After a perfect family beach vacation to Mallorca in 2016, we found it hard to consider anything else but going back in 2017. Hundreds of stunning beaches, beautiful landscapes, crystal clear water . . . you can read all about that here.
And then my husband threw a wrench in things, "how about we try some place new?"
What? Did I just hear that right? I was so set on going back to Mallorcan perfection, that I hadn't even given thought to some other beach locale. We looked at our options, and ultimately we decided to throw caution to the wind and try some place new.
So, in late May of 2017, off to Crete we flew. The flight time and cost were essentially the same as our travel to Mallorca, so why not explore something brand new? Although believe you me, I had prepared to kick myself - or my husband - if it wasn't as great as Mallorca. My husband was willing to take that risk.
If you are thinking about Crete as a family beach getaway, one thing that you need to know is that Crete is a HUGE island - Greece's largest, in fact. It has two international airports - Chania and Heraklion. Being so big, Crete has a lot of things going on - beaches, ancient Minoan ruins, gorge hikes, mountain biking, caves, olive groves, and wineries. The infrastructure isn't particularly good, so getting around can . . . take awhile. With only one week and a flight into Chania (northwest Crete), we chose to focus on the western part of the island. Olives are not particularly exciting for the kids, and I'm not sure their little legs would have been able to survive a long gorge hike. While the Minoan palace ruins did interest us, they are located on the eastern part of the island, which was just too far from where we were staying. So, we decided to move full speed ahead on beautiful beaches and lots of Greek food. Greek food is amazing, by the way. In the way of food, Crete has Mallorca beaten by about a million times.
Where to Stay on Crete with Kids
The first thing I do when planning a family beach trip is research the most kid-friendly beaches in the area. What are they? Where are they? Can we access them? Once I zero in on our beach goals, I plan our accommodations. Because who doesn't want to be as close as possible to the best beaches on the island?
Very much like Mallorca, Crete has a number of AMAZING, affordable vacation home rentals. Like - a lot. Your head will spin. Seriously. If your biggest problem is choosing between which beach villa with a perfect view and heated pool to rent, then you are doing well in life. And in this particular instance, we were doing well in life. Because we were enamored with so many excellent choices, we opted for two different homes (two nights in one, three in another), and chose to stay in a Greek boutique hotel the final two nights. Sure, it was some moving around, but we got to see different parts of northwestern Crete and stay in some truly amazing places. Case in point:
1. Villa Smaragdi (HomeAway) - 250 meters from Falassarna Beach
2. Villa Kiara (VRBO) - 20m (!) away from Tarsanas Beach
3. Ammos Hotel - boutique hotel located on the beach, with a heated pool, only 5km outside of Chania Old Town
Best Beaches in western Crete with Kids
Let's get back to #beachgoals. Our first home was a 5-minute drive to Falassarna Beach - a big, beautiful swath of beach on the west coast. Unbelievable sunsets. The beach can get windy, creating some waves, but it is a great family-friendly beach far from the hustle and bustle of old town Chania. And much less crowded than other beaches closer to Chania. We found the Falassarna area to be a great home base area for a few days - you get the authenticity of the Cretan countryside with little commercial development. In fact, there are no hotels in sight - just tomato greenhouses as far as the eye can see, and then the ocean, of course.
Elafonissi was our number one #beachgoal. I was convinced, by any means possible, that we would make it to there. Elafonissi is located at the very southwestern tip of Crete, which is part of what makes it so stunning and special. It is in a somewhat remote area. There are two roads you can use to get there if you are coming from the northwest, but believe me, you will bite your nails - or perhaps get a little carsick - on both roads. The scenery is stunning, but be prepared for narrow, winding roads in what will proably be a less-than-ideal rental car.
But when you get there? Oh, when you get there. This beach is amazing. Elafonissi is a stretch of beach with clear water on both sides. You have protected lagoons in which to snorkel and lounge. The water is shallow, making it perfect for kids. And the famed pink sand . . . take some time to enjoy it. The sand is beautiful as the tide washes up. Elafonissi is known for its pink sand.
Even though our kids nearly barfed on the drive, we went twice. It's just one of those special spots. So don't miss it. Please don't miss it.
And as an FYI, our Falassarna beach house rental was one of the closest we could find to Elafonnissi (and it was still an hour and a half drive away). Because it is a protected area, there are not many rentals or hotels close by, so expect it will take you awhile to get there no matter where you are located.
The other beaches we spent time on - Tersanas and Stavros - were more local (literally, in our 'hood) - and pretty perfect. Tersanas has a real neighborhood beach feel, and Stavros has a stunning backdrop, good snorkeling, and is home to an awesome windmill taverna right on the sea. While the water at Tersanas stays shallow pretty far out, the water at Stavros gets deep quite quickly.
I'm somewhat embarrassed to say that all we did in Crete was go to the beach and eat, on repeat, for seven days. But then again, we were on a beach vacation, so maybe I'm not all that embarrassed.
If I have one regret about our trip to Crete, it was that we did not make it to Balos Lagoon in the northwest corner. It is not easy to access - the best way is via boat, if the ocean cooperates, or down a narrow dirt road and then a substantial, rocky hike down to the beach (and back up). The lagoon is supposed to be spectacular, but we just didn't make it with our crew. Maybe next time?
So, I know what you're thinking. Did I kick myself for not returning to Mallorca? No. And don't worry, I didn't kick my husband either.
Crete or Mallorca? How about both.
We found the beaches on Crete to be just as beautiful as those on Mallorca. And the rental homes, just as comfortable and affordable. And what Crete lacks in the way of good infrastructure, it makes up for in the way of food. Trust me. Both are worth visiting for some of the same reasons, but also for different ones.
Have you been to both Crete and Mallorca? How would you compare and contrast them?
And if you make it to eastern, southern, or the interior of Crete with your family, fill me in. Tell me what is worth exploring. Share your beach, hiking, olive grove, and ruin secrets. Post pictures in the comments.