We landed on the island of Crete mid-day on a Saturday and drove to our accommodation in Galatas, a suburb of Chania (pronounced “hahn-ya”). One thing that may be surprising is that it’s a four-hour flight from the UK to Crete. Not every destination in Europe is a quick 1-2 hour flight away.
This was our second trip to Crete but our first time to Chania (left arrow on the map below). Chania is located in the northwest corner of the island and is split into two parts: the old town and a ‘modern’ city.
The middle and right arrows point to the other two large cities on the island, Rethymno, and Heraklion, with Heraklion being the administrative capital of Crete.
Chania and its suburbs have an approximate population of 110,000 making it the second most populated town in Crete. Heraklion comes in first with an urban population of about 210,000 (the fourth largest city in Greece) and tiny Rethymno comes in third with 30,000.
Just like our trip to Rethymno last summer, there was a general feeling of stepping back in time to pre-coronavirus times. It’s terrible and great at the same time.
There were a handful of covid restrictions in place during our visit. Some of these were lifted whilst we were in Crete and some were lifted shortly after we returned to England.
- Face coverings were required everywhere, including outdoors
- Indoor dining was not allowed (it took us 3-4 days to realize this)
- Music was not allowed in restaurants, bars, beach clubs, etc.
We drove from our villa rental, Fos Villa (blog post here), to Chania daily for coffee and essentials. Parking in the city center is unrealistic but there are several large (and free) parking lots on the outskirts of Chania. This parking lot the easiest to get to and from our villa and it was always empty.
The downside is that the lot is completely exposed to the sun, however, on-street parking on the road that runs along the waterfront was also free and shaded by the trees lining the street but you gotta get there early!
From the parking lot, it was a fast-paced 10-minute walk to the old town.
Chania is the first Greek island city that I’ve visited and thought it was a “liveable” city. And by that I mean, a city that is not only a tourist destination. It’s got everything you’d need to live a comfortable everyday life. It helps that a lot of food is grown on Crete and though there are foods that are imported, it’s nothing like Santorini where almost all food is imported.
Arguably, the most popular thing to see in Chania is the 14th century Venetian Harbor. We have visited several Greek islands and seen many harbors over the years and the Venetian Harbor in Chania takes the top spot.
First, it’s a large harbor.
Using the photo below as a visual, it took us 20 minutes to walk from the domed building on the left (near the black pole) to the 16th-century lighthouse on the right. If you’ve visited Las Vegas, the feeling was a little like the one you have in Vegas where you can see the casino across the road and it appears close but it takes you 15 minutes to get there.
Second, it’s pretty. Sure, it’s touristy but it’s still pretty, probably more pretty without hundreds of tourists crawling all over the promenade and stone alleyways.
And that’s the thing with traveling during coronavirus times. It’s complicated to travel and therefore, not many people are traveling, which makes it a very pleasant experience for those who are traveling.
No queues at airports. Empty flights. No problems getting a table at popular restaurants. Plenty of parking. No fighting the crowds.
No waiting for other tourists to clear an area so you can take a photo…
It’s a terrible time in our history but it’s a marvelous time to travel and as amber-list quarantine and NHS Test and Trace self-isolation requirements are lifted for double-jabbed people in England, we hope to have at least one more vacation this summer.
Surrounding the harbor is the old town which is a labyrinth of narrow alleyways. Every turn revealed another restaurant, a lonely scooter, or a shop selling homemade jewelry.
There was a feeling of authenticity in Chania that I’d not felt in other Greek island cities. Maybe it was due to the lack of tourists or maybe it was because tourism isn’t the end-all-be-all in Chania. I’m not sure. Whatever it was, it left me wanting to return to Chania someday.
Chania drinkery excursions
The weather during our vacation was a bit rocky at times. We experienced a little bit of everything – sweltering heat during the day, jacket weather in the evenings, strong wind that could knock over a small child, pouring rain for 36 hours straight, and even an earthquake when we were in Rethymno!
We used our time on the unpleasant weather days to visit a few of Crete’s drinkeries.
Our first drinkery visit was to Cretan Brewery, located about 20 minutes from Chania and deep in the countryside. I was incredibly hungover from the extremely poor quality (and quantity) of house wine we drank at dinner the night before. It was one of those hangovers where the only way to “fix it” was to drink more alcohol.
Fix it, it did.
The brewery has an expansive outdoor seating area with 20+ large picnic tables.
We sat at a table overlooking the river valley and promptly ordered two glasses of beer. I was feeling like a rockstar by the time our mixed grill for two (realistically four) arrived!
A couple of days later, we visited Manousakis Winery, which was also located about 20 minutes from Chania but it seemed like we drove for hours to get there.
We arrived at the winery around 2pm on a weekday and I was surprised at the number of visitors at the winery. This was the closest we came to needing a reservation.
There were two tasting options and we chose the option that included seven wines, three whites, one rosé, and three reds.
Complimentary rusks and olive oil were presented to our table. Rusks are like big salad croutons made of barley. They are super dry, crunchy, and have a grainy texture.
Note: Manousakis Winery has a sister restaurant in Chania’s Venetian Harbor called Salis.
My preferred way to eat rusk is in a dish called dakos. Dakos contains bruschetta-shaped rusks, tiny chopped tomatoes, feta cheese, myzithra cheese, all drowned olive oil. It’s delicious and contains a lot of fiber so watch out!
Our relaxing visit to Manousakis lasted about two hours. We enjoyed all of the wine we tasted with the exception of the Roussanne. No surprise there. Historically, I have not enjoyed wines made with this grape.
We left with six bottles of wine and I wondered how we were going to drink it all before returning to England because we had limited extra luggage space.
Our third drinkery visit was to Dourakis Winery which is located midway between Chania and Rethymno. We visited Dourakis on our transfer day from Chania to Rethymno and it was the perfect way to kill time until we could check into our Rethymno villa.
The tasting at Dourakis was less structured than at Manousakis, meaning there weren’t set tasting options. Our server – let’s call her Dora – asked if we preferred red, rosé, or white and we said, no preference, just bring us what you’ve got!
If memory serves correct, we tasted five wines and I remember the tasting pours being on the generous side. Unfortunately, Dourakis was not serving food on the day of our visit. This was a real bummer because the only food we had eaten was breakfast and it was approaching 3pm.
Dora told us that they’d hosted a wedding for an American couple the night before and it “got crazy”. I was surprised to hear that there was a destination wedding at this remote winery in the middle of a pandemic and then I remembered Peter and I had a destination wedding at the start of the Swine Flu pandemic. Two different levels of pandemics though!
After two lazy hours, we departed Dourakis with six more bottles of wine. In total, we had 10 bottles of wine in our possession and eight more days in Greece. We had no problem consuming all 10 bottles before departing Greece.
Eat, drink, and shop recommendations
Finally, a few recommendations for Chania.
|Well of the Turk||Restaurant||Reservations recommended|
|Ginger Concept||Restaurant||Great brunch but extremely slow service|
|Woodstock||Restaurant||Good brunch (giant portions)|
|Paliomylos Traditional Restaurant||Taverna||No menu, get served whatever the chef cooks for the day|
|Monogram||Coffee||Best espresso in Chania (old town)|
|Cretan Brewery||Brewery||Surprisingly great food, nice outdoor seating area|
|Manousakis Winery||Winery||Sister restaurant “Salis” in Chania’s Venetian Harbor|
|Meating Group||Butcher||Carries international foodstuffs like speciality sauces|
|Syn.ka||Supermarket||Loads of parking and open on Sundays|
|AB Supermarket||Supermarket||Not open on Sundays|