I’ve always imagined Crete to be loaded with hotels and clubs, the beaches covered by sunbeds and stands with kitschy souvenirs. Only after another enthusiastic opinion coming from Greeks we met along our way, something clicked and we decided to spent the winter months there. Though it’s true that the island gets swarmed by tourists every year and it’s almost impossible to find an empty paradise beach during the season, the majority of holiday-makers prefers to congregate around only certain areas of any given country, so the worst crowding can be avoided. If you’re not completely put off by cooler water, you can increase your chances for finding a secluded bay out of season or during shoulder-season. We (fans of out-of-season vibes) stayed on the island from February to June, so to us the hordes of tourists were mostly creatures from tales of the locals. The winter had been exceptionally light and the less delicate could take a swim even in February.
Our visits to the beach began with walks, naps and occasional, short swims that with passing time would become increasingly longer baths in the still cool sea. The first time we went to the beach maybe 10 people were there. But every consecutive visit saw more people, boats and catamarans appeared, and during the last outing in June, our favorite beach at Ligaria was already filled with sunbeds and the taverns, closed before the season, were now filled with people. That’s the image of the northern coast, especially near larger towns, where the beaches are also frequented by local inhabitants.
“Ohhh, the south! That’s another story completely!”, this was a mantra we heard from our host family and their friends. And we must admit, our visits to the other side are associated with a wonderful feeling of being at the end of the world, where most rules got sort of bleaked by the southern sun. It’s the place where groups of hippies would come, together with all other kinds of freedom seekers. Many of them stayed for good, some of the even settling in caves! On several occasions (actually at least a dozen times) we were made aware that the true Cretan experience is that of wild camping on the beach. Our hosts do it every year, together with their friends, children and the children’s friends. They try to spend as much summer as possible in their favorite places, and lately that translates to taking a ferry to the southernmost island of Europe: Gavdos.
Filled with their stories, we started plotting a little road trip through the beaches before we would leave Greece. Marta, our friend who visited us, helped us pull it off finally. We loaded a rented car and together with the dog went west. The choice of destination was uniformly acclaimed by family and friends: “Chaniaaa! Definitely Chania!”.
We’re no beach bums but while touring to Greece we really enjoyed the feeling of freedom we got from free camping, so spending a few nights at a beach “at the end of Europe” sounded tempting, to say the least. The first stop was Sougia, a tiny touristic village, in the southern part of the Chania province. I don’t think I ever felt as relaxed as there. Everybody seemed completely out of work mode but it was not a place for parties: nobody was even playing a radio on the beach and the vibes were quiet and chilled. The place had a distinct self-governing feel, and the eastern stretch of the beach was settled by campers and tents, staying there for months, most of them nudist, to boot. Somebody even laid a pipe with running water, so there was a shower and a washbasin on the beach. The atmosphere pulled us in, and for a whole day we managed not to move further than from outside the tent to the sea. The beach itself was not glorious though, so I still felt the need to go further and find my favorite piece of sand.
Next on the list of recommended spots was Kedrodasos, situated near the famous Elafonisi. Even though it’s only a couple of kilometers away from its famous sister, we had a great deal of doubt as to the directions the GPS was giving us, while we swayed and bumped over an incredibly bad dirt road dotted with protruding rocks. When we got to its end, we still had to climb down a steep trail with our trappings… But what we finally saw there, it totally knocked us all out. At first sight we knew – this was it! To find, in Europe, a beach that is both sandy, downright tropical, with azure waters and without crowds.. mission impossible, right? Yet there it was: a paradise beach with sandy dunes, clumps of resinous cedar trees and sea of the most beautiful shade of azure. When we got there, on a June Thursday, there were only two other tents. During the weekend a few more appeared but our area stayed private. The Kedrodasos dunes are under protection, so theoretically it’s forbidden to camp there, but there aren’t any signs and, as it is in Greece, even if there were, nobody would really care. If you decide to come, please keep the place clean and don’t cook under the trees, so as not to burn down the pepper-dry and resin-oozing cedars!
As you can imagine, it was difficult to say goodbye to this place, but Marta’s departure date was coming up inevitably. Every once in a while we would utter curses full of emotion: “This is so “&%&^%*& beautiful” or “I never want to *^&%*&* leave!”
Before going back we also visited the more famous Elafonisi, which was very pretty, but compared to Kedrodasos didn’t impressed us as much. The legendary pink sand turned out to be… not very pink.
It was similar with our final stay of the trip, a pretty little cove near the airport. We had it for ourselves for the night, while the famous Cretan winds did not let us sleep, threatening to lift us up together with the tent.
In the end, Marta, though torn between heavenly beaches and returning to work, decided to take her flight back. We felt the emotions too, knowing that our time on this beautiful island was coming to an end. Yet the end here would be the beginning of a great jump to another continent!