NOVEMBER 27, 2022 : The plan for today was to rent a car and to drive south to Elafonisi Beach. We had spoken to a local car rental agent on Friday who assured us that they will be open Sunday morning to pick up a car.
On the way to get the car, we passed the remains of the southwest bastion of the Venetian wall that surrounds the old city. We walked to the top and were rewarded with beautiful views of Chania.
We arrived at the car rental store a little before 10:00 and found it closed. We waited thinking maybe they open only at 10:00. Twenty minutes later we gave up and looked for a different place to rent a car. Luckily, there was an open agency just a few stores away. This was a small mom-and-pop operation, but as pop told us, mom decided to stay home today, and he was on his own. He was serving another couple, and we waited in the store while he went with them to pick up their car from the parking lot. He returned about 20 minutes later, but already with a car for us. He parked it illegally on the sidewalk while we did the paperwork, and an hour later than we had planned, we were finally on our way.
The car was a 10-year-old well-used Chevrolet Aveo with hardly any mileage. The odometer must have been on its second round.
To reach Elafonisi Beach, we drove through the Topolia Gorge. This is considered to be among the most breathtaking drives in Crete. The road is paved and narrow as it winds its way through the gorge. At one point there is a short one-lane tunnel to drive through. My understanding is that in summer, this creates quite a traffic jam, but now off-season, we waited for only one change of the traffic light before driving through.
We had learned from Titiana, our guide yesterday, that the north side of Crete has a large coastal plain, and therefore all the large cities are located in the north. In the south, the mountains meet the sea, and it is therefore much less populated, and much more beautiful.
Elfonisi beach is considered to be the most beautiful beach on the island, and often makes the top 10 beaches in the world list. It is considered a must-see for all visitors to Crete. On-season it is super crowded, but now in November, there were just a very few people to share the beach with.
To reach the beach you drive down a very rocky path, and we decided this was not so good on the rental car. We stopped and parked the car on the side of the road at the top of the hill. We then walked down to the shore.
We reached the beach and saw clear blue water and clean, white sand. Low trees sparsely dotted the landscape. The mountains provided a scenic backdrop. This was a perfect place to enjoy our picnic lunch.
Usually there is a strong wind here, but not today. This was a perfect place to practice flying the drone. Unfortunately, we had not used it yet this trip, and Mark discovered that the our drone software version was now outdated and no longer useable. Trying to update the software on the beach without a good internet connection proved impossible. Flying the drone would need to wait for somewhere else.
We walked along the water and saw some of the pink sand that the beach is famous for.
Instead of driving back along the same gorge we had arrived here on, we decided to return driving along the western coast of Crete.
Our first stop was the Chrysoskalitissa Monastery, a small monastery on the southwest corner of the island. The views from the top are supposed to be fantastic. Although according to the signage it was supposed to be open now, it was unfortunately closed.
The weather started to look like rain, so we hurried on with our drive. The coastal road is basically a winding mountain road, and not somewhere you want to be driving on in the pouring rain. In some places the road is very narrow, and when a car comes in the opposite direction, one of us needs to pull over to let the other person pass. Not always easy to do on the side of the mountain.
We made our way northward, stopping occasionally to take photos. The images convey better than my words how beautiful it was.
We breathed a sigh of relief when we reached the main highway along the northern end of the island. Luckily so far the rain was light. The main highway has two lanes, but the local drivers treat it as though it is four-lanes. If someone is behind you and wants to pass, you move over and drive on the shoulder so he can overtake you. Often people in the opposite direction will be passing in your lane, and then too you move to drive on the shoulder. Not as scary as it sounds – but this was off-season and the traffic was light.
Compared to Corfu, Crete seemed much less developed and had a much more rugged landscape. The mountains are higher. Being the largest of the Greek Islands, it has more to explore. Hopefully one day we will get to return and see even more.