If you read us for some time, you know of our fascination for Cretan villages: so peaceful, so quiet, with the scent of oranges in the air and old people in black sitting in the village taverns. With whitewashed houses nestling close to each other and pots with flowers in the streets, the Cretan villages are incredibly scenic. People of the Cretan villages are usually amazingly friendly. Cretans love sharing their food (A couple of times we got pastry, fruit and a piece of cheese from strangers) and it is fun to be around these people. Don't be discouraged by your basic Greek – ours doesn't go beyond "Hello" - Kalimera and "goat cheese" – katsikísio tyrí. So after this long introduction, we are going to name our favourite villages:
We will start with the most popular one. There are plenty of hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops to suit every taste and purse. It combines good tourist infrastructure with the traditional architecture of Cretan villages. You may stroll the scenic narrow streets, taking pictures of the village cats and flower pots, or chill in a cafe with a great view – the village is located at an elevation. There is an ancient church Panaga Kera from the 13th century in Kritsa, that you should not miss. Another great thing about Kritsa is that it is so close to the best beaches of the East coast of Crete: Ammoudara, Karavostasi, Voulisma and Agios Panteleimonas.
Its location in the foothills of the Lefka Ori ensures a chilly air even on summer days and panoramic views. Don’t miss Lakkoi on the route from Chania to Samaria Gorge.
Where to stay: If you want to go off the beaten path, head to Omalos Valley. We loved our stay at Mike Omalos Houses, a traditional stone house with a breathtaking view over the valley. We spent some happy days chilling on its terrace and listening to the sound of the bells of the goat herds.
A church on the edge of a steep gorge with tall mountains rising in the background - Aradena is one of the most scenic places on Crete. There are multiple hiking trails nearby, one of them is leading to the beautiful Marmara Beach. Another great beach - Glyka Nera, and the popular with tourist towns of Hora Sfakion and Loutro are located within a short driving distance. Still, only the bleating of goats and sheep is likely to disturb the peace and quiet of Aradena. The road leading to Aradena ends in Agios Ioannis. This village has a less scenic scenery to boast than Aradena but it is even more tranquil. You can really feel that it is the end of the road!
Makronas is another small scenic village - it has only 8 inhabitants and probably the same number of cats :)
We've been to the Amari Valley to the South of Rethymno twice: The first time, we were just passing by and the next time, we spent a week here, convinced that the region is a real gem. We rented a villa and explored the nearby villages, gorges, old churches and drove to the beaches at the southern coast of Crete a couple of times.
We loved the churches in Vrises and Kardaki, a laid back atmosphere of Gerakari and Monastiraki, Amari, full of pomegranate trees in November. With a supply of pomegranates, we practiced peeling pomegranates making our own pomegranate juice and reached a good level of proficiency! Where to stay: We stayed in Aoritis Villas. It had it all: stone-made villas with great design and old furniture, a fantastic view and a friendly host. But have a look on Airbnb and booking, I can imagine there are some great private homes listed.
Our love to Crete started with Afrata: The image of its whitewashed streets, flowers, old ladies sweeping the streets stayed vividly in our memory and made us come back to Crete every second year – usually, we rather go to the new places than come back to the places we've been before. Afrata is located off the beaten path – there are only a few guest houses and tavernas here. But that makes the place even better for us. Another great thing about Afrata is the beach near the village: Quite tiny, with just a few hotels around, it has no parasols, chez longs, bars with loud music and other signs of a popular beach we are not quite fond of. It will take you just 5 min in a car or 30 min on foot to get there. Where to stay: We stayed at Robins Nest B&B and we loved it!
The villages of Lasithi plateau
With its windmills, old chapels and sleepy villages, Lasithi plateau is in every guidebook and travellers often put it on their "to see" list. In Heraklion, we met people who visited it as a day trip from the island's capital. We would recommend to do it the other way around: choose one of the Lasithi villages as your base and explore the island, doing loop trips. We really loved the villages of Avdou and Tichos.
To get around, it would be convenient to have a car, but no worries: cars are really affordable on the island.
This beautiful village is off the beaten path, however, it has a lot to offer: an archaeological site, the peaceful bucolic landscape around, some great sights like Arkadi Monastery nearby. We made friends with one of the villagers who told us, they really wanted to have a small share of Crete's visitors, so don't feel bad for 'destroying' a non-touristy village. In the end, sustainability is not about not going to certain places, but about making responsible choices.
These travel tips will help you discover the best of Crete We united out favourite places on Crete into the best Crete itinerary Read more about the island in the Lonely Planet Crete edition Should you need a car, find the best deals at AUTO EUROPE Crete is a sunny destination! Do not forget to pack sunscreen! :)