Crete on the Cheap
A Cretan Welcome – warm smiles and homemade cake
I tried a piece of the gooey homemade chocolate cake, just be be polite of course.
My husband and I were also eyeing up the huge basket of juicy looking oranges in the little kitchen, they were making my mouth water. In the meantime the girls had explored the apartment and had already discovered the Easter chocolate left in their bedroom. Next up was the homemade raki being offered by Pagona’s husband. I knew it would burn my throat so this time I really was being polite in tasting it. Despite there being a bottle for us in the fridge I didn’t touch it again!
This it turned out, was a typical welcome in Crete. A warm welcome and a fridge full of food. Our hosts were delighted that we were their first ever guests, answering our many questions and explaining the details of the apartment and local area to us.
We had escaped the icy blast of the British winter as the Beast from the East had returned for a second bite. We’ve not had many foreign holidays as a family, but this year I was determined to book something. The timing was perfect.
We are not really ones for large hotels and towel runs to grab a sun lounger. Being more independent is our thing. We like the beach, but living near the south coast in England it’s not essential for us.
My original plan had been mainland Greece. However at the last minute I spotted cheaper flights to Crete with Ryan Air. Remembering a happy childhood holiday of my own it seemed ideal.
Research at Home
I’ve back packed and travelled independently a lot, so enjoy doing my own research to find were to stay. I bought a Lonely Planet Guide and combined that with some internet research.
Friends had reported good experiences with AirBnB, so decided to give it a go. I’d planned a two centre holiday, booking each house independently through AirBnB, first working out where I wanted to stay, then zooming in on the map to see what properties suited us best.
I won’t bore you with the minute details of the holiday, but here’s a quick run down of where we stayed and how we did “Crete on the Cheap”.
First Stop Chania
We flew from Bristol into Chania in the West of the island. I’d booked a hire car literally at the last minute online and we were taken just outside the airport to the Hertz depot collect our car. We were offered an upgrade (from the fairly cheap Ford Focus size model booked) to a saloon and with a little haggling they also added me to the insurance for just another £35.
The Beach is 1 km East of the Old Town
Google maps was a godsend and was spot on taking us to our first apartment (4G signal available) which was just as well as although I’d printed off maps, we would have taken a lot longer to find it.
Chania Old Town Harbour
Chania (pronounced Hania) is a lovely small city, famous for it’s attractive horse shoe shaped harbour, long defensive wall and old town full of Venetian style town houses. It would be easy to spend hours wandering the old streets and soaking up the atmosphere, drinking cool beers in one of the many cafes overlooking the shallow waters.
Our apartment was just outside the Old Town, but perfectly located in a quiet residential area. It was also a short walk to the town’s sandy beach and little fishing port at Nea Chora, where we enjoyed a lovely fresh fish supper at Achilleas Fish Tavern and a most stunning sunset.
A day trip to Elafonisi Beach
Even though we had a car, we spent a couple of days happily getting to know the area within walking distance of the apartment. The beach and Old Town were easy to access. We enjoyed pottering round the local supermarket with it’s vats of feta cheese, bananas sold on a huge stalk and giant cabbages (why is food shopping is never a pleasure in the UK!). There was a great locals market in our street one day and we even did some clothes shopping for the girls (they spotted Zara on the way in).
Our proper day trip out was to a beach that I had read about in the guide book. We took the scenic route over through the hills to get there and were rewarded with views of deep gorges and traditional villages. Scenic also meant very windy and we had to stop a few times for fresh air!
Turquoise Water and Fine White Sand
The beach did not disappoint. Nestled in the far South West of the island, Elafonisi is a small bay and a little islet. With fine white sand and shallow azure blue water that shimmered in the sun. We waded out up to our thighs to the far shore and the girls herded tiny fish. In early April there were not many other visitors to spoil the beautiful scenery. However that also meant no facilities! In peak weeks tourists are brought in by the bus load, so the advice is to go early or late in the day.
After a lovely few hours on the beach we headed north, stopping about 10 minutes from Elafonisi at a roadside tavern for a delicious Greek lunch.
Taking the scenic coast road, (translate to also mean very narrow and windy) all the way to Falasarma was lovely but slow going. This was meant to be another beautiful beach, but to be honest was pretty disappointing compared to Elafonisi and there was still no cafe!
