Paleochora is one of the most laid-back Crete destinations, a wonderful place to while away a few sunny weeks in south Crete.
This small town is a metropolis by Cretan country standards, and it’s one of the best bases for exploring the Crete south coast. It’s also one of the true hidden gems of Greece.Some of the Paleochora beaches – both in and around the town – are breathtaking. One of them – the main Paleochora beach, Pachia Ammos – is one of the best beaches in Crete for families.We rate Paleochora – also sometimes spelt Palaiochora or Paleohora – as one of the best places to stay in Crete. It’s relatively quiet, perfect for winding down and taking things slowly. There are some great Paleochora restaurants and cafes, and a lovely atmosphere in the evenings as some of the streets are closed to traffic.
Czech name: Staroměstská mostecká věz What you see from there: Looking west, the Charles Bridge is below you, with the Mala Strana district and Prague Castle above. Looking east, you have an incredible view of Prague Old Town, the skyline dominated by the domes, towers and spires of some of the finest churches in Prague. There are also excellent views north and south along the river, taking in some of the other principal bridges in Prague. Best time of day to visit: Dusk is the best time, far and away, when the attractions of Prague are lit up and make an unforgettable sight. Ideal if you’re visiting Prague in winter. If you want to photograph both the main views in daylight, around 1 pm is the optimum time.Cost:100 CZK ($4)
Paleochora is also on the doorstep of some of the best things to do in Crete such as:
It is a short boat trip away from Elafonissi and Kedrodasos, two of the most beautiful beaches in Greece
It is the beginning of the South coast ferry route, one of the most spectacular boat trips in Europe
Paleochora is a stop on the major E4 trail, which offers some of the best hiking in Crete and access to visit some of the stunning Paleochora beaches we introduce you to below
PALEOCHORA BEACHES – IN A NUTSHELL
Best Sandy Beaches Paleochora
Best Pebbly Beaches Paleochora
Psilos Volakas Beach
Best Beach for Rock Formations in Paleochora – Karavopetra Beach
Best Beach Walk Paleochora – the magnificent dunes of Grammeno Wild Beach
WHERE IS PALEOCHORA CRETE?
Paleochora is on the coast of southern Crete, around 20 km
to the east of Elafonissi beach, the pink sand beach that’s among the best-known
of all Crete beaches.It’s also 71 km (44 miles) south-west of the provincial
GETTING TO PALEOCHORA
The best way to get to Paleochora is by car as you can stop along the way. If you’re travelling by car, it’s around an hour and a half from Chania. It is also surprisingly easy to get to Paleochora by public transport. The bus from Chania to Paleochora runs four to six times daily during the May to October season.
GETTING AROUND SOUTHERN CRETE
South Crete holidays are very different from what you’d find
if you stayed in one of the Crete resorts on the north coast, near Chania and Rethymno.The southern Crete resorts are far less developed than their
northern counterparts, and transport connections are nothing like as frequent.
Life – and Crete travel – are a lot slower.Apart from the bus from Chania, a local service runs to
nearby Koundoura, passing some of the beaches we describe below.
Much of the region is mountainous, so the road network is sparse. The Paleochora ferry provides useful connections with Sougia, Agia Roumeli (end point of the Samaria gorge Crete hike), Loutro and Hora Sfakion, four of the most beautiful villages in Greece.
You can also drive to Elafonissi, or catch the Paleochora to
Elafonissi ferry, which runs to mid-October.
PACHIA AMMOS BEACH PALEOCHORA
One of the main reasons Paleochora is one of the best places in Crete to stay is the main beach, Pachia Ammos. It’s a great long soft sandy beach, with a scenic outlook along the hills on the coast and a perfect place for sunset watching. There’s plenty of high-end competition, but all round this is one of the best beaches in Chania province.
Getting there: it runs all along the west side of Paleochora village – you can’t miss it.
Facilities: It’s a Blue Flag beach, so plenty of easy access, beach bars, restaurants, umbrellas, sunbeds, and WC.
