Are you looking for somewhere laid-back to spend your holidays in Crete? Throw in some of the best beaches in Greece, breathtaking mountain scenery and some of the best hiking in Crete, indeed Europe. Welcome to one of the best places to stay in Crete, Paleochora.
Paleochora is one of the main southern Crete resorts. It’s very small, but by far the biggest town for many miles around. The beauty of Paleochora is its setting and intimacy, with everything packed into a few small streets, with stunning views all around. Don’t expect a long list of things to do in Paleochora – this is somewhere you come to slow down and chill out.
You could easily spend a couple of weeks relaxing at Pachia Ammos, the sandy Paleochora beach, trying out the different Paleochora restaurants and cafes. We’d suggest venturing to some of the other Paleochora beaches, and exploring west Crete beaches further afield including Falassarna on longer day trips.
- 1 PALEOCHORA CRETE IN A NUTSHELL
- 2 GETTING TO PALEOCHORA
- 3 PALEOCHORA WEATHER
- 4 OUR PICK OF THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN PALEOCHORA – PACHIA AMMOS BEACH
- 5 CHALIKIA BEACH
- 6 PALEOCHORA CASTLE
- 7 PALEOCHORA ‘PIAZZA’
- 8 PIZZERIA PORTOFINO
- 9 PIZZERIA ODYSSEY
- 10 THE HORSE’S HEAD OF PALEOCHORA
- 11 ELAFONISSI BEACH
- 12 KEDRODASOS BEACH
- 13 GIALISKARI BEACH
- 14 A TRIP ON THE PALEOCHORA FERRY
- 15 AGIA ROUMELI
- 16 E4 TRAIL TO AGIOS PAVLOS CHURCH
- 17 SOUGIA BEACH
- 18 EXPLORE THE ANCIENT CITY OF LISSOS, CRETE
PALEOCHORA CRETE IN A NUTSHELL
Paleochora – also spelt Palaiochora or Paleohora – is a small town on the south Crete coast
It’s 75 km (48 miles) from provincial capital Chania, about 1 hour 45 minutes’ drive over a slow, winding mountain road
It’s located on a small peninsula with a sandy beach on one side and a pebble beach on the other
It’s also the starting point for the Agia Roumeli ferry, one of the best things to do in Crete, Greece
It’s also a convenient base for the Samaria Gorge Crete hike
There are also some stunning lesser-known south Crete beaches in the vicinity of Paleochora
If you’re looking for a taste of Greece off the beaten path, Paleochora is one of the best Crete destinations you’ll find
GETTING TO PALEOCHORA
Paleochora is pretty remote. If you visit Crete you’ll see a huge difference between the developed north and much quieter south coast. It’s less than 50 miles (78 km) from Chania to Paleochora but it’s like driving back 30, 40 years in time.
If you’re driving in Crete, you can make the journey from Chania to Paleochora in an hour and three quarters. Head down the coast road or highway from Chania to Tavronitis, and take the mountain road south, passing through Kandanos.
During the May to October tourist season, the bus from Chania to Paleochora runs up to six times daily. It calls at all the Chania beaches west of the city as far as Maleme and Tavronitis before heading to the mountains. Outside of peak season – mid-October through until April – there will usually be four daily services each way.
Paleochora is one sunny town. In summer temperatures regularly hit the mid 30s Centigrade, and they often stay around the high 20s until late October. This isn’t unusual for weather in Crete, and is one of the reasons Crete is one of the best places in Europe to visit in October.
The beauty of this is that you can still swim in the sea until late October, even into early November.
Wetter, stormier conditions are more common over the winter months, with average winter daily temperatures around the 10-15 Centigrade mark. The wind is what really makes the winter cold bite in Crete. Temperatures tend to pick up from March onwards, though the season doesn’t really kick in until May.
OUR PICK OF THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN PALEOCHORA – PACHIA AMMOS BEACH
The main beach in Paleochora is the reason the town is such a great option for Crete family holidays. It’s one of the best on the Crete south coast, a lovely sweep of sand with plenty of umbrellas, sunbeds, beach bars and restaurants where you can while away the hours.
The beach is also much better for swimming than the other beaches in Paleochora town. There are some rocks just offshore where the sea can unexpectedly ‘dump’ waves. The best places to swim at Pachia Ammos are at either end – close to Taverna Limnaki at the northern end and across the road from the Pal Beach Hotel at the southern end.