Driving in Crete
I have to admit that my husband is much more confident at driving abroad than me so even though we were both insured he did 90% of the driving. Driving in Crete is on the right (i.e the other side than the UK). I felt that Crete was a reasonable place to drive, not too hectic and relatively low speed limits. There is one long main road across the country, it is single carriageway but with a wide hard shoulder that you were expected to pull into if someone wanted to overtake. Off the main road routes are narrower and can be more challenging. Our Google maps worked fine to help us get around and to find our accommodation.
Don’t forget that to hire a car abroad you will need your passport, UK drivers licence and post Brexit an International Drivers Licence which you can get from the Post Office before you travel. Photograph any dinks or scratches on a hire car and make sure they are noted by the hire company before you drive off.
There are many places you can hire a car, for the whole week or just a few days. One option is the Rental Center Crete which has cars to hire in a number of places around the island including the main airports. When we go on holiday we really like to try and explore a bit so I would really recommend getting out and about for a few days as there is so much to experience on the island.
PART TWO – Crete on the Cheap
Agia Pelagia near Iraklio (Heraklion)
I had booked a two centre holiday and with great ideas for lots of days out. However driving in Crete is slow. The speed limits are low (40 miles and hour on the main road) and off the main roads they are even slower. With one car sick prone child I soon binned my over planned schedule.
Our second AirBnB was a gorgeous little house in the tourist centred village of Agia Palagia, situated about 20 minutes drive north of Heraklion. The quaint house was less than 5 minutes walk to a lovely sweeping bay and sandy beach.
It turned out that with our Easter being early, and theirs being a week later (Greek Orthodox), Agia Pelagia was still in winter mode. All the tourist shops were closed and more than half the cafes as well, with last minute painting and scrubbing taking place.
Luckily the warm and generous welcome from out next host made up for that. A fridge once again overwhelmingly stocked with cheese, ham, bread, wine, lovely cake, homemade pastries and chocolates for the children.
Combined with a laden lemon tree in the little garden, a relaxing outside sitting area and shady outdoor tables I was happy with our new base called Dimitra’s Yard.
The Palace of Knososs
If you or your children have learnt any Greek mythology then you will probably know the story of the white bull that the wife of King Minos was made to fall in love with by Poseidon, resulting in the Minotaur. This half bull, half human was trapped in a labyrinth beneath the Palace of Knososs where it ate young humans before before being killed by Theseus.
To be honest we weren’t overly impressed with Crete’s most renowned archaeological site. The kids even less than me. Don’t judge us! Maybe a guided tour would have been a good idea, but there were no self led audio tours or interesting information boards (we are spoilt in the UK).
The archaeologists had made a lot of guesses about what each area had been and as it was unearthed 100 years ago some of the reconstruction is a bit suspect. Anyway hopefully it will be remembered! If only for dad feeding the peacock! Tickets on the day were about 10 euros each and the site was about 35 minutes drive from our little house.
Eat, Sleep, Relax
The rest of our week was spent enjoying the beach, building sand castles, reading and playing card games, as well as working through the generous food and drink supplied by our host.
The children helped with some simple meals and enjoyed shopping. We went out for pizza one night – so huge we finished it for lunch the next day.
How Cheap was Crete on the Cheap?
Flights with Ryan Air from Bristol to Chania £510
Car hire and fuel £180
Accommodation in Chania 4 nights £200
Accommodation at Agi Palagia 3 nights £320
Palace of Knossos £40
Meals and food including airport (approx) £350
Total £1600 (2 adults, 2 children)
I brought home £300 – that’s got to be a first! To be honest we didn’t go trying to have a particularly cheap holiday . As a family we are not too fussed about fancy meals out or lots to drink. We’re happy to take water with us instead of stopping in over priced cafes (the tap water was fine to drink).
The reason for the post is more to share that if you do shop around a bit and do a little research then it is possible to have a reasonably priced foreign holidays. Our first AirBnB experience was fantastic and a couldn’t really fault Ryan Air either. This trip was over the Easter weekend 2018, just before the main Crete holiday season started.
Thank you for getting to the end of this post! I hope if you are a bit money conscious then this has given you an idea of how you can have a lovely foreign holiday without having to spend a fortune.
Please share your tops tip for a great value holiday as I’d love to start planning the next bargain adventure. I used the Lonely Planet Guide to Greece to help plan our holiday. I have been a fan ever since my back-packing days.