CHALIKIA BEACH PALEOCHORA
Your Paleochora holidays wouldn’t be complete without a morning or evening lazing on Chalikia beach admiring the amazing view. From here you look east along the coast to Gialiskari beach, and beyond to Lefki Ora, the Crete White Mountains near Agia Roumeli.The water on this side of the Paleochora peninsula is very
clear. The beach is stony, and the only catch here is that there are sharp
rocks below the water surface close to the shoreline. Wearing water shoes is
Getting there: easy on foot – it’s on the foreshore 250 metres from the ferry wharf on the east side of Paleochora
Facilities: umbrellas, beds, several tavernas and restaurants within 50 metres
PSILOS VOLAKAS BEACH
Psilos Volakas isn’t one of the most obvious places to visit
in Crete. When I was visited it was hidden away by road building heavy
vehicles, and even without these you could easily miss it.It’s only 50 metres or so wide, tucked away below the road. But what a treasure. It’s a gorgeous little pebbly cove with a sandy shoreline, its waters sheltered by a tiny rocky peninsula. It’s the many discoveries like this that make Paleochora the best area to stay in Crete, especially if you’re on the lookout for somewhere to spend relaxing Crete family holidays.
Getting there: It’s right next to the road from Paleochora to Kountoura, and signposted; the bus will stop nearby on request
Facilities: Beach bar, umbrellas, sun beds, toilets
One of the best things to do in Crete is to wander the coast, because there are so many incredible beaches and coves to discover. Karavopetra is one of the most striking beaches in west Crete, almost a mini-version of some of the best Algarve beaches in Portugal.Karavopetra has a great series of unusual rock formations in
the middle of a lovely stretch of pebble beach. One of them is a like a miniature
castle, complete with turrets and battlements. None of the rocks is more than
five metres or so in height, and it’s a great environment for kids to explore
climbing the lower level rocks.Getting there: also on the road to Koundoura, signposted to
the leftFacilities: none
Plakaki actually consists of two small, picturesque pebble beaches, and you can access them from across the rocks from the end of Anolaki beach. Both were fairly quiet when I visited, with a few locals either catching a few rays near the shoreline or fishing.Getting there: on the Koundoura road, signposted leftFacilities: none
Alonaki is similar to a few other beaches in this part of western Crete, a long sweep of pebble beach backed by a superb mountain backdrop. It shares a car park and facilities with the more popular Grammeno beach, but is much quieter.It also has great views across the bay to nearby Paleochora.
I walked the length of the beach, and was very surprised to find a tiny taverna
at the far (Paleochora) end, with clouds of smoke coming from the grill. I went
over, and enjoyed a great kebab before heading on my way.Getting there: main access is the same as for Grammeno beach,
with a left turn off the main road leading to the car park for both. A dirt
road also continues along the back of the beach for around half of the way.Facilities: WC (shared with Grammeno) next to car park;
taverna at opposite (east) end of beach, along with a few umbrellas
Grammeno – also known locally as Houma beach – is gorgeous, a semi-circle of soft sand in a sheltered bay. If you visit Crete and its south west, there’s a very strong chance you’ll end up here at some point.It’s a beautiful spot, with juniper trees at one end, and a swathe of sand that’s ‘organised’ with all the usual umbrellas and sunbeds, with just the right balance. Some places like Bali Crete are crammed with beds and umbrellas. Grammeno is more pleasant, with plenty of space to roam as well. It’s one of the most family-friendly south Crete beaches we visited.Getting there: signposted off the main road to Koundoura –
the bus stops close to the turn-offFacilities: A Blue Flag beach, so easy access via car park.
Toilets, cafes and beach bars, umbrellas and sunbeds
GRAMMENO WILD BEACH
This outstanding beach – or rather series of beaches – was a huge surprise, one of our favourite things to see in Crete. It’s a system of sand dunes that’s home to a grove of juniper trees. It’s a fantastic place to explore, with high sand dunes falling away to pristine little coves with turquoise water lapping the shore. Like neighbouring Grammeno, it’s also relatively sheltered.The ‘wild beach’ (Agria Paralia’ in Greek) is one of those unexpected discoveries that fills you with joy. It’s a small patch of paradise with a fascinating landscape. A couple of parts were fenced off to protect the trees – respect the boundary. Most of it is not fenced off, but you should be careful not to brush against the branches of the juniper trees, as this can significantly damage them. One of the best Chania beaches of all – just try to keep it secret, won’t you?Getting there: The nearest access is via the Houmas
restaurant, turning left and walking 2-3 minutes. Otherwise it’s a 10-minute
walk from the far side of Grammeno beach.Facilities: None at the beach itself, but it’s only a 5-10
minute walk from the facilities at Grammeno Beach. Houmas restaurant is the
nearest place to get drinks or rent a sunbed and umbrella.