Chalikia beach is a small pebble beach on the east side of Paleochora. It’s quite rocky, with some sharp stones underfoot making dive shoes a necessity. Otherwise it’s a lovely spot to relax, with several tavernas and restaurants just metres away. The view along the coast towards Gialiskari and Sougia is sublime.
The area around Paleochora and south west Crete is also known as Selino, and Castel Selino was built by the Venetians in the 13th century to control the region. It’s not as spectacular as the castle at Frangokastello or the Fortezza at Rethymno, but it’s one of the more intriguing things to see in Crete for half an hour or so.
Some outer walls, one of the corner towers and many of the interior foundations remain intact. The castle is freely accessible, a five-minute walk up the hill from the town. It’s a peaceful place now, offering a beautiful panorama over the town. There’s little information on the site, but this place has a bloody history, having been occupied by the likes of the Ottoman Turks and Nazi Germany.
Locals call it the Piazza. Every night the street leading up to the church is blocked to traffic, so everyone can enjoy a drink at one of the Paleochora cafes, or eat al fresco at one of the restaurants.
Every night the area seemed to be busy, even into mid-November when most of the tourists had left for the year. We spent many an hour sitting at one of these cafes of an evening, giving our son his ice cream fix while we had our last caffeine hit of the day. This is one of our richest Paleochora memories, and why we think Paleochora is one of the best places in Crete.
I can strongly recommend the Greek coffee at the Enigma Café and the Agios Café Bar across the street. Faye and the Little Man recommend the ice cream and cakes at Karakatsanis patisserie, next door to Agios. We also loved Café Yannis Place, 100 metres down the street.
We chanced upon this restaurant in Paleochora, hoping they could rustle up a garlic pizza for our little fellow. He loved it, so did we, especially for the superb pizzas. “Can we come here every night, Mama?” he enquired. We didn’t quite do this, but they knew what he wanted every time he walked through the door. A great place, we’ll be returning first night we’re back in town.
The only restaurant as busy as Porto Fino during season is Odyssey, a few doors down the street. Like its neighbour, it serves top notch pizza, plus a few Cretan dishes. They passed the garlic pizza test with flying colours.
THE HORSE’S HEAD OF PALEOCHORA
There is a very unusual rock formation on the hill to the south of Pachia Ammos beach. It vaguely resembles a horse, and the head does indeed have a similar shape to that of a horse. It’s a two-minute walk beyond the Castello beach bar, on the right.
Elafonissi – also spelt Elafonisi – is near the top of many a ‘what to do in Crete’ wish list, along with beaches like Balos and Gramvousa. It’s a remarkable series of beaches, partly on ‘mainland’ Crete island, partly on a small offshore island. Elafonissi is best known for the phenomenon of the pink sand fringe that forms close to the shoreline – it’s made up of millions of crushed shells, many with a red or pink pigment.
During the season Elafonissi is one of the most popular destinations for day trips from Paleochora. A Paleochora to Elafonissi ferry runs through the summer into autumn, though when it finishes running is only determined a day or two before the services stop. Alternatively, you can go on a speed boat to Elafonissi for around 30 euros per adult.
Otherwise you can drive from Paleochora to Elafonissi, but it’s a long way. It’s roughly 50 km (30 miles) – you need to turn off the road to Chania at Plemenania, then pass through Strovles before taking a left turn to Elafonissi. As with elsewhere in southern Crete, the roads are mountainous and winding, and the going is, out of necessity, slow.
Kedrodasos beach is a short distance (around 2 km) from Elafonissi. It’s one of the most beautiful beaches in Greece that we have visited, a wonderfully secluded place you can hike to from Elafonissi within 40-45 minutes. Otherwise if you’re coming by car, there’s a small car park a few minutes’ walk from the beach.
Gialiskari is a gorgeous pebble beach on the Crete south coast 4 km (2.5 miles) east of Paleochora along a dirt road that forms part of the E4 trail across Crete. The approach along the dirt road is dramatic, especially as you pass between two walls of rock before the beach is suddenly revealed below. Anidri beach is easily reached from here. It’s a sandy beach with a lovely taverna in the shade of the trees.
A TRIP ON THE PALEOCHORA FERRY
We rate the Paleochora to Agia Roumeli ferry as one of the absolutely essential Crete travel experiences you should seek out. The ferry runs once daily, departing Paleochora at 8.30 am. The ferry runs daily between April and October weather permitting.
