With an evening flight to Chania, a car rental, and a half hour drive to our hotel, it was just short of midnight when we sat down to a late night snack and a pitcher of red wine. That is why I won’t call that day one, but will instead reserve that title to a full day of our Greek adventure fun starting the following morning.
Our hotel owner, a young man by the name of Georgio, sat down with us in the morning of day one and with a map on the table marked all of the places worth seeing. Knowing we had a car he spared us any bus details he usually gave to his unmotorized patrons. “Go there, don’t go here, don’t take this road, take this pass, watch out for money hungry parking enforcement…” he was a one stop shop for all our tourist information. Soon we were on the road in our rented Suzuki Jimmy bouncing around crappy Cretan roads. Jimmy is a great vacation rental but I would never recommend getting it for any period longer than a week. The initial ‘cool’ factor of a drop top 4×4 wears off pretty fast and gives way to a stiff suspension, odd manual transmission feel, road noise through paper thin convertible top material, and the inability of safely leaving anything behind in the car since getting in is just 6 or 8 metal buttons away. Fun? Yes! Practical? Not really.
Our goal was a beach located in the south-west of the island in a town called Elafonissi, some 76km away from Chania which was said to take a couple of hours by car. While at first I couldn’t believe why it would take 2 hours to travel only 76km we soon knew it would probably take even longer. The drive on the Old Road, as the old highway is known, is absolutely beautiful but filled with thousands of switchbacks trough the mountainous Cretan landscape.
There are plenty of small towns on the way, each with traditional taverns attracting tourists for traditional Greek food, but otherwise there are only a handful of places worth stopping for on the way to the beach. Agia Sofia cave is one.
A legend claims the body of Saint Sofia was found in this cave and that the locals built a church in her honor in the cave in 1875. The cave is treated as a sacred ground and at a constant 17 degrees Celsius even when it’s above 35 degrees outside, the cave has natural humbling appeal. It just feels like a place of worship. From there we drove on to the Panagia Chrissoskalitissa Monastery.
The monastery is located on a cliff with a beautiful view of the sea beneath. The name, Chrissoskalitissa, means ‘golden step’ and a legend claims that one of the steps in the stairs leading up to the monastery is made of gold but only people with pure heart can see it. Needless to say we didn’t see any gold…stupid legends.
A short drive later we reached our destination, the beach in Elafonissi, and boy was it worth the trip. The beach is known for its pink colored sand but unfortunately the color didn’t come out so well on any of our photos.
There’s also a Nature 2000 program found on a nearby island, a short water walk away from the beach. Nature 2000 is a European Union program aimed and saving…nature. Roped off from the casual tourist were sand dunes with beautiful flowers blooming and growing straight out of the sand. How does a plant survive in sand alone is beyond me, but that’s probably why it’s protected by the Nature 2000 program.
Beaches all around Crete empty fairly fast just after 4pm which is when the buses from the beach leave. Even before the sunset we were one of very few people left and we decided to head home. We did still have a two hour drive ahead of us after all. It was a great first day.