avli – Garden restaurant in the old town with gourmet set menus to discover various Greek flavours with a modern twist. Each dish is paired with an olive oil introduced to you by the waiter!
WHERE TO STAY - I would 100% recommend you stay at City Lion in the heart of Heraklion. This brand new Appart-Hotel is perfectly located, walking distance from everything, beautiful, spacious, with a fully equipped kitchen, you won’t want to leave! (I didn’t, and in fact stayed for another week!) To book, email the hotel directly and say Hello from me!
- Beach Comber - In Stallis (30 min drive down the coast towards Agios Nikolaos) if you are looking for a trendy setting to watch the sunset and sip on cocktails... and incredible food! The grilled octopus was the best I've had in Crete!
- Peskesi – For traditional Greek food, in a more upscale atmosphere than Taverns. Delicious food and great service. Make sure to book! George’s Frozen Yoghurt – I’m a little obsessed with Froyo when on holiday and popped by this place every other day (if not every day) and George the owner deserves his special mention!