Crete’s south coast is rugged, and dominated by the White Mountains (Lefka Ora). This landscape makes getting from one place to another very slow. You can only reach Agia Roumeli by boat or on foot via the Samaria Gorge hike.
The ferry takes 40 minutes to reach the village of Sougia, and a further 50 minutes to reach Agia Roumeli. You can wait there for 90 minutes before continuing east to the gorgeous whitewashed village of Loutro and on to the terminus at Hora Sfakion, also known as Sfakia.
The ferry journey is one of the most memorable journeys we have ever made. It’s one of the most spectacular public transport journeys in the world, up there with the waterbus along the Grand Canal in Venice or the train from Lauterbrunnen to Grindelwald in the Swiss Alps. The scenery is incredible all the way, especially the final approach past Domata beach to Agia Roumeli, the tiny village dwarfed by the vast, imposing mountains behind.
Agia Roumeli village is best known as the end of the walk down the Samaria Gorge, one of the best hikes in Europe. Every day between May and October, the village is flooded with visiting hikers, many on Samaria Gorge tours, who have completed the descent. This never lasts long, however – as soon as the ferries to Paleochora and Hora Sfakion arrive, the place empties. It’s a magnificent place, with fantastic pebble beaches in the village and a mile or so to the east. There are several cafes and restaurants catering for hungry and thirsty hikers.
E4 TRAIL TO AGIOS PAVLOS CHURCH
The trans-European E4 trail runs across the entire island of Crete and if you’re moderately fit, one of the best things to do in Crete is to tackle a day hike.
One of our favourite sections runs from Krios beach west of Paleochora to Kedrodasos and Elafonissi. Another great short E4 hike is from Agia Roumeli village to the beautiful 11th century Byzantine church of Agios Pavlos.
The trail passes through some rocky sections as well as steep sand dunes and an incredible pebble beach that I’d have to say must be one of the most beautiful beaches in Crete.
The destination of this walk is pretty special too. Agios Pavlos church is exquisite, a thousand years old, time-worn, a humble yet magnificent building. Its setting, above the long beach that shares its name, is incomparable. If you’re not up to the hike (90 minutes each way, roughly) hire a boat from Agia Roumeli. It’s one of the most iconic sights and best places to visit in Crete.
The St Paul Taverna, 100 metres or so along the beach, serves great food during the season.
The tiny village of Sougia (pronounced ‘Soo-ya’)is the first stop on the Paleochora ferry route. Like Agia Roumeli, it enjoys a superb mountain setting. And like Paleochora, this is a place to unwind, far from most trappings of modern life. Except wifi, of course.
Sougia mainly consists of a few guest houses and restaurants clustered behind two great pebble beaches. The smaller of these is located right next to the ferry disembarkation point. The larger beach at Sougia is a few minutes’ walk further along, a wide spacious curve of pebbly shoreline with the inviting warm waters of the Libyan Sea tempting you in for a dip.
It’s one of the best beaches south Crete has to offer. Judging by the large number of people disembarking the evening ferry at Sougia, it might be one of the most remote places to stay in Crete, but it’s very popular. One look at that huge, fantastic beach explains it all.
EXPLORE THE ANCIENT CITY OF LISSOS, CRETE
On the approach to Sougia, the boat passes a tiny beach which you can see from the port side. This is Lissos beach, and behind it lie the scattered ruins of the ancient Greek city of Lissos.
You can catch a boat to Lissos from Sougia harbour during the season – the harbour is a minute’s walk from the ferry jetty. This costs 5 euros each way per person. You’re dropped off at Lissos beach, a beautiful cove with a rocky beach. The ruins are in the countryside behind this.
Lissos was a port of the Dorian city of Elyrus, which was a few kilometres inland. It’s not the most obvious of Crete attractions, but it’s a very evocative site, with blocks of ancient stonework scattered beneath trees. The most substantial remains are the mosaic floor of the Temple of Asklepios and the Roman-era chamber tombs, which look like small houses. There are also two small churches to visit, one at either end of the site.
Lissos beach is an idyllic spot to relax, and part of it shaded from mid-morning onwards. The clear water looks very enticing, but many rocks lie underneath it. You should only attempt to swim in it if you’re wearing dive shoes.
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.