You can only visit Gramvousa beach if you’re visiting the much more famous Balos beach and lagoon, a short distance down the Crete coast. Balos is preceded by its reputation as one of the best beaches in Europe, perhaps even one of the best beaches in the world. But what of nearby Gramvousa?
Some Kissamos to Balos cruises call at Gramvousa island and Balos lagoon. They usually stop for around two hours at Imeri Gramvousa island before proceeding to Balos Bay for another two or three hours.
We expected Balos to be special and it certainly is. The biggest surprise of our Gramvousa Balos trip was just how beautiful the beach at Gramvousa Crete is. We’re talking best one of the best beaches in Crete, indeed one of the best beaches in Greece. And the rest. Whisper it, but we enjoyed Gramvousa even more than Balos. Find out just why we rate Gramvoussa Bay so highly.
GRAMVOUSA BEACH IN A NUTSHELL
Imeri Gramvousa Island – the name means ‘Tame Gramvousa’ – is a 15-minute cruise across the channel from Balos Beach, Crete
The 200-metre-long beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in the Mediterranean
It has soft golden sand and brilliant clear turquoise water, and is fantastic for bathing, swimming and snorkeling
You can only visit on Gramvousa Balos cruises – these are run by Cretan Daily Cruises, which operate from nearby Kissamos port
The beach sits below the Venetian fort of Gramvousa Castle, which looms nearly 500 feet above on the clifftop
The Kissamos to Balos ferry gives you two hours on Gramvousa before heading on to Balos
WHERE IS GRAMVOUSA?
Imeri Gramvousa island is a few miles off the north-west coast of Crete, close to Balos lagoon. Gramvousa beach is on Imeri Gramvousa, and not Agria Gramvousa. The latter means ‘Wild Gramvousa’, is largely inaccessible and rarely visited.
This whole area is part of Chania province, and the nearest town is the port of Kissamos, an hour’s drive from Chania city.
GETTING TO GRAMVOUSA BEACH CRETE
You can only reach Gramvousa beach on the boat to Balos beach, which calls at Gramvousa, allowing you around two hours there. Ideally you would be able to spend longer at both Balos and Gramvousa, but sadly there’s no flexibility with the Balos boat trip schedules. It’s still one of the best Crete boat trips, and you get to see somewhere so special you otherwise would never see.
The boat moors at the corner of Gramvousa Bay, a five-minute walk away from the beach. Disembarkation is very easy, down the ship stairs then along the boat ramp onto sandy stony ground. It’s a short walk from there to the beach, along a slightly undulating path with a few rocks along the way.
THINGS TO DO ON GRAMVOUSA ISLAND
You have two hours. Sometimes a little less, depending on the Balos ferry schedules. You have two choices.
The first is to relax on one of the most beautiful beaches on the planet, possibly paddling, swimming or snorkeling in that gorgeous pristine water.
The second is to climb the footpath to the 137-metre-high Castle overlooking the beach.
My wife and son opted for the beach.
I did both.
THE HIKE UP TO GRAMVOUSA CASTLE
It was a tough decision, but I thought it was worth getting up the steep hill to see the castle. I also suspected the hike would yield some astounding views. I wasn’t wrong.
You’ll almost certainly be tackling the short hike in hot weather. If you’re reasonably fit, take the usual precautions – sun cream, a hat, water and sturdy walking shoes.
Most of the hike is up stone steps, with the final part along a well-defined rocky path. The top part could be slippery after rain.
The walk up to the Castle took me around 12 minutes, but I was going at a fair pace because I was short of time.
The main reason to keep going to the top is the stupendous view you get from the castle ramparts. The view down over this most stunning of Crete beaches and its crystal-clear water is breathtaking.
Gramvousa Castle reminded me of the Fortezza in Rethymno, in central Crete. The walls are long and substantial, but there’s a lot of empty space once you’re inside. The Castle was built by Venetian occupiers in the late 16th century to help control this area of the Mediterranean. It proved impregnable to attack by force. At one stage in the 19th century it was occupied by pirates, greatly increasing its kudos in my five-year-old son’s eyes.
Many opt to stay at sea level, briefly savouring one of the best experiences Crete island has to offer.
My wife and son spent the whole time on the beach, paddling, swimming and playing in the sea. They stayed at the west end of the beach, near the path to the boat, where many of the other visitors had also gathered.
I walked the length of the beach, out towards the 1960s shipwreck on the east corner. This short walk gives a great view back to the castle. I noticed a few of the bathers and swimmers walking quite cautiously because of rocks underfoot. This seemed to be more of an issue at the east end of the beach than it did at the west end.
GRAMVOUSA – OUR VERDICT
If you’re spending your Crete holidays in the west of the island, make visiting Gramvousa, Balos, and nearby Falassarna a top priority. If you have time, also explore further south, especially Elafonissi and Kedrodasos. A day trip there is one of the best things to do in Crete that you’ll ever find. They’re among the best places in Crete, Greece, the Mediterranean, Europe, even the world. Gramvousa is a jaw-droppingly beautiful place. Do whatever you can to get there.
David Angel is a British writer and photographer who has been travelling and photographing the world for over 25 years. His work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the BBC, the Guardian, the Times and the Sunday Times.