As the largest island of the Greek archipelago, spanning some 260km from east to west, the island of Crete is possibly the most versatile area of this ancient nation. As a popular destination for a variety of tourists, a popular lure of this island is the beaches. From surf swept shorelines crawling along the Aegean, to small secluded coves there is a beach to suit every need. With so much on offer, it is virtually impossible to leave the island without finding your own piece of paradise. However, should you desire a tranquil beach that encompasses the traditional Cretan lifestyle, accompanied by a journey through some of Crete’s most untouched and dramatic landscape, may I suggest you travel to Damnoni or Plakias.
Both are located on the south coast in the Rethymno Prefecture. From Rethymno, you will need to take the Rethymno-Spilliou road which is accessible from the main North Coast Highway. Quickly, you will begin ascending into the Psiloritis Mountain range, leaving the urban, tourist area behind and entering the rural, unspoiled area of central Crete. A short drive and you will come across the small, quaint village of Armeni. Not offering more than the odd taverna and bakery, it’s no stop point, but more a glance into Cretan lifestyle. The nearby Minoan archeological site is also worth a visit, presenting a modest look into the island’s ancient past.
Continue along the winding roads, through more olive groves than you care to count, and you will reach the Fortezza Taverna A mock fortress building, it sits atop a sweeping valley of olive groves and arable land, surrounded by rocky peaks and looming plateaus. Here you can enjoy a delicious coffee and Milopita (apple pie) as well as other palatable Greek sweets all served by the friendly owner, Kostas. If you can draw yourself away from the distracting view and inviting hospitality on offer (the lunch menu is just as enticing) you will continue through more of this alluring landscape to the village of Pale where you will take the Rethymno-Plakias road towards Koxare. The road becomes smaller and slower as you dive deeper into classic Crete.
Further on you will approach a seemingly impenetrable wall of mountain slopes. The road will snake its way through a small opening and emerge into the Kourtaliotiko Gorge. Although no comparison to the island’s magnificent Samaria Gorge, it is an awe-inspiring view, making it arduous to keep your eyes on the road as it snakes its way around the western edge, passing a small Orthodox church built into the rock on its way. Leaving the gorge, the journey descends towards the southern coast, now visible in the distance, passing yet more secluded villages. Minding the odd man on his donkey, you will reach a road with a small sign post to Damnoni, usually obscured with countless signs for boutique guesthouses and Villas.
Damnoni is a small secluded bay with white shining sand lapped by the cool Mediterranean sea. In the midst of nowhere, the sole development here is a small, secluded all-inclusive resort on the western side. Aside from the area in front of this, the beach is an uninhabited haven, save for the odd family and other individuals seeking the same serenity as yourself. It will only fill later in the afternoon when the locals arrive to enjoy its charm.
The water is calm and tranquil, dotted with undersea outcrops offering gentle snorkelling adventures and you will find yourself daydreaming as you float along, admiring the surrounding scenery. There is a single taverna here filled with more locals than tourists. Offering the traditional favourites, it is shaded by over-hanging trees acting as a respite from the intense, Sahara-like sun that casts across the island’s south and is an ideal port of call during the day or at the end before the drive home. A humble beauty, Damnoni is far away from the outside world, a spot for peace and relaxation together with the odd glass of wine and nibble of Saganaki.
Should you desire a place with a little more on offer, but still encompassing the relaxed atmosphere of the south, continue travelling on the Rethymno-Plakias road until you reach the small sea-side village of Plakias. A lengthy crescent strip of fine sand, Plakias’ centre is on the western side with a small selection of tavernas, aimed at both the tourist and local trade, offering a delectable variety of traditional delights including seafood caught that very morning!
Beside them is the small quay providing a gentle stroll past the local fishing boats and the choice to take a water taxi to neighbouring beaches. The beach nearest the centre is narrow, with compacted sand and a shallow descent into the sea, ideal for families with young children. Moving further away towards the rocky plateau to the east, it becomes wider and softer, with rolling sand dunes and clearer sea. This is the ideal spot, a place to while the day away but be warned; this is a nudist area, hence your view may be obscured or improved, depending on your tastes.
Plakias and Damnoni offer stunning day trips from Rethymno should you wish to stay all day, enjoying a romantic sun-set meal, or take a quiet getaway before heading back for a night on the town. They offer many attractions for all visitors and will leave you refreshed, tranquil and content. Although competing with the uncountable number of rivals around the island, the beaches of Damnoni and Plakias (and the journeys to them) are two idyllic Cretan gems that are not to be missed.