After Grammeno you pass through the village of Koundoura, which makes its living from growing vegetables and fruit in greenhouses year round. A couple of miles beyond, the road peters out at Krios beach, a long pebbly strand with a secret cove hidden away at its western end.I first saw Krios beach Crete from the sea while taking a boat trip to nearby Elafonissi. It looked especially enticing from the sea, surrounded by spectacular cliffs with a small church completing the scene high above.The eastern part (to the left of the car park, close to the
greenhouses) isn’t the most appealing, and the rocks close to the shore make it
a difficult place to swim. It gets considerably better the further along the
beach you go, as do swimming conditions. The hidden cove can be reached by
climbing a small outcrop of rock – there is a wooden ladder to facilitate your
way down on the other side.Getting there: By road from Koundoura; the bus goes as far
as KoundouraFacilities: Taverna, WC, sunbeds and umbrellas
A bonus of our trip to Elafonissi was a brief stop at Viena
beach, a remote beach that we might not have seen otherwise. We only saw it
from the water, but what a place – it’s almost a lagoon, protected from the sea
and wind by a reef of rocks just offshore. Parts of the beach are rocky, and
there are also some sandy sections. The water quality for snorkelling was
amazing.Viena is an atmospheric, secluded place. Like Lissos,
further east along the coast near Sougia, it was once the site of an ancient Greek
city – Viena. Apparently you can still see some scant remains, such as sections
of stone columns, around the beach and submerged in the water. It’ll never be
one of the most popular Crete attractions, but it has one of the best back
stories of all.Getting there: on foot only on the E4 coastal trail, which continues to Kedrodasos and Elafonissi beach. The nearest car park is at Krios beach.Facilities: None
Keratides beach is the long beach that runs below the dirt
road east to Gialiskari. It stretches for over half a kilometre, and is a
pleasant enough place to escape the crowds for a while. If it’s solitude you
want, this is a great place for it.Getting there: by dirt road from Paleochora – follow the
sign to the right off the surfaced road to Anidri.Facilities: None
The dirt road from Paleochora gets very interesting as you approach Gialiskari, passing a scenic rocky section of beach. It then climbs a hill, passing between two outcrops of rock, dramatically revealing the ‘double beach’ of Gialiskari. It’s a pristine pebble beach occupying both sides of a tiny peninsula.It’s a glorious place, below the entrance to the steep-sided Anidri gorge and the mountains behind. The water is crystal-clear both sides, with flat shoreline on the east side and boulders on the beach providing privacy for naturists. It’s one of our favourite Crete hidden gems, and deserves a place on many a what to do in Crete list. You get two beaches (see Anidri below), the spectacular scenic drive there and the walk inland up the Anidri gorge if you’re so inclined.Getting there: by the same dirt road that passes Keratides
beach. It’s about 3 km along the dirt road from the turn-off outside Paleochora.
Local taxis are usually happy to drive this road, as it’s in reasonable
condition.Facilities: Small café on the beach, and some sunbeds and
umbrellas. More facilities are just around the corner at Anidri beach.
Anidri beach Crete is like a secret, hidden world, and its ‘reveal’ is just as impressive as Gialiskari’s. There’s a huge ‘Sandy Beach’ sign hanging between two large rocks. You follow the arrows left, entering an enchanted little wood with tables, chairs and a small taverna serving drinks and food. It’s a great spot in the shade, which would give welcome respite from the blazing summer sun.The beach is rather special too. It’s part sand, part pebble, and the beach is sheltered from some of the winds that blow this way. It seems very popular with families – there were lots of kids around when I visited. The beach also seems to attract a lot more people than Gialiskari.Getting there: follow the same dirt road to Gialiskari, then
the hand-painted signs to the sandy beach, Anidri.Facilities: sunbeds, umbrellas, watersports equipment for
hire, a taverna in a great spot in the shade of the trees, and WC.
David Angel is a British writer, historian and photographer. He has been travelling and photographing Europe for over 20 years and his work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the Guardian, BBC, Times and Sunday Times.