When tourists flock to Crete, they are likely making the trip for several reasons. Ancient Minoan and Greek archaeological sites abound, and delightfully fresh seafood and expertly grilled meats are available everywhere. However, the island’s intense natural beauty is perhaps the most compelling reason to visit.
Sand and pebble beaches insert themselves between rocky, seaside cliffs and vibrant turquoise waters lap at their shores. Rough, rocky mountains rise straight up out of small, fertile plains. Endless olive orchards march up every steep hill and cling to terraces hewn into rocky faces. Small, white churches perch on ledges while surveying the vast chasms below. Many words come to mind when describing western Crete but “dramatic” seems the most appropriate.
Ever since visiting Crete 12 years ago with my study abroad program I’ve wanted to visit Elafonisi Beach. The clear, azure waters beckoned and the soft white sand shone in my mind’s eye. So I convinced Joe to drive the hour and a half journey over the mountains in our little rental car. We both thought it was odd that it would take us so long to travel just 75km, but we soon discovered why. Almost immediately after turning off the main highway, the roads got smaller, narrower, and more curved. Eventually, we were negotiating one lane bridges and then one lane roads. We wound our way up massive mountains then crawled back down the other side. The asphalt was mostly intact, but the blind curves and sheer drops provided more excitement than we bargained for.
Fortunately, the journey was worth it. After parking the car and making sure to remember where we had left it in the sea of other rentals, we headed down the hill. The little peninsula fanned out in two back-to-back semi-circles creating doubled expanses of gleaming sand peppered with sunbathers. Some of the clearest and bluest water I’ve ever seen greeted us as we finally sank our toes into the powdery sand. The beach stays shallow for some time, its sandy bottom slowly stretching away from the flat shoreline. Stepping into the cold water sent a jolt up my spine, but it was quickly replaced with a happy sense of wonder. As the wind picked up, kite surfers zipped back and forth offshore like colorful sea birds.
In many ways, our next trip to the beach was almost the opposite experience. Instead of trekking down to the southern part of the island as we’d originally planned, we decided to stay close to our home base. A local woman who guided us through a wine tasting recommended a small, hidden beach just up the coast from Chania where we were staying. As we studied the drive on the map, we noticed a series of tight hairpin turns near the beach. When we reached them it soon became clear that these turns would take us down several hundred meters in a matter of minutes. Again: drama! Fortunately, Joe is an excellent driver and we zigged and zagged our way down to a tiny, stony parking area.
The view that greeted us made our jaws drop and our eyes widen. We had seen a photo or two of the little Seitan Limani beach, but photos don’t do it justice. Two tall cliffs jutted into the ocean in the shape of a Z and some of the cleanest, brightest water hung between them. Swimmers jumped and dove off the rocks making small white and foamy splashes into the blue. There are two ways down to this little beach, both incredibly steep and rocky. Joe and I felt like mountain goats as we carefully descended and picked our way over dusty stones straight down to the sliver of sand below. A number of sunbathers already basked in the sheltered cove. We hurried to claim our spot near the gentle surf and struggled to take in our surroundings.
Wading into that perfect water quickly solidified Seitan Limani as one of my favorite beaches in the world. Soft, rounded pebbles massaged my feat and I floated between masses of tall, jagged rock. We clambered up well-worn stones and jumped into the welcoming water below. When others jumped from higher ledges, we cheered with the rest of the beach’s occupants. The congeniality and relaxed vibe smoothed over us and tugged away any vestiges of stress.
Leave it to me to focus on brilliant water and patches of sand when discussing the natural beauty of Crete. The strikingly abrupt and unbelievably rocky mountains, deep valleys and scenic roads deserve just as much attention, but we all have our priorities. And if you want to read about mountains, check out this post.